Identifying older Christian doctrines with modern psychological insights, Bruce Evans notes six shared spiritual events in our common human odyssey:
1. Loss of Innocence (Sin)
2. Fall into Hell
3. Death of Self
4. Coming of Light (Parousia)
5. Accepting Forgiveness (Judgment)
6. Rebirth (Resurrection)
Dr. Evans brings 25 years of professional theological and psychological experience to this explanation of how-we-go-wrong and what-we-must-do to find heaven again.
In contrast with traditional theology which views the events as historical, he presents them as potential happenings of the heart for every person in the here and now.
"I am reading The Human Odyssey with great interest . . . having just finished the chapter, Fall Into Hell, I can only say that it is quite extraordinary. Every so often I read a book with the fugitive yet certain feeling that this is going to be important to me." Walker Percy
"Our time together around The Odyssey is, for most of us, the highlight of the week. Very stimulating and very enlightening . . ."
"The Odyssey is just about my favorite, close to I Love The Sun. We are using it for our bimonthly discussion."
to those spiritual pilgrims
who have shared their travels
and whom, of course,
Odysseus, the cunning king of Ithaca, led the Greeks in the Trojan War. Afterward, his return home was frustrated for ten years by Poseidon, brother of Zeus and God of water, earthquakes, and horses. Homer, in his second epic following the Iliad, immortalized the wanderings and adventures of Odysseus and his eventual return home after the fall of Troy.
From it all we get a fine word: odyssey--an extended adventurous wandering. I choose this graphic symbol to stand for the human pilgrimage. I believe that we are all on an odyssey, that we all go to the spiritual wars and are thereafter frustrated in our efforts to return home. Everyone I have known well has been somewhere on an extended period of adventurous wandering of the heart.
Everyone's epic poem is different. We are indeed unique wanderers. Only the first Odysseus used a huge wooden horse in his war. Our battlegrounds vary; our specific adventures are never the same. And yet it does appear that certain predictable spiritual events are common in the odyssey of everyone. Though our paths are different, our journeys do seem strangely alike. Our divergent physical wanderings appear to be highlighted by amazingly similar spiritual histories.
Our common human odyssey can be seen in the light of six major spiritual milestones. Our differences appear to converge at these highwater marks of human experience. All our uniqueness and individuality is, I believe, united at six common points. If we remain human, these happenings of the heart can be expected in our adventurous wanderings:
Falling into hell
Dying to self
Seeing the light (parousia)
Accepting forgiveness (judgment)
Rebirth (resurrection into heaven)
In real life the milestones are seldom seen or experienced in such neat categories. Only in retrospect do they appear so clearly. In the process they often overlap, merge, and phase into one another so that a participant is hard pressed to separate and distinguish one from the other. Losing innocence, for instance, may mesh so smoothly with the fall into hell that one is unable to draw a line between them. The fifth event, accepting forgiveness, may merge indistinguishably with the sixth event, being reborn.
To confuse the issue, each event may occur over an extended period of time, even a whole lifetime. Seeing the light, for example, may begin at age twelve and extend through the proverbial threescore and ten. Accepting forgiveness may take many years. Futhermore, experiencing the events is always a matter of degrees rather than being the same for everyone. We do not all lose the same amounts of innocence or fall to the same depth of hell. Some have more to be forgiven than do others. We all rise to different heights of heaven. Some know more ecstasy than others.
Confusion mounts because the progression from one event to the other is seldom complete at one time. Just as we do not lose innocence all at once, so we do not experience rebirth as an entirely separate happening. Progress is like a see-saw battle, up and down. Up in one area, we may be down in another--that is, while seeing the light in one aspect of life, we may at the same time be losing innocence in another. While being reborn emotionally, we may be dying mentally to self.
Then again there is slipping and sliding, moving forward and falling back. We may see the light at one moment, only to lose it in the next. We may grasp at heaven's door, then fall back into hell.
Yet in spite of the confusions of time, degrees, and backsliding, each milestone retains sufficient integrity to be perceived and described as a separable event. For sake of clarity I shall take this approach in the following pages. Temporarily ignoring the fact that one can seldom divide so neatly in his own life, I will do so on paper.
My hope is that an intellectual perspective on these experiential occurrences will be useful in following the stages of one's movement with greater acceptance, understanding, and even initiative. Through seeing the happenings in our mind's eye, perhaps we will be better able to chart our adventurous travels more wisely, hopefully returning home sooner than if we only wander aimlessly.
At least, I can hope that awareness of the predictable struggles to be endured may ease some of the threat of facing them blindly. If we anticipate, for example, the death of self, perhaps the apparent tragedy of it will be slightly relieved. I hope so. I wish that someone had told me about it ahead of time.
Because I am best acquainted with the language of the Christian religion--the Bible, sin, salvation, etc.--I use it primarily in this study. However, the pilgrimage itself knows no such religious or secular boundaries. It could also be described in the terminology of another religion or in a secular language such as that of psychology. Sometimes colloquialism and street-talk can point most eloquently to our shared spiritual histories. (See Appendix 5). In either case the events are what count; the language is only a vehicle for describing them.
For sake of clarity I sometimes attempt to correlate the language of Christianity with that of psychology and even street-talk. At the end of the book there is an extended discussion of these correlations and my definitions and explanations of the religious language I use. A reader may wish to explore these language clarifications before reading about the odyssey itself.
in the dawn of memory
When I knew my name
though not what they called me,
I lost my innocence
and joined the odyssey
Loss of Innocence
What is your problem? What is mine? The answer to this question is, I think, the first event in our common human odyssey. On the surface our difficulties may appear to be different. Some need more money, education, or better housing; others have trouble with friends, understanding themselves, or getting along with their spouses. Some are confused in their thinking; others are emotionally disturbed. One lady assured me recently that she would be happy if she could only move back to California. What would it take to make you happy?
Our problems do all seem to be unique. If, however, we distinguish between symptoms and underlying cause--the fever and the disease--we may see that we all share a common spiritual malady. Though the symptoms are different, the disease is the same. We all get sick of heart in a similar way.
Acquiring this spiritual disease with its seemingly infinite variety of manifestations is the initial happening on the human odyssey. In the beginning we all go wrong. We all "like sheep," wrote Isaiah in the Old Testament, "have gone astray" (53:6). Paul called it sin: "For all have sinned," he wrote, "and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
I call the event loss of innocence. Somewhere in the dawn of the pilgrimage we lose our innocence and go astray. Our later diversity of symptoms springs from this common spiritual event. The childlike innocence with which we are born is lost in the course of our growing up. Although we may not remember where or when, the results, like those of aging, are undeniable. Somehow, somewhere, it happens. One day we wake up and are innocent no more. We have "fallen short of the glory of God."
But how can we understand such an event which appears to occur even before the dawn of our memories? The biblical account of creation seems a good place to begin. Although the story is often taken as a history of the origin of mankind, let us assume that it is the story of every person's spiritual life. Assume that Adam and Eve are you and I. Instead of ancient history, imagine that it tells the tale of your life, beginning at birth.
I recount the salient facts: "So God created man in his own image. . . male and female created he them. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. . . And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 1:27; 2:8-9; 25).
Eden means delight. We Adams and Eves are all born naked in this garden of delights which we will later learn to call the planet earth. Before us are all the pleasant sights, sounds, and smells, plus good things to eat. And in the midst of the garden, symbolically, is the tree of life. We have centrally before us the possibility of partaking freely of the fruits of living. And then the final crucial phrase: And they "were not ashamed."
We are born naked and "not ashamed." Innocent. Every child is born guiltless, with nothing to hide. Nudity brings no embarrassment because in the beginning we have nothing to be ashamed of. When you see a newborn child you see him as he is, without pretense.
The innocent child responds to reality as he finds it. Though his perceptions are limited, he meets the world truthfully with what he is. He hears, feels, and tastes things as they are to him, instead of as they are to others or as he has been told they are. There are no shoulds, oughts, or supposed-to's in his world. Things are pleasing if they please him, not because they are supposed to. In the garden of delights he stands openhearted--honestly himself--before the tree of life.
But also in the garden is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God's message is: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. . . But the serpent said, ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 2:16-16; 3:4-5).
So all is not delightful in the garden of delights. Some fruit is denied. And there is the serpent who tempts us to "be as gods."
If we imagine this to be our own story, how can we understand the second tree and the tempting snake? First, let us confirm that apparently none of our gardens are just a bed of roses. The private corners of the world into which we are born have thorns tucked away among the roses. In many ways our parents are good to us, but we must face that none of them are perfect. Sometimes they come when we need them, but sometimes they do not. They are often warm, but sometimes cold. And eventually they may spank. And worse.
It is difficult living with these gods who hold all the powers of life and death--the keys to the kingdoms of food and love. Even more difficult is coping with their godliness--their pretending to have all the answers, to deserve honor and respect, to actually know what is good and bad, and to have the right to demand obedience "just because I say so." To remain innocent and human in the kingdom of the guilty and godly is indeed a challenge. What shall we do?
Back to the story. At this point of challenge the serpent comes to us all with his tempting solution: Join them; "be as gods" yourself. Or as we might say today, "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em." Obviously a child cannot beat his godly parents, so joining them must seem a feasible option. Assuming godhood, as they have already done, is a logical solution.
How can this be done? How can a child who is human become godly? Obviously the move is not real--nobody truly becomes a god. And yet we may take on the stance of god by assuming the attributes of divinity. We may give up the traits of humanity and begin to exist as though we were godly. Specifically, the primary earmarks of godhood are omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality--ultimate knowledge, superhuman powers, and perpetual existence. To be human is, in contrast, to have limited understanding, to be relatively weak, and to have circumscribed tenure.
This first spiritual event, loss of innocence, occurs as we abandon our real human qualities and begin to live as though we possess these elements of divinity. We examine each in greater detail:
In the biblical story this trait is symbolized by the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I understand it to mean the absolute knowledge of what is right and wrong, knowing for sure what is good and bad--as one's parents seem to. Since they have apparently already eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil--that is, taken unto themselves this ultimate information of what is inherently right and wrong, it must seem reasonable to join them by eating the proverbial apple ourselves.
So we do. We too eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We attempt to "be as gods" by joining them directly by taking their godly answers as our own, or indirectly by rebelling and assuming our own ultimate knowledge, different from theirs.
For example, when we were innocent we only heard words as they were in reality--sounds made in the air. When we join the gods, we presume to know which words are good and which are evil. "This is a good word. That is a bad word." Or we may rebel against their godly brand of ultimate knowledge and accept the alternative. "No," we may say with equal but opposite godliness, "that word is not bad; it is good." In either case we leave innocence and join the godly.
Or if the gods say, "Crying is bad. Big boys don't cry," we can leave the state of innocence in which crying is a natural emotion. We can assume they are correct, that it truly is bad to cry. We may hear, "Jump up, it didn't hurt," when we fall down and hurt ourselves. "Spinach tastes good." "It's bad to play with yourself." "This is good music." "They are bad people." We may hear endless godly pronouncements. We can desert innocence by concurring with the gods' "right" answers, or by assuming them wrong and establishing our own variety of "truth."
After we eat the symbolic fruit we live as though we too know what is good and evil--as though for instance, obeying parents is good and crying is bad--as though words, feelings, thoughts, and deeds are inherently good or evil. We move from seeing and hearing things as they actually are, to seeing and hearing only our assumed knowledge of their goodness or badness. The child who once responded, for instance, to a real person, now reacts to the color of the skin (his judgment). He moves from the human realm of discriminating to the godly domain of judging.
This difference between discriminating and judging is crucial. Newborn children, still innocent, begin to discriminate and to draw distinctions in the reality they discern. This is not that. This is hot; that is cold. This is light; that is dark. The sound is here, not there. As sensations increase, so do discriminations. Later on, this is a mommy; that is a daddy. And so on. All these discriminations are, however, a direct response to reality as discerned by the child. No judgment is yet involved. "This is a white person; that is a black person," is a simple discrimination based on discerned color. Still no judgment has occurred.
In like manner, the responses of a child are realistic--that is, based on the actuality of what is perceived. A child responds positively to that which hurts. He moves toward warmth and away from cold; toward cool and away from hot. All of these are relative discriminations, in accord with reality as it is in relation to the child as he is. There is no judgment of good or evil, only the discrimination between the pleasurable and un-pleasurable.
An innocent child responds favorably to a warm, accepting person, and unfavorably to a cold, rejecting person. In each instance, the discrimination is between real factors, but without judgment of the persons. One is warm, the other cold; but one is not "good" and the other "bad." For the innocent child there is no good and evil, only the this and that or the pleasurable and un-pleasurable.
As his capacities expand, so will his discriminations. Learning to do things, a child will learn to discriminate between the practical and the impractical. This works; that does not. Crawling around the table is practical; trying to crawl through it is impractical. Smiling for mommy works; crying does not (or vice versa with some parents). Among all the things he can choose to do, some are feasible; some are not. Still no judgment. Crawling through the table does not work, but the table is not yet bad. Crying may be less effective than smiling, but tears are not bad--yet.
But sooner or later the serpent comes with the temptation to join the gods, to move from finite discernments to infinite judgments. The temptation arises to take the giant step from "It works" to "It is good," from "I dislike it" to "It is bad." Discriminating is human; judging is godly.
Discernments are personal: "This is how I find it to be." Judgments are impersonal: "This is how it is." Discernments, like all human observations, are temporal: "This is the way I see it now; tomorrow may be different." Judgments, like all godly pronouncements, are forever: "This is how it always is." Discernments consider the circumstances: "That may get you in trouble if your mother hears you." Judgments ignore circumstances: "That is a bad word regardless."
The move from discriminating to judging is experiential, not merely grammatical. The issue is a real event, not a word matter only. The words good and bad do not circumscribe the happening. One can say either of them without judging, or judge without attaching these words. I may say chocolate ice cream is good, meaning only that I discern its taste as pleasant, or that licorice is bad (I don't happen to like it)--each without any ultimate judgment. On the other hand, I may judge something to be bad, even though I say it is good.
Insofar as this odyssey event is concerned, the issue is the spiritual move from merely discriminating (necessary human procedure) to ultimate judging (a godly act). The words can mean either one or the other. The event is what counts.
After assuming omniscience--infinite rather than finite knowledge--we live as though we know for sure. We act as if we have ultimate answers instead of temporary observations. For example, if one presumes to know for sure that there is an afterlife (or that democracy is better than communism, religion better than atheism, monogamy better than polygamy, vanilla better than chocolate ice cream)--or that there is no afterlife--then he has assumed omniscience.
Instead of living with uncertainty (finite human knowledge), he has escaped into the realm of godhood (absolute knowledge). To assume that one knows anything for sure is to have taken on this attribute of god. One who pretends to know for sure has become godly.
And what happens? The assumption is that being "as gods" will be better than being innocent as humans. We must apparently make this giant step from humanity to godhood assuming that this will be a better way to live. The serpent had said, "in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5). It sounds reasonable enough: to join the gods who know good and evil must certainly be easier than coping as an innocent child.
But what really happens? The Bible says that after eating the apple "the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made things to gird themselves about" (Genesis 3:7). In other words, they began to feel guilty. Before, "they were both naked and were not ashamed" (2:25). After eating the fruit, they had to hide themselves in the new shame of their nakedness.
How can we understand the imagery of sewing fig leaves in terms of our personal experience? Like this: before we join the gods by assuming that nudity is bad, we can have our diapers changed by anybody without feeling ashamed. We literally have nothing to hide. After the apple, however, we live as though nudity is bad (we assume this particular knowledge of evil). Since being exposed is bad, we "sew fig leaves together" (keep our clothes on). We do not take the chance of "getting caught with our pants down." (Note the judgment of "caught," as though nudity is evil.)
So it is with all other judgments of good and evil. Once we make them, we must do the good and hide the evil. Whenever there is any conflict, we must move away from the real and natural, choosing instead the domain of our godly judgments of good and evil. We must leave the realm of things as they are in favor of things as we see them (judge them to be).
We move into the dimensions of should, ought, and supposed-to. "You shouldn't feel angry at your mother; you're not supposed to"--that is, we abandon emotions as they are, in favor of as they are supposed-to-be. "That's a bad word. You shouldn't say it"--we cease honest expressions in favor of supposed-to statements.
Note again that these moves are existential rather than merely intellectual. The issue is more than consciously thinking something is good or bad; it is living as though it is. One doesn't necessarily conclude rationally that nudity is evil; in fact, he may consciously think that it is good. The point is that he comes to live as though nakedness is bad. He feels "caught" if discovered with his pants down.
Note also that the knowledge of good and evil is not merely a religious issue, having to do with ethics or morality. The point is "being as god" through assuming ultimate knowledge of any nature. One may be ashamed of his body (feelings or thoughts) when no religious morality is involved. Whenever I judge, for instance, a particular thought as bad, I must in effect sew fig leaves around my mind. I must hide because of a thought "I shouldn't be having." The issue is my godly judgment, not the morality of the area in which it is made.
The fable of the emperor's clothes illustrates this event. The emperor had bought clothes that were supposed to be woven of such fine gold that only the pure of heart could see them. Actually he had been conned by shysters. However, neither he nor his subjects would admit to not seeing the clothes, lest they confess their own impurity. So the emperor paraded nude while everyone complimented his fine apparel, until an innocent child exclaimed aloud, "But the emperor is naked!"
After our judgments of how things are supposed to be, we then see things as we imagine them to be. Only the innocent see them as they actually are. This early event in our common odyssey is our sin, our loss of innocence. Somehow, all the people I have known well have lost or are losing their innocence. We leave the state where we were "naked and not ashamed" and enter the realm of having to hide ourselves. We sew symbolic fig leaves not only around our bodies, but also around our minds and hearts.
The Genesis story, taken as a symbolic account of everyone's beginning, beautifully describes the essential nature of our common history. We all seem to opt-out on humanity in favor of "being as gods." We ignore the "tree of life" and choose instead fruit from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
The second attribute of godhood is omnipotence--literally, all power. Being innocent and human, one is finite; one's power is limited. On the negative side it is bounded by what one cannot do (fly or jump over the moon). On the positive side it is bounded by what he can do (run and jump over a candlestick).
When one assumes godhood, he abandons this actual range of powers, assuming a stance which is beyond the real--either more or less. He may become superior, acting as though he can do more than he actually can, or inferior, pretending not to have capabilities he really does. In either case an unrealistic sense of power--omnipotence--is assumed.
Exaggerations on the positive side are easier to see. Superiority, revealed in haughtiness, pride, or being "stuck on oneself," is often abundantly evident. Such a person "thinks he is somebody." He may assume that he can do whatever he wants to. He lives as though he has inherent rights over other people as well as things.
On the other hand, omnipotence, super-human power wielded by those who take a stance of inferiority, is often more difficult to see. Outwardly they may appear weak and less than human. They may look downtrodden, humble, and function in a self-effacing way. Like slaves they may look up to others, or as door-mats, be constantly stepped on. Careful observation, however, may often reveal the exaggerated powers assumed by those who act inferior, as in the expectation of being taken care of by those to whom they are slaves. In either case, godhood is the assumption of unrealistic power, above or below one's actual capacities.
Let us return to Eden and childhood and try to reconstruct the beginnings of this form of the loss of innocency. Perhaps the first temptation arrives when a child observes that tears or laughter "work"--that he can elicit certain desired responses by crying or smiling. When he cries, mother comes to his bed; when he laughs, she talks lovingly. He has the power to act in ways which often bring certain responses.
So far, so good. This is a natural human power. Omnipotence occurs, however, when the child makes the spiritual move from "I can try to influence you" to "I have power over you." From observing that "my smile is often followed by your smile" to the belief that "I can make you smile."
Later, when words and behavior are added to tears and smiles, a child may note that making certain sounds and acting in particular ways often brings other predictable responses. Saying "ma-ma" brings love; wetting the bed brings anger. He has the power to influence others by his words and actions. This too is a real human power. No omnipotence is required to use it.
The move to exaggerated power is made when a child assumes that he can literally make these responses occur, that his word or act actually controls the given response. For instance, when he succumbs to the belief that his behavior "makes mother feel bad," or that his saying a certain word actually upsets her, then he has assumed exaggerated or unrealistic power. Noting that his act is often followed by her response is human; believing that his act has the power to force her response is godly. The omnipotent child, for example, believes he can make his mother happy.
An adult example: I can tell a joke, which in turn may be followed by your laughter. It may appear that I have made you laugh. Not so. I can tell jokes, but I cannot make you laugh. In reality the initiative for spiritual response always lies within the other person. None of us can literally make another laugh or cry, or be happy or sad, loving or angry.
Physical reactions can be originated externally; spiritual responses cannot. I can step on your foot, causing you pain, but I cannot step on your heart or hurt your feelings. If I am bigger or stronger I can force your behavior, but I cannot cause any move of spirit.
In a cartoon a child wearing a dunce cap is sitting in the corner and audibly mumbling. The teacher demands, "What are you saying?" The child answers: "I'm sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up inside!"
So it is in reality. External behavior can be forced; spiritual response cannot.
We may play behavior games in which you act as though I make you feel a certain way. If I compliment you, you can act like I make you feel good. To my criticism you may act hurt. I may relate in ways which give you more or less permission to make particular responses, but I can never, in reality, cause your spiritual moves. You may frown at my best jokes, be upset by my compliments, laugh at my criticism, or ignore all of them. This is the nature of spiritual reality.
Just as I can't hurt you spiritually, neither can I help you. In reality I possess no power to make you feel better, be happy, or save your soul to any extent.
Realizing, accepting, and living with these human limitations in the presence of others who appear not to have them can be an immense challenge. To each of us the serpent apparently comes with the option: "Be as the gods," he invites, "Assume omnipotence. Join the godly. Take on yourself powers of control over others."
And we do, whenever we assume spiritual powers over other people.
The same is true when we assume exaggerated or supernatural powers over things--non-human external reality. For example, I am godly when I ignore my obvious human limitations and assume that I can do whatever I want to, if "I want to bad enough."
Human capacities do indeed allow reaching great heights, exercising vast powers, but always with certain real limits. Just as my vision is limited to a certain range of light waves, my hearing to a range of sound waves, and my smelling to a range of odors, so my total capacities are also limited. I can do many things, but not everything--not even all the things I can imagine doing.
The external powers of the physical and social world continually set limits for me. No matter how hard I try or how much I desire it, some things are always beyond my abilities. Many things which I can do sometimes or in particular circumstances are literally impossible at other times and places.
Before the loss of innocence, I live within these bounds; afterward I transgress them. Such a move would be obvious if I tried to fly off a tall building. Though less obvious, it would be equally real if I tried to make another person happy.
Exaggerated power is also evidenced in the assumption of rights over other people or things. In reality we are related. We are responsible--can respond to others and objects in positive and negative ways--but we never have inherent rights over them. We do not own them. To assume literal possessions is to assume godhood, a stance of omnipotence.
For instance, a child may respond to his mother positively. "I see you, mommy, and I like you being near." This is realistic. But if he goes the next step and assumes rights over mommy--that "I have you; you are my mommy"--then he has moved into the realm of omnipotence. Conversely, a mother may respond favorably to a child. "I love you. I enjoy playing with you." But if she proceeds to the position of having rights--"you are my child. I have the right to make you as I please"--then she has assumed omnipotence. Humans can be related to each other, but never own one another. To assume the right to have someone--a parent, child, friend, lover, or spouse--is to move into the realm of godhood.
So it is with things--objects, animals, plants, or land. Humans exist in relation to external reality, with the capacity for responsibility, but never with the option of rights or ownership in a literal sense. For instance, I may live with a pet. In reality I am responsible to and for the animal, yet I cannot have him without assuming godhood.
Legally I may hold title to land. According to law I own it. This, however, is only a social arrangement. Actually I am like a tenant farmer on property owned by a landlord. I am responsible for it and reap certain benefits from it, but literally the land is not mine. Only by assuming godhood can I truly have the land as my own.
Literal having of anything is impossible for humans. When we move from responsible relation to actual possession, with inherent rights, then we have assumed godhood. We have become omnipotent to the degree of our ownership.
Presuming to have a god is the ultimate act of omnipotence. Owning things or people is godlike; owning god is most godly of all. Having a supernatural being subject to one's knowledge or influence is like owning a magical genie in a bottle. One is naturally more powerful than the genie he owns, even if the genie can do things the owner cannot.
Omnipotence is revealed in the final control over the supernatural being. If I can influence my genie by rubbing the bottle or saying the magic word, or my god by proper behavior or saying prayers, then my greater power is evidenced. One is naturally more powerful than any thing one has.
The opposite shape of omnipotence--inferiority--is revealed in the reverse situation. If, for instance, a child assumes that he has no power to influence his parents, that "nothing works" (that he is entirely impotent), then he has also escaped the true human situation. That he cannot make everything happen does not mean that he cannot influence his environment. To live as though one can do less than he actually can is to flee into a negative form of godhood.
To be less than responsive to one's environment--irresponsible for the things and people to which one is related--is but the flip-side of the superiority coin. That I cannot "have" my land, spouse, or children does not mean that I cannot stand responsibly in relation to each of them. To play powerless (or act less potent than I actually am) is but a cloaked way of treating my own life in an omnipotent fashion.
Who gives me the right to belittle myself? As a limited human I have neither the godly right to put myself up or put myself down. My omnipotence is revealed in the putting, rather than in its direction. Whether I place myself as better than or worse than, higher or lower, superior or inferior, I am still doing the placing. Therein is my omnipotence revealed.
The move to godhood is also revealed in the assumption of immortality. Gods live forever; finite humans are limited in time as well as space. We are born. We live awhile. We die. Period. Perpetuity is evidently not inherent in humanity. The only way we imagine possessing everlasting existence is to move from the realm of the finite to that of the infinite. We commonly do this when we eat the apple and become "as gods."
In reality today seems to be all there is. Tomorrow is always a gift. Whenever a child moves from anticipating tomorrow to expecting or presuming it will be, he has made the quantum leap to godhood. Whenever an adult says, "See you later," meaning anything more than hope, he reveals his assumed immortality. Taking the future for granted, pretending I may not die before I "see you later," evidences my godhood. The child's prayer, ". . . if I should die before I wake. . .," is the only human way to approach sleep.
But living now in Eden is an immense challenge. Presuming tomorrow is a constant temptation. No one of us seems able to resist. Whether we execute the move by belief in an immortal soul or perpetual reincarnation, or simply live as though we have forever, the result is the same: escaping the human scene, joining the gods.
Summary: In religious language, loss of innocence occurs through the sin of assuming godhood. The godly attributes are omniscience (certain knowledge), omnipotence (exaggerated powers), and immortality (perpetual existence).
BECOMING A SELF
Loss of innocence may also be described in secular language as becoming a self. Without biblical symbolism this initial odyssey event can be viewed as the move from being oneself to having a self to be. Initially a child literally is himself; he has no separate self which he owns. He and his self are the same. He does not simply act like himself; he is himself.
In time, as capacities develop he will acquire the ability to be self-conscious, in the literal sense--he will be himself but also be aware of being himself at the same time. This seems to be a natural ability of the enlarged human brain, not possible for lower animals.
This human capacity is, I think, the door to the blessing--and to the curse. To be innocent and consciously oneself is one thing--this is the blessing. But to this threshold comes the serpent, tempting us all to go the next step and become self-conscious--that is, a separate one who is conscious of himself.
Becoming a god (religious language) is becoming a self or "I" (secular language). The "I" is the false god. The sinful act which costs our innocence is the creation and identification with an imaginary self, the "I" one assumes to exist apart from "myself."
Although the move itself is difficult to visualize, the results are more graphic. After one has become a false self, he lives as though he truly exists in this separate "I." He (the imaginary "I") may, for example, talk to himself. "I gave myself a pep talk," he may say, or, "Before the game I psyched myself up." He may carry on conversations, either aloud or in his head, with himself. A child who has not yet sinned and became a separated self may speak himself aloud, but he does not talk to himself. After this odyssey event he can speak to himself--that is, to his self-created "I."
Once this split is accomplished the godly "I" may become the ruling dictator of the subservient "myself." "I" may force myself to speak falsely to others either to please them or to secure what "I" want. "I" make myself say calculated words, rather than simply speaking myself honestly. As an innocent one, before sin, I might voice my feelings to you. What I feel would be what you hear. After the split, my false "I" will be more likely to force me to tell you what it thinks you would like for me to feel."Yes, I love you too, Mother."
Once divided in this fashion, with my assumed separate existence, it seems that all that is truly me in reality becomes a possession of the godly "I." Before sin, for example, I am body. Body is a part of who I am. Afterward, "I" have a body. The separate "I" presumes to be the owner of an objective body which he is free to use as he pleases. He may tend and adorn this possessed body, using it to impress or manipulate, or he may abuse it. Just as a prostitute uses her body to make money, so he may use his physical possessions, including his body, to secure the favors of the world.
