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Creation

Two Variations On Default Salvation

by Andy Dibble

Suppose your theology of salvation is that only those who deny Christ are damned. Everyone else is saved by default. This is an attractive view. Children and others unable to grasp doctrine are saved. Those who live without opportunity to accept Jesus as their savior are saved as well. The damned are damned, on some level, because they choose to be. God wisely grants them autonomy.

This complicates Original Sin, but there is a more pressing problem: assuming this theology, why did Jesus have a ministry?

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I. Default Salvation Beginning with Creation

In the beginning was just the Father–my Father–and me. Heaven was just this lonesome twosomeness. He and I eternally begotten from Him. Succession in eternity is strange, but that is how it was. The angels came later. Creation came later still, and with it the Spirit, once there was a Creation to work within.

As long as there were humans, Creation has surged into Heaven: people die, and they end up here. I can’t blame them. It’s just the natural progression of their lives and after-lives. They would have lived forever in Eden–marvelous, almost divine–but the Serpent came and led them astray. He knew Father, knew me, better than I like to admit. He knew that Father would put them out, and they would end up in Heaven instead. He knew the human migration to Heaven would irk me.

The Fall changed much: Eden was bountiful. Once outside Eden, they had to till the ground. Children would have arisen painlessly in Eden, but outside pregnancy is like a disease. Outside there is disease. Outside their lives are brutish, short, and stunted.

But not their after-lives. Here they just go on and on. The trespass in Eden gave them a troubling handful of decades, but no more. For Father exalts them just because they have not denied me. What kind of reason is that? On earth, they did not even know me.

And that is why Heaven is neither a lonesome or a twosome place any longer. It’s infested (or so I tell myself in the shadow of my heart). I can hardly walk without stumbling over their prostrate bodies. They want to worship me, to serve me, to bask in my presence. The longer they stay, the more entitled they presume themselves to be! It is hard to host billions for billions of years.

No, for eternity.

I just want to be alone, alone with myself, alone with Father. 

Heaven is vast, wider and deeper than the sphere to which the stars are fixed. And if, somehow, souls filled Heaven to its silver rim, Father would make it swell. But even if I tread to the Outer Dark or to the Throne of Heaven where no created thing may pass, I can still feel them yearning for me. Omniscience doesn’t have an off-switch.

This is the end and goal of Creation? It is not the kind of fellowship I crave.

I look down at the few rude blasphemers–certain worshipers of Baal, some geometers and contemplatives, a few peripatetics of the hanging gardens–that struck upon my name in prophecy and dismissed what they had heard. Some are proud, others piteous, as they squander their mortal years or circle the scalding sands of Hell. I know deep down they deserve damnation, even crave it. But still I watch them like a human voyeur. They are few and therefore precious. They have accomplished something I could never do.

Shouldn’t those exalted be few and precious, souls deserving of Heaven?

But how to achieve this? I cannot overrule Father. I cannot correct Him. This presumption of salvation has a place in His Plan.

But I could walk upon the earth and divide the wheat from the chaff by my own preaching. Who will I go among? The Jews, the Chosen People. Their faithfulness ought to be tested. But not them only. I will spread my message to the nations and across the ages. Let all humanity be tested!

I was born. I grew, prospered, preached. But I did not speak plainly. I spoke in parables, bamboozling tripe. I spoke of bridesmaids, wicked servants, sowers, and mustard seeds. So that as many as possible could be exposed to my vagaries, and only a few receive my meaning with gladness, I proclaimed, “Whoever has ears, let them hear!” but, as Mark and Luke record, I told my disciples in secret: “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything comes in parables so that they may always see but never perceive, and always hear but never understand. Otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!”

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II. Default Salvation Beginning with the Cross

Father and His majesty are wonderful, but fellowship with humans–real fellowship, fellowship they can reciprocate–would be more wonderful still.

Time and time again, I’ve seen them try to pick themselves up, and some have. Some were good, better than I thought a sinful human could be in one brief life. But no matter how upright these few stood, no matter how I marveled upon their grit, they still fell short (for all fall short of the glory of God). The suffering of each soul in Hell pains me, however just their lot might be, but the suffering of these upright few pains me most of all.

