Index Chapter 2
CHAPTER 1. BEING. The mis-used concept of God!
The question will be asked: What is the difference between ra spirit" and a "spiritual being"? Actually, not a lot! But there is a great difference between "God as Spirit" and "God as a spiritual being", and therefore it is necessary that the meanings of BEING and SPIRIT be grasped as fully as possible. So this chapter, and the next, seek to clarify them.
What do we mean by "being"? We speak of human beings, animal beings, we use the verb "to be"! But what is it "to be"? To exist? Yes! To have substance, - to see and feel? Yes! Our philosophies and psychologies try to take us through the intricacies of what it is to BE, and to live in this world. A world where we are amazed at its polarity of immensity as opposed to its atomic composition of matter. There is nothing new or strange in this awareness of being or materiality to most of us. We know that we ARE, as human beings, and that we live in a world of material things. We are ontological creatures!
As philosophers try to describe and discuss the problems of "being", some arrive at conclusions of despair and meaninglessness, while others endeavour to find purpose and meaning in a greatly complex existence. Christian philosophers and theologians have pointed to Jesus Christ as the absolute and ultimate Way, Truth and Life. The Churches of the Christian Faith have built into their systems certain Doctrines and articles of Faith in which GOD is often referred to as "The Divine BEING". "Necessary Being", as applied to God, is a term used to define the difference between God and man. It contrasts the necessary Being of God with the contingent nature of humankind and creation.
Thus they stay our thinking upon what we regard as the "real" nature of existence, and, if we think of God, his ontological existence!
The problem of being, and God's BEING, still exercises the thinking of theologians and philosophers. Perhaps today there is a tendency to move away from the idea of a changeless, eternal "substance" to a Hebraic concept of Being as activity, or Process. But both Substance or "Being" Theology and Process Theology fall short of the whole truth, though their emphases are not to be minimised.
A further problem exists in that theological thinking does not easily filter down to congregational or lay levels. Except, perhaps, where some theologian-philosopher has published a book with public appeal and comprehension.
For instance, the impact of John Robinson's book "Honest to God" in 1963, was immediate and strong, but the questions it raised remained largely unanswered. Robinson pointed to the problems of "God out there" and "God down here", and pleaded for a new rapplied" theology, and its relevance to the concerns of the modern world. However, the larger problem of the "being" of God remained untouched.
In 1966, three years after Robinson had published "Honest to God", an American theologian, Nels F. S. Ferré', visited Britain, and lectured at King's College, London, and at Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Glasgow. In these lectures he spoke of the need to get beyond the categories of "substance" and "process" by substituting the categories of "Spirit" and "Love" to define the Nature of God.
After these lectures were heard and subsequently questioned by members of the faculties of theology at the above colleges, Ferré' was invited to return with the completed manuscript of his projected book. Later, when he returned to Oxford with his manuscript "The Universal Word." it weathered analysis and criticism. In l970, "The Universal Word." was published by Collins in Britain.
Sadly, since then, there does not appear to have been any real pursuit of his insights. Initially, they aroused academic criticism and analysis, then, through lack of further research, they faded from theological examination and thinking, and never reached the public.
Future history may make some comment upon this apparent failure to continue examination of Ferré's brilliant pointing to a new way of looking at God, away from the categories of substance and process, and seeing God rather in the New Testament categories of SPIRIT, LOVE, and THE PERSONAL, and as Ferré' alternatively puts it: THE PERSONAL SPIRIT OF LOVE.
Now that phrase is in direct contrast to "GOD-A DIVINE BEING", and it has been claimed by Ferré' that this misapprehension "has bedevilled the entire intellectual history of modern man."
Traditionally, God has been viewed as some kind of static "being", who besides being omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, was also somehow spiritual in a mysterious sense! The idolatries of the past when divinity was expressed in stone or wood, or precious metals or jewels, are today expressed in human terms or images. We shudder at any anthropomorphism, but we still readily accept, or interpret, God as a "Being."
We relate to Him, paradoxically, as separate from us - having a "form" different to ours, and thus perpetuate the idea of God as a "being". We talk of God as ra" spirit, or refer to any talk of Him as being "spiritual", but still miss the essential New Testament truth that God IS Spirit! He is not a spiritual being or A spirit, as we shall see by the definition of Spirit by Ferré' at the beginning of the next chapter.
The contention here is that the reasoning that makes God the ultimate "Being" is faulty and contradicts the emphases of the New Testament, with its basic presentation of the character and teaching of Jesus Christ. To me, the Person of Jesus Christ is a "given-ness", or is revelatory, and that revelation is essentially of God as Spirit.
Ferré writes that "the meaning of Jesus' life was God as Agape, or, more fully, God as Love, Father and Spirit." He also suggests that Jesus lived these New Testament categories, that give "the basic keys to the organisation and interpretation of all truth." Without division or priority of either, teaching and living were focussed in the one consistent human character - Jesus! As Ferré says: "The more man is `inlived' by Spirit the more man becomes truly man. - God in man, without division or confusion, making one integrated, fulfilled personality."
"God" is no "being" divine or otherwise! "God" is not a spirit among spirits! God must be further defined in other New Testament categories as LOVE and as FATHER (personal). There is another statement about God's "IS-ness" in the New Testament, namely. "God is Light", which, though involved within the other three, has something to say about the influence of God as Spirit in bringing light upon life.
Past theologians have not come to grips with these New Testament categories, but have been sidetracked by the emphasis upon "substance" or "BEING". Today, perhaps, they continue to be seduced by philosophies deduced from scientific world views with their emphasis upon scientific explanation and materiality. These cause people either to disregard "God", or if they think of Him at all, think of him in terms of "substance", or activity, or influence, or as totally immanent, and thus forego transcendence. God's spirituality is retained by thinking of Him as ra spiritual being" or power to whom/which we are related in some fashion.
As in so much else, there are fashions in theology. There are periods when particular theologians will capture the imagination of both clergy and laity. There is undeniable worth in such theology, but in the main, it rings the changes on the same old theological tune! For instance, what is the real and unchangeable value of such Christian Doctrines as: the Holiness of God - His separation from ordinary mortals; and The Atonement - the necessity of an Intermediary? These are images of TWO BEINGS - God and the SINNER, being apart. Thus making "GOD" a PERSON, a BEING! The doctrine of the TRINITY falls into the error of making God - whether FATHER, SON, or HOLY SPIRIT, - into "Beings"or "Persons" rather than perceiving these as qualitative and functional distinctions of God AS Spirit!
We have a modern form of idolatry without realising it! Some would be horrified at any form of idolatry - even of making images of God in the mind - that do injustice to the mystery of God! We feel pity for the primitive peoples with their concepts of God in forms made from materials, but we are, in our so-called enlightened age, acting similarly! We know ourselves as persons or beings, and though we concede God's utter spiritual nature, we still do it in anthropomorphic terms. We make God a DIVINE PERSON or BEING!
When we talk of ourselves as "being made in the image of God" do we still take that image to be some likeness to our human form and person, or, our personality, albeit, a mysterious "spiritual likeness"? Is this not how we usually interpret it, rather than interpreting our creation in God's image as Spirit? Surely our true and primary identity with God is Spirit, not our individuality or personal being? But God/Spirit is inclusive of, and expresses such diverse human personalities.
Can we cease thinking of ourselves and God from our perspective of "being", and begin thinking of Him and ourselves from His perspective, which is totally Spirit? We need a reversal of perspectives. For too long we have failed to see that many of our problems in life, are created by using the wrong perspective, namely, the concept of "Being", to interpret God and life.
Index Chapter 2