God is Spirit
For God, there is nothing supernatural. All that He creates is of order and process in the spiritual and physical worlds. Whatever we see about us in this physical world is of great wonder – it is our world – so we can only conclude that the wonder of the spiritual world must be vastly beyond our conceptual ability. Why? Because God is spirit, and I believe that where He abodes there are many wondrous things. We attempt to penetrate it with the tools of our mind and body, but we always seem to know no more than when we started. Why is that?
And so man turns his inquisitive nature to the physicality of his existence in pursuing the knowledge of God’s power and will through the sciences; as it appeals to his intellect and need for a gratifying respite from a day’s work, or the proverbial “pat on the back”. As for myself, I am a great believer in what might be termed natural theology, or the apologetics of God through what He has created, so the sciences are in good standing with me as they deal with nothing more than God’s creation. What better library to draw from? No luminary man can be as illuminating as God, and no composed word is better evidence than God’s scored creation. His creation is a tour de force of divine caliber.
I make this point because of what I will pursue in what follows. I want you to think in a common manner – a real manner of sensibility – without the abstract dogmatically cluttering your perceptions. In other words, put down your doctrinal pen for the moment.
There is more I wish to speak of upon the subject of the spirit, and once again as I noted in my previous post, I am not referring to the Holy Spirit as Christians seem to speak much of and yet are confused by, but rather that spirit within you. To do so, I want to briefly clarify the two other parts of a man or a woman; their mind (intellect) and their body (that squishy thing).
The Mind and Body
They are mortal. Not a lot need be said more. They rise and they fall upon the chicken soup and sugar-infused beverages they consume. They are self-centered. They are physically imperfect and the vessel from which pours all sin. They make spiritual claims, but intellectual activity is not spiritual activity. The same can be said for the bodily functions; hardly spiritual. Indulging the two certainly is fun in a temporal way, but life in this manner seems more like the child whacked out on that sugar-infused beverage; soon to crash, whine, and in need of a consolation.
One thing is for sure midst my yammering. It is that the mind and the body does not have the capacity to manage the gifts given unto them by God. Whether it be intellectual reason, physical prowess, the spiritual gifts, or free will itself, the mind and body seems to be always out of balance in their expression.
Genesis 2, of course, peaks with God’s creation of mankind; breathing life by the ruach (breath) of the Holy Spirit into the body of Adam. That’s got to mean something good about the mind and body, doesn’t it? Well, yes. But the problem is that we really never got to see much evidence of that goodness, as Adam & Eve quickly transcended the spiritual satisfaction of God into the intellectual and physical abyss of man sans God. Just how did we go from A to B, in such an easy manner? Evil is evil, but are we simply victims to its scourge of all things good before God? If we played a role in our own demise, then why did we not find the way quickly back into His garden grace? The answer, as the bible testifies, is that we continued to sin. Sin became the identification of who we are intellectually and physically.
There is a part, though, within us that has remained pure, and it is this part that I wish to discuss going forward.
First, from my previous post, I wish to identify the spirit-within as that spirit which God placed within each one of us at our conception, or at some point as you have concluded; perhaps at birth. (I have not shaken that theology out yet to my satisfaction.) This assertion is well expressed in the Catholic Catechism 366:
“The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.”
I sense that this spirit is completely unlike anything we have comfortably settled upon to date. Much discussion, by many concentrating minds, has been given over to identifying the spirit-within as a fusion of some sort; one way with the body (mind included) as a cocktail of material and immaterial processes incorporating biological, chemical, and spiritual elements to manifest themselves as psychological and physiological outcomes; or another way, as a cocktail with the intellect (mind only) and spirit, thus leaving the body somewhat separate to and dependent upon the now-formed soul. Either way, this is a bipartite (two part) view of the whole man as noted in this catechism teaching.
Whether a Christian denomination pursues a two-part or three-part view of man, much of its argument is based upon New Testament and early Christian writings. This is all good fodder in which to chew out the necessary nutrients for a logical assessment, but there is an important determinant missing from this balance; the accumulation, advancement, and God-driven evolution of knowledge that advances the human capacity for redemption. Christianity is a theistic faith, and as such revealed knowledge is fresh to liven the search for our Lord’s truth.
