By Doug Esse
The following is taken from my Facebook response to a question asked by a seeker who wondered about how theologian and renowned teacher on nondual Christianity, Richard Rohr, asserts that there is no “hell.”
My response was worded for readers who likely are open-minded but more comfortable within conventional belief systems.
I take a both/and approach to this. Ultimately, there is no hell or separated realms that can remain alienated from God, forever. The Creator is all that there is, and all that there is resides within the One.
The archetype of the Hero’s Journey (also seen in the Prodigal Son, Adam and Eve/Garden of Eden, Jonah/Whale, and indeed, the life cycle of a star which becomes a black hole) which was explicitly laid out in the arc of Jesus’ life, death, *descending into hell*, resurrection, and ascension, is the great archetype that describes the arc of all of reality as it evolves into greater complexity.
Jesus’ expression of the Hero’s Journey archetype is theologically known as the “Paschal Mystery.” Living, dying, and rising–or the Law of Three that Richard Rohr’s great friend, Cynthia Bourgeault, describes so well–is how God, through manifesting in and as matter (ref Col 3:11), eternally experiences Godself.
Bringing this back to the human level, just like in our life here in our realm of reality, people are on the perennial path of their own hero’s journey. We are born in innocence [Garden of Eden], we reach the age of reason [eating apple of wisdom], we explore our lives and learn from our mistakes, and if we have lived life well through learning how to surrender over and over again our ego’s needs to be correct rather than connected, we return back home [Prodigal Son returns] replete with the gnosis (lived experiential knowledge) of the Paschal Mystery playing out in our own lives. This returning is known theologically as the “second innocence.”
Okay… now, this hero’s journey archetype can be lived out well in one lifetime on Earth, but it doesn’t have to all fit within one lifetime. Just like here in our realm of existence, people are walking their journeys at different paces. In all cases, and Richard Rohr teaches this a lot, hell starts now and so does heaven. Rohr often says in his talks, “It is heaven all the way to heaven, and hell all the way to hell.”
Have you ever known anyone who is currently living out their lives with resistance, resentment, tendencies to blame others,and scapegoat? It seems that they have a consistent desire to “other” other people so that they end up alienated. Well, even if that person goes to church every day and possesses the correct “conceptual theology,” we may ask, “But what is their operational theology?” What is their lived experience? It sure seems pretty “hellish.” And when they die, as Rohr has said in some of his talks, “God gives you what you have chosen or want.”
On the other hand, have you known people who regardless of their belief systems, remain connected to themselves and others? There is an inner integrity that shines a luminosity of wholeness that can be felt and sensed (even some people can see the light emanating from them). This is heaven and when they die, God will give them what they have chosen or want.
Lastly, I’ll bring in the overwhelming anecdotal evidence of near-death experiences which despite cultural backgrounds, often corroborate common themes. Namely, there are hellish realms and there are heavenly realms. These realms would be akin to frequencies of consciousness–just like we have here in our Earthly realm (ie “birds of a feather flock together”).
All of creation cannot help but be inherently and intrinsically in union with the Creator since all things are “made in God’s image,” all things–all souls–eventually will complete their hero’s journey archetype and surrender into “God’s likeness” (“God’s likeness” as defined as union, unity, oneness, with God–or conventionally known as “heaven”).
So, to sum: All things are made in the “image and likeness of God” (ref Gen 1:26). The nature of our “image” is the absolute reality which is always and eternally in union with God (ref Jer 1:5, Rom 8:38-39, and https://cac.org/already-in-union-2016-12-11/), and the nature of our “likeness,” is the relative reality which moves along the continuum between the most dualistic and separated frequencies of consciousness (“hell realms”) to the nondual state of complete union with God’s own consciousness (“heaven”).
How long does it take for a person to match their “likeness of God” nature with their intrinsic “image of God” nature? How long does it take a person to complete their hero’s journey? Well, there is no counting the time against the backdrop of eternity and for some, they choose to walk a separated path for longer periods but eventually, and ultimately, and absolutely: All things–all people–gradually learn how to live within and accept fully that majestic and all-revealing luminosity of wholeness.
What is required is total surrender and chosen vulnerability to be so loved, seen, and accepted as who they are already and have always been: one with God, in heaven with God–or as Paul says, “Hidden with Christ in God…” (Col 3:3).