The mind, another part of who-I-am, is also viewed as a possession of the godly "I" following the act of sin. While yet innocent, one is mind even as one is body. He does not have a mind--exist as a separate entity which owns a brain. He literally is mind. When thinking, he is thinking; thinking is who he is just then.
After sin, mind becomes a possession to be used at the whims of the godly "I." One then has a mind. In like manner he possesses thoughts or ideas which he uses, even as body-abusers, to secure things in the world. Instead of telling what he is thinking, he may display the thoughts which best serve the purposes of the godly "I" just then.
Even emotions become possessions of a separated self. After this first odyssey event one tries to exist as an "I" who has feelings, instead of one who is feeling. The omnipotent self attempts to control and use emotions just as he does thoughts. Instead of being his feelings--sincerely feeling what he actually does feel--he tries to force himself to feel the emotions which will best serve the purposes of the godly "I" of the moment. If "liking you" helps business, he will force himself to "like you." If feeling jealous interferes with his goals, he will rule out this undesired emotion. Before sin an innocent child feels natural emotions which arise within his breast; afterward he becomes their owner and user.
Once the "I" is full-grown, he may even assume the possession of a soul, an intangible entity residing in his body. Such an imaginary thing is particularly functional in the godly "I's" assumption of immortality. Even though his body dies, he can easily rationalize that his possessed soul lives on forever.
It is this "I," this separate self, possessor of body, mind, heart, and perhaps soul, which indulges in the previously described acts of godhood, exhibiting the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality. This is the "I" who pretends to know right and wrong, to have rights over others, and to possess perpetual existence.
The particular shape of the godly "I" varies from person to person. No two of us seem to have the same type self. From the wealth of our omniscient judgments, either accepted from parents or our own imaginations, we seem immensely creative in the variety of images we conjure up for ourselves. For example, picking up on parental judgments of his brain power, a person may imagine himself to be smart. Thereafter, he goes around acting smart, trying to live up to the image he holds of himself.
Or a person may imagine herself to be pretty, after hearing doting parents voice their own judgments. Then, identifying herself thusly, she may try to present herself as a pretty one. Using her body as a vehicle, she will try to use others to support her godly perception of herself as a pretty person.
Or a person may imagine his self to be good, falling, e.g., for his mother's judgment that "He is a good boy." If this image of a good boy includes such elements as obeying parents, being nice to others, and not getting angry, he will thereafter strive to live up to his image. He will use his possessed body, mind, and heart as instruments to maintain this ideal of who he is. He will, for example, try to mind his mother, smile at people as though he likes them, and suppress any angry emotions. Instead of being who he actually is, he strives to present himself as he has judged himself to be--namely, good.
Or conversely, one may make the opposite judgments, concluding that one is dumb, ugly, or bad. Then, for example, instead of trying to make A's in school, he may live out his image as a failure. If a girl has judged herself to be ugly she may hide her face and body or present them in unfavorable ways which conform to her ugly self-image. The self-conceived bad boy will misbehave in support of his own negative image of himself.
In reality, of course, most such self-images are far more complex, being comprised of various elements of smart/dumb, pretty/ugly, good/bad, and many other judgments. The point here is merely to illustrate the manner in which the godly self shapes itself.
The sin lies in the formation of the "I," however it is conceived. Instead of remaining oneself as one truly is--embodied, thinking, and feeling--one creates and tries to become an imaginary self. The loss of innocence occurs in this act of fleeing one's true humanity and trying to become what one in fact is not. Playing god costs innocence, whatever shape the game may take.
For clarification, the sin lies in becoming a self or image, not in the mere use of an image for such purposes as self-protection. In the land of the gods (and animals) one must take care of oneself. The use of an image as a wall against the abuse of harsh parental gods is a reasonable, human move.
For instance, a child may act as his parents judge good to be, in order to protect himself from their wrath. If they insist on his wearing clothes when he prefers to go bare, or that certain words be unspoken, or that he obey their commands, then he may act accordingly for sake of his own well being--to keep the food and warmth coming.
He can act, however, and yet remain innocent. He can pretend to be what his parents wish him to be without falling for it himself. He can act nice because "they" require it, without assuming he is nice. He can avoid the words which bring punishment, without judging them to be bad himself. He can do what they command without concluding the actions to be inherently good. All this without the loss of innocence.
This odyssey event begins when an innocent child goes the next step--accepting parental judgments or making judgments for himself. When he leaves the challenges of remaining innocent in the land of the guilty in favor of joining the gods, then he sins. He no longer uses the wall of acting as a reasonable protection; now he tries to actually become the wall. Instead of using the image as a safe mask when the threatening gods are around, he seeks to become the image, to be that way whether or not anyone is threatening him.
For instance, if his image is perfection--the summary of all his judgments of good--then he literally strives to be perfect. He tries to be a perfect self. If his perfection includes cleanliness and all things in order, he strives to be clean and orderly, whether or not anyone with power over him requires it. His perfect image is no longer a charade for practical purposes, an act he puts on to enhance his well being; it now becomes the self he lives as though he is.
He leaves the self he is in order to become the image he has created--a self in reality he is not. This move from real self to his false self is the loss of innocency. Thereafter he will devote the energies of life to building and maintaining this image, this reputation. He will work to impress people, to make them think he is what he is not. And in leaving himself he leaves innocency.
We may picture an innocent child as pure heart--like a valentine--and the self that is constructed like a shell or box around the heart. At first the shell may be only an armor, held up for protection. This odyssey event occurs when one's identity is shifted from the heart to the shell which surrounds it, when one's armor becomes "I."
If, for example, his armor is niceness, if he protects himself from the wrath of the gods by acting nice, this shift in identity occurs when he comes to identify with the niceness. He then thinks, "I am nice," rather than I act nice for practical reasons. Thereafter he tries to be nice, to actually become the armor he has created. To the degree that he succeeds in becoming nice--or any other such armor--he loses his innocency.
I summarize the various names given to the armor as "self." Instead of being himself as he is, a person becomes a "self" of his own creation. This "self" may also be called image, ego, persona, mask, and facade, by others. The issue is not what it is called, but the fact that a person comes to identify himself with this creation of his own mind.
The shape and content of this image, this false self, varies from person to person. No two of us build our selves in the same way. For some the self we erect and identify with is "good," for others it is "bad." For most it is a combination of the two, with infinite variations on the theme. Furthermore, as though to confuse the issue, many of us construct more than one false self, identifying first with one and then the other of our images.
Whatever the shape of the self or selves may be, the structure or content is more predictable. It includes our character traits or personality patterns (friendly, shy, bold, superior, or inferior), the ingrained games we learn to play with others, the relational patterns (one-upmanship, dependency, or being the boss), our philosophy of life (the answers we believe in), and our religion (as an organized system). These established structures become the fabric of the selves we create. They are the content of the images of who we are.
Once we have become a self, the previously discussed activities--judging, having things and other people, having infinite time available--may each be carried out. As a godly self (of either the religious or secular variety) I may presume to judge the world as good or bad, to possess objects and other humans, and to have all the time in the world.
In the Genesis account when God calls Adam to accountability--"Where art thou?"--, Adam replies, "I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He makes a half-hearted effort to blame his sin on Eve ("The woman. . . she gave me of the tree."), but finally he says, "...and I did eat" (Genesis 3:10, 12).
Unfortunately we do not all view our loss of innocency so responsibly. Quite often we blame it entirely on the woman ("My mother made me like this."), or on bad circumstances ("My terrible home life caused me to go astray. If my parents had been better and my environment had been more favorable I wouldn't have gone wrong.," etc.).
No matter how much or how cleverly we seek to evade responsibility, the facts seem to be that each of us chooses to give up innocency. Certainly there are crazy parents and horrible circumstances. Some of the gods in our early days do issue tempting invitations to join them. The degrading nature of the environment may seem to require godhood for survival. Conversely, maintaining innocency--staying human--requires massive faith.
Even so, it seems to me that each Adam and Eve personally chooses to heed the serpent and eat the apple. I cannot legitimately blame my sin on any previous Adam or Eve. No one made me assume godhood. They made it tempting and easy; they polished and presented the apple. But no one made me eat it. I did that on my own.
So, I believe, it is with us all. No matter how godly our parents or deprived our circumstances, it seems to me that we remain personally responsible. Our sin is our own.
In understanding sin (or formation of an unreal self), with the resulting loss of innocence, it is essential to see the difference between the spiritual move and the outward acts which may reveal or conceal it. The sin lies in the assumption of false godhood (becoming a self) rather than in any accompanying activities in the physical world. Sin can never be identified with any particular act, feeling, or thought, such as lying, anger, or thinking of murder. Any one of these may or may not reveal the spiritual act, yet none can contain it. One might do each of them and not sin, or make the spiritual move without any such revealing acts.
Commonly, sin is identified with deeds, as in the idea: "It's a sin to tell a lie," (or to break other religious commandments). While it is true that lying may reveal sin (a false god might omnipotently play with truth), and that one who does not sin is likely to speak truthfully, it does not necessarily follow that the spiritual act and this verbal deed can be identified. Depending on circumstances, one might lie without sinning (as in telling a thief there is no money in the house), or one might sin mightily and never tell an untruth.
The point is: this and every odyssey happening is a spiritual event, possibly revealed in physical acts, but equally likely to be concealed by them. In either case, the spiritual event is never to be assumed to be the physical act. Furthermore, the move can be made unawarely, without conscious decision. One may assume godhood without ever "thinking about it"; the most godly among us are often blind to the fact of our own omnipotency.
On the journey
first, we lose our innocence
then, we fall
in varying degrees
Fall Into Hell
So what if one loses innocency? Isn't the knowledge of good and evil a good thing? Isn't it better to have your eyes open and be sophisticated than to remain innocent like a child? Since living with the gods is such a challenge, isn't it better to join them, to accept their absolutes, or at least to fight theirs with some of your own? Of course it introduces guilt, but isn't that a small price to pay for ultimate knowledge and the company of the gods? What is so bad about becoming godly? The advantages are obvious. What is the price?
In the biblical story God warns Adam about eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil: "In the day that thou eatest, thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). But what does this mean? Obviously Adam did not die in the story. He hid himself, and when found, he talked with God. According to the Bible he and Eve later had two sons, went on to work and raise their family, and lived to a ripe old age. So what about the warning? Either God was wrong or we have misunderstood his message.
This dilemma is the key to the second major event in our common odyssey. I understand it like this: the reference to dying is obviously not to physical death, but rather to an event of spirit. Adam and Eve stayed alive outwardly, but something awesome must have occurred inwardly. I think they must have died spiritually. Symbolically they were kicked out of Eden, the garden of delights, and lost access to the tree of life and the presence of God. "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24).
This is, I think, what happens to each of us Adams and Eves when we become as gods. When we lose our innocence we die in spirit. Symbolically, we get kicked out of the garden of pleasure where we have continual access to the "tree of life." Though we intend only to make life easier by joining the gods, we actually pay with our spiritual lives. Of course we go on living--going to school, getting jobs, getting married, raising families--but without spirit. The body lives; the heart dies.
Ousted from Eden, the "tree of life (food for good living)" is no longer available to us. We cannot walk and talk with God in the cool of the evening (experience communion with ultimate reality). Try as we will, we cannot return to Eden (find the pleasure we seek in life). Cherubims with, as it were, "flaming swords" do indeed keep us out. Existing out of Eden, we are in fact spiritually dead.
This is the second odyssey event: spiritual death which is experienced as falling into hell.
Traditionally, man has often viewed this event as coming at the end of physical life. He has spoken of "dying and going to hell," as though hell were a geographical location for an afterlife. The biblical message makes the death immediate: "In the day that thou eatest thereof. . . "
This, it seems to me, is the way it is. Whenever we eat the apple--whenever the day, we die just then. Losing innocence has the immediate result of spiritual death. Hell, unfortunately, is not reserved for an afterlife. The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of its present existence. To be without innocence--that is, "as a god," is hell in the here and now.
But how can we understand such a profound experience? Perhaps colloquial speech is our best avenue to this odyssey event. Though we may imagine it will be heavenly to be godly, the opposite turns out to be true. "It's hell to be godly." This statement is literal. In spite of its tempting appearance, social acceptability, and public rewards, godliness really is "hell."
For example, consider omniscience, the first godly attribute (the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil). Presuming to know what is right, one who is godly will often have to be right. "It's hell to have to be right." The statement is literal. One who is caught up in the compulsion to always be right is literally in hell. The necessity kills spirit. When one loses innocency with its option of also being wrong, one inevitably falls into hell.
Or consider omnipotence, the second attribute of godhood. One who assumes exaggerated powers pays with the price of his spiritual life. For instance, a man who assumes exaggerated sexual powers falls into a living hell. "It's hell to have to be a stud," one such lost person reported. When occasional impotence, a common human trait, must be denied at all costs, the result is literally hell.
Or when one thinks he has the power to make other people feel good or be happy, he falls into a regular hell. Assuming this godly power results in spiritual death. "It's hell to be responsible for other people's happiness." When this godly attribute is assumed in a religious sense, as when a person thinks he can save other people, the resulting hell is even more profound. To be responsible for saving people is an unspeakable hell.
Immortality, the third godly attribute, also results in spiritual death. One who has forever loses now. In spite of the temporary relief of assuming that I have plenty of time, the final outcome for me is a loss of the significance of time. For the tomorrow that is bound to be better, I pay with the loss of today as it is. The cost of "pie in the sky bye and bye" is heaven on earth. "It's hell to be saddled with perpetuity." Only an innocent one who is attuned to the significance of each immediate moment can escape the present death inherent in having forever.
Being perfect, a summary description of godhood, is the ultimate hell. To be completely omniscient (always right), omnipotent (have perfect control over everything), and immortal (be stuck with remaining that way forever) would be the deepest hell. Just having to be good is bad enough; having to be perfect is sheer hell--literally. The required escape from humanity results in death of spirit. Being godly out of Eden is hell.
In contrast, the assumption of inferiority (the other side of the coin of direct godhood), is an equal hell in its own right. To exist with a sub-human image of oneself--with less mental ability, suppressed capacities, and curtailed power--is also a hellish form of life. For example, a person who has moved into the position of "not being as good as other people" (an omniscient judgment one cannot make without assuming godhood) must be continually hiding his inferiority or constantly striving to prove himself, or both. It is literally hell to be less than human, even as it to be more than human .
Hell is the human experience of existing apart from the presence of God (out of ultimate reality). Named as a figurative place to allow description in a spatially based language, hell is literally any place a lost person (one who has lost innocence) happens to be.
The New Testament words for hell (Hades and Gehenna) refer to "the unseen world" and "a place of burning." Both metaphors are appropriate. No one can see the inner torment endured by those without spirit. It is, indeed, comparable to the pain of burning. Spiritually dead persons often experience deep personal agony when their lostness becomes aware to them.
Like other odyssey language, hell, is to be understood figuratively. The use of spatial language for spiritual experience is simply an attempt to translate personal events into a language based on time and space (See Appendix). Similar uses of language include such expressions as, "going to dreamland," and being "over the hill."
Efforts to pinpoint hell geographically are, of course, ludicrous. They compare to locating dreamland, the land of Nod, or Santa Claus's North Pole abode. Hell is any place a sinner (one who has escaped real humanity into false godhood) happens to be, just as dreamland is wherever a dreamer is. To be without spirit (spiritually dead) is to be in hell.
Although hell cannot be adequately described in geographical terms, such as, "down there" and "after death"), the nature of the experience is more susceptible to other types of language. Metaphors related to fire and burning are often accurate. The Bible refers to hell as an "unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). Sometimes those without spirit feel as though they are on fire, with a kind of burning that cannot be quenched. Try as they will, nothing puts out the burning "deep inside."
The Bible also describes hell as "outer darkness" (Matthew 3:12). Spiritless persons cannot "see the light." They abide in the gloom of despair, unable to see the sun. Darkness may crowd in, even at noonday. No guiding beacon lights their way. "The bottomless pit," another biblical metaphor (Revelation 9:1), aptly describes the endless depths sometimes perceived by those in hell. "I go down, down, down," said one such person. "It seems I keep falling and never hit bottom."
"They have no rest day or night," wrote John (Revelation 14:11). When spirit has fled, no amount of sleep, even when it will come, can bring the rest needed by the soul. "I am continually tired," said one in hell. "I dope myself with pills, but still I cannot rest." John also described this awesome state as being "tormented day and night" (20:10). The untold agony of those who have lost innocency and assumed godhood does not cease with the going of the sun. Often the terror of lonely nights may exceed the crowded loneliness of busy days.
"Everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" is Paul's description (II Thessalonians1:9). In keeping with the Genesis metaphor, he recognizes the sinner as being cast out of Eden, unable to walk and talk with God. Sinners lose contact with ultimate reality. Out of harmony with the source of life, we experience being cut off, separated from the meaning of things. Existence becomes meaningless.
Outside of Eden we live without hope. "What's the use in going on?" spiritless ones sometimes cry out. Suicide becomes a logical answer to the pointlessness of life. One such person described this awesome state with the disarmingly simple statement, "Nothing matters, absolutely nothing." In hell one is indeed separated from God.
Spiritual death and the pangs of hell have been voiced in these ways in the Bible:
"The sorrows of death compassed me. . . . The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me." Psalms 18:4-5
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me and art so far from saving me, from heeding my groans? Oh my God, I cry in the daytime but thou dost not answer, in the night I cry but get no respite. . . . I am a worm, not a man, abused by all men, scorned by the people. . . . My strength drains away like water. . . my heart has turned to wax and melts within me. . . . I am laid low in the dust of death." Psalms 22:1-2, 6, 14,15 N.E.
In modern times, spiritual death and hell have been expressed to me in the following ways:
"I am out of my mind, crazy and sick."
"Oh, God, it's just too much."
"WHY CAN'T I DO WHAT I WANT TO DO AND NOT WHAT EVERYONE EXPECTS ME TO DO???!!!"
"I'm just walking around dead."
"Turned off again and I don't know what to do. I'm not even afraid. I'm a nothing again."
"I feel very desperate. I am the most miserable person who ever walked on the face of the earth, and I wish I didn't."
"I don't feel anything, 'cause I am so turned off and don't dare let myself feel what I want to feel. He is not going to hurt me again because I'm not going to let him."
"I died that day, just as surely as I'm sitting here, and I bet if I could talk with a dead-and-buried person, the feeling I had was indeed that of death."
Now I shall try to correlate the language and describe this second odyssey event in secular terminology. How can we understand banishment from Eden, spiritual death and falling into hell, apart from the religious symbols?
Loss of innocency occurs when one builds or acquires a self (or selves) apart from who one is. Death takes place when he ceases being who he is and becomes the self he has constructed. When a person leaves the innocency of being openhearted and becomes the shell he has built around his heart, then he dies as himself. Ta be around such a person without heart is to be with an empty shell. The house is empty. No one is at home. The occupant has died.
To be such an empty shell, to be heartless, is hell. "It's hell trying to be what you are not." Hell (religious language) is "not being yourself (secular language)." Trying to be an image one has created (a self apart from oneself) is literally hell.
For example, trying to be popular, to make people like you (exist in the reputation of someone who is liked by everyone) is hell. Identifying oneself with any role--husband/wife, father/mother, teacher/student, doctor/patient--results in death of the person. Being a good mother, for instance, is hell. Becoming any role is, of course, to be distinguished from playing a part well at appropriate times. Trying to function effectively in the role of parent is not the same as abandoning personhood in favor of literally being a parent. Spiritual death occurs only in the latter case. Such a death may become evident, for example, in a woman who has lost herself in being (literally) a good mother.
When the children leave home her personal destitution is revealed. When she can no longer be mother, she is nothing (dead). She was not simply a person performing in a mother role; she gave up personhood and became a mother. To become any role is hell.
This existential hell may be consciously faced when there are disruptions in human relationships formed to conceal it. In his book, Brother To A Dragonfly, Will Campbell quotes his brother after his family has left him:
"Will, I've had two long lonely years. I don't mean lonesome. I mean lonely. Do you know the difference between lonesome and lonely?" I indicated
that I had never given it much thought.
"No, you've never had to. Being lonesome is when somebody isn't there and you know they'll be back after awhile. Being lonely is when you don't have anybody to be lonesome for. I was lonesome for a long time after they left. But that was when I thought they were coming back. . . . But they're not ever coming back. Not in a million years. And god, Brother, you don't know what hell is and I hope you never do." (pg. 207)
His confession is, I think, quite literal. He was experiencing the hell which is our common lot, in varying degrees, after we lose our innocence.
In psychological language, hell is called emotional disturbance or mental illness. Psychiatrists have a vast classification system for varying degrees of living hell. Lesser degrees are called neuroticism. Greater degrees are classified as psychotic states. Specific names for the many categories include character disorders, paranoia, schizophrenia, manic-depressive states, and numerous subcategories within each broad classification. Craziness (secular language) is hell (religious language).
Laymen have innumerable descriptive phrases for being in hell. A sudden fall may be called a "nervous breakdown." A slower fall may be referred to as "getting depressed," "losing hope," or "feeling desperate." Lesser degrees of hell are called boredom, unhappiness, or "feeling bad." Greater degrees are referred to in these descriptions: "off his rocker," "out to lunch," "playing without a full deck," "deeply unhappy," or simply, "out of it."
One in hell loses contact with reality to the degree of his fall. The further into hell he plunges, the more out of touch with the real world he becomes. In existential language hell is meaninglessness. As a person falls he loses his sense of purpose in life. Meanings disintegrate as he falls further into depression and despair. "What's the point in going on?," a lost person may ask. "Life has no meaning anymore." "I have no reason to live." In the depths of hell suicide becomes a reasonable option.
At issue is the event, not the names by which it is called. Whether one refers to such an occurrence as having a nervous breakdown or as falling into hell, as being bored with life or as being spiritually dead, is less relevant than the condition being described.
All naming, whether religious or secular, is incidental to the experience itself. One does not even have to recognize the state or call it by any names to experience it. The tragedy of hell is that it occurs with or without recognition or names. One can be blindly in hell without calling it any name.
This condition of living death is commonly projected on outward circumstances when we feel unable to face the consequences of our sin. One may say for instance, "This place is dead," "This job is dead," "My marriage is dead," or even, "God is dead." To avoid the personal fact one may then seek a new place "where there is some action," look for an exciting job, change spouses, or become an atheist. Such moves may obscure the projections but they can do no more than temporarily hide the fact. Soon one must move again, or else face the awesome truth of his own personal death.
We box our hearts, thinking to protect them; only later may we discover ourselves to be dead instead. Even when we fail to perceive our own spiritual death, loss of innocence always results in falling into hell in the here and now. This is our second shared event in the common human odyssey. Unlike physical death, spiritual death is a matter of degrees.
The depth of our fall into hell is proportionate to the extent of our sin. The greater our loss of innocence, the more complete our spiritual death. In any degree, it is hell.
Death of Self
The first two odyssey events are apparently universal. It seems that we all lose innocency and fall into varying degrees of hell. From this point on, the ranks become thinner. Not everyone proceeds to the third happening, death of self. Many remain in hell for the rest of their lives. They may keep changing the name on the door--the house, job, spouse, possessions--in search of relief. Yet they remain in hell.
But for those who choose to continue the odyssey in search for good life in the here and now, other events are predictable. Though not necessarily experienced as positive at the time, each is necessary in the return to Eden. Death of self is the first such event.
If we think of the first two happenings as "how we go wrong," the third is the beginning of "going right." With events one and two, we go down; with three, we begin the ascent out of hell. We start the climb which will include a return to innocence, Eden, home, and heaven. From craziness, we begin the trek back to sanity. From the loss of self, we begin to find ourselves.
Only later, however, do we discover this to be so. In the process of this third event, appearances are all to the contrary. Instead of finding ourselves it may seem that we are losing everything we have gained thus far. In fact, this is so.
As previously noted, in losing innocence and falling into hell, we acquire a false self (or selves) which we identify with and come to believe is truly who we are. This self includes our images of "who we are," and is revealed in certain personality traits, patterns of relating to others, encounter games we play, and forms of our craziness. In religious language, this "I" or self is a false god, with elements of omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality.
Although this godly self was perhaps originally constructed for protection of our true selves, the unfortunate result is inward division ("splitness"), separation from who we actually are as human beings. The godly self gets us kicked out and prevents our return to Eden. We cannot have a self and be ourselves at the same time. We cannot be godly and human simultaneously. The godly self must die before we can recapture the innocence we lost in the beginning.
This is the third odyssey happening. Before we can return to being persons with heart, the false self we have become must die. The shell must crack. The coffin must be broken. The hardened wall must fall apart before the return to innocence can occur.
Specifically, this means that forms which comprise the false self are disintegrated in this odyssey event. One's self-image is broken. The reputation he has worked so hard to build and maintain comes tumbling down in his mind. He begins to see that he is not all the things he has appeared to be and tried to make others think he was.
For instance, if one's image was "a good person," this form begins to break. He starts to recognize how false it is. His "badness" becomes apparent to him. If a person has tried to be perfect (maintain an image of perfection), then his imperfection emerges to shatter this image.
Character traits associated with an image, such as, honesty, niceness, friendliness, dependability, etc., begin to fall apart. One who thought he knew himself as kindly and soft-spoken may discover himself feeling mean and hostile to others. One who "never got mad" may suddenly find himself getting fiercely angry at those he loves. Whatever the form of the character armor, in this event it begins to crack and break.
Established patterns of relating to others, one of the forms of the false self, begin to disintegrate. One who was always responsible may find himself evading responsibility. A submissive person may begin to dominate. One who never needed anyone may find that urges to dependency begin to emerge. Leaders may suddenly want to follow; followers may want to take charge.
For one who has fallen further into hell and built a self of neurotic or psychotic proportions, the forms of his craziness begin to be shaken. For example, a person who has become paranoid, established in his belief that others are against him, may find the security of his falsely-built thought world beginning to crack. The certainty of his belief begins to break.
From a religious perspective, the godly self becomes terminally ill. The false god begins to lose his omniscience. One who knew what was right and wrong begins to lose that certainty. Into a world of black and white a grey cloud emerges. The sure one is suddenly less sure. The "good" is no longer quite so clear; the "bad" is not so evil. Absolutes become less rigid. One who had the answers finds himself losing them.
Omnipotence likewise begins to falter. One who was so strong before, now begins to discover weakness. Impotence cracks the shell of one who thought he could do anything, if he tried hard enough. Rights which went unquestioned before, such as the right to have others, now seem less secure. The world of possessions which had been held together by this omnipotent self, now begins to fall apart. In the descent from all-power, one may lose his job, spouse, and friends.
Immortality, the third attribute of godhood, also falls into question. One who had lived as though he had forever, now begins to sense the fleeting nature of time. The significance of now may emerge in shattering clarity. The certainty of a life after death may be called into question. The ownership of an immortal soul may become highly uncertain.
The false god who, in his living hell, had all the right answers, all power, all the time in the world, and perhaps even a god at his disposal, may now find his religious world shaken to the roots. As he loses his answers, strength, immortal soul--his religion--and his god, it may seem that the end of the world is at hand.
It is. At least, the world as constructed by his godly self is at an end.
Inwardly this death of self is often perceived in traumatic fashion. It may seem that the world is literally falling apart, that one is losing his mind or going crazy. One who had never been afraid before may suddenly find himself afraid of everything; one who never cried may find tears coming to his eyes at the most unreasonable times. A person may think he is at the end of his rope, unable to go on. He may feel that he is having a nervous breakdown or losing all sanity. For the first time, thoughts of suicide may come to mind.
The death of self often seems unbearable in the process. Like a frozen river thawing in the springtime, the sounds and signs of this breakup of self may be awesome and dramatic. The end of the ages may seem to be at hand.
The Bible calls this "the tribulation" and "the abomination of desolation" (Matthew 24:15, 21). Jesus described the time thusly: In "those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken" (Matthew 24:29).
His description of these dark nights of the soul proves to be amazingly accurate. When one is losing godhood the sun may indeed turn dark. At night there is no light from the moon; no stars sprinkle the sky. The very powers of all that had seemed real before are shaken to their roots.
Jesus said also of this "great tribulation" that it "shall be such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time" (24:21). And so it proves to be. No previous human experience, not even the fall into hell, rivals this tribulation in its awesome intensity. Dying to one's self and godhood is indeed an "abomination of desolation," a period of absolute desperation.
And yet, as Jesus also said: "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24). In the terror of this third odyssey event, unfortunately, the second part of his message is not known. One who is dying to himself seldom has any awareness of later "bringing forth much fruit." At the time, it is the end of the world as he has known it to be.
First, a distinction may need to be drawn between the reality of the event and one's perception of what is happening. The actual event is the disintegration or death of one's godlike self; the perception, however, is of one's real self. It seems to one whose false self is dying that he is dying.
Since one's identity has been shifted (in events #1 and 2) from who he is to the ego or self he has created, he does not consciously perceive that the dying self is actually false. One who becomes godly believes that the image he holds of himself is truly him. Any damage to this ego (false self) is perceived as though it were to himself.
