Saturday, April 9, 2011

Evolving Spiritually: Different Conceptions of God in Scripture and Experience

If you have a conception of God, then if you can think back on your life, you will probably discover that your conception of God has evolved over the years. Whether you are one who can seem to trace a progression from understanding God as the great king or father located right up there in heaven to a great power and Spirit with an involvement and presence throughout creation; or whether you are one who once had a comfortable view of God and now don't get any clear thoughts or feelings when you say the word "God," or whether you once upon a time felt that God was clearly with a certain group of people and not with others,but now it seems to you that God does not have an identification with any particular group of people, but with humanity as a whole . . . well, there are so many variations of possible conceptions of God among human beings. And, with each human life, there is a distinctive story, from the person who has gone from believing it all to believing none, to a person who has gone from believing nothing to believing every bit of what is affirmed by a religion.

We have lives that run either way: from C.S. Lewis who was a confirmed academic agnostic who became an enthusiastic Christian, to others who believed deeply in their young lives but came to see belief in God as a projection of human wishes and an avoidance of the nature of reality (see Karl Marx and Ludwig Feuerbach and Friedrich Nietzsche).

An individual's view of herself and a person's view of reality and the meaning of life is both a reflection of that person's view of God/ultimate reality and also one's view of God is a reflection of a person's view of self and others and reality. It is not a one way street. Religious knowledge is in a dialectical relationship with other knowledge. Religious knowledge constructs social knowledge as much as social knowledge constructs relgious knowledge.

For example, if I become very discouraged and depressed about life and about my life in particular, such state of mind is likely to affect my conception of God. However, my conception and experience of God is likely to affect my feelings about life and about my life as well.

For some, there may be a path of spiritual development that seems logical. For others, the conceptions of God may change with the seasons of life or even change back and forth radically with drastic alterations in experience. Or, for some, the conception of God may stay relatively the same throughout life, from childhood to old age.

I would like to know more about how people develop their belief or unbelief in relation to their psycho-social experience in life, and how people develop their pyscho-social experience in relation to their belief or unbelief in God.

Although there is something to be said for stability in views, one thing strikes me about the true experience of God. That is, that one's conceptions of God must undergo some radical challenges and changes if one's is to remain open to experience the living God in the real circumstances of life. That doesn't mean that a person cannot have a stable and genuine faith and a life-long experience of prayer and sense of communion with God. But, it does mean that if you get too clear and stable a view of God, it is probably something you have dreamed up and not from the experience of the Living God whose mystery is beyond our knowing.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Stages of Revelation in the History of God with Humanity

In Jurgen Moltmann's book, "The Trinity and the Kingdom," he has a fairly long section about Joachim of Fiore's teaching about the Kingdom of God. Moltman writes:

"Joachim counted as an "Enthusiast" and an outsider. But in fact, ever since the middle ages, there is hardly anyone who has influenced European movements for liberty in church, state and culture more profoundly than this twelfth-century Cisterian abbot from Calabria, who believed that in his visions he had penetrated the concordance of the Old and New Testaments, and the mystery of the Book of Revelation."

-Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom(Harper & Row, 1981), p. 203.

Joachim's teaching about the unity of scripture arises from his vision of the three stages of history: the kingdom of the Father; the kingdom of the Son; the kingdom of the Spirit.

I recite Joachim's words here:

"The myteries of the Holy Scripture point us to three orders of the world: to the first, in which we were under Law; to the second, in which we are under grace; to the third, which we already imminently expect, and in which we shall be under a yet more abundant grace . . . The first condition is therefore that of perception, the second of a partially perfected wisdom, the third, the fullness of knowledge. The first condition is in the bondage of slaves, the second in the bondage of sons, the third of liberty. The first in fear, the second in faith, the third in love. The first in the condition of thralls, the second of freedmen, the third of friends. The first of boys, the second of men, the third of the aged. The first stands in the light of the stars, the second in the light of the dawn, the third in the brightness of day . . . The first condition is related to the Father, the second to the Son, the third to the Holy Spirit."

-Concordia Novi ac Veteris Testamenti,Venice 1519, Lib. V, 84, 112, trans. by E. Benz, Eranos-Jahrbuch 1956, pp. 314.

I will continue on with this next post, and review how Joachim applies these three stages to deal with the very different portrayals of God in holy scripture. Also, I want to discuss the possible application of Joachim's three stages to understand spiritual development. Time to go to work.