Some were saved: Isaiah when the burning coal touched his lips, Elijah when he rode to heaven in a whirlwind and a flaming chariot, and Moses wicked up from the grave. But there isn’t a woman among them, and they’re a stodgy lot. Being the mouthpiece of God leaves a person little room to be much of himself. I want the company of those men and women toiling below that have managed something great and good by their own will and not by the indwelling of God only.

What could I do? The expiation of sin requires sacrifice, but no dove or bull will wipe away the sin of a race. If by some grand transubstantiation the oceans became blood and the planets an altar, that would not be enough. It would not be vast enough. It would not be pure enough.

But I am vast enough, pure enough. I am great enough for it. I can walk the earth. I can reconcile Creation to Heaven and save the human race.

Humbly, I was born, and I learned how warm a body can be. I spread my message. I preached with zeal and laid my hands upon them and saved them by their faith. There were many, and I loved them, loved them all. And so I told my disciples as Matthew records: “This is why I speak to them in parables, ‘though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.'”

My quotation was from Isaiah. I invoked him to demonstrate the hard-heartedness of the people. But I could pierce their hearts of stone. If I spoke dry theology or fiery exhortation, I would only confuse or provoke them. But a story could stir their faith, a story thrown beside life, a parable.

I inspired many, and they loved me as I loved them. But at last the world overcame me, as it overcomes all bodies. I was beaten, sentenced, and hung upon a cross. They killed me, but really the Serpent killed me. He broke a pact sealed at the moment of creation: only those subject to sin are subject to death. But I am not subject to sin. My blood did what sanguine oceans and planetary altars could not.

With my blood the world was saved. Those great men and women were saved, the children and infants too young to know me, the multitudes that never had a chance. All are saved. With my blood, it is only those that deny me that fall away. Father lets them be.

I commissioned my disciples to preach to the nations, and I commissioned the next generation to preach after my disciples are gone. I commissioned all who would take up the mission. I swore I would be with them always, to the end of the age. At last, I ascended, content I had saved as many as could be saved.

But later, in the quiet of my heart, I wondered: Wouldn’t it have been better for me to be crucified in secret? Lure the Serpent in, if need be, but commission nothing–no Church, no missionaries, no scripture. Tell no one I am the Messiah. Maybe even conceal my death by silencing everyone involved.

It is ruthless, but whenever my well-meaning followers preach my message, an audience may hear and reject it. Those that hear and accept are better, for they may live Christian lives, but what matters earthly life, the merest sliver of eternity? And even they have the chance to fall away. They may reject me later on.

What rogue angel was it that told Joseph to name me Jesus? Once heard, my name is an infection a person must guard against all their lives.

To pronounce my name is to acknowledge salvation. But my name has an inner meaning, like a parable: to acknowledge that one may, one day, be damned.

In my gallant zeal, I saved many, but I damned many too.

~

Bio:

Andy Dibble is a healthcare IT consultant who believes that play is the highest function of theology. His fiction also appears in Writers of the Future and is forthcoming in Speculative North. You can find him at andydibble.com.

Possible Worlds

by Jack Denning

First conversation

“Well, it’s interesting,” said the first person, a denizen of our universe. “There are certainly aspects of our world that appear to have been ‘designed’ by an intelligent agent. Living creatures, traditionally, were seen this way, for example. But then we discovered how natural selection acts on genetic variation to explain how the diversity of life arose from simpler life forms, and we are confident additional natural laws will be discovered to explain the origin of life itself. The appearance of design, it turns out, is just appearance. Nothing more.”

“That’s not too far from our position,” said the second person, from a different universe. “In our universe, life seems to have been designed as well. In fact, all physical objects appear to have been designed. Every planet is a perfect sphere. Every continent and island on every planet is a perfect square. Every single three-dimensional object in our universe takes the form of one of the five Platonic solids, and all two-dimensional objects take the form of a simple polygon. But like you, we’ve discovered natural laws that explain this. It only appears to have been designed.”