For instance, if I in my omniscience believe that I have the answers, and discover in the course of this event that I do not, then this death of my omniscient ego is felt to be of myself. I do not know at that time that I exist apart from this godly self. It seems to me that when I lose my answers I literally lose myself. In like manner, one losing omnipotence--becoming relatively impotent--is likely to feel that he is losing himself.
Actually, however, the death is not of one's real self. Only the false self, created during the loss of innocency, is falling apart. Though it seems to me that I am dying, if I continue in the odyssey, I will discover that I was wrong. Only my false self--my ego, my godly image--was at stake.
Secondly, the death of self, like all odyssey events, may take place quickly or over a long period of time. There is no connection between spiritual happenings and chronological time. For some, this breakup occurs quite suddenly and dramatically, like a thawing river in a single burst of spring. All the world seems to fall apart at once. For others it may take many years, with a single part of the image breaking now, and another much later.
In the slow thaw, for example, one who had an image of perfection might find a gradual chipping away of his perfect self. If he always remembered things, he may gradually find himself forgetting. If he was always on time, he may periodically be late. If he was always practical before, instances of his impractical behavior may slowly emerge.
On the other hand in the rapid thaw, one may suddenly find himself falling apart. "I can't believe I did that," one such self-righteous person said after his first night on the town. He had, so he reported, "made a complete fool of myself." Actually he had only gotten drunk for the first time, but to him his entire godly image had disintegrated at once.
This death of the godly self may also be understood in terms of a return to humanity. In order to become a godly self, one must effectively abandon humanity, at least, certain aspects of it. In building the shell around his heart, for instance, he loses contact with many of emotional possibilities. A hardhearted man, for example, may have lost his ability to cry. One in perfect emotional control may have lost contact with angry feelings.
In acquiring omniscience--the answers--one loses a portion of his ability to think for himself. His answers (knowledge of good and evil) substitute for current thought. Instead of thinking in any immediate situation (deciding what to do at the moment), the godly person simply goes by an old answer. "Honoring parents is right," says he, thus evading any thought about how he will respond to them in any present situation. He is automatically nice.
Sensuality, another basic component of humanity, is commonly repressed in false godhood. Being sexy is often judged to be bad in all but the most carefully-defined circumstances. Even the natural human enjoyment of basic senses--seeing, hearing, and touching--is often suppressed by a ruling ego.
When such a godlike person begins to enter this odyssey event, his humanity is almost certain to emerge. Emotions long repressed are likely to be felt. One who previously had great control may suddenly find himself with feelings he has not known before. He may feel like crying at the strangest times, like laughing when he "should" be
serious. He may feel great hostility toward loved ones, and, for the first time, discover his capacity for tenderness.
His mind may likewise be awakened. Instead of accepting old answers, he may begin to think for himself. Previously unquestioned absolutes may suddenly be called into reconsideration. Religious doubts may flood his mind. Old prejudices may be brought into the light of reason.
Sensual awakening is also predictable. Sexual attractions which violate a godly image one has maintained are likely to emerge. Seemingly uncontrollable urges may come into awareness. "I'm turning into an animal," one such person confessed. These signs of humanity may be the most tangible evidence of the death of self. The fall of the god heralds the resurrection of the human.
But this is a later odyssey event. First comes death of self. One must die to what he has become, before he can return to who he is.
Coming of Light (Parousia)
For those who continue in the human odyssey, a fourth major event is predictable: parousia. After dramatically describing the "great tribulation" which we have called the death of self, Jesus said: "And then shall they see the son of man coming" (Mark 13:26).
Both the Old and New Testaments refer often to this event. Popularly it has been called the "second coming of Christ." Parousia is a transliteration of the Greek word used to name this happening. Though most often translated as "coming," the literal meaning of parousia is "presence"--as opposed to absence. The event is an experience of the presence of Christ.
After dark nights of the soul, when the moon and stars refuse to shine--when one is experiencing the death of the self he has created, comes the dawn of new light. Symbolically, the son of man comes to one in the midst of his greatest tribulation. Just when it seems that one is at the end of his rope, unable to hold on any longer, suddenly there is the presence--parousia.
Christ comes to him. He who is the way, the truth, and life, appears to one who can find no way out, who has lost hold on the truth, and who knows no life within himself--is dead in spirit. When one is dying to self, he does indeed lose his way. Blindly he stumbles in the darkness of this new territory of the spirit. Trying first one way and then another, finally he reaches that desperate deadend street which is properly labeled: No Way Out.
But then, miracle of miracles, the way does appear. Just when the road seems darkest, a way of going on comes into view. This is the Christ. Parousia. Presence. The coming of the way to him who had lost his way.
Before the death of self, when one is omnisciently playing god, he knows the truth. He knows how things are; he knows what is right and wrong. In his mind he has the answers. This assumed knowledge gives structure and stability to his life. It is the basis of his judgments of others and direction for his own life.
But when this omniscient self begins to die in the third event of the human odyssey, one loses his truth. He who self-righteously had the answers before, suddenly discovers his answers fading away. His grasp on "the truth" begins to slip. His certain knowledge of what is right and wrong gives place to uncertainty. Doubt crowds in where assurance has been. Truth flies out the window. And wild is the night when one loses his truth.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples about the parousia event, he said, "I will send unto you. . . the Spirit of truth" (John 15:26). And so he does. In this second coming of Christ, the Spirit of truth comes again to the one who has lost all his truth. In the midst of raging doubts, uncertainty, and any possessed knowledge, a new light of truth appears.
In the darkness one begins to see the truth of where he is, how he has gone wrong, and how he can go rightly. He catches a glimpse of lost innocence. Only this second time, seeing the truth is quite different from the old omniscient way, before the death of the godly self. When Christ comes again, one sees truth, but he no longer has it.
The "Spirit of truth" comes to him; yet he does not own it. In the parousia, one experiences the presence of truth without any sense of possession of it. Christ, as symbol of the truth, becomes a personal experience instead of a thing to have. The haughtiness of possessed knowledge is replaced by the humility of experienced truth.
Christ is also life. In the death of self, one loses awareness of life. It seems that he is dying. Things--people and possessions which gave life to the godly self--no longer work. The magic of another compliment, another award, another possession, another conquest, another person, no longer brings the illusion of life. In dark nights of the soul one loses the false sense of life he possessed while he was playing god. Physically he may go on; spiritually he is dead. But in this odyssey event of parousia, Christ who is life, comes to one who is lifeless.
Parousia then is the presence, the coming of Christ who is the way, the truth, and life. Love is a word which may summarize these three perspectives of Christ. Christ is love. In the parousia event, one who has lost his way, his truth, his life, and consequently his love, experiences the coming of love. Loveless in his time of spiritual death, one who endures the loss of self can anticipate the coming of love.
In the parousia, Christ, who is love, appears.
Parousia, in secular language, is insight. In the darkness of his mind, one suddenly sees the light. When this spiritual event occurs, the secular man may say, "Aha! Now I see." The truth begins to dawn on him. Though still caught in the dark, he sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Though still in the woods, he begins to see the way out.
In the death of self one literally loses his grasp on reality. When this fourth odyssey event occurs, he starts to glimpse reality, to see. Intellectually he starts to grasp what is wrong with him, to see why he is so miserable. The falseness of his previous way of life emerges in his awareness.
All of a sudden, he begins to catch on to what life is all about. The futility of achievements and possessions as bearers of spirit becomes clear. He realizes how dead he has become, and what he must do to find happiness again. He sees the light.
Parousia is a spiritual experience, not just a physical or mental phenomenon. It involves the whole person, rather than body or mind alone. Some members of the Christian church have, throughout its history, thought of the second coming of Christ as a physical event, an objective occurrence in which Jesus will literally come floating back to earth on a cloud from the sky. Such a physical event would be subject to photographing and reporting on the evening news. It would also be impersonal--that is, occur for every person at the same time in history. The parousia being described here is no such physical occurrence.
Nor is it a mere mental product of the imagination. Emotionally disturbed persons with a religious background do sometimes have visual or auditory hallucinations in which they imagine seeing or hearing Jesus. This human odyssey event is not to be confused with such apparitions. The parousia is a real happening, involving the whole person--body, mind, and heart--in this present world, not an illusion, a mere sign of mental illness.
The event is personal, occurring for individuals according to their own progress in the human odyssey. It happens for each person at a time, not everyone at once. Jesus said, "two shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left" (Matthew 24:40-41).
In other words, parousia happens for persons in the midst of daily activities. Though two people are physically close, the parousia may only occur for one of them. One may be caught up in experiencing the presence of Christ, for example, the spirit of truth, while the other is left totally unaware. While one is saying, "Finally I see the light," the other may be completely blind to what is happening.
Parousia, like all spiritual events, occurs at particular times, but is more likely to be experienced as an extended process than a single occasion. Christ may come to one aspect of my life on one occasion and to another part of me at another time.
For instance, I may receive insight into a personal problem at one time, and into a problem with a relationship at a later time. Furthermore, parousia is often a matter of degrees, rather than complete in any one event. I may partially glimpse truth now and then see it more fully years later. There is no connection between parousia and chronological time. Though described here as a single occurrence, parousia may in fact take place throughout one's lifetime.
These experiences of presence are always given, never grasped. Christ comes to one at unexpected times. Though we may wish to command truth, to have it appear whenever we desire, such is not the case. Often it will not come when we want it most, and then arrive when we least expect it.
Jesus said of the event: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the son of man cometh" (Matthew 24:26, 42, 44). Parousia is always a gift to be received. At best we can watch and try to be ready. We can never command its appearance. Insight never comes on demand.
And yet the event is predictable. Those who endure the death of self can reasonably anticipate the coming of light. "After that tribulation," said Jesus, "then shall they see the son of man coming" (Mark 13:24, 26). One can never know just when; yet one can hope with justification. Human experience bears out the predictability of parousia.
HOW PAROUSIA OCCURS
Because we are unique individuals, it seems that Christ comes to us in different ways, according to our personal attributes. For some he appears more often through the forms of nature. In the woods, the desert, on a lake, or in one's own back yard, parousia events occur for some. Watching the sunset, listening to birds call, or observing a spider building a web--such occasions are favorable times of insight for certain individuals. Christ comes to some in the music of gentle rain; to others in the wild wind of a raging storm. The light may dawn while one is lying in the sand listening to the ocean waves, or simply absorbing sun beside a pool.
Reducing such events of heart to the communicable language of words is always a difficult matter. Poetry often seems a better form of expression for me.
unbinds my heart
myriads of circles
coming without invitation
leaving without sign
their brief existence
on a sidewalk pool
shame my fear
in the purposeless brevity
of my own existence
once evoking fear
follows lightning's playful finger
my sleeping spirit
while life still is"
from which once
I shivered and ran
now ruffles my hair
caresses my skin
and rain birds
voice my song
in the being
of a slow rain
The ocean has also been the bearer of insight for me on many occasions.
I love your children
WIND AND SAND
You've called me home
from distant wanderings
You've melted my aloofness
in your wild harmony
You've delighted me with your ease
in changing forms
You've reminded me of my insignificance
in a kind way
and of my power
You've taught me the beauty
of the natural
and the worth
of the worthless
through the kind way you honor
homeless shells and drifting wood
You've absorbed me
in your roar
while your cousin
You've birthed me as your Father
blessed the coming night
with his rainbow splendor
You've made me SELF
so why shouldn't I love you
Parousia events in nature are primarily through the visual sense. For some persons the sense of touch is also an avenue for the Christ. One person had an experience of insight through the apparently mundane event of feeling an avocado. It seemed so unreasonable to her that she became embarrassed in telling me about it. Later I wrote:
"Isn't it stupid,"
"I felt an Avocado."
it was almost too silly
but was it really?
is it stupid
to feel an avocado?
is it lost
not to be able to?
who could know God
who couldn't feel an avocado?
Being caught in the rain once combined touch and sight in a parousia event for me.
SUMMER RAIN PRAYER
It is raining, God
I'm sure you didn't know that
(since I forgot my umbrella)
So I'm just passing on the information.
(In case you haven't gone out yet)
And don't forget your overshoes either
(The sidewalks are covering fast)
There goes my shoeshine
Oh, my poor new suit.
It's cooling off,
Rain on my face
The clean air
I like it!
Forget it, God.
It just dawned on me
You're already here.
Christ often makes his appearance to us through other persons. The physical event of meeting someone may become the spiritual occasion for seeing the light. A conversation, a touch, or sometimes only a certain look may be the medium for parousia.
God, it's hard to believe,
but there in the busy midst
of all those things
I'd never seen you before
except maybe a hundred thousand times.
I'd never heard you before
except every time I've listened
But there we were
And for that timeless time
we were together
Wow, and hot damn!
Then you were gone
except you'll never be away
And I realized
in the wonder of God
That I don't even know your name
But so what!
I know you,
God, and thank God.
God Dawned Upon Me
I started to say
It dawned on me
but that is not right
because there is no such thing
There we were
talking to each other
and in the middle of sentences
we forgot about ourselves
and really started
and that's when it
--I mean God--
dawned on me.
We were talking about God
And you want to know something funny?
We never even mentioned his name.
The apostle John referred to Christ as the Word: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Although "word" commonly refers to a physical symbol, either written or spoken, it may also be used as a symbol for spiritual truth. The word, in this sense is literally the Christ.
tangible and intangible
seen and unseen
direct and indirect
spoken and written
but none compare
to that Word
In response to hearing the tale of one person's search which led to a parousia event in this form, I wrote:
She longed for the Word
which is only heard.
Through days and nights
she went in quest
she searched the wisdom
of the best
she quizzed the master
of the schools
she sought for thrills
in mountain pools
in bottles glowing red
for ecstasy upon the bed
she read the writings
of the bad
while living poor
in some beat's pad
she wrung life's rag
'till it was dry
and fell to earth
without a cry
then in the blackness
of her fright
her soul lay silent
in the night
and in the silence
came the Word
which is not found
but only heard . . .
Activities such as hobbies, crafts, leisure, play, or work may become the avenue for his appearing. A photographer, for instance, may receive insight while engaged in his craft. An artist may find the light dawning in the midst of painting a picture. I know a potter who sometimes sees truth most clearly while at her wheel. Driving a car on the interstate has been a medium for parousia for some. Others find reading or listening to music most conducive.
A parousia event was described by a teacher in these words: "One night I had just finished teaching the drama class at the church. The teenagers had left and I was alone for a few minutes. It was raining and I felt sentimental. I drove down Government Street and was struck with the beauty of two lamps at the entrance into a side street. I slowed, stopped, and parked in the parking lot of a florist shop across the street from the smooth milk-glass globes on top of the posts.
"With the rain falling slowly, and time taking it easy, 0 God, I felt so beautiful! I said aloud, 'God, I want to paint that. I want to paint the light.' I had never painted light before. I had just bought some new paints for the first time in five years and it was after that night that I seriously started looking for something to paint. I discovered a picture of the sun through the trees in a book. I painted it.
"It was at that time that I felt that God was invading my world and I felt rebellious. I struck out with thoughts like: 'I'm supposed to have free will and you are supposed to come only if I choose for you to.' After the painting, I saw a new light. I could see that the invasion was a quiet one like the sun that is there. And I could see that the invasion was one of beauty.
"The painting is very meaningful to me. I am happy beyond words. I rejoice. I am delighted that I was able to see, and that the invasion that I rebelled against is not really an invasion at all, any more than the sun's rising is an invasion in the quiet forest. Oh, God, to me that painting is the most beautiful painting in the world."
The avenues for parousia are, I suppose, unlimited. Nature, sensual experiences, other people, work, play--he comes as he will.
in a line
from a song
in a word
from a poem
in the rain
in a glance
in a crowd
in a wave
from the sea
he cometh in Thee
Blessed art Thou
ON JUDGMENT DAY:
Am I OK
Not just before you
or even in my own eyes
but before God?
Can I have every
and still live
This is the final judgment.
Accepting Forgiveness (Judgment)
Parousia inevitably leads to the final judgment. We cannot stand in the light without being revealed by the light. To be revealed is to be judged. This is the fifth major event in the human odyssey. Whether one is a religionist whose doubts surface in the parousia, a scientist whose hidden religion is made known, or a homosexual coming out of the closet, judgment always follows revelation. Will a Baptist be accepted with his uncertainty about the virgin birth of Jesus? Will a scientist be tolerated with his beliefs in Christ? Will a homosexual be allowed his true sexual preference?
The issue being settled on the day of judgment is: Am I acceptable before God? Or, in secular terms, am I really okay? Or not? If the verdict is yes, then I go, as Jesus said, "into life eternal"; if not, then "into everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46). Favorable judgment leads to heaven; an unfavorable verdict results in hell. If I'm really okay, then the door is open to the good life; if I'm not, it's back to misery for me--and, I suppose, for every other participant in this human odyssey.
To simplify the issue: at stake is the deepest of all questions, who am I? Am I a child of God? Being male, am I a son of God in the same way history has judged Jesus to be? Is God my father? Or am I a bastard--a false son with no inherent rights in the family of God? Am I, as Genesis notes, "created in the image of God," or am I created in the image of Satan--evil to the core? Can I go naked in Eden, or must I always wear my fig leaves? Jesus said to his followers with regard to his miracles: "Greater works than these shall ye do" (John 14:12). Is it possible that we followers might out-do Jesus?
Am I, as the poem Desiderata states, "a child of the universe?" Do I, "no less than the stars and trees, have a right to be here?" And to be here openly--as do the stars and trees--as I am? Is it all right for me to think my own thoughts, feel all my emotions, experience my true desires? Is it okay if I be me, or must I be a "good person"? Can I reasonably strive to become my truest self, or must I continue trying to live up to the expectations of others? Should I try to be me, or work to impress others?
The issue is deeper than practical behavior. It goes to the heart of the nature of man. Was I conceived as a fallen Adam, inherently flawed at birth, the victim of some ancient original sin? Or was I born an innocent and acceptable child of God? As a person, on the deepest levels of my being, am I bad? Or am I okay? Certainly much of my behavior may be properly classified by parents, society, and religion, as unacceptable.
Sometimes I have "been a good boy"; at other times I have acted foolishly. But the judgment of this odyssey event goes further than behavior. As the prophet Samuel wrote, and certainly Jesus amplified: "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (I Samuel 16:7).
What I have thought, felt, said, and done, will be the material evidence revealed in this day of judgment. The Bible is quite clear about this. The Old Testament preacher said, "God shall bring every work into judgment" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Jesus went beyond deeds and noted "that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). Paul added "their hidden thoughts" (Romans 2:16 Amp.). Jesus left no room for hiding anything when he said, "For there is nothing hid, that shall not be manifested" (Mark 4:22).
And yet the biblical message goes deeper. In the final analysis we are to be accepted or rejected as we are "at heart"--not simply at hand, head, or mouth. In Hebrew language "heart" is used metaphorically for the essence of man. Out of it are "the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The current identification of "heart" with emotions only, falls short of the depth meaning of the word in biblical thought.
The point is, on judgment day, the issue is more than activity (How have we done?); it is "heart" (How have we been--or how are we?). Activity of hand, mind, and mouth may or may not reveal one's heart. I may act, think, and speak honestly or dishonestly. In either case, this odyssey event calls my heart or being into question, in spite of my performances. The issue is not merely the quality of my acting (How did I do?), but the quality of my being (How do I be?).
Am I basically okay, regardless of how I have acted? I may or may not have put on a good show in my life so far, but the judgment question goes deeper. It is: how am I after the play is over, the curtain closed, and the stage lights turned off? How am I? In the dark, with no audience or lines--with just me--am I another son of God, a child of the universe? Or not? Who am I? A creature of worth? Or a worthless creature?
The issue of worth is also more than a question of motivation. Motives, like thoughts, words, and deeds, may reveal who I am--the state of my being--but "heart" is more than intentions. Motives may be considered to lie behind or deeper than actions, yet they too are from the heart. I stand in judgment of my heart, from which all motives and deeds arise.
Thus, the judgment question is more than either: "Did I do well?" or, "Did I mean well?" It goes beyond both: "Did I act right?," and, "Did I intend (or try) to act right?" In a court of law, motives are often the basis for the verdict. Did the defendant murder out of self-defense or was it a cold-blooded act? In the judgment day the question goes deeper than what did I do, or why did I do it. The crucial issue is the worth of I, the intender and doer.
Although this judgment event is finally about the general essence of who I am--my being rather than my track record--every particular aspect of me is called into accountability. For instance, my body is judged. Is it acceptable or is it bad? If I am naked, do I have anything to be ashamed of?
We presume, without evidence, that Adam used the fig leaves to cover his genitals rather than the top of his head. If so, are my genitals "dirty"--that is, bad, and thus to be hidden for other than legal or social reasons? If I have blemishes must they be kept hidden, or am I acceptable--warts and all?
Certainly my deeds from the past are to stand openly in the judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14). As noted, however, the issue is not as simple as: do the good deeds outweigh the bad ones? Rather it concerns my acceptability with all of my deeds, whether they be good or bad.
In other words, my past activities, good and bad alike, are called into judgment. Does God accept my past? Can I be open and unashamed about all of it--successes and failures--or must I keep fig leaves over my past? Do I have secrets to be ashamed of? Or could my past be an open book acceptable before God? Does God accept me with every closet deed exposed? Will he allow me in Eden with all my bad acts made known?
How about my words? As Jesus noted, every idle word shall be called into judgment. Considering every word I have ever said, in public and private, am I still acceptable before God? The point is not have I said only good words, or do the good ones outnumber the dirty or curse words. The point is, am I still okay after taking them all into account. If all my spoken words were printed in the newspaper, would God say,"You're still all right"?
Beyond the realm of outward activities--doing and saying--the judgment also includes my inward acts, my feelings, thoughts, and desires. I often liked my baby sister, but sometimes she caused me trouble and I felt anger and hatred. I never killed her, but many times I felt like doing so. Often I love my own children, but I have at times felt like cutting their throats. Though I settled for spanking, I felt murderous. And so on.
The judgment question is: considering these and countless other negative emotions which have and continue to well up within my breast, am I acceptable to God?
Again, the issue is not as simple as do my good feelings outweigh my bad ones, but rather am I okay with a healthy (or unhealthy) measure of each? Must I keep fig leaves around my feelings, being continually ashamed of any of them? Or can I stand acceptably before God with every emotion revealed that I have experienced, openly or privately, and yet not be ashamed?
Thoughts too stand revealed on judgment day. I accepted many of the traditional beliefs of my family, community, and church while growing up. But I also had thoughts of my own. Sometimes I disagreed with my parents, thought the local social ideas were wrong, and had serious doubts about religious doctrines held by my church. I have also thought about things I was told one should not think--like murder, rape, incest, and suicide. In the judgment, as Paul said, even my "hidden thoughts" are revealed for accountability.
The question is: am I acceptable with all my thoughts made known, the good and bad ones?
My desires and passions must also be revealed before God. I have often wanted to be good, but sometimes strange cravings have moved me. I have wanted to be kind and loving, but then I have craved power and destruction. I have felt passion for persons I was told I should not desire. I have wanted my wife, but also, at times, my neighbor's wife.
I have coveted the possessions of others, even the attributes of God. I have felt sexy when only sympathy was appropriate. I have wanted to hurt when help was needed. I have felt fire in my loins when only grief in my heart was the reasonable emotion. The spectrum of "evil" desires has coursed within me, not necessarily counter-balanced by equal cravings for good. The judgment question: am I okay with God, even so?
My motives too are revealed in judgment. Often I have meant well, even when I acted badly. I have intended to say the right word, do the best thing, even though the results have not always been positive. However, there have been countless times when good deeds and nice words but concealed the most destructive of motivations. I have helped when my purpose was to exercise power over others; I have tried to kill with kindness. Often the reasons which I thought to be unselfish at the time have been revealed on further analysis to spring from deeper selfishness. I have unselfishly given myself away, only later to discover that I did so to selfishly gain the favor of God.
All my motives, good and bad, are revealed when I come to judgment. The question is not "Did I always mean well?," or, "Did my good reasons outweigh the evil ones?," but rather, "Am I acceptable with my proportion of each?"
In an overall sense the judgment is concerned both with my commonness and my uniqueness. I am basically animal with the common traits both of the lower creatures and all my fellow humans. I am one of the herd. Probably there is no animal craving or human option which is strange to me. When I read of the crimes of others, even the atrocities, I must ask when I am being honest, could it have been me instead of them?
Conversely, while sharing all attributes in common with others, I am also different. I have uncommon thoughts, my own combinations of feelings and desires and my particular way of seeing things. To the common lot I bring my own flavor and tastes. My finger is like millions of others; my finger print is unique in all the world. So it is with the imprint of my life. Physically I am like you; yet I am also different in many ways.
In this odyssey event both my commonness and uniqueness are called into judgment. Is it okay if I am common? Is it all right to just be one of the herd? To live and die like all creatures, not to win or stand out, not to make a contribution to others, not to improve the place? Is it okay to leave the world with no sign of my life, to die like a tree or bug, soundless in the forest? Am I acceptable as a common man?
On the other hand, is it also all right that I am different, that I don't see things like everybody--even any body--else, that I don't think all the common thoughts, buy the entire party line, or believe every doctrine of my church? If my feelings and desires are not like those my friends reveal to me, am I bad? If I want to do things others seem not to, is something basically wrong with me? What about being different?
Nor is the judgment of my life limited to past activities, outward and inward. What about now and the future? Am I acceptable before God with my current activities, ideas, emotions, desires and motives? Or any which may come tomorrow?
Is it okay for instance, to feel any emotion which might surge through my body? To have any crazy thought which might come to mind? To permit any desire which might arise within me--for any body or thing? In other words, am I acceptable before God as I have been, am, and may become? Am I okay past, present, and future?
Summary: The final judgment is a day of reckoning of who I am. My essential being is weighed in the eternal balances. The issue is beyond a mere judgment of what I have done (said, felt, or thought), or even my motives. I, myself, am the defendant. And yet because who I am is revealed in the things I have done both publically and privately, my record is the content of the case. The events of my life, inward (emotions, notions, and intentions) and outward (activities and expressions), are the way my being is revealed.
Hence, on this awesome day, I am known in my entirety. I face the eternally significant question of being acceptable (having my being accepted) or being damned.
This final judgment is before God, not man. If we use the imagery of a courtroom scene, I stand before a judge's bench with my entire record laid before the judge. Every deed--outward and inward--is revealed. I stand to be judged for what I am. The judge is neither another person nor myself. The judge is God. The issue is my acceptability before the ultimate in reality, not merely some part of reality, such as, other people.
I may or may not be acceptable with my fellow-men. Whether they accept or reject me is not the issue in this odyssey event. When I realize that the light of parousia is shining on, as well as in, me, my first thought may be, "What will other people think?" "If they see me as I am, will they still like me?"
This, however, is not the judgment. My parents might not like all that I have done; my friends may not approve of my desires; the church may reject me for my beliefs. Even my closest loved ones may judge me bad in many ways. On the other hand, if I conform to their desires, they may all judge me good. In either case, they are not my judge in this odyssey event. Their judgments are always shallow, never going to the heart of the issue of who I truly am.
Nor am I my own judge. I may or may not approve of the things I have done. My judgments, like those of others, are shallow, based on my training, the conscience I ingested from my parents, the superego I acquired on my own. This event is far more significant than what opinion I hold of myself. I, being finite, may condemn myself for matters of small consequence and totally ignore my real sin.
I may, for instance, judge myself harshly for forgetting a friend's name, and yet feel no guilt whatsoever for assuming omniscience or immortality. I may be ashamed of my true self and proud of false godhood. This odyssey event is of greater import than what others think of me or what I think of myself.
To say that this final judgment is 'before God" means that it is in the face of ultimate reality rather than some finite part of reality such as other people or myself. The name God is a symbol for the essence of all that is real, not for some great Objective Entity, either material or immaterial.
In this event I confront the authenticity of my truest self in the real world. Do I have a place, as I am, here in the heart of reality? Specifically if I am alone on the beach, can I take off all my clothes and cavort freely in the surf and sand? Before God as revealed in the ocean and shore must I hide my body? As I lie naked in the sun can I entertain every idea and fantasy which comes to mind, allow any emotion to move within my breast freely and without shame, knowing that I am fully revealed before the essence of reality?
Confronting this eternally significant question is the activity of this odyssey event.
Ultimate reality is of course more than sun, sea, and shore--the realm of nature. People too are a part of the real world. To say that people are not the judge in this occurrence is not to say that judgment is not also before people. It is not enough that I be found acceptable alone on the beach. This would be a partial judgment but not final. I must also stand in the light of my peers and be found acceptable before God in their presence.
Whether or not they reject me I must face the question of my okay-ness before them. Standing acceptable in the final judgment means being all right in public as well as in private. It means being able to remain myself if others approve or reject. That is, I must be okay beyond their praise or criticism.
