Index Chapter 5
CHAPTER FOUR. "SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE THEME."
"HUMANITY IN PROCESS,"(?) Teilhard de Chardin has a paragraph in which he accepts the principle of evolution, and regards the process of time as that in which man and creation are growing towards a unity. But the biblical concept of time and God is a haunting one. ra thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years" to God. To God/Spirit "time" is part of creation, and He is not governed by it. As Ferre puts it - "Time cannot enter into eternity, but eternity enters Time." (?)
Human beings are creatures of time, live in it, are governed by it, and begin to be, and cease to be, in it. Our days are part of a process in time, but to God/Spirit the passing of thousands of years is as a blinking of the eye! Humanity and time are creations of God/Spirit. He, as Eternal Spirit, does not know or experience time as we do, but as Spirit He enters time, and, incarnated in the human Jesus, experienced time as Jesus experienced it, and reveals His Love for all humanity as an inescapable presence, though not always recognised and known. Thus,God/Spirit is experiencing humankind in an incredibly intimate sense, beyond what our greatest sense of Him/It may be.
As human beings we know of the long eras of pre-history, and of world history and change, where generation succeeds generation. However, we know and experience only our own generation. Our experience of, and in, time and history is but a small part of time-history. But we can imagine the past, and mentally project ourselves into the future. Yet physically we remain prisoners of our time, and conditioned by it!
Being transient creatures in history and time, humans necessarily think of God and time from within such conditioned experience. God/Spirit knows history and time as we experience them, but is not conditioned by them. In His multi-diversity, God/Spirit is able to be out of, and above, and in, History and time, yet experiencing them as we experience them!
To God/Spirit, unconditioned by time, the Creative Act is both continuing and done. Perhaps behind the mythical story of Creation in Genesis, there is the truth that to God/Spirit Creation is a one-time act, as it were, but to humanity it is a time-filled process. A process for a purpose which is best revealed in God/Spirit's Incarnation in Jesus. This is that humanity will learn Love and come to live Love.
To God/Spirit, as transcendent, the human drama can be said to be being acted out. He is the Author of the plot and knows the ending, but waits and watches as the scenes are played out. But as Immanent, God/Spirit not only prompts the players, but IS the players, and feels for, and experiences their parts, and acts to bring all to a successful finale!
Thus, from God's side (ever-present Spirit) there are then no miracles - no coincidences - no supernatural - but all is One - "in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts:17:28). What we see as "special" occasions - what we see as something extraordinary - what we experience as the heights or depths of ecstasy - are, in fact, the One Spirit in extraordinary dimensionality and diverse energy.
In Christian theological works "the" Spirit (Holy Spirit, Spirit of God) is generally perceived as ra" separate, distinct, part, of the Divine "Being". Though admittedly interchangeable with God and Jesus in experience, in thought and for further experience, "the Spirit" is to be sought after, especially for the charismatic rewards of finding Him!
Perhaps for most Christian people, in their spiritual experience, there is little, deliberate, or conscious distinction made between God, Jesus, and "the" Spirit. But, in the singing of some modern hymns, as in Television's "Songs of Praise", emphasis is laid upon the Lordship or Divinity of Jesus. Also many gatherings are held to discuss the Work and Presence and Power of "the" Holy Spirit in relation to spirituality.
However, Spirit is not a separate power from us (the Kingdom of God is within you. - Luke:17:21) but permeating throughout our whole existence, even when we ignore His stirring towards Love. The total experience of humanity is the experience of God/Spirit, even its contradictions, and its freedom to choose. When we speak of the unconditional Love of God, surely this is what we mean?
The Spirit of Personal Love (for God IS Love!) is unconditioned, even if it appears from our individuality and freedom to choose, that we can oppose Him, and reject and ignore Him as being a "person". But we are made in His Image, not He in ours! And His image is the "Spirit of Personal Love"! No thing or person can completely shut God/Spirit out!
The whole experience of humanity, in all its history, with all its tragedies, horrors and sufferings, as well as its triumphs and ecstasies, is totally within the experience of God/Spirit, who is no-thing and no-where, yet is in and through and by and with every thing, place and person. rather than the Spirit being a special reserve for the "spiritually-minded", and who can only be approached through the special exercises of prayer, fasting, church worship, etc., All these are vital in their place, but God/Spirit is Love pervading all! And, because He is love, desires our free acceptance of His Love, and readiness to "become" Love so that "we shall be as He is." (1 John 3:2)
Ferré speaks of the presence and absence of God at the same time. This contrapletal capacity to be personally present or personally absent simultaneously has to do with both external and internal relations. God/Spirit is thus established in identity as Spirit, and is in control in an external sense, while providing freedom to humanity to learn Love in an internal sense.
