The tax collector in Jesus' analogy - who saw his own sinful, selfish nature - understood that he needed God's mercy. He was not feeling himself capable. The Pharisee was feeling very capable. He was feeling that he had his act together. He was feeling proud of his accomplishments and his position.
This pride kept him from having mercy or forgiveness upon the tax collector - and thus asking for and receiving God's mercy. He only had disdain for the tax collector and others he was proud not to be like. This disdain and lack of forgiveness towards others is a critical reason for our inability to connect with the Supreme Being.
Jesus confirmed the importance of mercy as he quoted God speaking through Hosea:
"But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13)Jesus also stressed the importance of forgiveness as he suggested a manner of prayer to God:
"Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us." (Luke 11:4)Pride and a lack of mercy and forgiveness of others keep us from realizing our natural position. And realizing our natural position keeps us from connecting with God. These keep us from being able to receive His mercy. They keep us from learning. It is pride - feeling that we are so good and we know it all - along with not forgiving others - that keep us from understanding our innate relationship with God.
But most of us don't want to understand our relationship with God.
You see, most of us living within the physical dimension don't want to see ourselves as we really are. Our spiritual vision is blocked by our focus upon the temporary names and forms of this physical world.
The reality that we avoid is that we are in the physical dimension wearing a temporary physical body that will die within a few years - and then decompose within a few more.
These facts are hard to handle for most of us because we don't want to believe them. We don't want to believe that our bodies will die. But they will. And they all do. Sooner or later.
We don't want to believe that the bodies of our mother and father and sister and brother and children and grandchildren will all die. But they will. And they do. Sooner or later.
For this reason, we are heartbroken and saddened when those who are in the family of our body die. Some of us will blame God - saying that God doesn't care or even that He doesn't exist - because why, if God existed or cared, would everyone die? What kind of mean God would do this, some of us might ask?
And still others will say that God must not exist because how could a God create all the suffering that exists in the physical world?
Yet all of these questions are wrapped up in the same issue that Jesus is discussing in his analogy - the fact that we aren't seeing ourselves as we really are.
So who are we - really?
This means that when this body dies, all of that goes away. Our race, our nationality, our gender, our occupation, our family, our wealth or lack thereof - all of these dissolve as we leave this physical body.
As such, any kind of pride we might have - whether it is being proud of our body's appearance, our body's health, our body's family, our body's country, our body's occupation, the success we achieved with this body - all of these are also useless. Because these don't belong to me and they never did. They are all temporary - as any of these positions or accomplishments will also dissolve into thin air when we leave behind this physical body at the time of death.
This is why Jesus warned his students:
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
So what is "life" according to Jesus?
"Life" is the foundation of our real selves - our spirit-person: The person who is operating this physical body. Jesus defined life clearly in his first and foremost instruction:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’" (Mark 12:30)Jesus also clarifies the difference between "life" and being "dead" as he discusses ones focus on the physical bodies of one's family members:
“Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matt. 8:22)
“Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60)This Jesus' response to a student who wanted to return home to help bury the father of his body.
Jesus is using the word "dead" as a homonym: This is using the same word with two meanings. The first use of the word "dead" is describing someone who Jesus is calling spiritually dead, while the other use of the word "dead" is describing a physical body that has died.
The reason this is important is that Jesus is teaching that by focusing on the physical body and the things of this world, we become spiritually dead. By thinking that the position of the physical body - one's gender, sex, family, race and so on - is important, we lose sight of what is really important: We lose sight of our relationship with God.
The first reality is mentioned above: That we are spirit-persons, not these physical bodies. We have a constitution founded upon the spiritual dimension - a dimension that our physical eyes or physical minds cannot perceive.
We are infinitesimal
The second reality is what Jesus is speaking of in his analogy: That we are infinitesimal creations of the Supreme Being. We are His subjects. He created us for the purpose of exchanging a loving relationship with Him.
So we are His subjects. Whatever we have, whatever we do, whatever we have done - is because of Him. Thus, being proud of anything - is simply irrational.
