Please permit this digression, divergent from the usual format. It’s a parable without a clear moral that came to me while I was reading the Bible.

And the good Lord loved all his creation — the faithful and faithless alike. And to honor them all, and the wisdom with which he had endowed them, he decided to make a change. The Lord called upon their leaders and apologized for insisting that all should live by his law or burn in hell. The Lord announced that, from now on, there would be two paths: one for those who would not commit to his judgment, and one for those who would.

Those who would not commit would have their way. God would not sit in final judgment of their deeds. For them, there would be neither heaven nor hell. After death, they would enter the void they had come to expect — no sentience, no self, and neither the eternal bliss of heaven nor the eternal torture of hell. Nothing.

Mind Readers Dictionary: The Podfast : Play in Popup

Mind Readers Dictionary : Play in Popup

And so, too, would the committed have their way. God would judge their deeds and send them either to heaven or hell for all eternity. God set down his law again without equivocation and let it be known that those who chose to be judged and could abide by his laws would enjoy eternal peace, love, and splendor. Those who transgressed would spend eternity in the hellfire of damnation.

According to the Lord’s decree, at age 21 each person would decide whether to commit to his test; all people older than 21 at the time of the Lord’s pronouncement would make their choice within a month. The commitment was for life: For those who committed, there would be no escape from God’s exacting standard.

And there was a great readjustment throughout the land. The unfaithful weighed their chances of gaining eternal bliss against the certainty of the eternal void. And the faithful, too, reexamined their commitment to God’s law in light of the consequences for not living up to it. It is true that God had only clarified what they had always believed. But now the faithful were terrified by the absolute certainty of God’s judgment, the real risk of eternal hell for a mere possibility of heaven. Many were shaken in their confidence that they could meet God’s high standard. Many who had convinced themselves that they were already assured of an eternity in heaven realized that they were not.

One leader, a fiery and charismatic prophet who had led a great many into obedience to the Lord but who had misunderstood his laws, then spoke out against the Lord. God addressed him firmly, and the prophet was subdued. The prophet went into retreat, and, when he returned, he testified, “Though I have studied the word of God all my life and preached the gospel of heaven and hell, I will not commit to God’s judgment. I will surrender my life into the void. We are all of us soldiers destined to die. We die in this battlefield not to be resurrected, not even to be remembered. Our lives are not for later, but are to be sacrificed here for the good cause of our choosing. God has given us flexibility — many paths, and the power to choose. We must be brave soldiers and throw ourselves into the battle as we see fit to make the world a more suitable place for good as we discern it.

“God has given us much more than his laws. He has given us a home that changes and changes us, a home where his laws now come in conflict with each other, where we can no longer do our duty by following simple laws.”

“Whatever lives is full of the Lord. Claim nothing, enjoy, do not covet his property. Then hope for a hundred years of life doing your duty. No other way can prevent deeds from clinging, proud as you are of your human life.” — The Upanishads (8th?-5th? century BCE), translated by W. B. Yeats and Shree Purohit Swami