I believe there is much more to be included in this pursuit, and what I am referencing is found in more recent history. I might venture a guess and propose a period from the late 17th century onwards. As this period is known as the rather dangerous exposition of empirical and scientific discovery, to the more or less fundamental Christian, it is thus a period held with some skepticism by the Church; thus perhaps a certain refrainment from referencing more recent theologians, philosophers, and sciences. However, it is also the period in which Christian theology began, as examined through the natural processes of the world by those more daring in their theistic beliefs, to bubble up from the subterranean springs of Christian thought. There can be no doubt that to accept God as creator is to accept His creation as evidence of God’s power, nature and purpose. St. Paul understood this to the best of his experience.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
And so I propose that through scientific study – the acquired knowledge of creation and man – there can certainly be had a good discussion on the nature of man as either bipartite (body & soul) or tripartite (body, soul, and spirit). As I noted in my last post, I personally view man as a tripartite variant: body, intellect and spirit.
Now before I advance forward, please do accept that I am in disagreement with the phrase “held come what may”. What I am referring to is the automatic assumption we all tend to possess: that once an opinion is formed within one’s mind there can be only the martyrdom of defending the position unto death. We have all been caught in the vise (vice) of its grip, and I have found myself there many times. But in more recent years, I have learned that one is always learning; maturity is about continuing to mature, and there is no more an end to knowledge than there is a beginning. Knowledge flows like a river; sorting the bed-stones about, smoothing some and dissolving others.
Having discussed this either/or situation enough, I choose to state that the spirit-within – that spirit placed within us by God – is separate from the intellect (mind), separate from the body, and completely distinct from the nature of the intellect and the body. I would be more inclined to propose the intellect and the body as the fusion of material and immaterial processes thus constituting the physical and psychological nature of man (sans spirit). Hence I propose a few thoughts of my own as to the nature of the spirit-within.
First, that this spirit-within is perfect. The spirit can resolve all things if it is permitted to do so. It is the “image of God” as noted in Genesis 1:27, and as such, perhaps much more than man has ever realized it to be. It’s potential to affect the relationship of the mind & body of an individual with its creator, God, is limited only by an individual’s sense of his or her own failings (sins) and the gates of heaven. Luke 17:6, frames this argument in which Jesus illuminates us on the power of faith:
“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
The faith that Jesus refers to is the strength of the spirit within you. Surely your intellect is not planting that tree elsewhere, nor your body. That would lead one invariably to the conclusion that man is God. Therefore, would it not leave only some pure, spirit element as the force behind the miraculous; the instantaneous transference of a tree from land to sea? Is it faith that is doing that or is it what faith brings; the power of the spirit?
Second, the spirit-within is directly and immutably linked with God as spirit; the Holy Spirit. In this relationship, the spirit-within may be seen as the librarian of God’s Word; holding God’s truth for man’s observance, as man’s motivation towards virtue, as man’s inquisitor in his failings, and as man’s hero to what ought to be done and so is done for other men’s sake. What other cause would produce an unchanging conscience; knowing all truths despite all the intruding effects of life? This relationship is the perfect form of communion that God calls us all into service to Him for our sake.
Third, the spirit-within does not reason, incorporate logic or calculation, nor employ any manner of path thinking. These processes are physiological, mortal, fallible, time consuming, and the realm of the intellect, not the spirit-within. As God works outside of time, so does His “image”; it must, if it is to be in a continuum with the Holy Spirit, and no man dictates to the Holy Spirit when He might abide with him. The Holy Spirit convicts as He pleases, not the other way around. If there is spirit, it is of and in the spirit realm. It is what the Church calls communion; the natural flow of God’s will.
It knows the answer to all things because it is that image of God that was placed within you at your conception by God, who is spirit also. Think of it like that of the quantum computer: it knows the answer at the same moment of the question. The spirit has no use for reason because it is fully knowledgeable of good and evil; it is morally perfect and completely consistent with God’s law.