I may, for example, wear clothes because of laws that reject my nude body in public. Yet my clothes must be for practical reasons rather than my shame in the face of their judgment. If I, for personal reasons, must hide my body, mind, or emotions from everyone, then I have not stood acceptably in the final judgment as related to other people.
Finally, the issue involves my own eyes. I have said that the judgment is not just before myself. The question is my all-rightness with God, not me. And yet, because I too am a part of ultimate reality, the final judgment must also include my acceptability of myself. Until I can pass my own inspection the event is not completed.
Even though my judgment is not the deciding factor, my judgments of myself must also be overcome before judgment day is over. I may continue to wish I were different ("If I were God I'd have made me stronger"), but in the final judgment all such wishes are removed from the category of condemnation. I become acceptable with myself as I am, including my fantasies of being God.
When does judgment take place? Immediately following the second coming of Christ. "For the son of man shall come . . . and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matthew 16:27). This means that the time is now, for those who risk the death of self and experience parousia. To his disciples Jesus said, "Now is the judgment" (John 12:31). We face God's judgment whenever we come into the light. To be revealed is to be judged just then.
How long does it last? That answer too depends on the individual. The timing of our judgment is dependent on the speed of our revelation. If we are revealed quickly, we are judged quickly. If we take a long time to come to the light, our judgment is extended. Because insight is most often by degrees--one bit following the other--the judgment too is likely to consume a long period of time.
The title, day, is used to stand for this time period of judgment, however long or short it may be. The reference is not to a 24-hour period, although one might conceivably face a major portion of his own judgment between sunrise and sunset of one day.
In popular religion the judgment has often been viewed as one cataclysmic day in history at the end of the world, when all people will be judged at the same time before some cosmic figure called God.
In contrast, this odyssey event is personal, occurring for each individual during his own pilgrimage--during his lifetime. Should it happen for two persons at once, that would be coincidental. Furthermore, it is a spiritual event which may or may not be externally recognized. When I am standing in judgment even my closest friends may not realize it.
ACTIVITIES IN JUDGMENT
What goes on in the judgment process? Before a favorable verdict, three activities are likely: accepting God's forgiveness for actual wrong, rejecting the judgments of other people, and forgiving oneself for false guilt.
First, there is the major issue of one's response to God's forgiveness. We all apparently stand guilty of escaping humanity and assuming godhood. None of us enters the judgment without actual guilt.
However, the biblical message is that forgiveness is already extended for our true guilt. "And the Lord said, I have pardoned . . . " (Numbers 14:20). "Thou has forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin" (Psalm 85:2)." As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12). "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). "For God has already accepted your works" (Ecclesiastes 9:7 Amp.). "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (II Corinthians 5:19).
Yet this forgiveness is not completed until a person accepts it. Each of us is like a rebellious, wandering son who, though already forgiven by his father, has not returned home to accept pardon. Isaiah pleaded, "Let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (55:7). Jeremiah voiced God's message, "And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me" (33:8). In the New Testament John delivered the same assurance, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse as from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).
The first part of the judgment process is accepting forgiveness, the available pardon. Acceptance has no meaning unless one accepts being accepted. The courtroom analogy breaks down at this point. Ordinarily one is tried--convicted or freed--on the basis of his revealed guilt. In this odyssey event the verdict is actually in the hands of the defendant. The outcome is not on the basis of guilt or innocence--all are guilty--but on whether or not a guilty defendant chooses to accept or reject the available pardon. It is as though the judge (God) has already granted pardon, and we are called to court to see if we will accept or reject the pardon.
Accepting being accepted is a spiritual move, not merely an intellectual act. One may agree with the idea that God forgives (or the secular version: you're really okay) and yet not experience the fact. This phase of the judgment process is not completed until one appropriates this theological doctrine on the deepest level, and truly accepts that he is an acceptable human being, no matter what evil he has done or good he has left undone in the past.
Rejecting the judgment of others is the second activity in this odyssey event. Before the judgment day one may be subject to the opinions of his fellow humans--he may feel elevated by their approval or put down by their rejection. He is under the tyranny of what other people think. During this odyssey happening he breaks the yoke of this tyranny. He ceases to be subject to human judgments--to be set-up by approval or done-in by rejection. Not that others cease their judgments; rather, one stops being subject to them. He is no longer dictated by what other people think. Compliments or criticism neither make nor break him.
Forgiving oneself for false guilt is the third activity in this odyssey event. After accepting God's forgiveness for true guilt, rejecting the judgments of other people, it remains for one to forgive himself for self-judgment made in error.
In the process of growing up, we all take upon ourselves certain judgments of right and wrong which have no actual connection with reality beyond parental approval. Perhaps these judgments are accepted from parents or society. Though transgressing these rules has no real effect, we may yet feel guilty for breaking them. This guilt is false since it is not based on actual wrong. For example, one may judge it bad to leave food on his plate or leave dirty dishes in the sink at night. He then feels guilty (false guilt) when he breaks these and countless other family and social rules.
In this odyssey event one breaks the tyranny of all such false guilt. He forgives himself for doing things which are not actually wrong. For many people in our society an enormous amount of false guilt is focused on certain aspects of humanity, such as, the human body, various emotions, and sexuality.
One may, for instance, have judged his body to be bad, and hence feel false guilt if seen naked. Since there is nothing inherently wrong about the human body, one experiencing such false guilt would forgive himself for having his body seen by others.
Because certain emotions, such as, anger, can result in disruptive acts, society reasonably seeks to curtail these feelings. In losing our innocency, however, many of us judge the emotions themselves to be wrong. We may then feel guilty, for example, whenever we are angry at anyone. In reality, anger, like every other human emotion is morally neutral. The guilt we feel when we get mad is false--not based on reality. In this third phase of the judgment event, we forgive ourselves for feeling angry, or any other normal human emotion.
Though sexuality is an inherent part of humanity, in losing innocence we often come to judge it as bad in all but the most carefully-defined circumstances. Sexual desires toward the "wrong" person, for instance, may evoke strong guilt. "I'm not supposed to be feeling this way toward you." Feeling sexy at the "wrong" time and place, such as, at church, may arouse a sense of false guilt. In this odyssey event one forgives himself for feeling all human passions.
To summarize: experiencing parousia--the coming of the light--leads to this odyssey event called judgment day. We may avoid insight, choosing spiritual blindness instead. But once we see, we cannot avoid being seen. The judgment is inevitable once Christ has come.
In this personal, spiritual happening, we are judged for what we are as revealed in our motives, desires, emotions, thoughts, words, and deeds. Though these later acts--inward and outward--are the content of the judgment, the final basis is of "the heart," or who we are as revealed through them. The essential questions are: am I acceptable before God as I am? Can I go naked in the world without shame? Can I be myself without guilt?
The activity of this judgment process, which usually occurs by degrees over an extended period of time, includes three phases: accepting forgiveness for actual sin (escaping humanity into false godhood); rejecting the judgments of other people (ceasing to be governed by them); and forgiving oneself for false guilt.
Consequences of the judgment day are eternal. A favorable verdict opens the door to the last and most significant odyssey event. If one is found to be unacceptable, he falls again into hell.
If we stand favorably in the judgment, we experience the final grand odyssey event--resurrection into heaven. We are as Paul described, raised to "walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). We discover the kingdom of God which Jesus long ago said is within us. Found acceptable before God in the judgment day, we are ushered into his presence in the here and now.
Losing innocence in the beginning, we die spiritually. Without heart, we but exist in our tombs of living death. Then, in the parousia, Christ comes to us as dead men. As Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus, so Christ confronts the tomb of everyman, crying with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth" (John 11:43). In the resurrection we come forth. The life which was recognized in the second coming, weighed in the day of judgment, is appropriated in the resurrection.
We who saw the Christ then come to be in him now. When he came to us before, we saw that there was a way; now we start to walk in it. Then, we saw the truth; now, we become truthful. We recognized life then; now we become alive. As Paul said, "When we were dead . . . he made us alive. He raised us up together with him" (Ephesians 2:5-6). To the Colossians he wrote, "you were also raised with him to a new life . . . and you who were dead . . . brought to life" (2:12-13). "For we are God's handiwork recreated in Christ Jesus . . . living the good life" (Ephesians 2:10).
Before resurrection we are separated from Christ. In this event we are reunited with him. We literally come to be in him; Christ becomes incarnate in us. Christ lives in the resurrected person who is reborn in the spirit of Christ. The two become synonymous. The sonship of God which was lost in the first odyssey event is regained in this final happening. Innocence is found anew.
Wording this unique re-creation is a difficult matter. Paul struggled continually with the issue in the New Testament. Perhaps his clearest expression of this mystery of the union of man with Christ is in Galatians 2:20. "I am crucified with Christ (death of self), Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
Jesus prayed for this reincarnation of God in everyman: "that they may be one just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us . . . that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them and you in me, in order that they may become one and perfectly united" (John 17:21-23).
Resurrection is analogous to physical birth. As each person originally found life in birth from his mother's body, so now he is born again in a second spiritual birth. He is reborn in his own spiritually dead body. As the legendary phoenix rises from his own ashes, so a resurrected man rises from his former body of death.
Deadened elements of humanity are brought to life. Sensations killed when innocency was lost are resurrected, activated to the sensual wonders of the world. A reborn person sees, hears, smells, touches, and tastes that which was unknown to him in the time of his death. For instance, beauties of nature which were lost to him as he blindly went through the motions of living, are rediscovered. Now he sees the sun, hears bird songs, smells flowers he never saw before; he touches the earth and tastes new wine.
Emotions dead and buried are freed from their graves. The frozen heart thaws; feelings begin to flow. He who for so long felt so little, now becomes emotional again. He laughs aloud. Long-forbidden tears cover his cheeks once more. Joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, contentment and anger, well up within him. His hardened heart feels tenderness again. The cold, calloused shell of a person is reborn as a man of heart. Instead of existing without feelings, he begins to move through the encounters of life as an emotional person. Now he can touch--and be touched.
His mind too is brought to life. Locked thoughts are freed from the prison of the unconscious. Repressed memories are brought into the sunlight of awareness. Condemned ideas are granted full pardon. Doubts are given reprieve. The resurrected mind begins to frolic in the world of fantasy and imagination.
Dreams, long buried, are raised again. Reason is reborn out of blind prejudice. The new man starts to think his own thoughts rather than merely accepting ideas of others. Intellectual honesty replaces the cloak of social lies. True beliefs emerge from under cover of borrowed doctrines. Irrational grave clothes are thrown aside as the reasoning Lazarus comes forth.
As a resurrected human without the forms of false godhood, he experiences the rebirth of desire and passion. He becomes sexual and responsive. Frigidity and impotence are replaced by warmth and power. Alive in Christ, he begins to care again. Things and people start to matter to him. Romance is rekindled. Wonder is reborn. Hope emerges. Enthusiasm arises. He joins the human race, accepting every man as his brother. He falls in love with life. He stands in awe in the universe.
This profound spiritual event may be voiced in such deceptively simple expressions as: "I feel alive now." "I have been dead inside but I'm coming to life again." "I'm beginning to feel once more." "Before, nothing seemed to matter, but now I care what happens." "I feel like a new person." After resurrection, this is literally true.
The following are quotations from persons I have known during the process of their resurrections:
"It's great to be somebody, finally."
"I am amazing! I am staying with me more and more, and empathizing instead of taking on. I am having a good time."
"I am finding that driving a car can be very exciting--being aware of other drivers, shrubbery, weather, buildings, people."
"I am becoming more at one with myself and what I see."
"I am more alert now. I am more alive. I am more in the present than the past or future."
"I am finding excitement in my awareness of people whom I have seen many times, but paid little attention to."
"Ha, Ha, I did it!!! I went to a dance last Saturday night, walked in all by myself, held my head up high, and even though the band was lousy, I had a great time and danced almost every dance."
"I realize that I have been moving so hastily and have been so determined to 'get something done' or 'get somewhere' that I have been missing a great deal. Just now I picked up a slingshot and felt the wood, leather, string, and rubber in that simple object--and the memories! In the past I would have picked it up and pitched it aside, feeling and remembering nothing. The 'little things' are becoming big things."
Here is a prayer from one of my times of resurrection:
"Good morning, God.
I forgot you were the dark
And just saw you peeping
in the pink-purple light
walked out of the night:
Thank you for the resurrection;
Help me not to die again
when the sun goes down
Good morning, God,
Have a good day!"
After mid-wifing the labored rebirth of another, I wrote:
I watched a shy bird
in my presence
for that would only
But carefully, guardedly
out of the corner
of my eye
as though I weren't
on the casual air
as though a person
wasn't being born
This odyssey event is a resurrection of the whole person, not merely a matter of body or soul. It is a spiritual rather than physical occurrence only. Throughout the ages man has speculated about life after physical death. Such a possibility would require some sort of resurrection from the cemeteries of the earth. It might be a raising of tangible bodies as some have guessed, or of intangible souls as other speculate. Or both. In either case, such a possible occasion in history would be a physical rather than spiritual happening.
This odyssey event is unrelated to such a possibility. Physical resurrection is a matter of intellectual speculation; this spiritual occurrence is an observable reality. A physical resurrection would necessarily be postponed until later and require the existence of an afterlife; this event may be experienced in the here and now.
Like all odyssey occurrences, resurrection is usually experienced by degrees over an extended period of time. One may have emotions resurrected while his mind is yet dead, or his thoughts may come alive before his feelings.
Awakening of parts of the mind may be interspersed with various emotional resurrections. A memory may be followed by feelings which were buried when the thought was suppressed. Then a sensation may come, to be followed by another memory, to be succeeded by a passion, which will in turn evoke another part of the lifeless mind. Such a process may occur quickly or take place over a period of many years. Chronological time has no connection with any odyssey event.
In the language of space, the condition of a resurrected person may be called heaven. One who is resurrected enters heaven or the kingdom of God. Heaven is the ideal state of existence, the ultimate in human living.
John describes this new state graphically and dramatically in the last book of the Bible:
"And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, all arranged like a bride beautified and adorned for her husband. Then I heard a mighty voice . .saying, See! The abode of God is with men, and He will live among them . . . The city lies in a square, the length being the same as its width .. . Twelve thousand stadia (about fifteen hundred miles) . . . He measured its wall also, one hundred and forty-four cubits (about 72 yards). The wall was built of jasper, while the city itself was of pure gold, clear and transparent like glass . . . The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each separate gate being built of one solid pearl. And the main street of the city was of gold." (Revelation 21:2, 3, 16-18,21 Amp.).
In the less tangible metaphors, heaven may be described in the following ways:
After the day of judgment, one is no longer subject to being judged by God or man; nor does he judge himself or engage in judging anyone else. With resurrection one moves beyond judgment. Before, he is continually subject to 'being caught." Every policeman's siren may instantly evoke latent guilt: "Oh, my goodness; what have I done now?"
He may get caught with his pants down or his emotions showing. He may get caught with a dirty house, a dirty magazine, or a dirty mind. He may get caught sleeping late, loafing, or with his hair messed up. Any infraction of the judgmental code under which he existed out of Eden subjected him to the tyranny of being caught.
After resurrection this is no longer so. Through standing acceptably in the final judgment a heavenly man is freed from all condemnation. "Therefore there is now no condemnation--no adjudging guilty or wrong--for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
When one has been accepted and has accepted being accepted, he is resurrected into a newness of life which is beyond being caught for anything. Forgiven by God, he is acceptable however he is. Having rejected judgments projected by his fellow man, he is never subject to being caught, however they discover him. Even when revealed in ways his fellow men judge to be bad, he has no sense of being caught at such a discovery. What other people think has no relevancy in heaven. One does not have to impress anyone.
Opinions of others are considered as they actually affect one's life, but are not used as directives apart from their real influence. For example, after judgment one would be attentive to the opinions of his employer, since they have a real effect. The judgments of a stranger, conversely--as in regard to one's personal appearance--are irrelevant. Even the judgment of one's employer is taken only as relevant information rather than the final word. If a conflict of opinions becomes too significant, a re-born person will resign rather than become subject to these judgments.
Heaven is a return to Eden and innocency. Beyond judgment, a person is beyond guilt and shame. Like a little child, he is not ashamed of anything he does. Nothing embarrasses him. Forgiven by God for his false godhood, and by himself for his real humanity, he has nothing to hide anymore. Like Adam and Eve, he can be naked and "not embarrassed or ashamed" (Genesis 2:25). The clothes he wears are for practical reasons only. Nevermore must he say to God or any man, "I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself" (3:10).
He has no more secrets to hide. All skeletons are out of their closets. His entire past has become acceptable. Though for practical reasons he may not parade every event from his past, he does not conceal anything out of fear. Should it become reasonable, he can talk openly about anything he has ever done or said. The publication of his past would not embarrass him.
Nor does he feel guilty or ashamed of any emotions, thoughts, fantasies, wishes, or desires. He does not judge his feelings to be good or bad. No judgment is passed on any thought which flashes across the screen of his mind. He condemns no fantasy or wish. All his wants and desires flow freely within him without condemnation.
"Blessed, happy, to be envied is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves," wrote Paul (Romans 14:22). The resurrected man stands in this happy state. He can accept himself with all his likes or dislikes. No judgment from above, without, or within hangs over him anymore.
Nor must he judge the world outside himself. Back in Eden, he shuns the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He has learned the hard way that omniscience kills. Preferring life over false godhood, he now avoids all judgments of good and evil. His regained innocence is with sophistication. Before he ate the forbidden fruit his innocence was in ignorance. He did not then know, first hand, what would happen. Now he knows. Now, wisely, he remains beyond good and evil.
He responds to reality--things and people--without judgment. He can see or hear anything without wasting time deciding if it is good or bad, right or wrong. In heaven nothing is dirty. There are no dirty thoughts, words, or deeds. Even the dirt is not dirty.
Cleanliness is no closer to godliness than is dirtiness. The world is no longer divided into a patchwork quilt of black-and-white squares, secular and sacred, bad and good, obscene and on-scene. Things are practical or impractical, helpful or hurtful, but nothing is inherently evil, perverted, or obscene in heaven.
As Paul wrote, "All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient" (I Corinthians 6:12)--that is, one can do anything, but not everything is feasible. In heaven legalism is replaced by pragmatism. The question is no longer, "Is it right or wrong?," but rather, "Is it functional?" One continually decides between the expedient and the impractical, but no longer between the good and the evil. Should and ought are replaced by will and won't.
Other people are accepted and related to in a practical manner, all without judgment. Positive deeds are affirmed; crime is curtailed. Destruction is shunned. Criminals are contained yet not condemned. No person is judged in heaven for any physical characteristic, such as, the length of his hair, the cut of his clothes, or the color of his skin. Nor is one judged for his feelings, beliefs, or behavior.
FREE TO BE
Before resurrection, while one is under the curse of his own judgments and the guilt of assumed godhood, he must work to suppress himself and strive to be what he is not. Instead of being human, he must try to be godly. Depending on the extent of his sin, he may even be under the compulsion to be perfect.
Certain emotions must be suppressed, various thoughts denied, and even some wants ruled out. Selected images of what he is not but thinks he should he must be presented, defended, supported and maintained. The result is a continual conflict, a war within; such a lost person is constantly pulled in many directions. He cannot be who he is; he must try to be what he is not.
After resurrection this war is over. Emancipation. A human slave is freed from the tyranny of assumed godhood. Suppression and denial are no longer required. Past condemnation, one can proceed with the full activation of his human potential. Now he can embrace every capacity without shame. He is free to be human again, to be who he is, openly and unashamedly.
No sensations need be denied for sake of maintaining an image. Like an innocent. child, a slave is freed to look at whatever and whomever he will. He can no longer be "caught" looking, for instance, at the body or into the eyes of another person. Without the preoccupation of keeping a godly stance, he is freed to hear all sounds which fall on his ears. Beyond judging music, for example, he is freed to listen to and enjoy new sounds.
The sense of touch, commonly suppressed by false godhood, can be rediscovered. In heaven one can touch and be touched without drawing back. Taste and smell are also rediscovered. In heaven one may explore without judgment the delights of new foods; he will, indeed, stop and smell the flowers along the way. A sense-deprived person, hardened in his sin, is free to become sensitive again after resurrection.
Nor must his emotions be avoided or denied any more. In heaven one is freed to feel again. Without condemnation or guilt he can laugh or weep. He can be angry, jealous, or sad. No longer must he "be cool," detached, and unemotional. Now he can get involved, open his heart, be hurt and healed. In heaven it is all right to get excited, even carried away with oneself. Literally.
The mind is also freed by resurrection. With the removal of judgment and suppression, a closed-minded person can open his mind. He can now explore his memories, face his doubts, look into his magical beliefs, and become a reasonable person. Nor will he be bound by reason. In heaven he is free to fantasy and dream. Night dreams can be explored without threat; daydreams can be entertained freely. No matter how odd or strange an idea may seem, it can be welcomed in heaven where no judgment is present. One is free to think however, whenever, and whatever he will after resurrection.
All wants and wishes may then be entertained also. No desires are evil or dirty in heaven. For practical reasons they may not be acted out, but all may be experienced within oneself. One is freed to be sensual in all walks of life. Animal cravings and passions are, like other aspects of humanity, blessed in heaven.
Thus one is freed after resurrection to be sensitive, emotional, rational, sexual, and responsive in the world. All that he is or can be has become acceptable. In heaven he can be himself. Like a caterpillar he is free to emerge from his cocoon, becoming the multicolored butterfly he has the potential to be. Like a blossoming flower, he is free to unfold his petals, open his private heart, release his fragrance and bloom openly in the world. The activity of heaven is being and becoming.
Before resurrection the primary question is: What should I do? What am I supposed to do (feel, think, say)? Direction from without is the common stance. In heaven the question becomes: What do I want to do? What do I personally feel, think, or choose to do? The focus of initiative is sought within oneself. While dead and under the dictation of should and ought, we often lose contact with our true desires. We do not know what we want. After resurrection we get back in touch with ourselves. Like innocent children, unburdened with shoulds and oughts, we return to the primal issue of facing, exploring, and responsibly activating our wants.
This does not mean that we abandon reason and are dictated by every primal urge. It means rather that our wants and reasoning are merged as we embrace personal choice. From our hierarchy of wants, we reasonably select and choose that which we can feasibly achieve. Still, however, the source of decision is within rather than without. In heaven we live by will and wont, not should and ought.
In the biblical narrative, after Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, work became a curse. When we return to Eden the curse is removed. We are freed to enjoy our work, whatever it is, to take pleasure in our labors. With the judgment "work is bad" removed, we can throw ourselves wholeheartedly into whatever our hands find to do. In heaven we work because we want to, not because we have to. Even while earning a living, we do it for the fun of it.
THIS IS IT
When we get to heaven there is no place else to go. This is it. We have arrived. Before resurrection one is on the way up. He strives to reach goals, to get somewhere, to make it. He reaches for tomorrow, looking for a brighter future. "After graduation." "When I get married." "When we have a place of our own." "When we have a family." "When we have a new house." "After we strike it rich." "After the kids are grown." "After I retire." The good life is always projected into the future. In line with whatever goals he selects, one must be constantly striving, trying to win, to get ahead, to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Nor are the goals all external. We may also be striving inwardly to improve ourselves, control our feelings, find the answers, analyze ourselves, get smart, or make something of ourselves. Inward goals often have outside dimensions. We may be working to build a reputation, impress others, make people like us. Or we may work to help others, make then feel good, improve the world--even save others. Goals, both internal and external, are innumerable outside of heaven.
But not inside. Once in heaven we no longer have to achieve anything. We don't have to do anything, go anywhere, or get anything; we don't have to win, impress, strive, or accomplish. We no longer have to anything. We have finally arrived.
This does not mean that we cease activity, sit down and do nothing but play the harp all day--unless we want to. It means that all compulsion is removed from whatever we do. The key phrase is "have to." In heaven we no longer "have to" get anywhere. To have arrived does not necessarily mean that we stop traveling; indeed the quantity of our travel may be increased in heaven. It does mean that all necessity is removed from whatever travels we make. We may be going, but we do not have to get anywhere.
For example, if a heavenly man is on his way to Los Angeles and his car breaks down in Yuma, Arizona, he simply lives fully in Yuma for the time. He did not "have to" get to California to be happy. Now he can be in heaven in Yuma. Wherever he is, he has arrived just there. With Paul he is able to truthfully say, "For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11). Even Arizona.
If he is moving toward some inward destination such as solving a problem or understanding an emotional phenomenon, he can stop at any point along the way without frustration. He did not "have to" have an answer. The activity was for itself alone. The fun was in the doing, not in the finishing only.
Wherever one is, in heaven, this is it. Now is the time; this is the place.
HERE AND NOW
The inherent significance of place and time is dissolved in heaven. Out of Eden, space and chronology are perceived as sacred dimensions. Places are granted magical powers; time is of supreme importance. Happiness is thought to come from being in a good place for an extended time. Even heaven is imagined to be a perfect location where one exists forever. Under the power of this illusion we search for the "right" place--the one which will make us happy--and imagine that we are immortal--have infinite time available.
Back in Eden we are freed from the magical powers of space and the assumption of immortality. Re-embracing our capacity for personal happiness, withdrawing our projections onto space and time, we are granted the mysterious fulfillment of the here and now. We no longer have to go somewhere to be happy, or possess infinite time to enjoy it.
Heaven is the eternal present, fulfillment, here and now.
In heaven this is easy to understand. Innocent children, not yet under the curse, can be happily present anywhere, without focusing on how long it will last. It is as though to them place and time do not matter. They can enjoy themselves wherever they are, for however long they are there. But out of Eden this innocency is lost. Place and time become crucially important. We get caught up and lost in where we want to be and how long we will be there.
Because, as noted later in the Appendix, our concepts and language are structured around this preoccupation with space and time, talk about the heavenly experience of being beyond space and time is exceedingly difficult within the confines of the language.
Jesus repeatedly tried to break through these concepts which were also present in Greek and Armenian languages of his time. When asked when the kingdom of God would come, he replied, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).
Translation of the Greek in the text is difficult to make in English. The King James Version adds the marginal explanation "among you." The sense of the message is that the kingdom is here, not literally inside the body, but where one is. In his vision John saw the "new heaven" as coming down to this earth (Revelation 21:2). It is not as though we go there as in the popular idea, but that it (heaven) is experienced here.
The time construct is even more difficult to break through. New testament writers tried to do so with a Greek word translated as "eternal," referring to the quality of experience in time rather than the quantity of time itself. Unfortunately many translators choose the word "everlasting," which sounds more like time extended infinitely, set apart from one's experience in the time.
The problem is compounded by our godly wish for immortality. We easily confuse the idea of the eternal present with the notion of immortal existence. Paul wrestles with this confusion in his letter to the Corinthians. The point, he said is not to escape mortality, to slip into an infinite dimension of time, but rather to have our mortality "clothed upon" or "swallowed up in life" (II Corinthians 5:4)--that is, to have present mortality infused with a sense of timelessness, awareness of the eternal now.
This sense of timelessness is commonly experienced when persons are in love. When lovers are together "time flies." While they are apart "time stands still." The message is not about the speed of clocks, but the quality of experience while watches continue to tick at their same pace.
The heavenly experience of being beyond space and time was voiced in a song with this line: "On a clear day you can see forever." The reference is not to atmospheric conditions, ocular vision, or infinitely-extended time. Rather the language of space and time is pushed to its limits to give voice to a human experience which is beyond each of these dimensions.
So it is with all heavenly talk in language based on geographical space and chronological time. We must push the words to their limits to express the experience which is essentially unrelated to them. The phrase, "beyond space and time" is such an attempt. "Beyond" does not mean "geographically elsewhere," as in the idea of some other world outside this one. Language is being used metaphorically, as when one says after a delicious dinner, "It was out of this world." The meaning is: it was so good that ordinary worldly terms are inadequate for clear description.
Heaven is "out of this world" in the same sense--so good that no place here can adequately define it. It is indeed "another world," but not another geographical location. It is rather an enhanced quality of experience essentially unrelated to where one is. When one is in heaven, heaven is everywhere; any place is heavenly.
When one is out of heaven, no place is heavenly. The finest mansion on earth or in the heavens would not be heavenly to one not yet resurrected. When one is in hell, there is no place to go to get out of it. He carries his hell with him. Conversely, when one is in heaven there is no place to have to go. Anyplace will do. Heaven is here, wherever a resurrected person happens to be.
So it is with the measurements of time. They simply do not apply to the experience of heaven. All use of chronological words is like the description of a good holiday: "We had the time of our lives." A quantitative word is given qualitative meaning to describe an experience beyond time. The "time of one's life" may have been ten seconds or two weeks. It cannot be clocked. Which does, not mean that clocks stopped ticking; only that they cannot measure such a heavenly experience.
If we do use chronological words to speak of heaven, we have no choice but to push them to their limits. How long is heaven? We can't accurately say ten minutes, ten years, or even ten thousand years. We must say it is forever. Only the idea of infinite time can adequately express the sense of timelessness when one is in heaven.