However, one's faith in the above expression of God/Spirit of Love being in ALL, has its most severe denial in the pain and suffering in the world. And such denial is deepened by the inequality of such suffering. Why was one born in the comparative ease and comfort of the western world, escaping the horrors of African people's misery, the internecine warfare in Yugoslavia, the poverty of the underdeveloped countries, the needless suffering and death of so many? Why for some, and not all, or for none?
And, even in the Western world, why the inequality of suffering - some seemingly free of the normal mixture of joy and sorrow, while others shockingly treated by life? Why are the human genes so different? Why does ill-health strike some down early in life, while others live on to ripe old age?
Such tragedies as the massacres in Dunblane, Scotland, and in Port Arthur, Tasmania, havem shocked the world, and again raises questions about the nature of God as Love.
These kind of questions cannot be minimised, and are seemingly unanswerable, and one can try to resolve them by deciding that there is no answer to them and that life is a lottery! One may further resolve to get the best out of life as one can, by developing a doctrine of despair - "to get it, before it gets you!". And, finally, give up on all religious views - "There is no God!".
The alternative is to view life and existence through faith, and a large proportion of humanity still believes in a God in whom these inconsistencies are held in abeyance, or assumed as "mysteries" with explanations to be given in the after life.
In view of this phenomena of suffering and death, coupled with life,s general brevity, it seems that there is a compelling need to develop a new Theology of Death. Death, in any form, is difficult to absorb, but people do distinguish between "natural" dying, and death that comes through violence, war, murder, accident, and so on.
This book suggests that a deep synthesis of these differing views and attitudes may be found in a discovery, or a re-discovery of the nature of God as Spirit, and His/Its actual Presence in suffering and death. This involves an attempt to understand death from God/Spirit's perspective, thus changing and alleviating the human sense of its more horrific aspects.
Death is a harrowing, unfortunate experience in life, and attempts have been made to comfort sufferers by treating it as a divine mystery, but "God will give comfort, and there is the haven of heaven!" In the case of violent death, we cannot minimise the injustice of it and the crime of its perpetrators. But, as yet, we have not formulated a depth theology of death, and how it fits into the concept of God/Spirit. Much is yet to be done here.
Briefly, death, sometimes referred to as "the last enemy", is the end to our human individuality and egoism. To the dying person and the grieving family, it can be a devastating experience. To God/Spirit it is both a sharing of the grief as experienced, but also the releasing of His image of Spirit in the human person for re-union in Him! Whatever that may be, we can only imagine, freed from substantive ideas of it!
However, some substantive ideas of re-union with God/Spirit after death can be helpful! The Chilean novelist, Isabel Allende, talking on television about her daughter's death some eighteen months earlier, spoke of coming to terms with it, and her own feeling about death. She believes "that we all belong to a big ocean of the Spirit, so when I connect with my daughter I connect with an ocean!"
That accords with the concept of God/Spirit, rather than ideas of some kind of physical recognition and re-union with departed loved ones. St. Paul glimpsed something of the eternal life being in Spirit when he wrote: "...flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God: and the perishable cannot inherit what lasts for ever." (1 Corinthians l5:50) In the Gospels, Jesus is recorded as saying "they neither marry nor are given in marriage" in the resurrection. (Mark 12:25, RSV). Human relations are not continued in any substantive form, but absorbed in God/Spirit.
The whole area of human suffering is eased, if God is regarded as Spirit, Love, and Personal Purpose, to which the New Testament testifies. THis means that our present thinking about God needs changing. Having become accustomed to thinking about God as "LOVE" and "Our Father", we have given Him the attributes that we associate with human love and fatherhood.
Creating Him in our image, we thus expect the kind of person-to-person relationship that is akin to our own experience. We give God a "personality" like ours, whereas He IS Spirit who is also Personal LOVE. And as Spirit, God is penetrative of all existence in some senses and differentiation. Everything - everybody - is, because God as Spirit/Creator is, of, by, through, in, ALL!