As such, the spirit-within us needs no reason, no logic, no calculations, no lineal or circular thinking to process what is the obvious and immediately available truth to any circumstance that a man might experience. As God views all of time at the same time, so does the Holy Spirit, and thus does one’s own spirit. Reason is insufficient to the task of the divine. If you have reasoned your way to a Godly conclusion, I’d be wary. Yes, your intellect and body will always preclude an immediate resolution to a concern or choice, so time is always in play, but one should always be wary. (I will address ways of discernment and action on this matter in later posts.)
Fourth, that the spirit-within is that part of you that lifts you above flesh and rational. What good cause could there possibly be in the ability to reason if it is not subject to the one force that can overcome man’s self-interest? History has amply demonstrated that man, left to his own desires, has little to offer the world in the role of steward. Left to his own desires, man is but an inept dictator.
This is what brings one to the concept of the “ought”; that internal knowledge of what abides with God’s will. This is the library I referred to earlier. We all sense an immaterial pull to God’s full range of truths:
“I ought to have done this.” “I ought to have done that.”
In all things we do, we sense a measurement of either being closer to God or further away from Him, and it manifests itself in how we perceive ourselves, and most of all, in the freedom of our spirit.
Christians naturally seek the spiritual fruits of life as noted in Galatians 5:22:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
The exhortation of keeping “in step with the Spirit” is a direct reference to the over-riding necessity and use of our spirit-within. And there is no coincidence that the fruits of life come from the Holy Spirit and not from a physical source like Santa Claus (as much as we have desired). It is because the only real fruit man will ever pick in his or her life will come from the communion of his or her own perfect spirit-within and the Holy Spirit; all in the quest to find God’s kingdom. Adam and Eve picked no such holy fruit in the Garden of Eden, choosing instead to let their fingers (their intellect) do the walking.
The Spirit Immured – The Fall
And so what is of the greatest curiosity to me if why is there essentially no theology on the spirit-within? If this spirit exists, as Christianity asserts, why is it such a muted subject? We dance much with the Holy Spirit, though as I noted in my last post, a majority of Christians have only a half formulated concept of such a divine entity. Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics by far understand His presence and purpose more so than other Christian denominations. Protestants refer to Him in polite terms, as do the Catholics, but both diminished His way long ago to the preference for the ritual over the spiritual.
The ritualization of any process only comes into existence when there is scant room for true understanding. Man’s attempt to talk back to God – his theology – is but man’s compendium of what he perceives as God’s existence; at least through the myopic vision of mankind. We learn slowly, very slowly, and most of humanity is left behind in the curial acquisition of introverted theology rather than drawn forward by the extroverted works of faith. What was God-divined was entombed in what Christian theology defines as The Fall, and what God divined for man was His spirit-within; perhaps the only real difference between man and beast. So where is our spirit-within now?
Perhaps no conspiracy that I am aware of holds back the understanding of our spirit-within; though the deception of evil is much stronger than man could ever suspect, and I thus do have my suspicions. I have sometimes thought that there must be a hidden “middle” Testament between the Old and the New; that portion of the bible that tells you what challenges there are on the path to God and how to overcome the deceptions and pitfalls. For it is here, on that path, or in the garden, where evil walks hand in hand with the intellect of man, like a father or mother with their son or daughter, teaching them a way that, if successfully taught, will never lead the child into God’s kingdom. And I do mean taught; a process or work to entomb that which is the light of man – his spirit – and reveal a false light – his intellect – as the sole source of a false salvation. Evil understands that work is always the method of habituation and any lasting condition, and so delights in the belief of those Christians who steadfastly adhere to the concept of salvation by faith alone. “Don’t bother to put your right foot in front of your left, God will do it for you by your mere acknowledgement of Him.”
Sorry for my snark (jab). I am a pessimist on matters of man’s direction, though I might spring from here to a mention of the Lewis Carroll poem, The Hunting of the Snark. Give it a read. I will suggest that after all the apparent nonsense of the poem is put aside, there is a clear story of man’s confusion in finding happiness, and his many failures due to his incessant machinations and end-runs to an imaginary end-zone. What better way for Carroll to write on such a thing as happiness except through nonsense. Not that happiness is nonsense, but rather the way in which man goes about hunting for it. The end of the poem is particularly disturbing for the hunters do not find the snark, but rather the boojum.