“Yes, yes,” said the third person, an inhabitant of yet a third universe. “It is the same with us. But it is not a simple matter of being complex, or of being arranged according to certain patterns. In our universe, every configuration of objects spells out a coherent sentence. Everywhere you look in our sky, the stars spell a sentence, every collection of molecules twists around to spell something out as well, always in the language of the observer. And as it turns out, nearly all of those sentences are variations of ‘I am the Creator and Designer of the universe! Believe in me!’ But we also have discovered laws of nature that explain this. The universe runs just fine without any supernatural supervision. It just appears to be the product of an intelligent agent organizing things in order to communicate with us.”

The fourth person had grown more and more incredulous as the conversation went on. Finally he spoke: “My universe is almost total chaos. There is hardly any order at all; life and civilization arose from a random and localized order that fell back into disarray when civilization had reached a certain point. There are only a few natural laws that are consistent. Yet even that small amount of structure is enough to convince us that there must be a cosmic designer who constructed it. Yes, the small amount of order is explicable by the few (the very few) natural laws, but who designed the natural laws? Who organized my universe in such a way that matter and energy tends to behave the same way in repeated and repeatable experiences? It seems to me, the more natural laws you have, the more order you have, the more obvious it is that there is a God. Yet you have many more natural laws than we do, and you use them to argue against God. At any rate, as I say, the presence of a single law is sufficient: for how could there be any law at all that we could rely on to continue into the future without an intelligent agent who constructed the universe so that it follows a law in the first place?”

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Second conversation

Later, they had another discussion. The third person said, “In our universe, the only people who suffer misfortune are those who do not believe in God. This may suggest to a simple mind that there is some cosmic justice being played out, with the sin of unbelief being subject to punishment. But of course, such a scenario is incompatible with the existence of a morally perfect God, the only kind of God worthy of worship and worthy of the name ‘God.’ In fact, if such a God did exist, it would be his believers who should be most prone to misfortune, as they would be the only ones with the context in which suffering is redeemable. They would be the only ones who could handle it. An omnibenevolent God would not visit suffering on those for whom that suffering could be nothing but brute, unredeemable horror. Thus, the fact that only unbelievers suffer in our universe is incompatible with the existence of God. If God exists, we should not expect that only unbelievers would be those who experience suffering. We may not understand why things work out the way they do, but we can rule out the possibility of God from the outset.”

“That’s interesting,” said the second person. “In our universe it is only those who believe in God who suffer misfortune. To a simple mind, this might suggest punishment, as you mentioned, but of course a morally perfect God would not punish people for doing what he wanted. But others claim something like what you have, that only the suffering of those who believe in God would be redeemable. But we have rejected this as well: an omnibenevolent God would not single out those who are obeying his commands to suffer for doing so. Does any parent punish his obedient children for their obedience while allowing his disobedient children to get off scot-free? This would be the height of injustice. A perfectly just God is the only kind of God worth worshiping and worthy of the name ‘God.’ The fact that only believers suffer in our universe is incompatible with the existence of a perfectly just God. Like you, we may not understand why things work out the way they do, but we can rule out God as a possibility.”

The first person, from our universe, spoke up. “Hmm. For us, it’s different. Both believers and unbelievers suffer in our universe. There is no readily apparent reason for this distribution, no universal explanation for it, since the same suffering would have different purposes depending on the theistic proclivities of those who experience it. If a morally perfect God existed, then misfortune would either be exclusively aimed at those who do not believe, as a form of punishment, or at those who do believe, since they are the ones with a ready-made context for it to fit into. The fact that those who believe in God suffer the same misfortunes as those who do not believe convinces us that there is no rhyme or reason to it, and thus no morally perfect, perfectly just God, the only kind of God worthy of worship and worthy of the name ‘God.’ Thus, the fact that both believers and unbelievers suffer in our universe is incompatible with the existence of God. If God exists, we should not expect that both believers and unbelievers experience suffering to roughly equal extents. Even though we do not understand precisely how it all works, we know immediately that there is no God involved.”

The person from the fourth universe didn’t say anything. He wasn’t there. They’d asked him to leave.