However, in Christian teaching,"the" Spirit is often regarded as a kind of "utility" - to make believers more holy, more spiritual, more Christlike, and to help them bear their burdens, to pray, and understand the Bible, and so on. "The" Spirit is tacked on, as it were, to the Christian Life, as the instigator and sustainer of the individual's spiritual growth. The Trinitarian Formula of "God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit", while it sought to interpret what had happened in the Christian origins, maybe should be inverted to SPIRIT/GOD, and JESUS, if we are to really arrive at a deeper understanding and experience of God, AS SPIRIT!
Without intending any denigration of the great and peerless person of Jesus Christ, and accepting the concept of Him as "GOD-in-MAN", it is surely more to the point to begin with "Spirit/Love", which/who God is, and to whom Jesus pointed, than to establish the Divinity of Jesus! Do so many of our problems, both for life and in theology, begin here? We have begun with a substantive approach, and continue to think, act, and preach in terms of our "up-reach" to God, rather than in terms of the "down-reach" of God/Spirit to us! Or, from the material base of human life "up" to God and spirituality, rather than God/Spirit's "down-reach" into human materiality!
God acts through Jesus, rather than IS Jesus, that is, in the sense of a person who is also God. God is ONE SPIRIT acting in Creation, Jesus, and in all humans, especially as they respond to His activity in them! That activity is God/Spirit's image in them, capable of freely choosing response to, or rejection of, God/Spirit's call to learn, and live Love!
And what a diversity of God/Spirit's activity appears in human beings! When one considers the amazing diversity of men, women, and children, races and nations, languages, religions and cultures, then, if we accept that God/Spirit is the Identity of, and multidimensional activity in, all creation, both nature and humanity, it means that no phase, situation, or activity of existence is outside God/Spirit, and, dare it be said, not even EVIL!
In one of his compositions written during the first world war, Teilhard de Chardin spoke of COSMIC COMPASSION. God/Spirit's activity surely includes this "Cosmic Compassion" for, and understanding of, and involvement with, ALL of the world's pain!
Sometimes, accidents of nature, such as earthquakes, floods, etc., are called racts of God". What are they really? They are just as damaging in various ways to humanity as the evil acts of mankind. Therefore, there is little, if any, difference between the so-called racts of God" and the evil of the world. And, if God is Spirit in and through ALL, in some sense or senses; if there is no place, no thing, no circumstance, where He is not; then evil (anything bad for mankind) must be held within Spirit, in the sense that "light and darkness are alike to God".
On our level of experience and understanding, we cannot combine opposites, like "light and darkness", "day and night", "good and evil". "heaven and hell". But on the level of Spirit these opposites do not apply. This is what Nels Ferré calls "contrapletal logic", in that what seems to be contradictory on one level, is not so on another level. And this is no device to resolve contradictions, but the understanding that Spirit is the all-pervasive Love, Purpose, and Power in and through all. Is this the 'Cosmic Compassion' (God so loved the world) with which we are dealing?
For a better understanding of "contrapletal logic", the reader should consult "The Universal Word.", pages 132-134. Ferré quotes Principal John Marsh's explanation of "the derivation of the term "contrapletal" from "contraplex", and its history from the way communication, particularly in the case of the telegraph, depended upon contrapletal interpretation." His short definition on page 22, of "The Living God of Nowhere and Nothing."(?) reads: "`Contrapletal' means a complimentary relationship of seeming opposites, like night and day, or summer and winter, in a larger unity that includes both."
So, on the human level, the opposites of good and evil, and other dualities, are irreconcilable, but on the level of Spirit the complexities of existence are held together in God/Spirit's all-inclusiveness. There are distinctions in that all-inclusiveness, but even the distinction made between evil and good is held within God/Spirit's all-inclusive Love, Purpose, and Forgiveness!
Are we hindered from this understanding by still thinking of "Spirit" in a substantive sense? The very phraseology: "God as being Spirit", sets him over against human beings, as a "spiritual being", above and remote from, but loving humanity - Yes! - but as a spiritual person! God is regarded as "somebody", albeit "spiritually", in much the same way we regard each other as persons.
But, God IS Spirit, not A spirit, not a person, not an individual, not a being! Not some thin substance, vapour, wraith, "invisible man", but as presence and power - the presence and power of Love as personaI purpose.