And because God wants to exchange real love, He also gave us the freedom to love Him or not. Just consider why people want to have relationships with other living beings rather than robots: We want loving relationships with living beings because living beings have the choice to love us or not.
A robot has no choice. A robot is created through programming to do precisely what it is programmed to do. There is no freedom of choice.
We are not God's robots.
He created us with the freedom of choice - so we can choose to love Him or not.
So what happens to those who decide not to love God?
This is why we've ended up in the physical realm: We are the ones who have chosen not to love God. We have chosen to escape our innate loving relationship with God.
So God let us go. He created a world where we could exercise our freedom, and forget about Him. This is the physical realm - complete with temporary bodies, temporary families and temporary occupations that can overwhelm our consciousness and allow us to forget Him.
The physical universe is real - but it is still virtual. We might compare it to a dream. In our dreams we can act out our fantasies and undergo scary things and even experience dying - but then we wake up and its gone. Our dreams are virtual to our waking lives, yes. And our dreams dwell on the mental plane rather than the molecular plane.
But the molecular plane is only a shade less virtual than the dreamscape: The temporary structures of this world are made up of moving atoms and molecules that reflect light in order to give us the façade of structure. These structures are not as solid as they appear to our senses.
As the atoms and molecules that make up the structures of this dimension move around - things change. They erode, dissolve, recycle and otherwise degrade. For this reason, our body is constantly changing. The molecules that made up our body five years ago have already been replaced. We now have a new body on. The body we were wearing when the body was young is not the same body we are wearing today.
In the dreamscape, instead of light reflecting off of molecules, our consciousness is being reflected off of our mind's thoughts and memories. These can also provide the façade of structure - and truly, while we are dreaming - most of the time we also think the dreamscape is real.
But once we wake up, we realize that dreamscape wasn't real - all the while believing that this particular 'scape' of the physical world is real. Yet isn't it odd that so many people are dying in this 'scape' yet we don't know where they go? Their bodies remain but their personalities disappear?
In this physical world of atoms and molecules, events and structures are driven through the consequences of thought and action: This is equivalent to the model of 'as you sow, so shall you reap.' When we desire something, events unfold. When we take action, there are consequences.
This combination of desires and consequences creates the reality of the physical world. And thus whatever reality we are in - whether we are in a body that is wealthy and healthy or a body that is poor and sick - our reality is driven by a combination of the consequences of our prior actions and desires.
Suffering is not God's fault.
This relates specifically to the suffering of the world: Suffering is not God's fault. Suffering is our fault. God didn't create a world of suffering to see us in pain. God simply created a virtual world that allowed us the freedom to create our own consequences: A world of fairness.
Just think if God had created a world where anyone could hurt others and be outrageously mean to others and make others suffer without consequence. What kind of unfair world would that be?
And assuming God made a world of fairness - with consequences to good and bad - where would those consequences occur if not here?
Yes, in His wisdom, God created a dimension that rewards everyone the consequences they deserve from prior actions - whether in this lifetime or a previous lifetime.
This fact was communicated clearly by Jesus, as he told a man he had healed:
“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)And the fact that Jesus taught that one's activities - and sins - carry over to consequences in their next life was communicated when Jesus' disciples asked him about a man who was born blind:
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2)Jesus and his peers generally accepted that the spirit-person can take on a physical body after the end of this lifetime.
During and before Jesus' time, this teaching was generally accepted. This was communicated in several verses, including these:
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life." (Luke 9:18-19)This communicates the people of Israel ("the crowds") generally accepted that the spirit-person (or soul) can come back in another lifetime - and by default, into another body.
This is, in fact, what they were admitting to as they talked about Jesus being John or Elijah. They were admitting that they believed in reincarnation.
In fact, ancient Judaism did accept reincarnation as a reality for those who are not ready to return to heaven.
Even early Church fathers such as Origen (a peer of Clement) openly taught that the soul can have multiple lifetimes - until the Roman Emperor Justinian sent forth this edict:
“If anyone asserts the fabulous preexistence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema." (attached to the decrees of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, A.D. 545, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd ser. 14:318)Note that "anathema" means to basically be ex-communicated - thrown out of the Church and subject to arrest. Notice that this edict did not come from a priest. It did not come from a cardinal or a bishop or even a pope. It came from the Emperor of Rome: A violent emperor from a lineage of vicious Roman emperors.