Or it's opposite--no time. As do lovers, we can say with equal clarity that "time stands still." There is no time in heaven. In John's vision he gives tangible form to this timeless sense by saying that the sun shines all the time. There is no night (Revelation 21:25).
Another writer combines these two limits in one description. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (II Peter3:8). Again, the point is: heavenly experience cannot be measured with chronological devices anymore than it can with physical yardsticks. Time simply does not matter. We forget to look at our watches.
Heaven is beyond space and time--not elsewhere or later--but here and now. The kingdom of God is eternally present.
In heaven the dilemma of involvement versus detachment, possession versus separation, is embraced. Outside of Eden we commonly get caught on one horn
or the other--we get overly involved, losing ourselves, or we remain aloof and out of it. We attempt to own or to remain apart from, to have or be separated from what we cannot have.
A familiar example is any human relationship, such as, marriage. One may get caught either in the attempt to possess a spouse or in an effort to remain separated from one. Or in a project: we may either lose ourselves in complete involvement or fail because we do not care. Or else we spend our energies moving from one to the other, trying to get out of too much involvement or give up the stance of aloofness.
The dilemma is solved in Eden as we return to the ground from which the dilemma emerges, reestablishing our essential unity with the universe, the life processes, with God. Beyond the final judgment we are freed to become at one with ourselves. As the inward war ends, we stop its external projection onto nature. Finding peace within ourselves, we no longer have to fight the world outside. Instead of viewing the earth as alien territory, to be feared and conquered, we make peace with mother nature. We cease being strangers here, and come to feel at home on the earth.
The processes of nature, including death, are accepted as normal and natural. Outside of Eden, while man is still trying to be God, this acceptance is impossible. As long as one fancies he will live forever, death is a continuous threat. Though one may rationalize away every other evidence of finitude by enduring pain, hunger, and separation, death perpetually stands as the ultimate threat to false godhood. Even the imagined possibility of an afterlife beyond the grave cannot be confirmed. Hence the grim reaper ever abides on the horizon of lost man's awareness as the final unconquerable foe.
The sting of death, however, was never inherent in the event itself. As Paul noted, "the sting of death is sin" (I Corinthians 15:56). After man is forgiven for assuming godhood with the attribute of immortality, death loses its threat. "Oh, death, where is thy sting?," the forgiven Paul could sing (verse 55). In returning to himself, embracing finitude instead of trying to be infinite, man can again accept death as an integral part of the life process. Its ultimate threat is gone. The stinger is removed. The ticking bomb set to explode his theory of perpetuity is de-fused.
In heaven death is simply death. Like birth, it is an acceptable attribute of physical existence. Man is born; he grows up; he grows old; he dies. "The Lord giveth; the Lord taketh away: Blessed be the name of the Lord." This is the nature of reality, the way things are. A resurrected man, at one with the processes of life, is not threatened thereby. Absorbed in living, he does not worry about dying.
Instead of being the ultimate enemy, death becomes a constant friend for the heavenly man, an ally near at hand to continually remind him of the preciousness of life. When one assumes he has forever, the present moment may easily lose its value. On a brief pilgrimage, awareness of death adds a certain zest to life.
Once death is placed in an acceptable perspective, other processes of life--breathing, eating, eliminating, and having sex--easily assume a proper place. We join the other animals existing in harmony with nature here in our shared territory.
At one with himself and the world around him, the heavenly man is also freed to join the human race, to become a brother to all mankind. All walls which he had erected to protect himself outside of Eden are taken down. Racial walls, national and regional walls, community and family walls, ideological walls, sexual and religious walls are all laid aside in heaven.
There are no Negroes and whites, no Americans and Russians, no Yankees and Rebels, no men and women, no Democrats and Republicans, no Catholics and Baptists in heaven. Each person is at one with the other. All are not the same, but differences no longer divide. As in the human body, there are differing parts. The eye is not the same as the hand. Yet the differences are not used as value judgments. The eye does not say, "I am better than the hand."
Men, for example, are not the same as women in heaven, but our differences are not used to judge and segregate. One is not better or worse than the other. Nor is relating as fellow humans subject to legal arrangements. As Jesus said, in heaven they "neither marry, nor are given in marriage" (Luke 20:35). I take this to mean that the spiritual unity of heavenly men and women is beyond the bonds of matrimony.
Now back to the dilemma of possession and separation, involvement and detachment. Having reestablished our unity with the world and one another, becoming but parts of the whole, we no longer cling to either one or the other horns of the dilemma. For example, I can neither possess nor separate myself from the world of which I am a part. How can I own the ground from which I came and to which I return? How can I have a person who is at the same time my brother? Or how can I be separated from him of whom I am an essential part? Though married by law, I can neither have nor be had by my spouse, nor can I be separated from her of whom I am a part. We are individuals together, neither one owning the other, but neither separate from the other.
When I am at one with any process or event I can neither be involved nor detached in any distinguishable way. At-one-with, I am both involved and detached, not one or the other. For example, if I am at-one-with the setting sun, as I always am when I am in heaven, then I participate in the event with both involvement and detachment. I can neither lose myself in it nor keep myself from it. I am at-one-with it. I can neither possess the setting sun nor detach myself from it. Together we come and go.
So it is with every other part of the universe of things and people. In heaven we are all at-one-with each other, neither involved nor detached, neither possessing nor separated. In this stance of unity we can both "be with" and "let go of" with equal ease. In heaven there is a flowing sense of inter-relatedness, of involved-detachment.
Perhaps this sense of unity can be conveyed in the story of a poor man who picked cotton for 10 years, saved $1,000, gambled it all on one roll of dice, lost, got up, brushed his hands and said: "Well, easy come, easy go."
In a state of unity, of involved detachment, things are "no big deal." Life is "no sweat." At-one-with reality, the heavenly man no longer has to struggle or fight the world. Because he does not possess any thing or person he can be freely involved as time and circumstance allow, and freely let go when the proper time comes.
All things and people are honored in heaven but none are worshipped save God himself. All life is respected, but no form of life is innately revered. There are no sacred cows in heaven. Beyond the final judgment no thing is either dirty or sacred. Everything is pure. Realizing the worth of himself, all things, and every other person, the heavenly man walks respectfully through time, continually worshipping God. His every breath expresses praise, glory, and honor for ultimate reality.
FREED TO LOVE
Perhaps the clearest description of the heavenly man is in the single word, love. In heaven one is freed to love. One is loving. When I am in heaven I am in the presence of God who, as John said, "is love." "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God" (I John 4:7-8). I know God when I love. I am in heaven then. "He that loveth not knoweth not God." Right. When I do not love, I neither know God nor experience heaven.
Of all the ways the heavenly state may be described--streets of gold, pearly gates, beyond judgment--none is so concise or clear as this: heaven is loving. In heaven one is freed to love.
Out of heaven there is no love. One is not free to love. Loss of innocency through denying one's humanity and assuming godhood kills the capacity for loving. Caught in the trap (the hell) of this false self, one may act loving--that is, go through the motions that love might make, but he cannot be loving. Loving demands the purity, spontaneity, open heartedness, and nonjudgmental nature of the innocent child.
Under the curse of judgment one loses this necessary freedom. For example, the freedom to feel is an essential element in loving. When one's emotional capacities are under condemnation, one is to the same extent incapacitated for love. The judgment and suspension of such mental capacities as the ability to fantasy likewise curtail the ability to love.
Certainly the denial of sexuality is a serious destroyer of the possibility of loving. Love is more than just sex, but all love is rooted in the human capacity for passion. When this element of humanity is under the curse of self-judgments, one is consequently unable to love, no matter how much he wishes to.
Judgments of the world and other people also prevent loving. For instance, judgments of who is beautiful or ugly stop people from loving. Judgments of which deeds are bad, which feelings are "not nice,"or which words are dirty, prevent loving. I cannot accept or understand you in the way which love requires so long as I am caught in my judgments of you. Nor can I be open to you for accepting your love as long as I judge any aspect of myself to be bad.
Outside of Eden, real loving is impossible. Until one regains his innocence through the later odyssey events, he cannot be loving.
Standing successfully in the final judgment and the pursuant resurrection grants this freedom. One is no longer under self-judgment of his own humanity, the essential material for loving. Freed from self-condemnation a person can be openly himself with another, activating the human capacities required for loving. Freed from the necessity of judging others, he can freely love one and all. Because walls erected by judgment are all down, he is freed to be a brother to all mankind--to love everybody.
And to know God--who is love--continually.
Heaven is potentially present at every place and time. Wherever and whenever a person happens to be resurrected, there is heaven. No place is inherently heavenly; but any place can be heavenly when one is loving.
This state of fulfilled existence is timeless--untouched or contained by chronological time. It is eternal. Yet it is not necessarily unending. Heaven is as short or long as one remains resurrected. One may always fall from heaven at any instant. All he has to do is stop loving. Or he may remain continually there as long as his nerve for new life lasts.
For most of us it seems that heaven, like all other odyssey events, is a matter of degrees. We glimpse it now and then, touch it more or less, and partially enter from time to time. Like a child trying out the water, we venture with a toe, pull back, then try a whole foot. On certain clear days we can indeed see forever, but then dark days come, obscuring all heavenly vision.
Then there may be a gray day when once again we can partially see. We live uncommitted--in and out, advancing, withdrawing, rising and falling. Like climbing a mountain, we do slip and slide, yet generally we move in an upward direction. We fall back, but not as far as before. There are gray days but the number decreases. With practice at the new life, we discover that we sustain longer each time. When we fall back, it is not as bad as before. Even dark days are not as dark as they previously were.
At first we may experience heaven alone or with one single person. Then, with time, as our degree of resurrection increases, we discover new life with others. We find that we can indeed love, and love more than one person. Gradually we join the community of mankind, enlarging our circle of love, and with it the circumference of our heaven.
Finally we may note that the perfection we discover in heaven is experiential rather than existential--that is, with forgiveness we embrace imperfection rather than becoming perfect. We accept finitude rather than becoming infinite. Godlikeness is embraced humanity, rather than becoming godly. The immortality of heaven is mortality embraced, not escaped. We don't quit being human in heaven; we begin being human--continually as sons and daughters of God in his presence once more.
What to Do?
In conclusion we consider this practical question: what to do about it? Until now we have dealt with description: what is the nature of our human odyssey? What are the events like? Now we turn to pragmatic problems of accomplishment. Suppose I recognize myself somewhere along this common journey; how can I speed the process? How can I hasten the tine of heaven? Or extend my experience there?
This universal and timeless question can be asked in many ways. Almost two thousand years ago a Philippian jailor asked it like this of Paul and Silas: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:31). If he were asking a psychiatrist today, he might use these words: "Sir, what must I do to be sane?" If he asked his doctor, it might be: "What must I do to be well?" He might ask a Zen master: "What must I do to be enlightened?" Or a friend: "What must I do to be happy?" The language changes; the question remains the same.
Before exploring for an answer, we do well to take a closer look at the question. Omitting cultural modifiers (saved, sane, well, enlightened, happy), it boils down to: What to do to be . . . ? And therein lies a crucial problem. This ancient question has a fatal flaw written in. In spite of its sincerity and significance, an inherent assumption prevents a literal answer.
It is, unfortunately, an impossible question, like "How hot is an inch?," "How long is blue?," "When is a chair?,"or, "Where is hope?" Though sincerely asked, each such question is impossible to answer because it tries to relate two unrelated realities. Inches and temperature fall into different categories. Colors cannot be measured with a ruler.
So it is with our salvation question. Doing and being are essentially unrelated. Because they fall in different categories, one cannot be inherently related to the other. Doing is one thing; being is another. One may do, and one may be; yet the two are finally unconnected. One may do, without being, or he can be, without doing anything. Doing may spring from being and being may be revealed in doing, but they cannot be tied together. A certain piece of blue cloth may be three feet long, but blueness has no inherent connection with length.
If the question, "What to do to be . . . ?," is taken literally, the only truthful answer is: nothing. There is no thing to do which inevitably results in being. There is no formula for salvation, no recipe for sanity, no procedure for spiritual health, no rules for enlightenment, no act which guarantees happiness.
If we reduce the question to some lesser form of being, perhaps the dilemma will be clearer. For instance, what must one do to be a good cook or lover? We might try to answer by saying that one must go to a cooking school or learn to follow a recipe. However, we know that many good cooks never went to a cooking school, that one might graduate in cooking and still not be a good cook, that following the recipe doesn't guarantee good results, and that good cooks often ignore the recipe completely. Or that one may know all the techniques of making love and yet be a poor lover; or conversely, that good lovers often break all the rules.
The point: being a good cook, lover, or person is not, in the final analysis, identified with any specific activity. What to do to be . . . ? Answer: nothing is guaranteed to work.
And yet such a brutal answer does not properly respect the sincerity of the question, even when it is impossibly formed. Consequently, those who know this often try to respond in a way which may keep a seeker alert until he discovers the solution to his dilemma.
For example, a Zen master might`respond: "Go find the answer to this question: What is the sound of one hand clapping?" A psychiatrist might say, "Complete your analysis." A knowledgeable friend could reply, "Why don't you relax and stop trying so hard?" Paul answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."
Each of these cryptic messages is a reasonable response to an impossible question. Such responses respect the sincerity of the asker without letting the respondent fall into the trap of giving a recipe--implying that doing and being are synonymous or that something done can result in becoming. In each case, the answerer answers without answering in any literal sense.
Of course a hearer may initially take such an answer literally. He may, for example, retreat to a mountain to contemplate the riddle of a single clapping hand, lie down on the couch and start telling his dreams, get busy trying to relax, or join a church and imitate Jesus.
Hopefully, in either process, he will die to self, see the light, face judgment, experience new life and enter heaven. If so, however, it will not be because he came up with the right answer, dredged up his entire past, learned to relax, or acted like Jesus. But rather because while doing either of these, he continued on our common human odyssey.
Although doing and being are in different dimensions, certain activities may indeed be more functional than others while one is in the process of the odyssey. Nothing will work in and of itself, but some things are more relevant than others. Most good cooks do learn to follow a recipe. Good lovers are generally knowledgeable of techniques. In like manner, certain activities are common with odyssey travelers. Although there is nothing we can do to be, we will likely be doing certain things while in the process of becoming who we are.
To summarize: how-to-do-it procedures are useful in doing physical things like baking a cake or building a house. Recipes and rules will work in such activities. Heaven and happiness, however, being spiritual matters, can never be achieved by procedures alone. There is nothing to do to be. So when we talk about activities in relation to becoming, they are only things-to-do-while-becoming, not deeds-which-guarantee-becoming. We may have what-to-dos, but there are no how-to-do-its. Acting saved is not enough. The issue is being saved (or sane or happy).
With this understanding we can reasonably proceed to consider potentially productive activities for the odyssey process. Two broad categories may be used to summarize the overall movement from death of self to resurrection and heaven. They are confession and repentance.
Biblical expressions include: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness ( I John 1:9). "Except ye repent," said Jesus, "ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). The message is confession and repentance, or in secular language, revelation and change. If we are to be saved or go sane, we will likely be engaged in the activities of revealing ourselves and changing our ways. We will be uncovering that which is hidden and correcting that which is in error.
We must beware, however, lest we confuse these what-to-do's with how-to-do-its, thinking, for instance, that we might go to a priest, tell our sins, do penance, start acting right, and as a result, be saved. Or that we might go to an analyst, recite our records, change our ways of life and consequently be sane. Reduced to mere activities, confession and repentance or classical psychological analysis will not, of course, work any more than other how-to-do-its.
Yet in these processes, one may become himself. When this is so, the events are experiential rather than merely intellectual acts. They are matters of heart rather than mind, mouth, or hand only.
In reality the two processes--confession and repentance--are usually intertwined and difficult to distinguish at the time. Confession phases into repentance, which in turn leads to further revealing and then more change. For thought purposes, however, we can separate them.
Confession is the process of revealing or making oneself known. It is exposure of the hidden--movement from the darkness of secrecy to the light of revelation. Masks and facades, roles and images, commonly worn in everyday life are removed in confession. Instead of, "This is what I'd like for you to think I am," or, "This is the way I wish I were," one says, in effect, "This is the way I actually am." Pretense is dropped in favor of honesty. Making impressions is replaced by becoming truthful.
What is one to confess? What is to be revealed? Answer: the truth about who he is. In confession one reveals himself honestly. He stands openly, without fig leaves. The masks and facades worn with others are laid aside. A confessor bares his soul.
For one who has lost innocence and fallen into the living hell, confession will include two general areas: lost humanity and assumed godhood. A confessor will reveal the ways in which he has become inhuman, has suppressed and negated his human capacities--his insensitivities, denied emotions, suppressed memories and fantasies, plus negated desires and passions. These will be revealed as well as the forms of his escape into false godhood--the unreasonable measures of power he has assumed, the godly judgments and omniscient answers he has acquired, his stance of immortality.
Initial access to these deep-seated problems may be found through examining one's shame and pride. Deeper spiritual moves are commonly associated with these two feelings. We tend to feel ashamed of our humanity, especially in its purer forms, and proud of our assumed godhood. For example, we may be ashamed of sexuality (a basic element of humanity) and proud of godly answers (things we "know for sure"). Consequently, we may get back in touch with our deeper problems by openly facing the sources of our shame and pride.
Problems and troubles may also provide clues to legitimate areas of confession. Things which disturb us, cause us trouble, upset our happiness--our "problems"--are often the symptoms of our deeper sin. Thus, by openly facing troublesome areas of our lives, we may approach the spiritual disease which they reflect.
This guideline is, of course, not infallible, since often things which bother us are legitimate challenges innate in being human. For example, it is human to experience conflicts in relationships. However, the vast majority of our conscious struggles do seem to spring from our sin rather than the natural human conditions. Witness: carefreeness of children before innocence is completely gone.
The reality of the unconscious, repressed and forgotten aspects of ourselves, is perhaps the major problem in successful confession. We honestly do not know all that needs confessing. Much of our inhumanity and godhood is hidden even from ourselves. Certainly we know parts of our sin, at least its symptoms, but often the major source of our problem has been excluded from awareness. We truly do not know (consciously) what is wrong with us.
This confused state is expressed in Bernstein's Mass:
"What I say I don't feel
What I feel I don't show
What I show isn't real
What is real, Lord, I don't know.
What I need I don't have
What I have I don't own
What I own I don't want
What I want, Lord, I don't know."
In this regard the human mind has been compared to an iceberg, with seven-eighths of it below the surface. Consciousness, the tip of the iceberg, is all we have to begin our confession. This is why we need clues and guidelines, such as those given above, to bring to the surface deeper parts of ourselves. Confession, unfortunately, cannot be left to consciousness alone. We must begin there, but the odyssey is never complete until we stand fully revealed before God--including the hidden seven-eighths.
Unfolding and revealing the unconscious is commonly an extended process. If what we remember were all there is to confess, then one with great nerve might conceivably do it all on one occasion. Unfortunately this never seems to be the case. Full confession is predictably a long-term experience. One revelation seems to open the door to another one, deeper and more significant than the first.
Like onions, we peel one layer only to find another we did not know lying hidden beneath it. This is the typical process of confession, peeling the onion of ourselves, removing one cover after another. Beginning with the top layer of consciousness, we gradually work through lower suppressed and unconscious layers, continually exposing our deeper hearts to God.
The process commonly has three phases which are never distinctly separated, are always overlapping, and yet may be discerned. First, there is the stage of facing oneself privately. Then comes telling someone else. Finally one's confession is lived openly.
The initial phase of the journey is taking an honest look at myself, admitting the truth of who I am in the privacy of my own mind. Facing up is daring to look behind the facade commonly presented to others. Public images are known, but who am I really? Will the real me please stand up?
Private self-facing may be done through contemplative thought, prayer, meditation, or systematic self-scrutiny. The issue is becoming honest with oneself, dropping roles and masks in my own mind. This phase is admitting, for example, that I am more human and less godly than I appear to others or have previously thought myself to be. Specifically, this might include facing loneliness, fear, anger, and despair--or doubts, uncertainty, and other chinks in a public armor.
Without saying anything to another person, one begins to get honest with himself in this phase of confession. Though he continues to act as he always has with others, privately he starts to face up to his deeper selves.
Private facing up phases into telling someone else who I am. I extend the scope of my revelation from myself only to include some other human being. First I looked and told me; now I show and tell another. The circle of my confession is expanded from one to two. I branch out, making myself human in a slightly larger part of the real world. I come partially and tentatively out of the closet of my mind.
I say to another person, "Let me tell you who I am; let me show myself in larger measure than I have dared before. Listen to me, friend; this is how it is and has been for me. Hear me now."
In such a confession, one reveals who he is, rather than merely telling what he has done. He may give voice to an event, but in the process he re-lives rather than simply tells-about. An impersonal reciting of past sins may be an act of confession, but not the type of experience which moves one in the odyssey.
For example, in analysis one might tell his psychiatrist about his phobias. "I have this morbid fear of snakes," or, "I have a phobia about elevators." There is a major difference, however, in reporting on a phobia and revealing one's fear. The first is academic, merely intellectual; the second is experiential. In an act of confession (with no spiritual consequences) one tells about a fear; in a valid confession, he becomes afraid in the presence of the priest or analyst. He lives his fear instead of just talking about it.
In a confessional act there is emotional distance. One may recall the most horrifying of experiences in a completely objective manner, as though he and the hearer are an impersonal team of explorers into the past life of some other individual. Not so in a legitimate confession. There can be no emotional distance then. In an utterly personal way one relives alone the original horror. The friend, analyst, or priest is an innocent bystander who happens to be present.
If the confession is of a problem, one moves through valid revelation from "having this problem" to "becoming this problem." The trouble ceases to be "out there" (as in a spouse or bad condition) and comes to be "in here." There is a distinction between being a person who possesses troubles and becoming a troubled person. Only the latter is effective in the odyssey process.
Perhaps the issue may be clarified on the basis of motivation. Telling facts about oneself can be done for a variety of purposes such as impressing the listener. Such an act is expressed in Bernstein's Mass:
"Well I went to the holy man
and I confessed . . .
Look, I can beat my breast
With the best.
And I'll say almost anything
that gets me blessed
Upon request . . ."
Or one may recite bad acts as a form of self-punishment, of beating up on himself. When telling is motivated by any such devious purpose, it fails to qualify as confession.
To whom does one confess himself? All valid confession is to God. As David voiced our common condition, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned" (Psalm 51:4). Our sin is against God. Our confession is to God. Not that the results of our sin have not been harmful or destructive to others (David had Uriah killed). Still the sin is against God.
The issue is our coming to stand revealed in the presence of ultimate reality. Such revelation may occur in a cloistered confessional booth, in a minister's office, on a psychiatrist's couch, in the home of a best friend, in the presence of a stranger on a train in the night. The confession may be heard by anybody. No matter who hears, valid confession is always to God. Though spoken in the presence of a priest, religious or secular, the revelation is before God.
For practical reasons the selection of a proper person is an important matter. First of all, the decision to reveal oneself with another human being instead of in private prayer only, is a practical issue. Because we can deceive ourselves so easily alone, thinking we have been honest when only our self-deception has expanded, most of us seem to need the discipline of another pair of ears. Confession, even to a total stranger never to be seen again, is more likely to be valid than private diary entries or bedtime recitations of evil.
Once we consider revealing ourselves to another person, other practical issues emerge. Logically we begin with close friends or loved ones with whom we already feel some measure of safety. Often this proves to be a dangerous decision since emotional involvements of friends and loved ones can seriously interfere with this important process. We may fear revealing parts of ourselves to those who may judge or be hurt by who we are. Because they have vested interests, they may not be able to hear openly without being threatened themselves. Their response may divert us from the continuing course of a true confession.
In general, a professional priest, minister, counselor, or psychiatrist is a more reasonable choice for the initial phases of a continued confession. Because they have more practice, they are less likely to interfere or distract. Because they have no vested interests (or fewer), they are less likely to become personally threatened as we proceed.
However, even the choice of a professional must be made with care. Many priests and ministers remain quite judgmental in spite of their theoretical acceptance. Even when they can be accepting, one's previous fear of preachers and authority figures may seriously interfere with an honest confession to such a person.
Secular counselors, though less likely to be judgmental, are often so involved with their own theories or how-to-do-it procedures that their devices can hinder the confessional process. Psychiatrists too, with access to drugs, may unwittingly thwart the process by seeking to give relief through sedation. In the final analysis there are no sure bets. The serious odyssey traveler must make his choice carefully from among the available options.
The third phase of confession is actually the first part of repentance. It is an expansion of one's honesty from the privacy of his mind (phase one), to the semi-privacy of sharing with another person (phase two), and now to the experience of going public (phase three). Facing, followed by sharing, now leads to living. From looking and talking one progresses to doing. From thinking and telling one's truth he moves to living truthfully. First he shed his fig leaves privately; then he revealed himself to another person; now he begins to go naked in the world. Because this step includes a change in one's way of living rather than mere thinking or showing, it is the beginning of repentance as well as the final stage of confession.
For reasons of fear of revealing ourselves, we begin confession in the safety of our own heads. Then, for such practical reasons as a propensity for self-deception, we continue in the presence of another person, preferably a professional who can speed rather than interfere with the process. Finally, however, confession is not completed until it is made openly in the world.
As noted, the issue is revelationbefore God. It is not finally sufficient that I confess to myself or one other person, even many other humans. My sin is against God--and so my confession must be made before God. I must be revealed, not merely before some finite part of reality such as myself, or even many finite parts of reality such as other persons, but before ultimate reality. I must be revealed, as the saying goes, "before God and everybody." I must go honestly into the world. I must live my confession openly before God.
In practice, this means that in the community where one lives a person will cease pretending to be what he is not in favor of becoming who he is. Instead of compulsively presenting a false image to others, he will begin to reveal his truer selves. In the second stage of confession, revelation is primarily verbal--one tells who he is. In this stage revelation is essentially non-verbal--one lives his confession. He confesses himself in the activities of his life. The things he does become an honest expression of who he is, rather than a false performance to impress people (or himself) with what he is not.
For example, if one had been pretending to be a loyal supporter of his political party when, in fact, he had basic disagreements, he would begin to stand up for what he thought was right. If one had been pretending to accept social standards he actually opposed, he would start representing his desires for change in his community.
If he had appeared to agree with church doctrines he did not believe in, he would begin to live by his true beliefs. If he belonged to clubs or organizations just because it was the thing to do rather than because they fulfilled his real needs, he would resign. Family behaviors, such as ritual kissing done by habit or for impression, would be changed so as to express the confessing person more accurately.
In general, the moves in this final stage of confession are toward a more truthful life--eliminating hypocrisy, establishing an honest position, and becoming oneself openly in the world.
Living honestly is not to be confused with "saying everything I think," "doing whatever I feel like," or "letting it all hang out." Representing oneself honestly in reality also means taking into account current conditions of reality where one is. To simply speak and act on impulse may be honest on an elemental level, yet it ignores one's ability to also reason. To live honestly includes being reasonable as well as emotional. For example, I might feel like going naked in public. To do so would be an honest expression of this urge, a bodily confession, we might say. However, I also know about laws regarding indecent exposure. Living truthfully requires me to be honest with both my urges and my knowledge.
Other things I might feel like saying or doing have no civil laws preventing them, yet are equally inappropriate in social circumstances. Public confession respects the facts of social life. In private confession (phase two), one may tell all; but in public confession one cannot reasonably either say or do all.
Being publicly honest is thus to be distinguished from merely living by impulse and inclination. "Going naked in the world" is figurative, not physical. Yet is it real. Even though one must reasonably choose public expressions in the light of reason as well as emotion, his choices in this stage of confession will be made honestly. He may not say everything he feels like saying or do all acts he wants to do, yet what he says and does will be an honest expression of who he is.
Though he does not act out everything in his heart, every outside act will be from his heart. A song voices this prayer: "Let my heart be heard in every word I speak." In public confession one may not say everything in his heart, but all that he says will be from his heart. Words previously spoken to impress others or hide himself will be dropped in favor of words which express who he is.
Nor does public confession mean dropping all roles and stances taken for pragmatic purposes. Roles (parent, spouse, boss, employee, doctor, teacher, etc.) have a functional place in society. Although often used dishonestly as an escape from being oneself, dishonesty is not inherent in the roles themselves.
In this final stage of confession one becomes honest within his chosen roles. For example, if a person had previously hidden herself under the role of mother, pretending that she was the role itself, she would stop this dishonest practice. Under certain circumstances such as playing mother to her husband, she might drop the role completely. However, where the role is appropriate, as with her children, she might continue the stance for practical reasons. She would then play the role of mother to her children in an honest manner, rather than as an escape from being herself.
Public confession is also to be distinguished from exhibitionism. Certain forms of mental disturbance are characterized by the compulsive need to exhibit oneself either physically or emotionally. This is a sickness and is not the same as confession. Confession is the experience of being oneself openly. It is not the act of displaying oneself for any purpose. Just as one can tell facts about himself without confessing, so he can exhibit himself in a false confession. Facts may be revealed to impress the listener; acts may be done to impress the watcher. Neither performance is a true confession.