Jesus, then, appears as the finest, fullest, expression of this "Spirit of Personal Love" in man. He speaks of Spirit as like the wind, and as being the source of the "new birth". The rebirth into awareness of Spirit and spiritual experience is part of the activity of Spirit/God. However, being "born again", and any further charismatic experience, does not justify any claims of exclusive possession of "the" Spirit, who "blows" where He wills, and is no man's exclusive possession, not even Jesus, who was "full of grace and truth", the fruit of Spirit's presence and activity.
The charismatic movement's emphasis upon "possession" of Spirit, and certain odd physical manifestations, while accepted as a human response to the diversity of Spirit in mankind according to its understanding, is, nevertheless, making "the" Spirit "something" to possess, and a temptation to spiritual pride, and a vulgarization of Spirit! But Spirit is not bound or limited to any single type of awareness of Him, but acts in perfect freedom, where human wills are concerned, as those wills react and respond to Him. This awareness of Spirit, in the sense in which we are speaking, is that ultra-perception which is its own reward, goal, and joy!
Spiritual "re-birth" is no mere isolated "event". That is to make God/Spirit limited only to our perception of Him in charismatic activity. A human birth is an entry into an existence in a world of growing experience. A rebirth in Spirit is an entry into an experience of growing awareness of Spirit's penetration, in and through, all things, all persons.
Spiritual re-birth, "being born again", contrary to its current episodic interpretation, is the vital recognition that we have been distorting the real person we are meant to be, and preventing God/Spirit regenerating His own image of Spirit in us. Further, it is not only a person's awareness of Spirit's inner presence, but also awareness of being IN Spirit! There is awareness of Spirit's immanence and inclusiveness!
If the concept of the Immediacy and Ultimacy of Spirit is accepted, and lived in, then it is possible that the whole structure of Christianity and its theology may have to be re-framed. While there is a recognition that "the" Spirit is the fundamental functional aspect of Christian life and faith, and while theologians write, and preachers speak, of the "living Presence of the Spirit", one gets the impression of He/It being a "detached" Spirit, to be cajoled into activity!
Some of this is due to treatment of Spirit from a biblical base, and using Bible references to build up a "profile" of "the" Spirit, which develops into a doctrine, and a kind of scenario as to how and when "the" Spirit may or may not operate. While it may be generally supposed that Spirit freely flows, and is unpredictable in His/Its operation, the real position seems to be that "the" Spirit is predictably and doctrinally controllable, and so the multi-dimensional and mysterious freedom of God/Spirit to move how and when and where He/It wills is somewhat lost to human awareness!
So, to begin to think of God AS SPIRIT must change drastically the present mode of thinking of God AS BEING. It must affect all thinking about the relation of Jesus to God, about the Trinity, about Incarnation, about freewill and determinism, about sin and evil, about purpose, meaning and teleology.
Spirit can never be controlled, yet, theology tries to describe "the" Spirit's activity and place as though it were possible to do so! The "Doctrine of the Holy Spirit" is often presented, as though the Spirit were an objective being to be described, or merely as a desirable experience.
No doubt, there are those who would disagree with the above analysis, and declare that they are ever aware of the transcendence of Spirit, and also the hidden nature and mystery of "the" Spirit's operation. This is acknowledged, but it cannot be emphasised too strongly that to continue to think and speak of "the" Spirit in substantive ways means that limits are placed upon possible awareness of Spirit's nature and activity. For "SPIRIT" is not "being" but non-being, and becoming, and also cessation of being! All that is entailed in human existence - birth, life's experience, death - are IN Spirit, and Spirit IN them!
As an example of continued substantive thinking, recently I picked up a certain major denomination's hymn-book and selected the section devoted to Spirit. I found about a dozen hymns with requests for "the" Spirit to "come" or "descend" Even our poetry and prayers perpetuate the concept of the "being" of Spirit! How can Spirit "come" or "descend" when He/It is ever present? Fortunately, Spirit accepts the genuine approach in such requests and language! But beyond substance thinking as in these "invitations for the Spirit to come", lies a possible realisation of the inevitable, inescapable presence of Spirit!
For the sense of freedom to be real humans live in an ambivalent sense of either the Presence or Abscence God/Spirit. And so, sensing either, humans are conditioned by whatever their experience of spiritual awareness may be. But to God/Spirit presence or absence are not mutually exclusive. Presence or absence, it is still God/Spirit! The question is asked: "If God seems far away, guess who moved?" Presence or absence of God/Spirit is sensed only by humans!
Index Chapter 5