Index Chapter 6
CHAPTER FIVE PROCESS, AND THE THEOLOGY OF "THE" SPIRIT.
Is the world and humanity in "process"? Is the world under construction and development? Yes! and No! The answer must be ambiguous! A clear answer depends upon whether the reply is given from the perspective of humanity, or that of God/Spirit!
There are elements of process in existence as experienced. There is TIME. We live in it. We know it as spent and past, as presently experienced, and in expectation. We see the world as History - that events come and pass, and that there is development. Time brings changes in humanity and all about it. We believe that we are part of a great process; a huge conglomeration of peoples and places undergoing transformations for good or evil. So Yes! From our human perspective we are in process!
But from the perspective of God as Spirit, who is Eternal and involved IN Time, but not of it, or conditioned by it, TIME is NOT A PROCESS . As Spirit, He/It is in and through all existence in some senses, but is not merely all things. Eternal Spirit "enters" into Time, but is not subject to Time. Christian Theology would claim an exception as in the Incarnation, but this is still to think in "substantive" terms. It is to conclude that the Incarnation was the "only" entry of Spirit/GOD into human life!
Whereas the Incarnation is a revelation of what has ever been! That is, that God/Spirit has always been in the world of creation and human life! Also, that Jesus was a Special token of that Presence, revealing, as the "first-born of many brethren" the possibility of an awareness in humanity of God/Spirit as totally involved in the human race as it is placed within nature and history. If we have an "incarnation" in the special person of Jesus, it is to reveal the Presence of Spirit in the human race, taking on the aspects of time, suffering in time, experiencing our lives, "GOD/SPIRIT BEING US!" Is this the TRUE Incarnation?
But God/Spirit is still transcendent, un-created, totally free to be IN, and act in, what, as God/Spirit, he creates and sustains. There is an endless multi-dimensionality of Spirit. There is no limit to His activity, or of what is called his Presence or absence! But, to reiterate - "presence" or rabsence" it is still God/Spirit!
Most religious and spiritual books with a Christian background are written about "our" spirituality, "our" experience of God, and about ways of attaining greater and more fulfilling experiences of God and the Spirit of God. What will happen if we begin to believe that the whole of human life is God\Spirit EXPERIENCING it, and not merely the Christian religion?
For, if God is "Spirit", in, through, and of, all things, He can be said to be, and is, experiencing all creation, and especially the human race made in His image, which is "Spirit". It is the "IS-ness" of God as Spirit (Not A Spirit!) that is the essence of "GOD-ness".
Some beautiful, wise, and enlightening words have been written about the Incarnation (God coming in Jesus into this world) but they seem to be written in "The Substantive Mood", as it were! God, as a "spiritual" Being, somehow becomes man (Virgin Birth?). Can God put off "God-ness", as suggested by St. Paul, and adopt the role of true "MAN-NESS"? This concept of a Loving God assuming our humanity - the king becoming as one of his subjects - this idea of "Divine Condescension" - is very appealing.
However, this concept is based on God as a Being, albeit, a "Spiritual" being! What is a spiritual being? A wraith? A Ghost? A mysterious formless entity? The way our theological thought has been framed in substantive fashion has made our apprehension of "Spirit" difficult, if not impossible! As Nels Ferré suggests, the whole of theology has to be re-thought, re-shaped, and re-written! (?)
Does this mean that all of our current theology and Christian experience has to be scrapped and that we start anew? In one sense, Yes! We need the grace and ability to let go some of our most cherished ideas should they prove inadequate. But the history and experience of Christian people through the years cannot be discarded because it erred in explaining it!. There is meaning, value, and true experience of God/Spirit even in the partial theological explanations by which people have lived in faith. God/Spirit has not been absent from either explanation or people!
God/Spirit acts in people despite their inadequate explanations of their experience, because God/Spirit is not bound to any creed, doctrine, bible, confession, or theology!
However, there is an inclination to settle down with our statements of belief, and forget the truth: "The Spirit will lead you into all truth!" Spirit uses all our thinking and seeking (even our less than true thinking!) to reveal Himself to and in us!
The last remark, and as in previous paragraphs, with the use of the personal pronoun in referring to God, is still to speak in "substantive" terms! However, in order to retain the personal nature of God/Spirit, it is simpler to use the personal pronoun in order to indicate not sex, nor personality, but that God/Spirit is personal.
There is so much that is of God/Spirit and "Christ-likeness" in so many differing personalities, that it is true "the Spirit bloweth where He wills", and correctness of belief seems to be a secondary, though vital consideration. Do we not meet people who apparently have no profession of faith in the Spiritual dimension, or in terms of orthodox Christian profession, but, one might say, are unconsciously christian? They are acting and living in some resemblance of Christ's Spirit, while not aware, or only partially aware, of Spirit in, and with, them.
Unfortunately, there are those who fight to the bitter end regarding some strongly held doctrine, and regard those who may oppose it as not being "sound", namely, sound in faith and doctrine! Again, there are those whose doctrinal stance may differ drastically with another's, but are found to exhibit true Christian love to them.
