Higher and Above



I'm going to start off rather philosophical today, but hopefully will end up with something practical. Sometimes we need complex words that provide some stimulus to keep going higher in understanding. There is really no end to the mystery of the spiritual life yet so often people become stuck at a certain point and ultimately rigid in their thinking. The consequence is that spiritual growth stops.

When we want to talk about the nature of God we encounter unsolvable paradox. For example, if God is omniscient, then how can he ever be surprised? If He cannot be surprised then He cannot know uncertainty. How is it, then, that we can be said to have free will, with the ability to choose or reject God's will, while God is omniscient? The problem is that our means of expressing ideas about God is limited. We can only speak what is logical and logic requires that a thing cannot be A and not A at the same time. It is this limitation of logic that causes many to stumble over the nature of God. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is one such example that I have written about before. Arguments against the Trinity focus on the logical impossibility of Jesus being born in time while also being eternally existent, Jesus the Son dying while the Father does not, of the two being one yet the Father greater than the Son. It doesn't make sense - logically.

But what if you remove time? This is very difficult because we perceive events as ordered by time and find it almost impossible to express ideas without reference to time. For example, if you could take all the events of your life and make them an aggregate of your being, with no reference to time, you could say you are a toddler, an adolescent, an adult, and elderly. But you cannot say you are all of those things at the same time. To remove time allows opposites to coexist in the same being. The apple and the tree are one and the same. My being is all that I ever do, not simply a snapshot of being at any particular time.

I have come to see eternity this way. Eternity should not be thought of as time without end, but rather as existence in no-time, or at least with a very different time that what we experience in our physical existence. We can then say we are eternal in spirit, but physical in time and have two very different types of sensations. Thus, what I mean by spiritual being is that aspect of existence that reaches outside the limits of time and space. Physical being is limited by time and space, occurring as a sequence of events. As a result we can experience things out-of-time, as in the case of prophecy, mystical visions, and communion with God, while also experiencing things in-time as physical events. Unfortunately, in our modern world where rational materialism is the common world view, those who speak of higher levels of being are often dismissed as superstitious fools.

When we talk about the nature of God we must do so without reference to limits of time and space. Otherwise, God would be limited to something of His own creation. That's another logical impossibility since the created thing is less than the creator of the thing. God, as creator, is greater than His creation. But, if we want to describe cause and effect, action and consequence, certainty and uncertainty, we need time. Also, uncertainty can only be perceived because of time. The past is certain but the future is uncertain. It is because of the uncertainty of the outcome of our actions that we have a sense of choice. That sense of choice allows us to understand that some actions are good and some actions are not good. The thing cannot be good and not good in the same time, in other words. Yet, when we see the cause and effect relationship, we can then understand how an action is moral or immoral, good or bad, effective or not. Living as a physical being in time is quite an opportunity even though it carries the burden of uncertainty and potential mistake.

But now we have an even greater conundrum. How is God to reveal Himself to us while we exist as limited being in time? How are we to understand the spiritual basis of moral action when we cannot speak of eternal things without sounding irrational? We have to express things obliquely, not directly, because any direct expression would result in paradox. This we can do only through symbolic words, analogy, metaphor, allegory, etc. We must express things of a spiritual nature using the things of this physical world if we hope to communicate with language. Look at this:

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. (Joh 3:11-13)

To start with, Jesus says that the Son of man is IN heaven, and that he came down from heaven. That's puzzling unless you can see the two levels of being that are expressed in contrast. But the key thing to see is that Jesus talks about "earthly things" and about "heavenly things." This is how God reveals spiritual things to us. He uses the things of this physical life to express the higher spiritual ideas that give us understanding of God's nature and our nature in relationship to Him. To go back to the Trinity for a bit, we say that God reveals Himself to us in the person of Jesus and works within us through the person of the Holy Spirit. What is difficult is when we apply the physical limitations of personhood to these divine persons. But all we are doing is describing the unseen by analogy to the seen things. Jesus is to God as a son is to a father, but that doesn't mean that the relationship is time-bound or physically limited in the way two human beings are limited and isolated. It is the spiritual nature of a relationship that is revealed. Remember that outside of time God can be Father and Son, limited and unlimited. God takes on our limited being so that we can encounter Him directly and speaks as a man so that we have an effective image of our relationship to God as our Father. That's as far as we can get with reason alone. We can't extend the limits of physicality to the higher spiritual concepts without getting very, very confused in our thinking.

There are other areas of Christian doctrine that get just as confused. In the first century the main argument was over the relationship of Jewish worship practice (the Law) to the new revelation in Jesus Christ. The traditional thinking about religious ritual was that the ritual itself was what was required to be righteous with God. But, as explained by the Apostle Paul, these things were types, shadows, and allegories that prepare man's understanding for the coming of the Christ. The "earthly things" are used to describe the "heavenly things." The conflict arises because we tend to think only in earthly terms and not in heavenly terms. The allegory of spiritual things embodied in the ritual gets lost as the ritual is transformed into a means in and of itself.

A similar conflict exists today in the area of end-times prophecy. Are we to take the sayings of Jesus along with the description of events in Daniel and Revelation as a time-line of the physical world? Or, do these writings represent higher spiritual concepts expressed in the form of an allegory? Or, is it both - that these events will play out in human history for the purpose of spiritual allegory? The same questions can be asked of the book of Genesis.

When reading and interpreting the Bible, this is what we need to always be aware of. So many controversies among Christians are nothing more than an argument over how to logically analyze the text of the Bible. In other words, when do you read the text literally, and when do you interpret it symbolically? When do you see the Bible as describing events and actions in this world, and when is it using physical things to represent spiritual things? I fear that many who read the Bible never even become aware that there is a difference and end up interpreting the Bible in an ad hoc manner.

Those that only believe in a single plane of being, and treat eternity as a continuation of time, will interpret everything in the Bible as describing "earthly things" bound in time. They will then look for some Kingdom of God to become a physical reality on this earth at some point in time. This becomes a trap where the spiritual concepts are overlooked in the attempt to make heavenly things exist as physical things. But, if you can grasp somehow the idea of multiple levels of being, some without time, you can avoid getting caught in that trap.

The verse from John chapter three comes at the end of the conversation with Nicodemus. Jesus has said that we must be born spiritually as well as physically. The physical only world view cannot explain this except in reference to time. But, seeing spiritual things as another level of being, we can understand that we are born in heaven as well as on earth. We do not simply continue from the physical to the spiritual. We must have a dual existence. The physical existence begins and ends in time, but the spiritual existence does not. Becoming aware of that higher being, from above, is to recognize your true being that is in constant communion with God. The physical existence will end at some point in time, but those who are born of the spirit live outside time, without beginning or end.

To do this requires going higher and above the purely physical level of being. Only in that higher state does an understanding of God's glory in us become possible. We can soar above all the ups and downs of the physical landscape, while still traveling over them, and with that higher view begin to see how our trials and frustrations fit into a greater scheme. We can begin to understand how it is that we have choices to make yet are assured that God knows the end from the beginning. We can also know that we are His children, cared for and watched over always, and that while the earthly things are experienced we grow in understanding of heavenly things as well.



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