CHAPTER EIGHT. EVIL, DEATH, AND GOD\SPIRIT.
The greatest problem for human beings, and insoluble completely by reason alone, is that of EVIL. It is, and will be, grappled with indeterminably. People everywhere are still asking "WHY?" when evil threatens, especially them. Perhaps some people are too busy just trying to survive, and have no time or concern even to ask "Why?" Death and disaster are just "there!" And their threat is not diminished by the media's stress on the "bad" news!
It is asked: "Why does God allow evil?". Though sometimes it is dealt with philosophically and theologically with some success, the problem still remains. What remains is the bleak realisation of the irrational pain and suffering and death of others and ourselves, which arouses intense compassion in us for them, and questions for us! The last great evil for humanity to face is death!
One strange thing about humanity's facing of the fact of evil and death, is that though we are distressed by, and question premature death, as in murder, or in accident or war, or early natural death, we more or less accept the fact of death as a final experience we all will know. We can become quite philosophical about it, or dread it, or try to forget it, but it seems to be accepted as the one inevitable happening that comes to everyone. Therefore, however and whenever it comes to humanity, this phenomenon and finality of death in human history needs deeper thinking. And especially within the reality and concept of God\Spirit's experiencing our human living and dying!
Some have accepted death as the supreme expression of the rabsurdity" of existence, and that it is a welcome end to such absurdity. However, with many there is a lingering hope of a life beyond death. The Christian Faith, of course, holds this as a conviction. Christians accept that there is a life after death, and this belief is enveloped in a variety of images as to what that life will be like!
However, for many, this does not answer the present question: "Why the evil of death?" Why cessation of being? In nature and human life there is a constant wastage. Some of it is the result of human cruelty, hatred, and irresponsibility; some of it is nature's way of re-cycling, or eliminating waste. Wastage is a common phenomenon of existence, especially poignant to human beings in their cessation.
This wastage of human lives is observed most graphically in such disasters as the Holocaust of the Jews, in the wars of this century, in racial conflicts, in disease and famine, and in all outbreaks of violence. For all who suffer such wastage, and for those who only observe it, this is a human experience difficult to explain, and absorb philosophically or religiously!
Some outstanding books on Death and Dying have been written about the personal facing of dying and death, notably "On Death and Dying" by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. She writes: "Death is still a fearful, frightening happening, and the fear of death is a universal fear even if we think we have mastered it on many levels."(?)
Basically, this universal fear of death is part of being human, whether death and its wastage of life is by human or natural causes. Humanity's seeking and searching for knowledge of how things work has developed into modern scientific research and experiment, and has taken mankind into extra areas of risk. The experimentation with nuclear energy has resulted in a dangerous waste substance that requires extreme caution and isolation in handling and disposal.
Humanity's freedom to explore the unknown and to experiment is a risky business! We have created risk of death from environmental causes, as well as the risk created by humanity's acts of violence. Humanity seems to be able to hold both fear of death and the risk of it, in a kind of love-hate relationship. In most fields of human endeavour and effort, even sport, there is a risk of death or injury. But so often humanity has shown a defiance of the odds against it! We admire greatly those who have braved the risks of their endeavour, whether it ended in victory or death.
Is all this endeavour/risk/death an expression of the image of God\Spirit in us? If the Spirit is in and through, and of, all things, then all wastage, through living and dying, of becoming and ceasing to become, are all activities of God\Spirit. If God\Spirit is Personal and Creative Love, then all of the experience of humankind, in death, and even in what appears as evil, are His\Its experience! God\Spirit knows the experience of human death and evil. The person who knows best another person's tragedy is the person who has suffered a similar situation. When we say "God knows", as we so often do, we are uttering a truth deeper than we realise. For God/Spirit "knows" our experience, truly experiencing it as ours, and fully aware of it, yet without diminishment of his nature as Spirit of Love.
This Reality of Spirit is such that whether we accept or reject it, even such rejection or disbelief is still within God\Spirit's experience! For, from the faith-stance of God as Spirit, we no longer perceive God as static being, but as Spirit within the freedom, striving and death of humanity. Therefore, from this perspective of the total inclusiveness of Spirit, when human death occurs, God\Spirit is there, participating more intimately than we can imagine!