~

Bio:

Jack Denning is a teacher in Portlandia where he lives with his family and his piano.

So Be It

Allocation Day had arrived. Like everyone else, Amen put on his threadbare robes. He ate his meagre food, and, like everyone else, he had some free time to finalise his preparations. Amen went over the rules again:

  1. You have one reset button
  2. You have three lives
  3. Direct contact is not possible

Simple rules, but he knew from his lessons how important they were if one of the class was going to make a breakthrough.
When everyone was ready, they filed into the pod arena where the grid matrix map of the universe hung suspended before them. Once all twenty-seven of them had taken their standing positions, the doors were sealed shut behind them.
A tiny orange identification cube glowed off-centre. This little cube was their first sight of their new worlds. The suspended matrix of the universe map zoomed in on the small orange cube, expanding it to a massive scale, revealing thousands of galaxies within the area. The cube was segregated further into twenty-seven pieces stacked three wide, three long and three high. With deliberation, this cube broke into pieces so that one piece hovered over each member of the class. They all closed their eyes, finally ready for this day that had been so long in preparation. Amen felt himself being lifted. He rose higher and higher. He kept his eyes closed for as long as possible.
When he opened them a vast panorama lay before him, rugged, rough, devoid of life. This was his palette. He closed his eyes again and thought of all the lessons learnt from those who had gone before him. The future lay with him and the twenty-six others surrounding him, and if they didn’t succeed, there were no longer another twenty-seven waiting to graduate and take their places. Resources were running low and time was running out. If one of them didn’t deliver, there were no more graduating classes left to try, and no more energy to fund the limited chances permitted by the rules.
Amen wanted to start small, tiny in fact. The materials he had been given appeared plentiful, but if there was one thing he had learned, it was not to do what had been done before. Size mattered, but maybe not the way most had assumed. So, with a tiny sprinkle, he crafted a small strand of DNA; nothing fancy, only four nucleobases, not the eight, or twenty-five or even the sixty-four that had been tried before.
In the swirling waters where he mixed this spell, he brought the elements of weather in, and with thunder and lightning that raged over this part of his planet, he brought the spark to life. It was such a tiny spark, and so basic, that it was able to replicate with ease. He was pleased. He wondered if any of his classmates were having similar success. There had been so many losses before them but Amen had given this a lot of thought. It felt right to start small and he was appreciative of the tools he had to hand. He appreciated his soupy, gassy, solid world.
At the end of the first session their orange sections withdrew. Amen looked around, dazed with the fatigue of concentration. Two of his classmates were gone. As interchangeable as they all were, he recognised that Fable and Racon were no longer there. Impatient Racon, thought Amen, and noted the impromptu lesson. Despite being all the same, despite being subject to the same lessons, their uniqueness lay in how they chose to use their minds. It was inevitable that those with the weaker thought disciplines would fail.
When it was time to return to work, Amen nodded farewell. The classmates had compared notes, some more than others. Amen preferred to keep his progress to himself. Their only limitations were their own imaginations. It was their only point of diversity. Their weak and dying bodies were not going to last much longer here, no matter how many versions of themselves they replicated in their increasingly depleted environment. Only their minds could set them free, and Amen wanted to succeed.
Amen returned to looking over his world. His lifeforms were progressing well. He zoomed out and critiqued the location. The nearest star provided energy. The sister planets in this solar system were quite diverse, some were gaseous, others icy rocks. He noted the orbital rotations, he noted the gravitational pulls. He zoomed back in again so that he could do more work. He took a sample of the simple structures, soupy in their mix, and used the flow of currents to separate them to another area of the planet. Over and over he replicated this. He was doing something no-one else had done before, and at each of their enforced breaks he said nothing. His classmates might laugh, they might scoff, they might be curious and want to see. For Amen though, none of this mattered. He simply didn’t tell them because he wanted to hold onto his creative energy, couldn’t afford to let it dissipate. What he was doing was unprecedented, and exhausting.