Confession is the beginning. Repentance comes next. First, one must face himself and admit what he has become. Then he must set about to change his ways. Repentance means change. In repenting, one reverses the course of his life. He changes from escaping to moving toward reality. Without confession, repentance is impossible; without repentance, confession is incomplete. If we are to be saved, we must both confess and repent. If we are to be saved, we must reveal ourselves and change our ways.
What exactly is to be changed? How can we grasp, in our mind's eye, the nature of repentance? First, we may be reminded that this, like all other odyssey activities, is a spiritual rather than a merely physical act. Often there are tangible deeds associated with, and expressive of, this spiritual change. However, the deed itself remains essentially spiritual. It may or may not be visible to others. Thus we speak of something more than stopping "bad deeds" such as theft, adultery, or talking back to parents, or starting "good deeds" like going to church, helping people, or saying prayers.
Nor can repentance be identified with such inward activities, as cleaning up one's language, thinking "good" rather than "bad" thoughts, controlling "bad" feelings, suppressing sexual desires, or even improving one's motivation or attitudes. All such changes, both outward and inward, can be made without any spiritual repentance whatsoever. This decisive odyssey activity is something more than improving oneself, shaping up, quitting bad habits, or trying to do right. As significant as any of these physical changes may be, they all fall short of spiritual repentance. When one truly repents he may indeed make such changes; yet they cannot be identified with this event.
Just as confession can be done as an act with ulterior motives, so physical changes can be made for a variety of purposes. Positive results may accrue from such motivated adjustments to one's life. Bosses, friends, and loved ones, as well as priests and psychiatrists, may all be duly impressed with any such changes. God, according to the Bible, is not. As Samuel noted, he is not deceived by outward appearances but looks rather to the heart.
Repentance is a matter of heart--not hand, mouth, mind, or motive. The changes required for positive movement in the human odyssey must be made at the essential core of one's being. Nothing less will do. What-I-have-become must be changed, not just what-I-have-done. I, who-I-was, fell from grace when I lost innocency. I, who-I-have-become, must be changed back to who-I-was, before I can be saved. Repentance is this profound existential change in one's essential being.
Specifically, the change is a reversal of the spiritual act which caused the loss of innocence and fall into hell in the beginning of the odyssey. Then, we abandoned humanity and assumed godhood; now, we abandon godhood and become human once more. The change may be broken down for thought purposes into two parts: turning from false godhood; and turning toward true humanity. The change is stopping the attempt to be what we are not and starting to become who we are.
GIVING UP GODHOOD
As previously noted, the three most common marks of godhood are omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality. In this first phase of repentance, one gives up each of them. He stops assuming to have ultimate answers, superhuman powers, or perpetual existence.
In the imagery of the Genesis allegory, he stops eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The illusion of infinite knowledge is given up in favor of finite awareness. Knowing-for-sure is replaced by thinking-it-likely. The certainty of right and wrong is changed to the limitations of the practical and impractical. This-is-how-it-is becomes this-is-how-I've-found-it. Without omniscience, one never knows anything for sure.
The change here involves giving up one's certain answers--about right and wrong actions as well as all scientific, philosophical, or theological certainties. Without omniscience, one can never say in any ultimate sense that theft or adultery is wrong, prayer and helping others is good, that any thought or word is dirty or clean, or that any emotion or passion is better or worse than any other. All scientific knowledge becomes scientific theory; all theological beliefs lose their ultimate character. They are changed from certainties-to-lean-on, to speculations-to-try-out.
Without omniscience, all decisions are made with limited information. Continually a person must act before all the facts are in. He decides, based on limited human experience rather than ultimate godly knowledge, that "this seems feasible," rather than "this is right." Capitalism, democracy, and monogamy, for example, may be chosen for practical reasons, but never because communism, autocracy, and polygamy are inherently wrong.
Without omniscience, one must deal with the relativity of all things. The question changes from "What is the right thing to do?" (as though one could have ultimate knowledge of right and wrong), to, "What is the feasible thing to do in these circumstances?" "What should one do?" (as though there were a universal answer available), becomes, "What will I do just now?" Should and ought are replaced by will and won't.
Certainty about the future is also relinquished along with omniscience. With limited knowledge one never knows how things will turn out. Uncertainty about what will happen, either immediately or in the long run, is accepted as a fact of life. Although one may predict based on experience and information, all such prophecies are only educated guesses, not absolute conclusions.
I may predict, based on my experience, that the sun will rise from the East tomorrow, or, on my fantasy, that my body may rise from the grave in the future. All such predictions are, however, but human guesses. Without godly knowledge I do not know what will happen in the next instant, and certainly not what to count on after I am dead.
Without omniscience, there is also room for ignorance and mistakes. Before one repents of a godly attitude, he may be embarrassed by all evidences of his limited knowledge, such as, not knowing what to do, not knowing the answer to a question, or forgetting someone's name. After repentance, human error is accepted without guilt. One learns to laugh at mistakes, ask questions without embarrassment, and tolerate ignorance graciously.
Omnipotence--unrealistic, superhuman power--is also abandoned in repentance. One comes down from the godly throne where he had assumed himself to be more than he actually is. His exaggerated sense of self-importance--with potency and rights to do and have more than is humanly possible--is relinquished. Personal pride, the most common evidence of omnipotence, is swallowed. Superiority or its veiled counterpart, inferiority, is given up. One turns from looking down on or up to his fellow humans. He joins the human race, becoming no better or worse than any other person.
Unrealistic personal powers such as the ability to do "whatever I want to if I try hard enough," to do anything perfectly, to control the emotions of others ("make them feel good or bad"), to spiritually help or save someone else, or to "be whatever I want
to be" are abandoned in favor of real human limitations.
A repenting person accepts the fact that many accomplishments, some of which are possible for others, do indeed lie outside his own grasp--that he does have definite mental and physical limitations. He may be smarter and stronger than some, but he is also less intelligent and weaker than others. He makes peace with imperfections, the fact that within the context of time and space few, if any, things can be done perfectly.
He accepts the obvious though often-concealed fact, that the control to everyone's emotions lies within their own skin--that he lacks the power to make anyone feel good or bad even when they say he can. He also comes to grips with the limitations of his love, the fact that no matter how much he cares for other persons, in the final analysis he cannot live their lives for them--help, save, or make them happy.
Finally, he faces the reality of his own spiritual limitations, accepting the regrettable truth that not only is he limited in what he can do but also in what he can become. He cannot, for instance, even make himself be happy.
Rights over other humans commonly assumed in the course of becoming godly are given up when one repents. An omnipotent possessor of people frees his slaves. If, for example, one's previous kingdom has included parents, spouse, children, or friends, he emancipates them when he gives up his throne. He frees them from all expectations of service and support, either economic or emotional. They are no longer expected to wait on him like servants (pick up after him, feed, clothe, or shelter him), to support him financially or to sustain him emotionally (give approval or respect, boost his ego, or love him).
Instead of manipulating and using people as objects he owns, he learns to responsibly encounter them as separate others with equal rights. "Its" become "thous" to him. Relationships, whether by blood, law, or mutual agreement, are treated as equal partnerships. Parents are freed from obligatory emotional ties. Though married, the repenting person does not have a spouse in any spiritual sense. Nor does he live as though he owns children which may have been born into his family. Though smaller physically they are treated as separate persons. They do not "owe him respect"--or anything else. Friends are also freed from ownership. No more abuse or taking advantage of these special relationships after repentance.
Likewise with things--objects, animals, plants, or land. Instead of acting like a lord with absolute power, one becomes a steward in his relationship with all things. From godlike rule of owned reality, he turns toward responsible dominion of entrusted reality. Rather than a high and mighty master, he becomes a tenant farmer on the earth, tending that which he does not finally possess.
If one's sin has included idolatry, e.g., worship of an anthropomorphic god on which his own assumed omnipotence has been projected ("I'm weak but I have an all-powerful god"), then a repenting person abandons his idol. He gives up possession of any gods, heavenly or earthly.
Cosmic gods are let down from the sky; material idols, such as wealth or the Bible are broken; immaterial gods, such as, fame, are de-throned; idolized persons are allowed to return to humanity. Omnipotence, whether personal or projected, is abandoned when one repents.
Immortality, the third attribute of godhood, is also relinquished. From having forever one turns to living now. He gives up all presumptions of perpetual time and embraces the present moment as all that is guaranteed. As a god, one could reasonably live as though he were not mortal, as though he had all the time in the world, and as though death were not real. As a human, neither of these stances is feasible or open.
First, mortality, which literally means being subject to death, is accepted as the apparently true human condition. The weight of evidence, barring our common fantasy, points in this direction. It appears that we are all going to die, that death is indeed a real and inevitable event, the natural culmination of a relatively brief process initiated at conception, revealed at birth, extended (with luck) for three score and ten years, but finally ended at the grave.
We do not, of course know this to be true. Throughout history many have believed in immortality as a human attribute. There is some questionable evidence for the possibility, but no real proof. In either case, the idea is only a mental speculation about a possible historical event, and as such is irrelevant to the spiritual odyssey. If there is life after death, that is a bonus. This phase of repentance has no essential relation to such a physical happening.
Our problem is existential rather than ideological. Sin does not lie in our thinking--either in believing or disbelieving in life after death--but rather in our living as though we know it is or is not so. The issue is our flight from mortality, which is real. This is what we stop when we repent.
We quit pretending death is not real and thus quit living as though we have forever--no matter what we think about post-mortem existence. That is, we get serious about life now instead of treating it as a joke and taking the future for granted. For a completely mortal man every moment is cherished and lived fully; he knows it may be his last.
While one is in this phase of repentance, embracing mortality, he is giving up vestiges of previously-assumed immortality, such as, a Pollyanna attitude of "tomorrow will be a better day." He relinquishes even the assumption that tomorrow will come. He stops putting off until tomorrow what can be done today. He negates no present moment on the prospect of another time.
If, for instance, he is with a friend, he savors the time, giving expression to his mind and heart just then instead of delaying, assuming they will meet later. When they part, he says, "Goodbye," knowing they may never meet again, rather than, "See you later." Should his friend die before tomorrow, he would grieve the loss but have no regrets about things he had intended to tell him later. Parting from a friend, for a mortal, is no minor event.
He also disengages himself from the life-consuming activities of pyramid-building--attempts to immortalize oneself through accomplishments which will "stand the test of time." Even the more subtle forms of self perpetuation--through a family and the accomplishments of one's children, for instance, or through a religion which promises perpetuity as a reward for obedience--are abandoned.
Because he is learning to face death as a real event instead of a passage or temporary step to a better life, a repenting person is freed to treat the event seriously, yet without threat and fear. While one has assumed immortality, he is inevitably in an awesome dilemma about death. Intellectually he must think of it as unreal (at least not permanent).
Emotionally (unconsciously), however, death for such a person is the ultimate threat. Everything hangs in the balance here. If his theory is correct, the better world waits; if he is wrong, the end. All is lost. Other signs of mortality can be more easily ignored. Faces can be lifted; funerals can be avoided. But the grim reaper stands finally before us. Though we ignore or slip by all mid-semester tests, we cannot escape this final exam. Here fantasy meets reality.
And to make it worse, the evidence is abundantly in favor of death as permanent. Though we dress and prepare our corpses as life-like, rigor mortis soon sets in. A dead hand is cold. Seances with the "departed' do not fare well with scientific scrutiny. Countless graves remain closed from the beginning of time. Even when we open our pyramids, alas, only dead bodies are found.
Think what we will, death unavoidably challenges all our theories about immortality. Small wonder the reaper is commonly seen as so grim, the event so gruesome. No other human occurrence so visibly confronts our godhood.
And yet as Paul noted, "the sting of death is sin." The awesomeness of the event is a product of our assumed godhood rather than inherent in the occurrence itself. Animals treat it naturally, as do small children not yet out of Eden. Only when we presume immortality does it become the ultimate threat.
When we repent the time bomb is de-fused. Accepting mortality, we take the stinger out of death. As we make friends with the grim reaper, we sometimes catch his sly smile. No longer must we on the one hand avoid and mask him as though unreal, while on the other hand, fear him as our greatest enemy.
Recognizing his valid place in the overall scheme of things (what if nobody had ever died?) we may learn to cherish his companionship as a continual reminder of the gift and significance of each new day. What value is time when we have forever? On the other hand, when death is continually at hand how precious is the moment?
Embracing mortality is to be distinguished from either disbelieving or believing in an afterlife. The first is an existential experience, an odyssey event; the second is an intellectual matter. The possibility of life after death is a legitimate subject for mental speculation and scientific research.
In either case, both the idea and the reality, should it be proven to be true, have no essential connection with the spiritual experience of accepting mortality. One could both embrace his mortal existence now and believe in an afterlife later; or he could reject the idea of post-mortem existence and yet not accept mortality. The point is that physical immortality--perpetual existence of body or soul--is an entirely different matter from spiritual mortality.
Giving up godhood may also be described positively as becoming human. In repentance we turn from the one and to the other. "Becoming human" is a spiritual move, of course, since in reality we do not leave the human condition when we assume false godhood. We stop living as though we are human but not remaining so in reality. This phase of repentance is the act of accepting and activating what we have previously denied and suppressed.
In an overall sense this means embracing and responsibly bringing to life all elements of humanity--all physical, mental, and emotional capacities. Specifically these include: breathing, eating, eliminating, sensing, feeling, thinking, being sensual and loving. Obviously none of these capacities are completely repressed or stopped when we lose innocence; yet they may be seriously curtailed and some all but eliminated.
For example, we obviously keep breathing or we would die. But shallow and restricted breathing may systematically limit an adequate intake of oxygen. We keep eating but often poorly and without pleasure. Constipation may interfere with proper elimination. Certain feelings and thoughts are commonly suppressed and sensuality may be lost in frigidity. Many experience little love, if any at all, while outside of Eden.
All this is changed when one repents. As previously described in the chapter on resurrection, all human capacities are brought to life, raised from the grave of repression when one begins to embrace his humanity. Resurrection may be viewed both as an event which happens to one and as an activity in which one participates. From the latter perspective this phase of repentance includes the initiative required in activating the previously denied human capacities.
For instance, if a person's sin has included suppression of emotional capacities, such as, the ability to cry or get angry, in repentance he takes the initiative in allowing himself to experience these feelings. He may seek out occasions when the feeling would be likely and then allow his natural experience. For instance, he might choose to go to a funeral which he would previously have avoided in his unrepentant state. Instead of avoiding a conflict which might evoke latent anger, in repentance he might choose to get involved and feel the emotion.
If one's previous escape from reality has included the denial of ability to fantasy, in repentance he takes the initiative in activating this natural human capacity. He risks dreaming about things his judgments and suppressions have formerly made impossible. If night dreaming has been denied and ignored he begins to openly allow and face this mental capacity also.
The human ability to love is commonly suppressed in our flight from Eden. Thinking to protect ourselves from the hurt which sometimes accompanies loving, we deny our capacity to love. In repentance this is changed. We turn from coldheartedness to warmly responding to others. We take the initiative in opening our hearts to those around us instead of remaining aloof and walled off from our fellow men.
Whatever human capacities one excluded in the earlier phases of the odyssey are now included through the act of repentance. Abilities such as creativity, which may have been totally denied, are brought into existence. For example, those who have never cooked, painted, or written a poem may begin to do so. Partially suppressed capacities like deep breathing, sensitive response to environment, and being sensual with more than one person are freed for their fuller expression.
Deadened humanity, in all its individual forms, is resurrected in the act of repentance.
In the language of self, repentance is the act of giving up one's self. One takes the initiative in changes which result in the odyssey event called death of self. He chooses to let go, deny, or kill the imaginary self which he created in the initial loss of innocence.
His presumed existence as a self (ego, soul, or I), which was capable of judging and possessing, is abandoned. He changes from "having a self"--which must be protected, enhanced, and advanced--to "being himself"--with no images to shield or promote. What-ever the particular shapes of his conceived self or selves--whether pretty or ugly, smart or dumb, invaluable or worthless, good or bad, or any combination thereof--is denied in repentance. As Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself" (Matthew 16:24). Repentance always involves self-denial.
In loss of innocence, for example, a girl may conceive a worthless self which she then identifies with. She may thereafter conceal this worthless self for practical reasons, perhaps covering it with numerous acts of piety. She may expend her energies in a life of service to others, outwardly trying to prove that she has value but inwardly concealing her deeper worthless self. She has unfortunately become a valueless self hidden in a cloak of impressive behavior. In confession such a woman would have to face her worthless self; then in repentance, she would begin to deny its real existence, turning instead to become the image-less person she was before losing her innocence.
On the other hand, a girl may have acquired a good self, identified with it, and thereafter perceived herself as better or more valuable than other persons. Often such self-righteousness is cloaked with a secondary image of outward debasement. Pride is hidden by a cover of false humility. Such a person acts lower than others to conceal her deeper notion of being better than they are.
She may, for instance, put others first, as in taking the last piece of meat on the plate; yet a discerning observer may sense the self-righteousness in her acts of piety. If she engages in social service or reform, the recipients of her charity are apt to perceive her deeper prejudice and paternalism.
When such an individual confesses, she faces and admits both the cover of fake humility and the good self she has pretended to be. Then, in repentance, she lets go of this godly self, changing to become an ordinary human no better or worse than anyone else. She becomes truly humble, as humans naturally are, always aware that "there, but for the grace of God, go I."
Paul noted: "For by grace are ye saved" (Ephesians 2:8). This concept is crucial in understanding the nature of the act of repentance as contrasted with other human acts. In the physical realm there is a direct connection between activity and results. One can do things to produce desired consequences. Once he discovers the right way to do it, he can make things happen. If he wants to get rich, get fat, or get along with people, he can learn how to do it, how to do it right, and how to get what he wants. The connection between action and result is established. If he does the proper thing he gets the desired result. He can cause consequences in the physical world.
Not so in the realm of spirit. I can make physical things happen. I cannot produce spiritual results. Although one must repent before he can be saved, he cannot cause salvation to happen. The connection between cause and effect in the physical world does not exist in the spiritual dimension. Spiritual results are always given, never gotten.
"Grace" means given; it does not mean earned or gotten. Paul adds, "and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Even though we must repent before we can receive the gift, we cannot command or cause salvation to come. Always it is an unearned gift, no matter how hard we must strive in order to repent. This spiritual act is like opening one's hand to receive a present. The gift cannot come without opening the hand (repenting); yet opening does not produce or cause the gift to come.
Paul further states that salvation is "not of works, lest any man should boast" (vs 9). This means that no work can lead to salvation. There is nothing man can do to produce the good life. Always it remains a gift. I may earn my wages, but I cannot earn my salvation. I may do the right thing to get money, to get well, or to get high, but there is no right thing to do to get saved.
How-to-do-it books may be useful in any area of physical life--how to make money, make love, or make people like you--but there can be no practical book on how-to-be-saved because there is no physical way to be saved.
That salvation is "not of works" does not mean that prodigious labor may not be required in the process. Another time Paul said, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Opening oneself to receive the free "gift of God" may require hard work, indeed accompanied by great "fear and trembling." The point is, unlike the physical world where the right work earns the desired result, there is no right work to be saved. The spiritual paradox is that while one may work at repentance, he cannot earn his own salvation. That is given.
One can reasonably be proud of a physical accomplishment. He makes it happen and earns his reward. If I do a job, my employer owes me my wages. I earn my pay. He does not give me anything (assuming I do a fair work); he only passes to me what is already mine as a result of my labor. I can understandably feel proud of what I have done and gotten.
In the odyssey the situation is different. Though I work, I do not earn. I may be saved (receive the gift), but I cannot get saved (deserve the reward). Humility is the only appropriate response to salvation. No matter how hard I work at repenting, salvation remains the "gift of God."
Always it is "by grace."
"By grace," Paul says, but "through faith" our salvation comes. Although we can do nothing to achieve the good life, we must exercise great faith to receive it. Faith is the spiritual act of affirming that which is given but not earned. It is, as the writer of Hebrews says, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (11:1)--that is, the act of choosing to confirm invisible salvation we long for.
Comparable secular words are "courage," "nerve," or "guts." It takes courage to be saved. Works won't do it; only nerve will. The gutless can never know the good life. Accepting God's gift is always a courageous act, a matter of great faith.
The exercise of spiritual faith is to be distinguished from the mental act of believing the unbelievable. Intellectual acceptance of the ridiculous, though popularly called faith ("I just take it on faith"), is an expression of craziness. The faith which leads to salvation is a matter of spirit, not mind only. It springs from unity, not fragmentation.
Confession and repentance are courageous acts arising from the wholeness of a person. Nerve is required since one never knows what will happen. It takes faith to risk the death of self because there are no guarantees. Perhaps ego is all there is. If I let go of my images, maybe I will die completely.
To live without omniscience is a continual act of faith. To live with limited power after abandoning omnipotence is a matter of ongoing courage. To affirm mortality (live now) after letting go of immortality requires much nerve. Playing god is relatively easy; being human takes constant faith.
With physical-world experience, where how-to-do-it? is the most practical question, we commonly approach the human odyssey with the same stance. Like the Philippian jailor, we want to know what must we "do to be saved?" (Acts 16:31). Unfortunately, this approach can never work since, as noted, salvation is by grace rather than works. The major issue is not how-to-do-it but mustering the faith to accept what is given.
In the main course of the human odyssey several lesser events are also predictable. They may occur at any time during the major happenings. In varying proportions they often intermingle like different threads making up the fabric of the greater designs. They are like paragraphs in a chapter or skirmishes in a battle--that is, not the highlights of the book or war, but the material which makes up the larger and more visible sub-divisions. They are stepping-stones on the way to the milestones.
As such they are immensely significant. While any one of them is occurring it may be perceived as a major event. Because life is lived by days instead of decades, these lesser happenings often seem to be all that is. The chapters in the book get lost among the paragraphs which comprise them. The milestones which appear in retrospect are much less evident while one is absorbed in jumping from one stepping-stone to another. Hence, the importance of these so-called lesser events should not be underestimated. They are the stuff of spiritual life.
Two clarifications are relevant before we begin exploring the events separately. First, like the major odyssey happenings, these lesser occurrences are all spiritual rather than physical events. These events emerge from man's relationships with reality, rather than from within his body or from the external world. They are neither "all in his head" nor do they occur objectively, apart from personal involvement with outside reality.
In addition to the six major spiritual occurrences four minor events are common: prayer, being led by spirit, meeting an angel, and worship. They may occur in varying degrees during the course of the major happenings. Their frequency tends to increase as one advances along the spiritual path. After resurrection they become interwoven into the fabric of daily living.
Minor is used only to compare these events with the major happenings. Each in significant when it occurs--indeed, all-important at the time. When one is engaged in either of them, his entire being is involved. Minor is more applicable to the consequences than to the perception of these spiritual experiences.
Although I shall describe the events as distinct and separate happenings, in real life they are often so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. Prayer may phase into an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Meeting an angel may result in worship, which in turn leads to prayer. Afterward, one may be unable to say when one ended and the next began.
Though descriptions and distinctions may be difficult, a participant will not doubt the significance of whatever it was that happened. The minor events are major at the time, whatever they are named.
Prayer is baring one's soul to God. It is bringing oneself openly into focus before the ultimate in reality. Prayer may be conscious and verbal, with words spoken aloud or in the silence of one's mind. Or it may be unconscious and nonverbal, with one's deeper self focused in dream images, emotions, or spontaneous actions. Prayer is saying in the language of words or the languages of life, "This is who I honestly am just now."
Any human condition or experience can be the content of prayer--any sorrow or joy, pain or pleasure, woe or happiness, want or desire--so long as it honestly reveals the current state of one's being. Any language--verbal or non-verbal, religious or secular good or poor grammar, proper or obscene--which truthfully expresses the way one is at the moment is valid for praying.
The crucial issue is honesty, not certain subjects or kinds of language. For example, an appropriate prayer might be voiced as, "Gee, I'm happy," or, "God, I feel like hell," depending on how one is at the time of praying.
When one is first beginning to pray, his prayers are likely to be few and far between. Initial prayers typically occur at moments of sublime ecstasy or deep despair. "God, this is great," or, "God, don't let me wake up in the morning." With experience, however, the time between prayer diminishes. The further along the spiritual path one moves, the more often he prays. After resurrection one may, as Paul wrote, "pray without ceasing." Early in the journey this is, of course, impossible.
Because we are accustomed to speaking only to some person or thing, one may reasonably question: to whom does one pray? The answer is: to God, the ever-present ultimate in reality. In prayer, unlike ordinary speech, there is no person or thing which is the object. One does not pray to another human, to himself, or to an anthropomorphic projection such as a super-magician in the sky.
If a prayer is audible and someone overhears, it may appear that a praying one is either talking to himself or to an unseen ghost. Each conclusion would be an error. Even if a prayer is intentionally voiced for others to hear, as in public praying during religious services, the prayer is still and only to God.
Being purposive creatures we may also question: why pray? What is the purpose of such soul baring? We pray to discover, become, and achieve--to find ourselves, to become more completely who we are, and to reach realistic goals. As James said, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). Prayer is neither the passing of information to a distant and uninformed deity nor a magic ritual for securing special favors.
LED BY HOLY SPIRIT
God may be made known to us through the Holy Spirit--that is, the spirit of wholeness which permeates every place and time in a continually new fashion. This spirit of entirety is present in each locale--room, road, or spot in the country--at every moment and in each particular situation such as an encounter between persons. In secular language it may be called the ethos or spirit of the time. As a manifestation of God it comprises the real nature of the place, circumstances, and persons present, as contrasted with mere appearance or way things seem to be.
When one is open and responsive, this whole spirit leads and directs in all matters--the proper thing to feel, think, say, or do in each instant. The Holy Spirit, a grammatical personification for the spirit of wholeness, is the only authentic guide for fulfilled living.
Though it comes to us through our senses, feelings, or thoughts, it is known only in our hearts. Sometimes we hear more clearly through sensations such as the sight of the circumstances or the sound of a friend's voice. At other times, emotions may be the medium of spirit. Then again direction may come through the mind. In each instance, knowing is in the heart--that is, the inner wholeness or core of integrity--rather than a dictation of the medium itself. It is as though the whole spirit of God speaks to us as lesser spirits.
On occasions when emotions are the Holy Spirit's chosen voice, a person will do what feels right. When mind is the medium, one will know by thought, "This is the proper move. I think this is what I must do."
On other occasions it seems that God speaks directly to the heart, bypassing feelings and thoughts. Then one is led by impressions which seem to have no emotional or mental basis. "It just came to me," we may say at such times. "I don't know what came over me but suddenly I knew what I should do." These seemingly clairvoyant or extra-sensory perceptions as they are secularly called may be frightening to one unaccustomed to this form of spirit leadership.
Guidance by spirit is more than just emotions. Though we may sometimes say or do what we feel like when directed by spirit, at other times direction may be entirely contrary to what we feel at the time. For instance, while feeling sad, one may be led to laugh. Or while laughing one may be suddenly led to cry. Nor is spirit's voice always by reason. Sometimes one must say, "I know this doesn't seem to make sense, but I am led to . . . " Often it contradicts desire. "I really don't want to do this, but somehow I know it is right at this time."
Though we name this event Holy Spirit, as though it were an objective "it," such as, a religious ghost or spiritual spook--this is for language purposes only. The spirit of wholeness is just that: the ethos of the entirety, not some objective or subjective "it."
The voice is neither "out there" nor "in here." It is from the spirit of wholeness which is both out and in. Perhaps the expression "in touch" may best convey this experience. Whenever we are truly "in touch with what's going on" we are in touch with the Holy Spirit. Then it guides us in all things.
An angel is a special messenger from God. Angels are probably everywhere, but because of our spiritual blindness we seldom see them. Always, when we do, there is a sense of awe and wonder. Sometimes they simply appear, reflecting the beauty of God, as in miscellaneous spider webs, early morning dew on grass, the eyes of a friend, the face of a stranger, or the setting sunlight.
Awestruck, we can but behold such emissaries of his majesty. At other times they show up when we least expect them, confronting, challenging, even wrestling us to a new awareness of some previously hidden face of God.
Historical representations of angels as winged creatures may be misleading. It seems that they seldom appear that way anymore, if indeed they ever did. In either case an angel is a spiritual experience, seen only with the eyes of the heart and never as an apparition or semi-human bird floating in the air.
We use such graphic language because everyday words are inadequate for conveying the gravity and impact of meeting a messenger from God. Common language is clear for describing the merely physical event of, say, seeing a sunset. "I saw the sunset today," is quite adequate when that is all that occurred. When, however, one truly experiences the beauty of God in this everyday phenomenon, some better way of saying so is needed. The spiritual event needs spiritual language. "An angel appeared to me at sunset today" is far more accurate, if, in fact, one did.
Worship is the spirited experience of knowing the worth-ship of God, of encountering the ultimate in such a way that a sense of value permeates the time. When a person experiences the worth of God, life has meaning for him just then. For a change, "it's all worth while."