And notably, the current pope at that time - Pope Vigilius - REFUSED to acknowledge the edict. He was called to Constantinople by Justinian to convince him, and after refusing, was essentially arrested and harassed.
Note that this occurred in 545 A.D. This means that the Church and Jesus' followers to that point openly believed in this teaching - which was an accepted teaching at the time of Jesus.
So we cannot say truly that the teaching of the pre-existence of souls was initially banned by the Roman Catholic Church. It was banned by the Roman Emperor Justinian. Note that Justinian is known to have ordered the killing of 30,000 unarmed civilians in the Hippodrome of Constantinople. He also apparently had family members executed.
And why did Justinian ban this accepted teaching of early Christianity? Because he wanted to control the people. He and other Romans didn't want the Christian people to think they might have a second chance. They wanted them to think that if they didn't join the Roman Catholic institution they would go to hell eternally and never have a second chance!
No second chance?
So what kind of loving, forgiving God is this? No path to forgiveness if we mess up this lifetime? Such a notion completely contradicts Scripture:
The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him (Daniel 9:9)The reality is that if we assume that this is the only lifetime we are ever given, then the supposed single chance we have here isn't fair - as one person can be born in a religious family while another can be born in a family or society of unbelievers.
And how fair is it otherwise? Why is one baby born into starvation while another is born into wealth? Why does one person die early from cancer while another lives to be 100?
It can only be fair when these are all related to our prior activities within prior physical lifetimes. Whatever we did in the past to others - good or bad - we will have to experience that upon ourselves. Our current lifetime is the consequence of our former activities.
Now think about how fair this is: What effect does this ultimately have upon us? Just think of what happens when a person gets harmed in some way. Assuming they learn from the experience, it will teach them not to harm others in that way. They will know how it feels and thus hopefully learn not to do it to others.
This is rehabilitation. If someone commits a crime they get sent to prison, but the main objectives of any good prison (theoretically) are to not only understand there are consequences to committing a crime - but most importantly - to rehabilitate that person so they will have a change of heart.
This is what the physical world is designed to do: To effect a change of heart for those who are ready to learn from it.
But what about 'eternal damnation'?
Eternal definitely means an extended period. Theoretically, one who decides to continue to reject God could become stuck in the physical realm forever - within the bodies of animals and lower species. But this doesn't mean they will never have a second chance to have a change of heart. Learn more here.
Most important to this understanding - and the teachings by Jesus and Origen and others - is that just as we can wake up from a dream, we can leave this virtual reality of the physical body and return to our home in the spiritual realm. Just as we can awake from whatever virtual suffering or pleasure happening in a dream - we can wake up from the dream-like condition of this physical world and our spirit-person can leave all of this behind. We can return to our real family.
This can happen by realizing our true position in God's family - as His humble loving servant.
You see, despite how many family and friends we are surrounded by in this world, we will still suffer from loneliness. This is because our real selves - our spirit-persons - need another type of relationship: A relationship based on humble love and loving service: A loving relationship that is reciprocated. This is satisfied by our innate relationship with the Supreme Being. When we are in our natural relationship with God, we feel loved all the time. We feel cared for. We feel complete. We feel satisfied.
Everyone is searching for that relationship
Without that loving relationship with the Supreme Being - our real soulmate - we are constantly searching. This is why we hear people saying they are looking for "the one:" That one special person that completes them. And sure, we might find a person to share things with - but they still won't fulfill the position of being "the one"
This is because "the one" we are searching for is the Supreme Being. He is our Best Friend. He is our Confidant. He is someone we can always trust. Someone who will never let us down. Someone who is always there for us - and won't leave us or die on us. And someone who forgives us for our offending Him and leaving Him.
But regaining this relationship requires us understanding our humble position: Our inconsequential position. Our reliant position: He is the Supreme Being, our only shelter, and we are nothing without Him.