Does it really matter as much as we think, who is right or wrong in the seeking of Faith? What matters ultimately is whether there is a saving awareness of God/Spirit who seeks response of love, rather than recitation of creed! God/Spirit is ever ready to accept and meet everyone wherever they are in spiritual perception! Such is the inclusive nature of God/Spirit/Love that He/It accepts such perception that is not yet aware of God\Spirit within them, and within all!
Our search for true theological statements about God/Spirit may be marred by our narrow-mindedness, and our initial acceptance of false ultimates, such as the infallibility of the Bible. Marred also by mistaken ideas that we are defending the very foundation of faith! Does God need defending? We are only defending our stance regarding Him!
Yet, in all this, God/Spirit works to gain our deeper acceptance of His nature as unconditional LOVE, Truly, "Man looketh upon the outward appearance, but God looketh upon the heart' (1 Sam.16:7). Yet, we are not then excused for falling short of a fuller understanding of the reality of God/Spirit. For instance, some accept a kind of progressive revelation, with the Old Testament Scriptures leading up to the Advent of Jesus Christ, (the Messiah), and the New Testament Scriptures. These are regarded as God's Word, to some an Infallible Word. Thus, a tendency is developed to bind Spirit to a Book and to Creeds.rather, those scriptures are invaluable pointers to the Universal Word, but do not contain it!
One such pointer is the incredible vision of God as Spirit in Psalm 139 that denies any attempt to make Spirit limited by time, and to the descriptive literature and understanding of humankind. In the Jerusalem Bible the heading to this Psalm is "In praise of God's omniscience."(Thus perpetuating the concept of God's BEING!) God/Spirit is omniscient, and does not "possess" omniscience! But this Psalm is more than a vision of God's omniscience. It seems to be an astonishing understanding of the nature of Spirit, and Spirit's complete oversight and involvement in ALL that affects a human being!
Psalm 139: verses 1 to 18. (Jerusalem Bible.)
Yahweh, you examine me and know me,
you know if I am standing or sitting,
you read my thoughts from far away,
whether I walk or lie down, you are watching,
you know every detail of my conduct.
The word is not even on my tongue,
Yahweh, before you know all about it;
close behind and close in front you fence me round.
shielding me with your hand.
Such knowledge is beyond my understanding,
a height to which my mind cannot attain.
Where could I go to escape your Spirit?
Where could I flee from your presence?
If I climb the heavens, you are there,
there too, if I lie in Sheol.
If I flew to the point of sunrise,
or westward across the sea,
your hand would still be guiding me,
your right hand holding me.
If I asked darkness to cover me,
and light to become night about me,
that darkness would not be dark to you,
night would be as light as day.
It was you who created my inmost self,
and put me together in my mother's womb;
for all these mysteries I thank you:
for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works.
You know me through and through,
from having watched my bones take shape
when I was being formed in secret,
knitted together in the limbo of the womb.
You had scrutinized my every action,
all were recorded in your book,
my days listed and determined,
even before the first of them occurred.
God, how hard it is to grasp your thoughts!
How impossible to count them!
I could no more count them than I could the sand,
and suppose I could, you would still be with me.
Yes! Here is rall-knowingness", but there is more than God just "knowing about" humankind; there is also God/Spirit's ultra-penetration of humanity, in all its movements and hidden selves.
We tend to make the Spirit's Presence totally conditional upon our kind of response, but what the Psalm expresses here is what we may call the "INESCAPABILITY" of Spirit! There is no escape from Spirit - there is no place or circumstance where He is not, in the sense of His multi-dimensionality! Nothing happens, or has happened, that is outside, or apart, from God/Spirit.
This glimpse of the unbound, unconditional, Presence of Spirit, goes beyond the view that makes the Presence of Spirit conditioned by our response. Ferré makes a distinction between the "Spirit of God" and the "Holy Spirit", though, as he stresses, only for analytical purposes. In this analysis, the Holy Spirit is the action-response between Spirit and the person, whereas the Spirit of God is the general activity and work of Spirit in all creation. But there are not TWO Spirits. This analytical division is but an expression of the multi-dimensionality of ONE Spirit. God\Spirit is present in human beings even in their lack of conscious response to him. But when they become aware of God\Spirit as Love, who can tell what may happen?
Many books are written on "the" Spirit of God or Holy Spirit, with the Scriptures as their basis. References to "the" Spirit are gathered, and from them inferences made concerning "the" Spirit's activities. However, while most of these books provide a strong and valuable witness to Spirit, they exhibit a tendency to think and write from a substantive stance. However splendid the theology from an orthodox viewpoint; however clever the diagnosis of "the" Spirit's activities; however beneficial to so many this expression of the form and experience of Spirit is, it still interprets SPIRIT as a "'being" or entity. (The quoted "the" is thus emphasized to denote the substantive, adjectival, and illogical nature of the talk of Spirit which indicates the separate "being" of Spirit).