It is God\Spirit, as it were, "taking the risks" with His human creatures, and bearing the results, but with no "risk" to His hidden purposes of, and in, love. To repeat, God\Spirit does not know death as humanity knows it. Human death, to Spirit is "our" experience of it, not His. But Spirit is not to be excluded from this final earthly experience of all humans, but is in, and beyond it. For God\Spirit is eternal, and not bound by time or earthiness, and the Spirit-image in humanity is not bound by time or earthiness either.
Thus, if we can begin to think Spiritward, and try to perceive death from Spirit's experience of it, we will perhaps better understand the meaning of the myth of the resurrection of Jesus, which is that Divinity never dies! God\Spirit in Jesus and all humans never dies, but is eternally in Spirit, wherein the human aspects of that Spirit's indwelling is absorbed in what ways we do not know. The question of Heaven and Hell - eternal bliss or punishment - in literal terms, survives only while thought of in ontological ways.
One consequence arising from this concept of the ultimacy of Spirit is that "the" Spirit can be released from the Christian Church's biblically-based doctrinal control, and limitation of "the" Spirit to the Christian believer, and Christian Churches. In some theological works, and churches,"the" Spirit, or Holy Spirit, is regarded as the exclusive possession of the Church, and of the individual Christian. Other theological works treat "the" Spirit's mention in the Bible as indicative of "Its" traits and activities, such as limitation to the Church, and certain aspects of human experience. (The use of the quoted "the" before Spirit, or the pronoun "Its", is to stress the way in which the being or ontological nature of Spirit has dominated thinking.)
However, these diverse theological accounts of "the" Spirit's activity do serve to stress rather the truth of Spirit's free-ranging, unpredictable, and multidimensional Presence!
In a general sense, the Church does recognise that God as Spirit operates in all creation, but that the chief activity of Spirit (Spirit of God - Holy Spirit) is in the Church and believers. We are not saying that Spirit is not in the Church, but that Spirit is not ONLY in the Church. Spirit, in fact, is not an exclusive "Christian" Spirit. It/He is not bound to any set manifestation of Spirit's qualities, but is the Bearer of all spiritual apprehensions. God\Spirit is not only the "Holy Spirit" in the sense of all the spectacular manifestations in human beings, or epochs in history. God\Spirit is often passive, and, in some senses, acts with respect to human freedom and action.
If a theological "re-think" about Spirit leads us to an understanding of God\Spirit as being everywhere without being everything, then what is our relation to God\Spirit? Do we not have to ponder over the incredible truth that Spirit IS in humanity in ways that will challenge us to revise our theology? rather than some living "in the Spirit", is it Spirit actually "living us all"! Within the bipolar complexity of "spirit" it can be said that we are both "IN" Spirit, and Spirit "IN" us!
So, if the contrapletal levels, and multi-dimensional nature and character of Spirit are grasped, it raises questions as to our responsibility, our freedom, our individuality, and our religion.
Let us be reminded here of the contrapletal logic as used by Nels Ferré. This indicates that whereas in human existence there are levels of contradiction, on the level of God/Spirit, such contradictions do not apply. Thus: "Light and darkness are alike to God", and to Him ra thousand years are as one day".
If we view life from God's side, as it were, and that it is God's "experience" of us, not ours of Him, then what is our freedom?. Are we mere puppets? What about our responsibility? Can we blame Spirit if we are irresponsible? What becomes of us as individuals? As persons? How is God/Spirit "me"? The answers must be sought in the reality of God as SPIRIT, - the unbound, unlimited, continually creative, purposeful, personal Spirit of Love!
Does God, as Spirit, "experience" me! It may be a response-eliciting experience. It may be a rejection-response experience. Whatever our attitude and life-experience may be, it is God/Spirit who is long-suffering and desires our accord in and with Him, and waits patiently throughout our life and death (and after death?) for our "Yes" to Him, and death to those aspects of our individuality opposed to His Will and Love.
The difficulty in comprehending the nature of the above, is the general, ingrained sense of the incomprehensibility of Spirit. How do we identify Spirit? To identify Spirit as merely Force or energy, or consciousness, or the "best" in humankind, is not acceptable. Nor is the idea that "the" Holy Spirit is a mysterious power, which makes legitimate even the absurd! Wolfhart Pannenberg asks the question whether the Ghristian doctrine of the Holy Spirit has been misused and discredited by being used as a fig-leaf to protect the nakedness of the Christian tradition from the questioning of modern critical thinking. (See page 131, "The Apostles' Creed.") Allied to that criticism is that of the theological back-log caused through the continuing ontological frame of thinking.