I asked the question, “So where is our spirit-within now?’ and the answer can be revealed by a quote of Richard Swinburne’s, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford. He noted that, “Desires conflict when they cannot be co-satisfied. Conflict is minimized when one of the two conflicting desires is greatly reduced in strength, so as not seriously to rival the other.” This, to a great degree, sums up the immurement of our own spirit; because our spirit-within is the natural opposite to that which man prizes most, the free will of his intellect. For man’s intellect to rule, it must move the light from upon the spirit to itself, and what better way than entombment behind the stone wall of awareness and acknowledgment.
We speak of and write upon the concepts of free will as if it is something of a treasure. We even go so far as to command that free will is a gift from God that provides for the capacity of love. The verbosity on such a concept is more a dogma of today than a paradigm of the past as we secularize ourselves increasingly through our materialism. Both religious and secular prize the all-giving free will as that diamond midst our ashen selves. I am not going to do battle here with free will. It would be of no use at this time, but let me pose a question:
What good is free will within the context of perfection; let alone sanctification?
If a Christian hopes for heaven, does he or she expect free will to be part of it? What need would there be for free will in such a setting? Christ talks of the kingdom of God as if it is something to be attained here on earth. Well, if that is truth, then would it not follow that the attainment of God’s kingdom is best sought through man’s refrain from all things not of that kingdom; free will included? As Morpheus questions Neo in the movie, The Matrix, “You think that’s air you’re breathing now?” To take that question to a higher plane, Morpheus might well be asking why man believes his reality, with all of its physical causes and effects, is even reality. I’ll continue the questions with one more. Do you think God has free will?
Free will is a process of the intellect; not the spirit. While man permeates his world with the idea that free will is a necessity for love, he accepts the permutation of his being by the resultant evil that is spawned by his own free will. Baron of the physical landscape, one’s intellect uses free will to not just survive, but to dominate. And I mean much more than just the domination over other men. It is one’s own spirit-within that receives the bulk of the ministrations of active free will as the intellect struggles hard to preserve what it believes to be its shining chorus; itself. The spirit-within must be diminished and the intellect raised if man is to succeed in his pursuit of physical and psychological self-interest; at least that’s his argument.
Well, I see no valid record that codifies free will as the agent of happiness and love, rather more so I see free will as the harbinger of our subjugation to our own self-interest; Satan as some might say. Now, I do believe that in our physical world, there is a place for free will. The whole matter comes down to our ability to recognize what the purpose of free will is, and therefore understand when to use it and when to not. It might start with the thoughtful comparison of instinct versus free will. Which is quicker?
It is here where one might ask, “Well, what then, if not free will?” And it is here where I might suggest the Catholic response; willingness.
This, of course, is a reference to Christ’s mother, Mary, and her response to the angel Gabriel upon his pronouncement of Mary being impregnated by the Holy Spirit. It is also the proclamation of Mary in the New Testament; her few words and seen actions. There is a message in this scarcity of Mary, and it is written in spirit and not intellect. It is the message that purity of being is to be had through the will of God and not through one’s own determination. It is a message that heaven is be expressed and served by a common presence; that of one’s spirit-within, for this is as God set forth through His imbuing of a spirit within each one of us. It is with this spirit-within that we are to be of the willingness that Mary naturally possessed as one with the Holy Spirit, and as the mother of Jesus Christ. That is what happens when one lives by their spirit; they are one with God.
To clarify willingness a bit, let’s simply go to the dictionary. Words that come forward are “ready”; duly equipped for immediate action. We see the word “done”; that which naturally is there in completion. We see “given”; the automatic assumption of something. We see “borne”; to hold up. And we see, and of most importance, “used”; employed for a purpose (by God). Perhaps one could argue that free will somehow precedes these conditions, but then I would argue that one is not watching their spirit in action, but rather their intellect. That is a problem for such a debater, for the sanctification of one who has been justified comes as a process that will be measured by the distance in which one relies upon their spirit over their intellect’s free will. The more that one turns to their spirit-within in their life’s pursuit of service to God, the more all choice and debate falls away to reveal the harmony of willingness in all things physical and spiritual.