Some of his lifeforms started to take on a momentum of development on their own. Amen watched how some of the simple structures grouped together to become more complex. He encouraged some of these to emerge from the safety of their salty fluid into the thin atmosphere and solid ground. His world passed through thousands of its years, while Amen watched, waited and prodded once in a while. Each time he took a break, fewer and fewer of his classmates remained. Xay was still there. Za was still there. Epik was still there. None of them spoke much. There was a lot at stake.
Then Amen made a mistake. He’d seen it before, when studying the other worlds. Maybe he’d let it subconsciously influence him. He’d gotten off track and in a moment of insecurity his own world had become full of assorted giants. He understood their allure, the tough outer skin, the ability to change sex by the temperature of their eggs, their general fierceness. He knew from the lessons that others had used creatures like this many times, but mostly as their starting positions. In his world it risked being the ending position too, just like many others. This method, this outcome, had left a series of worlds stuck in limbo, unable to progress. So he invoked Rule Number One. He hit the reset button. The eruption of the volcano spread the cloud of ash across the planet. It was heartbreaking to see his work go to waste. Years passed as he waited for the dust to clear.
But then he realised what had happened. As the atmosphere normalised and cleared, it revealed the beauty and adaptability of his original line of thinking. Yes, the dinosaurs were gone. His reset had cleared them, but there were thousands of beings remaining: small, furry, rooted, feathery. His indulgences, playthings he’d created on the side to pass the time were still there, growing, developing. Even some of the smaller reptiles remained. Small is beautiful, he thought to himself. Given the infinite grandness of the universe it was a hard lesson to learn, yet so simple.
He was glad to see Za and Epik on his next break. He knew they were solid and reliable. But he didn’t share his own discovery, his own success, not yet. Instead, he listened. Amen thought that Za had it tough. In addition to being separated by millions of light years, they had all been allocated different environments to handle. Za’s gassy nebula provided a challenge of form. From listening to Za, Amen deduced that he was going to do away with form altogether and was playing with the energy of light. It was risky, but maybe that was where the edges of success were going to be found. The reptiles, and the mono-species approach, both separately and in combination had failed to be replicable or sustainable, no matter who had tried it in the past. Epik on the other hand was in the depths of a black hole, where everything was about matter, but he too appeared to be making steady progress. Light and dark. With such thoughts Amen headed back to the familiarity of his planet.
Amen’s challenge was size. The area he had to work with was tiny in comparison to his colleagues, the risks immense within the context of the vastness of the universe. But he kept on going. By now he had amassed thousands upon thousands of creatures. Some had six legs, some had tens of legs, some had none. Some breathed with gills, some with lungs, some through their skin, some not at all. Some walked, some were rooted to where they grew. Some used sunlight for food, some devoured the others, some didn’t even eat. No-one, ever, out of any of his classmates or those who had gone before, had put so many different life-forms, of such variety, in such a small space. The results were astounding. As he had hoped, in the fight for supremacy and survival, the emerging species had been redirected from a quasi-dominant reptile and was now based on his own form. Maybe it was vain to put these physically weak designs into such a variable environment, but he was intrigued to watch them mature and grow.
Then it began to go wrong. This species, these men, became lazy and greedy. They started to fight amongst themselves and stopped appreciating the goodness of what Amen had provided to them. Amen watched them, this intelligent species, this self-destructive species start to self-devour. It was time to use Rule Number Two; one of his lives. He had to in order to get around Rule Number Three; direct contact is not possible. Close contact, he thought, and leaned into his world and whispered to those who listened.
“No. No. No. No… aaahhhhh,” One life heard the whisper on the breeze, saw the clouds building. Amen amassed them slowly, giving as much warning as possible. Down on the planet, under the guidance of this one life, those with enough intuition, influence and altruism to understand and execute the message prepared accordingly. The floods lasted for months. The planet reshaped and when the waters resided the world was almost fresh and new, ready for another step change.
However, as Amen’s work became more and more advanced, so his own situation got worse. There were now only three of them left of the original twenty-seven, Za, Epik and Amen. Xay, feeling the pressure, and despite a robust start had panicked and his world had exploded, wiping everything out.