For instance, if we still think about God in Trinitarian terms, we are taking the New Testament relationships of Father, Son, and Spirit, and treating them as persons. We give substance or materiality to them, and the relationship between them. But if God IS Spirit, this relationship is Spirit also. There can be no objective proceeding one from the others AS PERSONS. The way we think, talk, and preach about their relationship would appear to indicate THREE separate persons - Three Gods! There would be strong denials of this, and much has been written in support and exposition of the Trinitarian view of God, as interpreted from the New Testament. To doubts and questioning, the Trinity is interpreted as a Divine Mystery, too great for human minds!
But have we ignored the other positive clues in the New Testament as to the nature of God as Spirit? Certainly there are clues as to "the Father" and to "the Son" and to "the Spirit", and our interpretation of these is in terms of "the Son" and "the Spirit" issuing from "the Father". Whereas if GOD IS SPIRIT, then the Father and the Son "issue", as it were, from Spirit! But God/Spirit is ONE, not three, and expresses Himself/Itself in numerous images and multi-dimensional ways. The "father" image is the "personal" nature of Spirit, the "Son" image is the Spirit's issuing forth in Love in human incarnation! So, Ferrés short definition of God is repeated: "THE PERSONAL SPIRIT OF LOVE!"
This clue as to the nature of God as Spirit, challenges all to venture forth into continuing thought about God/Spirit, who is not, and can never be, contained in our Creeds, or Bible, or theology, but ever exceeds their best and greatest thought. Though God/Spirit is in, and uses, our partial thought and experience to continuously reveal himself/itself!
Yet every ideological, theological, or substantive "God" that humanity creates in its search for spiritual-physical fulfillment has its day, then begins to show its feet of clay!
Such searches for, and partial findings, are evidences of the image of God/Spirit within, but who/which remains still seeking and being sought, because such partial findings are substance-orientated.
God/Spirit cannot be encapsulated in any one form, but is uncontainable! Yet, that multi-dimensionable, uncapturable, God/Spirit is IN humanity! We cannot really say a "part", "small bit", or "portion" of God/Spirit is in humanity, for that is to relapse into substance thinking!
It is saddening that many theologians fail to grasp the basic nature of God as Spirit, and consequently neglect this aspect of God/Spirit in their writings. This is an observation based upon a general survey of such writings. No doubt, there are some attempts to "de-substantiate" God as a Person. However, they deal with "the" Spirit objectively, and within the inherited tradition of theology.
Their theological interpretation of Scripture and tradition, and their adherence to it, in reverence, and as an indispensable part of Christianity, is of value, but what if it is preventing God/Spirit from "guiding into all Truth"? Will present Christianity fail to find its true place, not as an exclusive religion, but as a finger-post to the Universality of God/Spirit!
Spirit has been variously interpreted in Christian exclusive forms as: the Agent of the New Birth; charismatic fervour; the guiding force of the Church in its self-interests; even as the exclusive gift of the Church; or, in theological terms, as the Third Person of the Trinity (somehow subordinate and less important than the Father or Son!). All these are less than the discovery of the fuller truth that God is, and IS as SPIRIT!
The relationship in the "Godhead" is essentially that of Spirit. The explanatory formulae of Father, Son, and Spirit, is only explanatory and not as IS. The primary truth: God IS SPIRIT - the Spirit of personal Love - or, as in another definition by Ferré: ".....God is creative Spirit, motivated by Love, and characterised by personal purpose."(?) makes the substantive and process formulae of faith no longer acceptable.
Does this mean that these faith stances are useless and to be discarded? No! As previously stated, they were the Spirit-directed thought of human-kind according to their development and insights into God, and without which the greater Light could not be perceived. They are "broken lights" of the One True and Perfect LIGHT - God/Spirit! They are the temporary expressions of belief and experience by which individuals and groups have lived, and responded, to the workings of God/Spirit. All is, in Spirit, FOR humankind. God/Spirit, unlimited, unconditioned, and penetrative of ALL, is not remote or separated from humanity, and not excluded from anything. But Spirit is not merely being everything, or everywhere.
God/Spirit is confined neither to the spiritual activity of believers, or that of the Church. The phenomenon of revival, or the manifestation of renewed spirituality, or the appearance of charismatic groups with frenetic manifestations, may be interpreted as "the" Spirit's special intervention, and thus perpetuate substance thinking of Spirit. There is no such exclusiveness about Spirit.
rather, there is an ever enlarging and enriching and deepening awareness of God/Spirit possible to those who respond to his approach, which is totally in Love. It is response to the revelation of Love by Spirit, made possible by God/Spirit's image within them. Love - being and acting in Love - must be the response to Spirit of personal Love!
Yet, amazingly, God/Spirit is even present, in some sense, in the rejection of himself! The next chapter may help to explain the seeming contradiction!
Index Chapter 6