Perhaps even the hesitant faith with regard to the nature of Spirit can be an expression of the Presence of God\Spirit! Thus, the presence of doubt along with faith, the night with the day, black and white; that is, the phenomenon of opposites, even that of evil and good, are not irreconcilables to the Ultimate of God\Spirit. The presence of God\Spirit in, and through, all things, all creation, all humanity, all opposites, in the degree appropriate for human freedom, is where to begin.
So, for God\Spirit to be God for us, He must be recognised as Universal God, who seeks SPIRIT-democracy; - a people born of Spirit, growing in Spirit, being enveloped in Spirit, and learning to love like God\Spirit of Personal Love! We cannot have an exclusive Faith, nor ra" Spirit, limited to the Christian Church, if we accept that God\Spirit is in all, and Universal. To ignore God\Spirit's universality is not only to limit faith, but also such faith is not really in the Absolute, the Ultimate, and is not really Christian! Indeed, God/Spirit is not merely universal, but is unlimited in scope! God/Spirit as Creator is not limited by that which He creates! But He may freely impose limits on His activity through personal love.
Alfred B. Starratt, in his book, "The Real God.", on page 36, has a personalized perception of this use of opposites and self-imposed limitations by Spirit-God when he writes thus: "God experiences my immorality, just as I experience it, although he experiences it as mine rather than his. He feels my ignorance as I feel it, but he feels it as mine rather than his. All that I am is included in all that he is, yet without any diminution of his infinite reality or of my concrete particular reality. In my joy, God rejoices. In my pain, God suffers. He is the life of my life, yet without being bounded by the limits of my individuality and the horizon of my awareness."(?)
God\Spirit who IS, and acts in multidimensional ways, is in the altruistic spirit of man, and in the human Eros. But God\Spirit cannot be identified with, or limited to, those exclusively. The freedom of God\Spirit is absolute. Though God\Spirit moves and acts in certain channels that do not demand or need His personal presence, so that it could be said that those channels are FIXED, this does not mean that God\Spirit IS those channels or activities, and therefore limited by them.
The analogy of the wind, used by Jesus, as showing the character of God/Spirit, is much more than a useful illustration. It is so very accurate, when one accepts the unlimited and unpredictable character of God\Spirit, which "bloweth where it will", and where we "cannot tell whether it cometh or goeth"! (John 3:8)
So that the Presence of God/Spirit everywhere, without being everywhere or everything, is a clue to the apparent contradictions and paradoxes of creation and history. From a human standpoint, we do not know how it is all going to turn out in the end. But from the perspective of Spirit, who is unlimited and unpredictable, and also Personal Love, we can, in faith, accept the inevitability of the end being utterly good.
This concept is not to be confused with the pious "pie in the sky" idea that the evils of life here have to be endured, but do not fear, there is a great future in the hereafter! This will make up for all the trials of the present! God afflicts us now, but will comfort us then! The pain and suffering of humanity, must make even the most pious have misgivings about that equation, though loyally shunted from the mind!
Life now is a mixture of opposites. Sometimes the bitter taste is stronger and longer-lasting. Sometimes the cry: "Why do the ungodly prosper?" seems so right! Sometimes the greatest and most frequent question on the lip of humanity is "WHY?" Sometimes the best description of human experience, seen as a whole, is CHAOS!
However, sometimes the human spirit is greater than its circumstances, and there is joy and gladness, peace and goodwill, beauty and wonder. Then, does not the inescapable truth appear, that life is not, and is not meant to be, one or the other, but a combination of both, so that we learn from opposites? We are BOTH children of darkness and children of light! We would never know either but for the other, and the learning from that opposition is our salvation.
Does that mean that we simply put up with the dark side of life because by it we know the Light side of life? No! The children of light must pursue the Light and make it shine upon the dark. Jesus had this to say: "He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of life." (John 8:12) The experience that defeats the dark is the experience of living in, and by, God\Spirit who was in Jesus. And this experience comes not by our self-effort, but by the awareness of, and obedience to, that same God\Spirit.