In our society church meetings are often called worship services. They may be so intended. Unfortunately the rituals and forms which may free some to experience the worth of God are constricting to many others. Instead of encountering value such persons are merely bored, or worse still, tempted to self-righteousness for having gone to the trouble to attend. In either case, worship is always a personal experience which is not inherent in any form of service. There are no guarantees.
Nature is apt to put on a better service for those jaded on church meetings. The ever-changing panorama of any natural event can be an excellent stage for experiencing the worth of the Creator of all that is natural. This can be especially so because elements of personal judgment, so familiar in organized religions, are absent in the services of Mother Nature. Like God, she accepts all that is natural without condemnation. Worship, of course, thrives on acceptance.
Worship of God is to be distinguished from the worship of any form of reality, such as, a person, place, or thing, or even the intangible virtues like humility or love. One may know the worth-ship of the ultimate through any particular form of reality, tangible or intangible, but true worship is reserved for the ultimate alone.
Territory of Spirit
What is the difference between physical and spiritual events? When we speak of a spiritual pilgrimage, what are we talking about?
These religious words--God, sin, heaven, hell--what is the dimension to which they refer? What is the big picture into which these details are placed? Unless we have an overall perspective of the forest we can easily become lost among the trees.
On the other hand, having the general picture allows us to understand something of the nature of the details even before they appear. Knowing the context can make the text more comprehensible. Many questions can be answered before they arise; deadend paths of inquiry can be avoided.
The human odyssey is about man's relationship with reality.
The odyssey is neither about the world of reality nor the creature man himself but rather about the manner in which the two are related. The size of the human brain allows us the capacity for both consciousness and self-consciousness. We can be aware and know of our awareness at the same time. This capacity for self-consciousness is the basis for the human odyssey.
Because of it we can exist either in intimate harmony with the world or at war with reality. We can be closely in tune or quite out of it. We can be lovingly in touch with our surroundings or dead to the world in which we live.
For example, through vision we can either be seeing the beauty of the universe or, with our eyes still open, we can be blind to the world around us. We can see without seeing. With our ears we can either be hearing the concert of life or, with adequately functioning auditory equipment, we can still not experience the music. We can also hear without hearing. This possibility, based in our capacity for self-consciousness, is the source of the human odyssey.
If we could scale human experiences from minus to plus, from existing out of touch with reality to being intimately in tune with reality, the odyssey is about our movements on this scale.
At one time we may exist at the minus end of the scale, out of touch, dead to the world around us. Then again we may move toward the plus end of the scale, opening our eyes and ears, getting in tune with reality, dancing to the rhythm of the universe. We can be very much out of it, we can be in neutral (have the blahs); or we can really get with it. These options are the subject of the odyssey.
Customarily we seek to understand reality with three basic concepts: space, time, and event. We try to comprehend by asking where? when? and what? If, for instance, the phenomenon is an automobile accident, we may ask, "Where did it happen?" "When did it take place?" "What was the nature of the event?"
We may approach the phenomena of spirit in the same manner. Where does it happen? When does it take place? What is the nature of spiritual events? As we shall discover, the concepts of our language are notably poor for grasping the dimension of spirit. Nevertheless, they are the mental tools we have available. So we use them.
First, space. Where is the territory of spirit? Where is the land of our common odyssey? These matters of heart--hell and heaven--where are they to be found? The events of spirit--sin, rebirth, resurrection--where are they to occur? What is the location, the geographical territory of the human odyssey?
Answer: here. This world; the planet Earth--this continent, this country, this city, this house, this room, this chair where I sit--here. Wherever we humans are to be found, there is the territory for our adventurous wanderings. Your space is different from mine; none of us is in the same place. Yet we all share the earthly territory, and this is where our odysseys occur. It all happens here.
When we start naming the places in this territory of spirit, remember that each of them is located on the planet earth. We may call one of them heaven, and perhaps point upward when we speak of it. Do not be deceived however, and think of it as being "in the clouds." It is here. We may speak of hell, and refer to it as "down below." No need, however, to dig in search of it or fly to escape it. It too is located here where we are.
The world of spirit is this world. Though we may sometimes describe it with other-worldly language, the odyssey is not about a separate geography or another cosmos. Every place and every event considered in this book is to be located in the reality we call this world. The human odyssey takes place here.
Next, the question of time: when do the events in the odyssey occur? Loss of innocence, falling into hell, parousia, judgment--what is the time period for these happenings? When does the pilgrimage take place? Answer: now--this lifetime; this period of days between the cradle and the grave; this time of breathing bounded by birth and burial.
Whatever the historical period of us humans, that is the time of our odyssey. Odysseus' time was long ago. Our time is now. Your time is different from mine, yet we all share the chronology of our own era. All who are living are on the odyssey in this age. We may be at differing points along the pilgrimage, but we all share the same calendar. The time for our journey is while we are breathing.
When we speak with such words as everlasting, eternal, and forever, the chronological limit of these is your lifetime. Every event referred to is to be anticipated while each one of us still breathes. Though we couch the events in historical terms, speaking, for instance, of the fall in the past, this has happened for you since your birth. Your fall was in your lifetime. Though we speak of heaven to come, the era referred to is your breathing future. It is this life rather than an afterlife.
Within our individual lifetimes, depending on where we are in our personal odyssey, certain of the events may lie behind us with others still ahead. Yet all of the happenings may be expected while we still breathe. The parousia may already have occurred for you. Your judgment day may still lie ahead.
Whatever the case, the overall period for each of our odysseys is moving from the time when the doctor spanks our bottom to the time when the undertaker closes our casket. We do not all complete the odyssey. Some die in the war of living. Many of us never reach home again. But whatever part of the pilgrimage we experience, we do it while we live. Each event is a potential happening for right now. My heaven may lie ahead of me, but I seek it while I am still alive.
Odyssey events each occur during one's lifetime, while clocks are ticking and days go by. Yet there is no direct connection between the two--that is, the events are not subject to chronological measurement, as are physical happenings. The dimension of time applies quite well to a physical event, such as, falling down the stairs. I may note that I fell down the stairs on July the 16th at 8:31 p.m. when I was 12 years old. Even the falling might have been clocked as 15 seconds long. Falling into hell cannot be so easily measured by the clock and calendar.
Even though odyssey events take place while clocks tick, they can seldom be pinpointed in time. I do not know of anyone who can date his loss of innocence or tell how long it took. Generalities may be deduced in retrospect, but specific dating is difficult.
For example, looking back I may figure that I lost my innocence sometime between the ages of one and eleven. Yet it seems that I am still in the process of losing it. When I am in hell I can easily note the time and date of that instant, yet pinpointing my original fall seems impossible. Though the loss of virtue and the loss of innocence are each real events, only the first is easily dated in time.
When describing the events, for purposes of communication we may speak of each one as though it were a physical happening, measurable by time. This is, however, only a convenience of speech. Seldom, if ever, can such an experience be located at a specific time in one's own life. Nor will a person be able to note exactly when an event begins and ends.
What is the nature of odyssey events? How can we comprehend and classify them in relation to other happenings? How does falling into hell compare with falling onto the ground? How does seeing a tree relate to seeing an angel, or hearing the wind compare with hearing God speak? In what way is the coming of the light like the rising of the sun?
Are odyssey events visible to the naked eye? Would a photographer be able to take a picture of the coming of Christ? Would a historian record the judgment day? Is my sin an act which a neighbor could observe if he were present? Is hell a place or is it all in one's mind? Is the devil an entity or a figment of man's imagination? Is soul something like a ghost in a machine or is it only a figure of speech? Are spiritual things real or unreal? How is spiritual related to physical? How can we understand the general nature of what happens on the human odyssey?
First let us consider our mental tools for grasping any phenomenon. After the yardsticks of space and time--where? and when?--we have various categories for classifying phenomena within the world. "What is it?" has an assorted group of possible answers. We have ways of measuring "what," just as we do "when" and "where."
We may measure "what" with the yardstick of real--unreal. Is it real like a rock or unreal like an elf? If real, is it physical or mental? Can it be grasped like a stone with the senses or must it be grasped with the mind like the number three? We may also measure "what" with yardsticks such as subjective-objective, spiritual-physical, quality-quantity, and natural-supernatural. Before attempting to speak directly--to define--the odyssey events, I shall apply these broad categories, the general measuring sticks for any phenomenon.
First, are they real or unreal? Do they truly happen or are they simply figments of the imagination, as in when a mentally disturbed person hallucinates, seeing enemies who do not exist? Is an odyssey event something to tell a friend or to see a psychiatrist about?
Answer: all odyssey happenings are real events occurring in the world of time and space. They are not products of imagination or all in your head. Hearing God speak or seeing an angel is an actual happening, not an auditory or visual hallucination. Though a microphone or camera would not record such an event, it is real nevertheless.
Unfortunately, mentally disturbed persons do often use religious language to express their illness. Paranoid individuals may say, "The Devil is after me all the time." Hallucinations are commonly described with religious symbols ("I saw God standing on the clouds." "I heard a demon telling me to kill the president.").
Even though the language is similar, the nature of the happenings is vastly different. Odyssey occurrences are real; hallucinatory events are not. The former may appropriately be shared with friends; the latter are best reserved for telling to professional counselors.
It is true that one of the common odyssey occurrences, falling into hell, results in varying degrees of mental illness. After the fall (a real event) one may become paranoid, believing that the Devil is out to get him, or even hallucinate, seeing imaginary, winged creatures which he calls angels. The fall, however, is an actual happening; the expressions of illness are not. The hell which the fallen person experiences is real; the devil "making him do bad things" is not.
Later, if a fallen person continues on the odyssey, he will experience parousia, seeing the coming of Christ to him. This event will also be real and quite unlike the distortions of reality voiced by individuals who anticipate Jesus coming to earth again. With the mental yardstick of real/unreal, odyssey events are all measured real.
Next, we may apply the classification of physical/mental, tangible/intangible, material/immaterial. Many real things are also intangible--apprehendable by the mind alone or by devices which extend the range of our normal senses. Concepts and doctrines fall in the first category; air falls into the second. We can only know an intangible concept, such as, the decimal system, with our minds; we can only measure air with machines more sensitive than our fingers.
Are odyssey events physical or mental? Do they have measurable substance? Are they perceivable by the senses or mind--or both? Here we must qualify our answer. The events themselves are physical happenings in the real world. A careful observer can often see a person falling into hell or being re-born.
At other times a participant may conceal the event so that no one can see. Even so, the occurrence remains tangible and physical, rather than intangible and mental. Resurrection, for example, is a physical happening, not a mental concept. It can occur with or without mental comprehension. In either case, the event is more than an idea or belief. When it occurs, one does not "just imagine" that it happens; it actually does. It may also occur when one has no idea of what is happening.
To say that the events are physical rather than mental, even though they may be accompanied by mental awareness, means that they are physiological rather than intellectual only. Parousia, for example, involves tangible changes in body systems. Although specific research is limited, certain generalizations can safely be made about the physical aspects of these odyssey events.
In losing innocence there is probably a general shift of overall control in the autonomic nervous system from the parasympathetic to the sympathetic branch. Falling into hell may be reflected in headaches, backaches, constipation, and general bodily tensions. Parousia will likely signal a decline in sympathetic dominance of the autonomic nervous system, reflected in a dilation of the pupils and opening of the peripheral blood vessels.
Resurrection is probably accompanied by a general inward relaxation of tensions and a smoother coordination of bodily systems. Whatever the changes may be, the point here is that odyssey occurrences are physical in nature rather than all in the mind.
The symbols used in confronting the physical events are, of course, mental phenomena. God, Satan, heaven, hell, are creations of the mind, mental devices for referring to the physical happenings. They, like all words, exist intangibly as mental constructs rather than as tangible entities in the world.
Although physical rather than mental, odyssey phenomena are spiritual as contrasted with physical. Though they occur as real events in the physical world rather than as mere mental happenings, they are matters of heart rather than hand. They concern soul rather than body only.
Spirit emerges from the way we relate to physical reality, but does not exist in the material world from mankind. "Heart" is a metaphor drawn from the physical world to speak of an experience which does not exist objectively in the material world as does the pump in the human chest.
In like manner "soul" is a name for quality of experience rather than an entity in the body. So it is with all other odyssey "things." They refer to physical experiences but not to material or immaterial objects. They exist spiritually (in human experience) but not physically (in the objective world). God, Satan, heaven, hell, resurrection, etc. are subjects of spiritual encounters, yet they do not exist independently in the physical world.
Nor are odyssey "things" a special order of physical reality such as intangible rather than tangible. To refer to them as spiritual instead of physical does not mean they are immaterial entities as contrasted with material things.
For instance, the Holy Spirit is not some sort of religious ghost (an immaterial entity). Demons, a possible odyssey experience, do no exist as intangible spirits which might be subject to exorcism by a priest. The experience of seeing an angel is not in the same category as seeing an immaterial spook.
Odyssey events are physical in that they always involve tangible experience, but spiritual in the sense of never being objectively physical in either a material or immaterial way. Spiritual life is not an opposite of physical life, existing as a separate phenomenon, yet it can be clearly distinguished from bodily life alone. We cannot have spiritual life apart from bodily existence, but we can be physically alive and spiritually dead at the same time.
Study of the odyssey is different from other intellectual pursuits in that it has no objects of inquiry. Although theology (odyssey study), sounds very much like biology, geology, or psychology, it is in fact essentially different. Other disciplines or sciences focus on some part of objective reality, either tangible or intangible. Geologists, for example, study a particular portion of external, tangible reality (rocks and formations of the earth). Psychologists study internal, intangible reality (the human psyche). Parapsychologists study objective phenomena related to both tangible and intangible reality (telepathy, clairvoyance, etc.).
Odyssey study does not fit into either of these categories. It is concerned with man's relationship with reality, not with any form of reality itself, either tangible or intangible. The odyssey is about the way one studies whatever he studies, not about what he is studying. An astronomer studies the stars. The odyssey is about the manner of his studying. Does he study "with heart" or does he detest his work? Love and hate--spiritual experiences--are the subject of the odyssey. Rocks and stars, numbers and ghosts--physical entities--are not the subject of the odyssey.
Perhaps the measuring stick, subjective-objective, will now be useful. With this device we may note that all odyssey events are subjective experiences of a person, as contrasted with objective events in the impersonal world. They occur only in the inward experience of individuals, never as outside events apart from particular persons.
Resurrection, for instance, is a subjective experience, not an objective, historical happening. The coming of Christ happens subjectively for individuals, not objectively for all people at one time. It is a personal experience, not a cataclysmic world event. So it is with all odyssey happenings.
Subjective events do, however, occur in the objective world. Subjective does not mean "all in your head." As already noted, the events may occur without accompanying mental imagery. Subjective means personal or "of the subject," as contrasted with "apart from the subject." Some make the mistake of identifying subjective with "not real."
For example, doctors not alert to the human odyssey often make this error. After properly searching for a germ, virus, or other objective cause for an illness and finding none, such a physician may conclude, "The patient is not really sick. It's all in his head." He improperly concludes that the only alternative to objective causes is imaginary or unreal "things." This conclusion ignores the reality of subjective experience.
Odyssey events, though subjective rather than objective, have real consequences in the tangible world, particularly for the human body. Loss of innocence may result in physical illness just as surely as an objective germ. A person can hurt from
a subjective broken heart as he does from an objective broken arm. To imply that a broken heart is "all in your head" or less real than a broken arm, is to ignore the reality of subjective experience. Odyssey events are indeed subjective, yet they occur in the real world and have tangible consequences in many objective ways.
Using a scale of natural/unnatural, odyssey happenings are all natural occurrences in the real world, not supernatural events outside ordinary reality. Were it possible to grade events as more or less real, odyssey occurrences would be more real rather than less. They have to do with man's encounter with the essence of reality, not with his encounter with supernatural beings outside of reality.
For example, if a physical healing follows a spiritual event, it will follow from one's deeper contact with reality and not from the intervention of an unnatural force. In prayer (an odyssey event), one deepens his encounter with natural forces, rather than contacting an otherworldly supernatural being.
It is true that odyssey events may appear unnatural to one who is less aware of the nature of the occurrence, just as a magician's feats appear unreal to one who does not understand the trick. Magic, however, is always explainable when one has access to all the information. Pulling a rabbit out of a hat only appears supernatural to the audience. The magician knows the event is simply the natural done in a clever way.
In like manner, spiritual events may seem miraculous to the uninitiated. With full information, however, they are always explainable. They all fall within the realm of natural phenomena, though often deeper into the natural than we are accustomed to seeing.
For example, falling in love, a familiar odyssey occurrence, may seem miraculous or out-of-this-world. The loved one appears to have supernatural powers to produce happiness where there is none. However, when one understands the psychic phenomenon of projection, of displacing suppressed personal powers on to another person, the magical event becomes rationally understandable.
Any odyssey event may appear as mysterious; but every one is natural and subject to understanding when full information is available. There is no real magic or supernatural power in the human odyssey. The events emerge from our relationship to the ultimate in reality, not to anything beyond or outside of reality.
With the measuring stick of quality/quantity, we can say that odyssey realities are more like qualities of experience than quantities of reality. They are about "really living" as opposed to "just existing." Spirit, for instance, is a certain quality of existence, not a quantity of intangible matter. To say "I have spirit" is to describe the quality of my current living, not to speak of a possession within my body.
When one "has soul" he exists in a spirited manner, rather than owning a ghost in his skin.. To be "with heart" is to be experiencing a positive quality of being; to be "without heart" or to have a "hardened heart" is to experience a negative quality of being. In neither instance is an objective quantity of matter implied. Nothing spiritual can be quantified and measured with a rule or weighted, on a scale.
The odyssey is the Wow! or Ugh! of life--qualities of being, not inches or pounds--quantities of matter.
In spite of our common division of reality into sacred and secular or holy and profane, we cannot apply these categories to odyssey realities in an objective way. Literally, there is no such thing as a sacred piece of music or a secular business. Sacredness is a way of being rather than a division of reality. Anything can be related to in either a holy or profane way. For instance, a so-called secular song can be sung in a holy way or a religious song sung profanely. The distinction, insofar as the odyssey is concerned, lies in the relationship between the singer or listener and the song, not in the songs themselves. No thing or act is inherently sacred or secular, except as an individual relates to it in one or the other way.
To summarize: realities (places, times, events) in the spiritual odyssey exist in the realm of human experience only, in the way one is related to reality. Though real, things in the odyssey are not objective entities, either tangible or intangible. Love, for example, a reality which may truly exist in human experience, is real whenever a person is in the process of loving. It exists in the way such a person is relating to reality (as in the form of another person) at the time; yet it does not exist "out there" objectively or "in here" subjectively. It is neither a thing outside nor a state of mind inside, but rather a particular manner of being in relationship to the world.
So with every reality in the human odyssey. Each exists in the experience of living persons in the here and now. Everything spiritual is a particular way of being physical, not anything separate and apart from the material world in which we all live--or merely exist.
In contrast to physical events which are complete and the same for everyone, odyssey happenings are always by degrees for each individual. If you have your appendix removed (physical event) that is essentially the same for everyone else who has the operation. But losing innocence (odyssey event) is a matter of degrees. One person may lose more or less than another; one may lose most innocence in one area and yet remain completely innocent in another. A hardened criminal with no innocence left in the area of his crimes may still be innocent in matters of grief. A prostitute, jaded with physical lovemaking, may be as innocent as a child when it comes to spiritual loving.
In an overall sense, using 100 degrees or per cent as total, one may experience any portion of any odyssey event. He might, for instance, be 10 degrees in hell. Or he might be 85% lost. Another person may be 40% in heaven, having lost only 60% of his innocence.
Furthermore, the balance is likely to shift from time to time. One may be mostly in hell on one day and experience resurrection on the next. Or he can be losing innocence at one instant and seeing the light a moment later. Twenty degrees of heaven and 80 degrees of hell can change to 80 degrees heaven/20 degrees hell in a brief period of time.
Though we may describe odyssey events consecutively, in their most common chronological order, this neat arrangement may never be observed in real life. Most often there is a shifting from one event to another, from one time to another, and from one degree to another. One who is losing innocency in one area of his life may at the same time be experiencing resurrection in another. One going to hell in marriage may be finding heaven in a friendship. There may be constant shifting, changing, overlapping, progressing, and regressing. Nevertheless, for purposes of communication we may neatly divide the events and describe them one at the time.
To think or speak about any subject we must first choose a language and then select a vocabulary within that language. Each choice brings its own set of advantages and problems. Before confronting the particular events in the human odyssey, we may pause and examine our means of making this confrontation--our words. If we understand their range and limitations we can use them more productively and avoid some of the pitfalls inherent in the use of words we select.
Because our common language is English rather than French or Japanese, our first choice is already made. We use the English language. However, because every language is based on certain underlying concepts which set the framework and place limitations on its use, we need to examine the basic premises of the English language before we attempt to use it for our purposes. Though we tend to start with our given language, ignoring the possible limitations of its structure, this ignorance can be particularly dangerous in the area of our subject.
The English language is based on three primary concepts: 1) things, 2) space, and 3) time. These concepts are interwoven into the structure of the language. They both open the doors and set the limits for its utility in grasping at reality. They determine the kinds of questions we can and cannot ask. And herein lies the problem which most affects our present study.
Let us examine the concepts in more detail. First, things. The most basic assumption of our language is the existence of things--objects, "its"out there. Nouns, names for the things, are the primary parts in our speech. We cannot make a sentence (or think a thought) without using a noun.
The concept is quite natural of course. If we imagine a newborn infant approaching the external world for the first time, beginning to make distinctions between the vast array of stimuli--that which is seen, heard, and touched--we can easily rediscover the primary concept of things. Perceiving distinctions in reality,"this" can be separated from "that." This thing is not that thing. This object is not that object. This person is not that person. Later, as language skills are acquired, names will be applied to these distinguished things. This is a mommy. That is a daddy.
Space, the second concept, follows naturally from the first. All things are not within reach. The bottle is close; the door is farther away. Some things move in and out. Mommy comes and goes. There seems to be no thing between some things, as between one's fingers. This series of perceptions gives rise to the concept of space. Things exist in space. All things must be some place. Later a child will learn to measure, with an assortment of scales, these differences in space.
Thirdly, the concept of time gradually emerges following the first two. An infant will perceive that things not only exist in space; they also change. The bottle of milk which was warm turns cold; the lighted room changes to dark. A mother who was tender and loving sometimes changes into one who shouts or spanks. Then the concept of time is born. Time is a way of noting that things in space are not permanent; they change. They change in time.
Thus we have the three basic categories for apprehending reality--and the basis for the English language: things in space and time. Our language is structured around these concepts. Our questions--the way we ask about reality--emerge from these constructs. The primary question, what?, means identify the thing.
Variations--who? and which?--refer to categories for people or distinctions within a given class. Still, they refer to the primary concept of things. What?, wh?, and which?, categorize the thing being identified. The answer is a noun, the first essential for making a sentence.
The space concept leads to the next basic question: where?, meaning, give me the location of the thing in space. To identify any reality we first want to know "What is it?" and then, "Where is it located?"
Finally, the third and most advanced concept is brought into use. After naming and locating in space, we attempt to pinpoint with the concept of time. When did you see it? How long ago? Locate it in time for me.
These three concepts structure our approach to reality through the English language. If, for instance, someone reports that a new phenomenon appeared in the sky, we might ask: "What was it?" Then, "Where did it appear?," and finally, "When did you see it?" Or, if a baby is born: "What was it (girl or boy)?" "Where was it born?" and "When?" In this manner we attempt to apprehend all reality when we use the English language; we identify the thing in space and time.
Only two further qualifying questions are possible: Why? and How? Each asks for other information about the thing in space and time. Give the reasons for the thing happening, and explain the nature of how it happened. These seven questions--what?, who?, and which?, referring to the thing; where?, referring to space; when?, with reference to time; plus why? and how?, further identifying the thing in space and time--set the limits on any attempt to apprehend reality through the vehicle of the English language. We have no way of asking about or understanding reality except through these concepts and the questions emerging from them.
Understanding these concepts and our language structure is less relevant to other fields of study than to this one. The English language works well for a child learning to cope with the world or a scientist grappling with some part of objective reality. Since it is based on the existence of things out there, it is unusually effective for approaching and understanding external phenomena.
However, the human odyssey is not about things out there. Our subject is not reality itself but rather man's relationship with reality. Unfortunately, our language, which works effectively in coping with objective reality, is woefully inadequate for confronting human experience.
It is an appropriate language for considering things like rocks and stars, but it does not work as well when considering this thing called love. It works well for locating cities and people, but, as Job lamented, gives no aid in finding "Where is the place of understanding?" (Job 28:12). And how can we measure despair or ecstasy with a clock or calendar? Our objectively based language becomes a real challenge when we attempt to use it for understanding subjective experience.
For example, consider the problem of naming. Every sentence must have a subject or name. Although things in the external world can be set apart, isolated and easily named, subjective realities cannot. Since they occur in process only, they have no objective existence--that is, they exist only in the event of their happening. The experience of loving, for instance, is a significant odyssey reality. One can be loving or unloving--and the difference is great. However, there is no such thing as love. Love does not exist as something which can be easily isolated and set apart. Love exists only when some person is being loving.
The problem is that "being loving" is not a simple noun. Yet before we can speak of this odyssey event in English it must be named. An experiential event must be translated into the language of things. Loving must be named as though it were a thing. Hence the name, love, is a concession to the structure of our language, allowing us to speak of that which is not a thing, as though it were.
Problems also emerge from the fact that objective things can be possessed, while subjective experiences cannot. One can have a hat, but one cannot literally have love. He can be loving, but he cannot have love (or hope, faith, etc.).
Nor can odyssey events be pinned down in space. A hat can be located somewhere but love has no place. Hoping is real, but there is no place where hope can be found.
Neither does our measuring device of time apply easily to odyssey happenings. Physical life can be measured in years (three score and ten), but spiritual life is literally timeless. When lovers are together time goes quickly; when they are apart it stands still. Clocks tick on, but the nature of love--and all other odyssey experiences--is such that chronological time simply does not apply.
Yet these are the dimensions on which our language is based: things in space and time. We must ask what?, where?, and when?, if we are to ask. Though no odyssey reality fits easily into these categories, still we must use them. We are stuck with the English language, both with its advantages and its limitations.
Next comes the option of a particular vocabulary within the general confines of the English language. What type of words shall we use? Three choices are open: common or colloquial words; specialized words from other disciplines; or religious words. We can use what is available in the market place, borrow from the fields of science, or use the vocabulary of organized religion. Each choice offers its own advantages and disadvantages.
Common words such as happiness, peace of mind, feelings, confidence, trouble, plus colloquial expressions, such as, getting with it, losing your mind, being turned on, being out of it, may be used to speak of odyssey events. Within limited contexts, as in private thinking or speaking to particular persons who understand the colloquialisms, this type of vocabulary may be the most effective.
However, because such words and expressions are vague and difficult to define, clarification often depends on facial expression and tone of voice. Because such words have different connotations from place to place and time to time, they become particularly difficult in general communication.
Words borrowed from other disciplines are a second possibility. The medical profession with its branches in psychiatry and the related field of psychology are perhaps the most likely options. We could speak of the odyssey with health related words like well and sick, or with more definitive expressions such as mental illness, emotional health, self-actualization, id, ego, super-ego, schizophrenia, and paranoia.
This vocabulary has the advantages of being currently in vogue, new enough to attract attention, relatively well-defined and yet still strange enough to seem applicable to the unusual nature of the odyssey. On the other hand it has the disadvantages of being medically oriented with an emphasis on sickness versus health, and the connotations that an external "cure" is possible for this mental "illness."
Also it still lacks public understanding. Psychological jargon is rapidly being adopted in common speech, yet usually with severely limited understanding. Largely it remains a mystery vocabulary grasped only by professionals. Even among them there is much disagreement. Being physically oriented, it also lacks the implications of the true depth of spiritual experience. A psychological problem such as a phobia, sounds like something one can have. This misses the depth of implying something one is or has become.
Religious language--God, sin, hell, judgment day, salvation, heaven--is our third available vocabulary. It has the advantages of being specifically designed for our topic rather than adapted from some other specialized field. It is graphic, simple, direct, accepted historically, and commonly used.
Nevertheless it has certain serious limitations. It has been pigeonholed in the course of history, shifted out of the real world and applied to a supposed religious subject apart from secular reality. It has often been assumed to refer to some other world instead of this one, to supernatural rather than natural happenings, and to magic rather than real events.
Such non-realistic thinking about the religious vocabulary has also invited its use by mentally disturbed persons for voicing their hallucinations and delusions. Disturbed people sometimes say, "God told me to do thus and so," or, "The devil is forcing me to do this." Religious language has so often been used for "crazy" talk that many have considered the two to be synonymous. Some fear saying anything with religious words lest others think them to be somewhat weird if not actually "crazy."