It is no small coincidence that Christ addresses the idea of willingness in Luke 17, immediately after verse six, where Jesus talks of the mustard seed and a faith capable of planting a mulberry tree in the sea. Jesus goes on to tell the story of the servant working in the field and then coming home to prepare supper for his master. This is the willingness that I refer to, and yet much of mankind intellectually sees this as a disagreeable servitude. Our society demands an intellectual and physical equality; believing somehow that it will lead to spiritual fulfillment and happiness. This is the great stumbling block.
Above all other things Christian, the reason I am Catholic is because of one simple word; humility. Humility is one’s greatest tool in the fine-tuning of the spirit to its rightful condition as the dominant guide for life. It is Catholicism that best puts forth this state of being; just as willingness is a state of being. Humility has little room for free will when it is posed through the sanction and dominant operation of one’s spirit. When caused by the intellect, humility is distorted and manipulated like all the other virtues of man; to the purpose of one’s self-interest. This is indeed a problem for us, as we all wish some peaceful balance in our lives, but what balance will there be if we do not even acknowledge the spirit within us?
We have chosen some form of neutral, spiritual state of being by accessing what we believe to be a spiritual state through our emotions and desires. This is intellectual gobbledygook. Emotions and desires are of the intellect and not the spirit. In truth, what we do through this deception, is to further neutralize our spirit to an ineffectual existence within us. Once again going to prose & poetry, I might recommend a reading of Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Cask of Amontillado. It is a most disturbing read that tells me of the evil found in man’s intellect, and the intellect’s need for the mockery of the spirit (no not the Amontillado). Like the nobleman, Montresor, in Poe’s story, our intellect has insidiously entombed the spirit of our being behind a stone wall of deception that appeals to our senses. Our intellect reasons:
“It is best I do this.” “Oh, how could this spirit ever understand the realities of the harsh, physical world?” “What good is this spirit in our advance of love when we have our flesh?”
And then there is always the concept that we are victim to, rather than perpetrator of, our own free will, and thus ameliorating the guilt of what we sense for having diminished God’s good & perfect gift. Our guilt and shame evaporates as the dew that dries in the morning under the rising sun, leaving us refreshed for the next day with our proud intellect.
It is critical that you are whole in the sight of God, and thus to give the way to God back to the spirit that resides within you. To do so lifts the worship of God to a true act of love. Now there is purpose. God seeks our spiritual love over our intellectual sacrifice and obedience, for it is in that form of love that sacrifice and obedience is ensured, and communion raised to its intended form. God seeks a man and a woman who lives of the spirit and beyond the reproach of free will. Only those without free will live in heaven, and only those individuals whose spirits dominate their lives will have the opportunity of such an eternity. It is through the dominant individuality of the spirit-within that comes the successful communion of man with God and with other men. Christ outlined the mission of the spirit when He clarified the two greatest commandments for the questioning Pharisees. The spirit’s capacity for spiritual, and thus physical, communion, and for the supernatural event – through the spiritual gifts – is what Christ addresses as that part of man by which he might find his way to his Lord through the love of God and man.
If we are to attain happiness, it will come through accepting God’s will in our lives and using the sweet maturity of our spiritual fruits for the sake of others. The further our spirit-within can dismantle the self-righteous wall of our intellect through our willingness to God’s will, rather than through our free will, the greater our potential for sanctification to God’s satisfaction. And please understand; it is a wall that must be dismantled stone by stone. It was not built in three days, but in generations of deceit and sin. The only way to vanquish evil is to battle it through a humility held by a willingness to perseverance.
There are many ways for this rise in spiritual maturity to take place, and many have found their pathways. What I am going to pursue in future posts is a methodology that is of the common and the sensible. It is a methodology that will rely more upon natural theology and secular understanding to guide the way into God’s service. There are spiritual conclusions to all physical things that will lead men and women into a happiness that is greater than anything the intellect and body might conjure up on its own, and there is much to be said on the mechanics of lifting your spirit to the high plateau that it is so divinely titled to reach.
God Bless – Reese