Any exclusive claim to this presence of Spirit can be dangerous, and subject to distortion. There have been charismatic figures who have claimed God-ship or God-in-them. Even Jesus has to come under this scrutiny. But, as we see in the Gospels, the two claims of divinity and humanity were counter-balanced in Him. The most dangerous distortion is the claim of divinity - the spiritual egotism of being God, or His favourite! No one can ever claim that! "The" Spirit of God is no person's private possession. You cannot buy, or earn this special gift. It is given, and comes by grace.
God\Spirit is present always, but especially when the heart and life are receptive. God\Spirit of PersonaI Love acts unconditionally. He acts on levels which to us seem contradictory. He sometimes seems to act indiscriminately. However, He is acting in accordance with His own essence, which is not bound to any thing, or place, or person, but is sheer, unconditional Love.
It is adherence to ways of thinking about God as A BEING, that prevents humanity from knowing Him as Spirit, and ourselves in, and as, Spirit. When God is given BEING, that is, when framed in a substantive way, by thinking of Him as a "Divine Being", in something like our own being, even if on a scale infinitely beyond ours, - then we place ourselves in all kinds of difficulties of mind and reason. And, more importantly, in great difficulty as to how we view our own spirituality.
One difficulty we face is how to separate the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Unless, of course, we have accepted the Trinity as absolute and ultimate, and the eternal experience of God. Perhaps, as is a common experience, we relate to the Three-Persons-in-One, in unquestioning faith. The three Persons of the Trinity and their relationship has been debated within the Church since its beginning, and the nature of this debate, with its basis of God = Being, seems to have beclouded the real character of God as SPIRIT!
Any debate among prominent theologians, such as the Death of God debate, may puzzle the faithful, and comfort the unbeliever! But the Death of God debate was premature and exaggerated! Only inadequate ideas of Him died! Recently Anthony Freeman wrote in his book "God in Man" of the death of the transcendent God of the Church and its Creeds. But despite Freeman's fine exposition of the God of Humanism, and the truth of God in us, it lacks the transcendent aspect of human experience which is identified as Spirit. What has "to die" is the substantive sense of God as "Being"!
God\Spirit acts in all the thinking of humanity, especially in that which is in response to Him. But because God\Spirit is beyond total knowledge, only approximations are possible for humans. However, these approximations suffice for God\Spirit to work in and for the believer's experience. Ultimately, all approximations must "die". The "death of God" is the death of inadequate concepts of Him. Yet God\Spirit still has power to live in and through inadequate concepts of His reality!
This confusion arising out of the equation of "God = Being" is the bedevilment of the Christian Church. This means that the Church, though it has deep understandings of its dangers as an institution, still thinks of "the" Spirit as its exclusive possession in the terms set forth in its theological and doctrinal works. There is no question, however, that the Church, with all its variations, is not part of Spirit's activity. But not, as would appear by what the Church says of itself, the Exclusive Concern of God\Spirit!
While the above is said against an English background, there are other nations and cultures where exist different religions - Muslim, Buddhist, and many others, includng the Christian - all with their distinctive doctrinal bases and forms of worship. Some may claim to be the "true" faith, and all have their particular problems, and special distinguishing aspects and attitudes to issues. All these reflect some evidence of God/Spirit's activity.
The United Kingdom has its debates concerning divorce, women priests, gay priests, the monarchy, and other issues, which are being considered against the background of the traditions of the established Church and its creeds, plus claims of exclusive guidance through Tradition, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit!
Perhaps all of these religious groups and their attitudes to each other would change, even far beyond the present ecumenical climate, and many of the above issues solved,
if they were considered within the understanding of God as Spirit, rather than as Being!
God is not only the Lover of the Church, but of the World! He\It is not only in the Christian religion, but in all religions, in the world, in humanity, in history, in ALL! That the CHristian Church does not die, or any other faith, is not because it has the absolute truth, but because God\Spirit loves it, and its near approximations as to who\what He\It is!
The "real"church - the "called-out ones" - are known only to God/Spirit, and composed of those who have responded to God/Spirit in such ways as they can. These may be members of an institution or none, Christian or other. Whatever judgement there be of any, it surely will be based on how they have been inspired to Love by the Personal Spirit of Love - God. Though awareness of such Spirit of Love arises out of the Christian tradition, God/Spirit is not exclusively Christian!