This association has been historically compounded by the perspectives of such social scientists as Marx and Freud. Marx viewed religion as "the opiate of the people"; Freud, as a "universal neurosis." Influenced by these opinions, many persons identify the use of religious language with those practices which have indeed been expressive of mental illness.
A third problem with religious language is its common use as a manipulative device of the historical church and many religious parents. Religious words and ideas have been used throughout the ages as a means of suppressing freedom and controlling the behavior of individual persons. Those who have been so abused will naturally find any use of the same language for other purposes to be confusing or even threatening.
Now back to the initial question: How shall we speak of the odyssey? We must use the English language, but which type of vocabulary--common, specialized, or religious? Our choice will most logically be dictated by the context of our encounter and the person to whom we speak. No single vocabulary is better or worse than any other one. The proper choice of any words is finally decided by this question only: Can the words say what we mean in a way the listener can understand?
My choice in this context has primarily been religious language mixed with certain common words and occasional colloquial expressions. For clarification I often try to say the same thing in several different ways, hoping a reader will pick the one he hears best.
The issue is the odyssey--not how we talk about it. For example, the same odyssey experience which I call "salvation" may be referred to by a psychologist as "self-actualization," by a layman as "finding happiness," by an existentialist as "discovering one's identity," and by a teenager as "getting with it." In either case, the issue is the experience rather than the name. The vocabulary is secondary. Neither is superior to the other except in its ability to communicate for a particular person.
Because I primarily write with the religious vocabulary which is often used in other ways, clarifications may be helpful. First, an overall reminder: the words which I use to describe the odyssey are always and only about the odyssey itself--man's relationship with reality. Though they may seem to be about objective reality, this is never so. Subjective experience remains my topic. "Heaven" may sound like a place somewhere (an objective reality); "Satan" may seem to be an outside creature, and "soul" may appear to be an inside entity. Never, however, is this so. Whatever words I use, I speak only of the way we are relating to reality, not of any reality itself.
All the religious nouns for persons and places--God, Christ, Satan, as well as heaven and hell--are used to speak of various aspects of human experience. They are a concession to the structure of a language requiring nouns to make a sentence. Personal experiences are also named, as though they were objective events--parousia, judgment day and resurrection--so that we may speak in general about happenings which only exist in particular.
Because the language requires verbs to complete a sentence we make up action words, such as, sin, repent, and confess, to speak of odyssey occurrences which in fact can never be identified with any outward action.
So first, the reader may bear in mind that all odyssey talk, no matter how objective it sounds, is about subjective human experience--man's relationship with reality--rather than anything out there. "God in heaven" may sound something like "President in Washington." "Satan tempted me" may be similar in construction to "the woman enticed me," but each religious sentence is of an entirely different nature.
The specifically religious vocabulary includes the following words:
Personages: God, Satan (Devil), Christ, angels, demons, Holy Spirit, soul
Places: Heaven, hell
Times: Everlasting, eternal
Events: Sin, salvation, confession, repentance, parousia, judgment, resurrection.
In addition, several common words are borrowed from ever day speech and given special connotations with reference to the odyssey. These include words such as life, death, and heart. Though life ordinarily refers to breathing, we use it for an experience of spirit which is essentially unrelated to physical life. To make this distinction we sometimes add the modifier, spiritual life. Death as an odyssey event is also to be distinguished from the ending of physical life. Spiritual death can occur while one is yet alive physically.
We also borrow other common words related to physical experiences and give spiritual meanings. For instance, "I see," or, "I hear," commonly refers to physical use of visual or auditory senses only. We may use these same expressions, however, to speak of insight or understanding which has no connection to looking or listening.
One can say "I see," in this sense even if he is blind, or "I hear you," when no words have been spoken. The Bible speaks of those who "have ears to hear but hear not," utilizing this dual sense of meaning. Jesus often ended his speaking with this phrase, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." The reference is obviously to more than auditory sensing.
Figures of speech are our major grammatical means of speaking of the odyssey except with the specifically religious vocabulary. Similes, metaphors, and personifications lend themselves most easily to odyssey talk. Beginning with the names drawn from ordinary speech (love, hope, joy), as well as those created especially for our subject (God, hell, Christ), we may describe odyssey events with physical comparisons, such as, "Love is like a cool drink of water on parched lips," or, "Hell is like burning in a fire." In such similes we use familiar everyday experiences to speak of odyssey events which may not be so easily understood.
Metaphors, which speak directly of one reality in terms of another (e.g., "Fred is a rat."), are perhaps the most widely used way of describing odyssey experiences. "Love is a blast." "God is our heavenly Father." "Heaven is a city with streets of gold." "Hell is a raging inferno."
Personification is the grammatical device used in all personal names related to the odyssey. To speak of the event of loving, we may personify the forces of love into the image of Cupid. We commonly personify the spirit of giving into the image of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. In like manner we personify lesser forces of evil into the image of demons, or the greater force into Satan. Christ is a personification of other odyssey experiences; God is a personification of the ultimate in human experiencing.
The use of such figures of speech may be helpful in understanding the odyssey. They are also extremely dangerous when taken literally. Looking for God in the sky (since he is called a "heavenly Father") is like looking for Santa Claus at the North Pole. Waiting on a street corner for the second coming of Christ is like staying up at night to meet the Tooth Fairy.
As personifications and metaphors the religious images can be quite useful. Taken literally, any one of them becomes ludicrous.
To summarize: the human odyssey is a spiritual adventure emerging from man's varying relationships with objective reality. Speech about the odyssey always has the limitations of the language in which it is expressed. In English, these are the concepts of things in space and time. To speak with this language we necessarily translate subjective experiences into objective realities. We name things, place them in space, and describe them with time. Never, however, do they objectively exist in the external world apart from human experience.
God, like Santa Claus, is very real, yet not as an entity in the sky. Heaven is another reality, but not like the planet Mars. No odyssey place is to be taken as a geographical location. Nor are odyssey times to be understood in a chronological sense. If everlasting is taken to mean clock-time extended infinitely, the odyssey event, is completely missed.
Physical comparisons can be helpful, but also misleading when understood to be like other events. Sin, for instance, can be likened to or revealed in external activities like murder; yet it can never be identified with any physical act. It can occur with no observable activity; or any outside act may take place and no sin have occurred.
All direct statements, such as, "God is light" are to be understood as are all other metaphors. Fred may be like a rat in some ways, but not in all (he doesn't have a long tail). God may be like light in some ways, but not in every way (as in glowing in the dark).
Perhaps the greatest risk with odyssey talk does not lie in misconceiving the images, but in substituting conceptions for actual experience. Understanding the journey intellectually is no substitute for taking the trip. Gathering road maps can be useful preparation but also an escape from the experience of travel. In like manner, a tragedy occurs when one substitutes information about God for the personal experience of knowing Him.
Odyssey language can be summed up with a quote from The Little Prince. The Fox has promised to share a secret with the Little Prince before they part: "Goodbye," said the Fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
Taken literally, the secret is nonsensical. The heart has no eyes. And how could one see what is invisible? Yet the secret reflects a profound understanding of the human odyssey, expressed as clearly as possible within the limitations of our language. So it is with all odyssey talk.
God, Christ, Satan (Devil), Holy Spirit, angels, demons, and soul--these are the personages commonly associated with the human odyssey. Each name represents a particular aspect of the journey, a potential experience in the sphere of man's relationship with reality. They are happenings--subjective events rather than objective entities.
Since this is an uncommon use of the English language, we may avoid later misunderstandings by pausing first to examine this grammatical device. As noted earlier, our language is built on the concepts of things (persons, places) in space and time. Furthermore, each proper sentence must have a noun or subject. When we speak or write of odyssey events we are bound by these limitations of our language. We must use nouns--names of persons, places, or things--in order to make sentences.
Unfortunately human experience fits poorly into either category; yet they form our limits and we must use them, or not speak. In odyssey talk we accept this limitation and proceed to name experiential realities with the available options--in this case, persons. We give spiritual realities personal names.
Cupid, Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are similar uses of this grammatical device. The forces of love are personified in Cupid, who shoots his arrows into the hearts of lovers. The spirit of giving is personified in a jolly, bearded Santa Claus. Parents use the Tooth Fairy as a functional way of compensating children for the loss of their teeth. The spirit of new life is symbolized in the traditional Easter Bunny. In each instance a significant human experience is personified, named as though it were a person, for purposes of understanding and communication.
So it is with all odyssey personages. Profound spiritual experiences are translated into a language geared for things (persons, places) in space and time, with the grammatical device of personification. The formless is given form for speech purposes. Technically each odyssey name is a no-name, a verbal representation for a non-entity, a name for the unnameable, allowing mental access to the event. That which can only be experienced is named as though it were an entity, as a required concession to our language.
Misunderstanding occurs, however, when one looks for Santa Claus at the North Pole or God in the sky. No odyssey name refers to an objective entity. In each instance the unseen is named as though visible, the unheard as though audible, so that we can communicate about the deepest and most profound human experiences.
WHO IS GOD?
"And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM and WHAT I AM, and I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE; and He said, You shall say this to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to your" Exodus 3:14 (Amp.)
God is the ultimate in reality, the essence of the real. He is the supreme in being, the quintessence of all that is. Wherever there is being, or anything which is, there is God. GOD IS. He is manifest in every leaf, flower, and rock, in every wave on the sea and cloud in the sky, in every person--red and yellow, black and white. God is revealed in all reality.
And yet he is not contained in any of it. The omnipresent reality cannot be identified with any form which it may take. All things reveal God; none are God. Nor is God some form above and beyond tangible reality, such as an external creator or manager of the world.
Any form of reality, either creature or creator, even a magnificent cosmic supermagician, would fall short of being the ultimate. As the supreme in all being, God can neither be identified with any tangible being nor an intangible Supreme Being. As the ultimate in all reality, he cannot be reduced to any particular reality.
This, of course, presents an immense problem in human understanding, since we grasp at reality with mental images. We seek to comprehend the unknown by reducing it to some known form. We construct mental boxes in which to segment reality in our mind's eye. We apprehend the universal only by particularizing it.
Understanding God is naturally approached in the same way. We try to get an adequate image or mental box which will allow us to know just what or who God is. The universal God must be reduced to some particular images before we can comprehend. This is the nature of thought in relation to reality.
A host of images may be useful in the effort to comprehend God mentally. The image of a person can be a good beginning. The idea of God as father may be helpful. Perhaps the image of a kindly grandfather is even better. If one has had good friends the image of God as best of all friends may clarify.
Impersonal images may amplify understanding, for example, knowledge, power, or light. Knowing something about knowledge, we may say that God is All Knowing; or about power that he is All Power; or that he is The Light of the World.
Combining personal and impersonal images we may amplify even further. The father image must be expanded if we are to grasp the magnitude of God. Fathers know much but God knows all; fathers can do many things but God can do anything; daddies make some things but God makes everything. Earthly fathers are mortal and die. The heavenly father is the omniscient, omnipotent, immortal creator of the universe.
These and countless other images may be helpful in mentally apprehending God. Any aspect of reality can be used to point toward the ultimate in reality; any being may be used to mirror the supreme in being. Any image may be helpful in understanding that which is finally image-less, but none can be identified as God.
All images of God are figures of speech--mental comparisons, metaphors--as when I say of a friend, "He is a real jewel." The metaphor, jewel, may describe what my friend is like, but you miss the point if you conclude that he is a diamond or ruby. Or that God is literally a father or any other useful metaphor.
To identify that-which-is-imaged with the image is idolatry. God is in many ways like a kind grandfather, but he is not an old man in the sky. He is like a universal creator, but he is not a potter turning out worlds. He is like light, but he is not the sun or any other source of light waves. In fact he is not even he. The masculine gender is itself a metaphor when referring to God. "She" or "it" could be used with equal accuracy. The image of heavenly mother may refer more clearly to certain aspects of God than the image of father.
The point is: any image may be useful, but all images are only that--images, like pictures of a person, representing the person, but not the reality. When any image of God is taken as the real thing, the universal God is reduced to a merely local deity. No matter how powerfully he is conceived, he is left as only a segment of reality, not the ultimate in reality. He may be viewed as the most powerful of all beings, yet he remains a being, only one among or over others, and hence not the supreme in all being. Any God which
can be captured in an image is an idol.
Perhaps this relationship between images and idols can be clarified by understanding the use of articles (a, an, or the) in relation to God. In our grammatical system an article particularizes or sets apart that to which it refers. For example, river is a generalization or concept, but a river particularizes or refers to one among many. The same is true with God. When one thinks of a God, he has localized or mentally boxed-in that which, in fact, remains universal. A God may be conceived as great and powerful, but he remains only a particular thing among or over against other things.
When God has been particularized with an article (a God), the image has become an idol. The idolatry lies not in the size of the image, but in the assumed fact of the image. For example, consider the question, "Do you believe there is a God?" One who takes it literally and answers, "Yes," testifies to his own idolatry. God is, but there is no such thing as a God. To reduce the universal to the particular is to commit idolatry.
The same is true with any other images of God. We may properly say that God is creator or God is father (or mother), but we cannot say that God is a creator, or a father without reducing him to a particular one. Even if we use the article the, as in, the creator, implying the original or main one, still we have reduced the universal to a particular, changed our image into an idol.
If we use the image of being we may say that God is being, or to amplify, that he is the supreme in being. However, we may not say literally that God is a being, even the Supreme Being, without slipping into idolatry. Or we may image God as the ultimate in reality, but not the Ultimate Reality. When "The Supreme Being" or "The Ultimate Reality" is taken as a name for some great "it," then imaging has turned to idolatry.
The issue, of course, is more than grammar. We may, because articles are useful in more than one way, say, "I believe in a God" (as opposed to "not believing in a God"), without meaning "a particular deity." Or, I may say, "I believe in God (omitting the article a), and yet be thinking of a particular entity. Idolatry is a spiritual move, not a grammatical slip.
When adjectives are used to describe an image of God the risk of idolatry is magnified. For instance, if we begin with an image of God as being, and wish to describe him in terms of power, we may ask, "How powerful is God?" Within the context of the image we may say "very powerful." To be even more graphic we must push the adjectives for power to their limit. God is "all powerful." He is omnipotent.
As an adjective for an image, this is fair description. The danger, however, is in slipping into the idolatry of assuming the existence of an all-powerful entity "up-there" or somewhere, as in the form of one who makes it rain on our crops or parades (heals our sick bodies, controls history, etc.).
If we wish to remain literal with this or any other description, we can say that "God is all power" but not that "he is all-powerful" (as an entity which possesses infinite power), or, "God is omnipotence," but not "omnipotent" (as an omnipotent being). These and other predicate adjectives are accurate within the context of an image, but only predicate nominatives (nouns which follow a verb and are identified with the subject, as in "It is I" or "Carter is President") can speak directly about God and lessen the risk of idolatry.
God, as in the above example, is ultimate power (omnipotence), not merely an omnipotent being. Sentences with predicate nominatives can be reversed ("Carter is President" can be turned around "The president is Carter"). Omnipotence is also God--that is, ultimate power is God.
Or we may literally say that "God is omniscience" (a predicate nominative) but not that he is an omniscient being (this is an image). This may be reversed: "All knowing is God." Wherever there is knowing, God is revealed. Or, "God is omnipresence" (not an omnipresent being). All presence is God. Wherever there is presence, God is. He is far more than a being who happens to exist in every place (as an invisible spook). He is literally all presence.
Or we may say that "God is love" (with love as a predicate nominative). Love is God. God is not merely a loving father (although this is a valid image); He literally is loving. Where there is love, there is God. Not that love or any other predicate nominative tells all about God, any more than "president" tells the whole story of Carter. But love (power, knowledge, presence) literally manifests God.
Gerunds (verbal forms used as nouns) may also be used to speak literally about God. The noun, creator, as in God is creator, is dangerous in that it implies an entity which makes things (such as, constructed the earth). However, changed to a gerund, creating, as in "God is creating,"the statement becomes literal. The gerund is a predicate nominative, not a participle. It can be reversed: creating is God. Whenever creating occurs, God is revealed. God is not merely an entity who creates, not even the original and greatest creating one (that is still idolatry). He is actually all creating, no matter what or who is doing it.
The crucial issue is that we can never capture God in any image without committing idolatry. The temptation, however, is apparently universal. Throughout history man has wanted to name and pin God down in his mind's eye. Moses was no exception. In that time of multiple gods, how could he name the one who was calling him? His revelation remains the classic. God's name is I AM. GOD IS. Beyond this, including metaphors, all else is idolatry.
Christ is a name for the personification of particular aspects of the engulfing experience of knowing God. God, the ultimate in reality, is revealed in every form of reality--every plant, rock, animal, and person. However, he can never be viewed directly ("No man hath seen God at any time" John 1:18). We know him only as we experience the various forms of reality in particular ways--for instance, truthfully and lovingly. To encounter a flower lovingly is to know God. To meet a man truthfully is to meet God. Life reveals him. When we encounter life as it is, we meet God. There is a certain way things are; when we know the way we know God.
These spiritual experiences are personified for purposes of communication into the single name, Christ. Christ stands for all the experiential ways we have of knowing God. These include love, truth, life, and the way. Because such terms seem cold and impersonal they are given thought form in the Christ image.
Just as the traditional spirit of America (including patriotism, freedom, and respect for individual rights) is summarized in the name, the American Way, so the spirit of God (including love, truth, and life) is summarized in the name, Christ. However, the American Way is a vague term, difficult to grasp. In time it has been personified in the imaginary figure of Uncle Sam. He stands for "the American Way."
In like manner Christ is also a difficult term to grasp. It has been personified in the real person, Jesus of Nazareth, who was able to say, "I am the way, truth, and life" (John 14:6). As John wrote, Jesus declared or revealed God (John 1:18). He manifested truth in his life. He revealed the way. He was loving, that is, he personified love in his relationships. Activating these forms of godliness, he became Christ, God incarnate, "the word made flesh" (John 1:14). Jesus was what Christ is.
In a parallel use of language one might speak of John the Clown. Suppose John Smith learns to act like a buffoon and gets a job as a circus clown. As he becomes identified with clowning, he may become known as John the Clown. In time his name may be shortened to John Clown. If he is very good, the functional form of clowning will be personified in John. One could call him John Clown, but technically he would be John, the Clown.
So it was also with Jesus, the Christ. In personifying truth, love, and the way, he became the Christ. As our imaginary John revealed what clowning is, so the real Jesus revealed what Christ is. Christ came once in Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity is about his coming again--his second comings--in Johns and Jesuses of other ages.
While Jesus revealed these qualities of life summarized in the term, Christ, he neither created nor exclusively retained them. Just as the American Way existed before it was personified in Uncle Sam, so truth, love and life preceded Jesus. Hopefully, the American Way will continue, should Uncle Sam suffer a social death. Certainly the Christian way has continued after the death of Jesus.
The point is, while Jesus was a graphic manifestation of the Christ with profound historical consequences, Christ experiences are not exclusive to the Nazarene. As Jesus said hopefully to his followers, "Greater works than these shall ye do." They regrettably failed to live up to his expectations, as have we in succeeding generations.
Even so, the Christ qualities existed before Jesus and are still potentially present for every person. Truth is still revealed to those with the eyes to see; love continually remains an option. Life is before us, and the way remains open to those with the faith to follow. We lack the tangible personification of a present day Jesus, yet Christ still exists.
Satan (the Devil) like Christ, is a name for the personification of particular aspects of the human experience of knowing God--specifically, the negative experience of not knowing him. The name Satan stands for the destructive power which is present when man exists out of harmony with the ultimate in reality, that is, when he separates himself from God.
We experience positive power when we encounter reality through Christ--the way, truth, life and love. When we withdraw from the way and become untruthful, evade life and are unloving, negative power is experienced. For purposes of communication this force is personified and called the Devil or Satan.
Satan is a name for the awesome human experience of existing in the vacuum of God's absence. When students of general science explore the saying, "nature abhors a vacuum," by removing the air from a metal container, they discover that the sides cave in. Similarly, when man removes himself from God, he experiences the pressure of his separation. This negative force may be personified in the figure of Satan. Positive, or good forces, which are operational when one is in touch with reality, are personified as God; evil powers loosed when one withdraws from reality are given the image of the Devil. (good = God; evil = Devil).
Whenever man turns from God (stops being truthful, loving, etc.), he inevitably encounters Satan. The traditional image of the Devil as a red man with horns, a pitched fork and forked tail is used, like Uncle Sam, to represent a particular quality of life. The figure allows us to think and speak of the destructive possibilities in human experience.
Using metaphors, we may describe the Devil as the evil one, the tempter, or the spirit of wickedness. With traditional associations between darkness and evil, he may be pictured as roaming in the night. The Bible describes him in metaphorical language as "a roaring lion, walking about seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). The essential representation is the tremendous destructive power of evil that is unleashed when man separates himself from God. Satan is a name for this demonic force.
As with all odyssey personages, there is the continual danger of presuming the personifications of human experience to exist in the external world as independent entities. This seems particularly tempting with the forces of evil. Perhaps our deep wish to see ourselves as good inclines us to project these negative powers "out there." It is easier to think that "the Devil made me do it" than to accept my responsibility for separating myself from God, setting in operation these demonic powers.
Once such projections are made, giving evil an independent existence, two predictable errors ensue: first, one thinks that the bad entity (Satan) is "out there" tempting me (a good entity) and can thus be dealt with by fighting the external force (resisting the object or person in which he presents himself). Secondly, once the evil is accepted inwardly it is presumed that these bad forces can be exorcised or driven from the body.
In either case the existence of the destructive power inherent in the experience of withdrawing from reality (personified as Satan) is misconceived.
The Holy Spirit is a name for the spirit of wholeness which one perceives when he is in touch with God. When a person is in communion with the ultimate in reality he senses the unity or wholeness of all things. It is as though the spirit of finite man is merged with the infinite spirit of the universe. He knows the presence of God, even though he does not see him. Experientially, it seems that "something comes to him" when one encounters the ultimate in reality. For purposes of communication, this experience of perceiving the presence of the unseen God is named the Holy Spirit.
The doctrine of the Trinity or triune God--Father (God), Son (Christ), and Holy Spirit--emerges from the threefold way we may perceive the ultimate. God, represented by the Father image, is not subject to direct perception. He may, however, be recognized as truth, love, life, or the way, symbolized by the Christ image, the Son or second person in the Trinity. Still a third figure is needed to accurately represent the fact that man does perceive God as "coming to him." If "something comes" in such an encounter a name is needed to speak about the experience. This "something," which is an experience rather than a literal thing, is named Holy Spirit.
The language of space (coming and going) is combined with the language of things (entities) to make a noun for something which happens in the course of the human odyssey. What "comes" to man when he meets God? Answer: the Holy Spirit.
Again, there is the danger of taking this needed symbol literally. Historically the name Holy Ghost has been used. This may easily be taken for an objective, intangible entity, such as a disembodied spook which might descend out of the sky. Like the Devil in a red suit, this of course would be a ludicrous mistake. Yet we do need a name for speaking about the possibility of knowing the spirit of wholeness.
ANGELS AND DEMONS
We experience God, the essence of reality, and Satan, the essence of non-reality, by degrees. Seldom is one totally in contact with the real, or completely out of tune. Usually we are somewhere in between--partially whole, yet somewhat fragmented.
Holy Spirit is a good name for wholeness of spirit; but we also need a name for partial spirit. Satan is a dramatic symbol for the essence of evil, but what about the lesser degrees of separation from God? The names, angels and demons, are used for these more common human experiences. An angel is a personification of lesser degrees of God's presence. To say, "An angel appeared to me," is to say that one has been visited by some degree of God's presence which is less than his total self.
Demons, on the other hand, represent personifications of lesser degrees of Satan's presence. To say, "I have a demon," is to say, "I am aware of a certain destructive force working within me." When one says "I am compelled to do that which I don't want to do," he might otherwise say, "I have this demonic drive, or demon, operating inside me."
The figures of angels and demons seem especially graphic since we commonly experience these positive and negative powers as "coming to" us. ("All of a sudden this good feeling came over me," or "I just don't know what got into me and made me say that").
For odyssey talk these familiar experiences are named. In keeping with the objective way we seem to perceive them, lesser degrees of God and Satan are called angels and demons.
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became living soul." Genesis 2:7
Soul (or spirit) is what we human beings, formed as all other creatures from the elements of this earth, become when God breaths the breath of life into us. Before that time we are merely high-grade animals with capacities exceeding those of other life forms--yet without spirit. Only when indwelt by God do we become spirited ("living soul").
Soul is a symbol for this odyssey experience of communion with God as viewed from the perspective of man. When the spirit of wholeness (Holy Spirit) flows into a human creature, then man receives spirit. The highly evolved animal comes to exist with "soul." "Holy Spirit," from the perspective of God, is human spirit ("soul") from the viewpoint of man. Soul (spirit) is a name for man's encounter with God (as Holy Spirit). In the Genesis allegory this event is aptly pictured as God breathing into man.
Soul is not some thing which comes to man, and would as such be subject to leaving him, but rather is what man becomes in meeting God. Although it is grammatically proper to speak of a soul, this is literally incorrect. The article, a, implies a particularized entity, a thing. Soul is not a thing. Man may become "living soul," but he does not have a soul, like some possession in his body (a ghost in the machine).
Because of the nature of encountering Holy Spirit we may accurately perceive the event in terms of "coming" and "going." It does seem that spirit comes and goes. Now you have it, now you don't. "Spirit has fled me," said one who had experienced the loss of soul. "Pray come to me, spirit," he may plead hisdesire at such a soul-less time.
Although this is apt description for a real spiritual event (in our language geared for things in space and time), it becomes a mistake to take the language literally. A special search for a fled soul would be as futile as looking for Santa Claus at the North Pole or God in the sky. Soul is a very real human experience, but is non-existent as an entity in the world.
Perhaps colloquial speech is more accurate and less subject to misunderstanding in regard to soul.We may say of a vibrantly alive person, "He's got soul," or, "She is really spirited." These everyday references are to the quality of life which the Bible called "living soul." The same state of existence may be referred to in the expression, "He's a real man," as distinguished from simply a male member of the human race. A female, when in-breathed by God, becomes spirited, or, "a real woman."
In everyday speech the word "heart" is often used as a synonym for soul. "He's got heart," we may say of the spirited male. To be "hard-hearted" or "without heart" is to be soul-less, literally.
The expression, "She is something else," when spoken with a proper tone of voice, may clearly signify this spiritual experience. The "something else" is soul.
In a thought system based on things in space and time, "everything's gotta be somewhere." If we have personages, we must also have places to put them. For the human odyssey we have three primary places: Eden, hell, and heaven.
Eden, meaning garden of pleasure, is the spiritual place we are all born into. Hell, the abode of Satan (he too must have a place), is where we go when we lose innocence and are exited from Eden. Heaven, the home of God, is where we go when resurrected from hell.
Odyssey places are, of course, a concession to our language structure rather than specific geographical locations. They, like the odyssey personages, are nouns created to speak of our common human experiences as viewed from the perspective of space.
Insofar as geography is concerned, each of them can be anywhere. Eden is wherever a child is born. The whole earth is a potential garden of pleasure. Hell is where anyone who falls from grace happens to be; heaven is anywhere one meets God and becomes spirited again. When I return to innocence I always find myself in Eden, no matter where I am.
Because we are accustomed to locating places with our mental measuring sticks of here/there, up/ down, and in/out, we naturally apply them to odyssey sites as well. So long as we understand this use of language the procedures can be useful. We may, for example, think of heaven as "up" and hell as "down" in order to distinguish the two places spatially. We may think of the kingdom of God (a less graphic name for heaven) as being "in here" rather than "out there," to point out the personal nature of knowing God.
The danger of all spatial references is, of course, that we may forget and take them literally, looking for Eden in Europe, heaven in the sky or hell under the ground. A more subtle but equally tragic error occurs when one seeks the kingdom of God inside his own skin or psyche as opposed to the outside world around him.
Spatial references are almost required by our language structure, but should always be understood in the context of metaphors or figures of speech. In the final analysis there is no inherent connection between worldly geography and odyssey events (places). We can say with equal accuracy, "Heaven is everywhere" or "Heaven is nowhere." Anywhere a spirited person happens to be is heaven; nowhere is heaven when one has lost heart.
I II III
ODYSSEY Loss of Fall into Death of
Innocence Hell self
RELIGIOUS Sin, Damnation Denying
PSYCHOLOGICAL Becoming a Emotional Losing one-
self, Having disturbance, self, Loss
an ego Mental ill- of images
SECULAR Hardhearted, Hopeless, Dark night
Jaded Depressed, of soul,
Out of it, Falling
Nervous apart, End
breakdown of rope
IV V VI
ODYSSEY Coming of Accepting Rebirth
RELIGIOUS Parousia, Judgment Resurrection
PSYCHOLOGICAL Insight, Becoming OK Getting
"I see" sane, Achieving
SECULAR Finding a Accepting Coming
way oneself alive, Feeling
good, Being happy
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