Amen’s only remaining contact was with his two colleagues, who were focused on the forces of light and fire, dark and comfort. They were a welcome respite from oversight of his own delicate planet, Earth, where he had achieved diversity and mastered replication. It had even survived his reset button. However, in its abundance, there were tensions building again, and his goal of sustainability was still out of reach. The flood had a been intended as a warning, but it was not enough, and he was now going to have to watch this play out from the sidelines unless he used another of his lives.
This time he created a son and sent him to earth. It was as close as he could get to direct contact. It was as close as he could get to giving them the messages they needed to know to live in harmony. For without that, they would never be able to work together, and without that Amen’s grand plan seemed doomed. If they could not work together, they would never be able to launch themselves away from their tiny speck and achieve mastery of the universe.
While, through his son, he had managed to avoid direct contact, he was pleased to see that collective awareness on the planet had started to build. With relief, Amen found his second and long-awaited source of energy. The stronger their belief and prayers, the stronger he became. He was also gratified to see that many of the dominant groups had finally come together, but for every evocation of love, there were just as many powerful emergences of negative, destructive forces. It was just like watching Za and Epik each struggling separately with their delicate balancing acts. Using radiance and gravity, they were also in their own ways on the verge of joy, replication and sustainability, the Holy Grail.
At their next break, Amen finally spoke. “Direct contact is not possible and we only have the lessons left behind by others. The only remaining direct contact we can ever have is with each other.”
Za and Epik looked at each other.
“You’ve been the silent one, not us,” said Epik.
“But maybe that’s the missing link,” said Amen. “I’ve been watching my lot, and I had hoped for more by now. The intelligence that they are demonstrating is the very same thing that leads them towards self-destruction the moment they become comfortable. If I had a second reset button I’d invoke it. Instead I only have one life left.”
Za shook his head, scattering sparks of light around him. “All of my lives have been used. I wish I had one more. My reset was used early on. But I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them.”
Epik nodded with heavy despondency. “I’m all out too. I’m on the countdown to see what happens next.”
But Za and Amen could see that Epik was getting stronger more quickly than both of them.
“Maybe we should stop competing then. Maybe the three of us should start working together. It’s what I expect from my planet. If I expect it of them in order to become sustainable, then shouldn’t we do the same?” said Amen.
“But no class of graduates has ever worked together before. It’s always been a competition,” said Za.
“All the more reason to try it,” said Amen.
“Doing again what has been done before has not worked so far,” said Epik.
“What about the rules?” said Za.
“Stuff the rules. This is no time to search for more rules! Let’s just do it,” said Epik.
By then it was time to get back to work. They were forced to separate, but each went away thinking. ­­­Yet more years passed. Amen grew a lot stronger from the energy of faith. Then it started to wane. His planet started to decline. The in-fighting was becoming more frequent as their resources depleted. They’d made some token efforts to spread their wings, but had got not much further than their orbiting satellite. Unmanned they had reached some minor distance further with their evolving technology. Amen, sensing the end, did what he could to spur them along. Their progression became more rapid, major steps that used to take hundreds of years were achieved in decades, years, months and soon the pace of change could be measured in days. During this time Za and Epik also grew. The three of them had lasted longer than anyone who had gone before. Collectively they were now sharing everything that they knew. Not just on what they had done, but also on where they were going.
Za had the glow, Epik had the gravity, and so, sometimes, Amen wondered what he brought to their group, especially as he was now starting to weaken. He talked about diversity, adaptability, and keeping it small. Za and Epik understood. He talked about the thousands of species he had created. He talked about imagination and straying from form. Both Za and Epik understood this all too well.
He spoke at length about love on his planet and the energy and attraction it created. At this soliloquy, both Za and Epik stopped still.  Their break was nearly up. They were going to have to return to their worlds very soon. There was not much time left. Amen was fading.
“Your third life,” said Za.
“You haven’t used it yet,” said Epik.
“Use it to connect us,” said Za. “I have the power of light.”
“I have the force of attraction,” said Epik.
“I have the love,” said Amen.
“I am the Love,” he realised. Their break was up. It was Judgement Day.