Sunday 12 August 2018

We need faith in spiritual 'processes'

It is clear that even real Christians often lack faith in spiritual processes. In theory we all believe that the visible world of human institutions, the world of communications and media, of power and systems; is only on the surface and that the real stuff goes on behind-the-scenes, imperceptibly, by the spirit...

But how seldom we are able to make this real to ourselves - and how often we pin our hopes, and expend our efforts, on worldly activities... How often we measure our success by public, measurable, 'objective' outcomes (such as statistics and surveys, or government and media reports, or what high status people are saying and doing).

Some denominations are very good about emphasising prayer; but this can again become an effort of organisation - with success measured by how many people can be gathered in prayer meetings or in other mass activities; or when the success of such prayer is itself measured by the perceptible effect on public discourse and policy.

This is dangerous, and tends to lead to despair in a world where institutions are deeply corrupted and habitually dishonest, and where the public arena is so controlled.

I think the answer is that we each, as individuals, need to base our understanding solidly on that which we personally know; and know directly by our best and solidest intuitions.

We cannot usually persuade other people of the validity of these personal intuitions - and we should not try to. We should speak, live, work, evaluate, (and especially) think from these intuitions - but not try to 'defend' them using the publicly-acceptable means of 'evidence', 'logic' etc.

An example is miracles. My conversion to Christianity was confirmed and solidified by a few miracles in response to prayer - I have never told anyone about the nature of these miracles because I know that they would sound feeble to a skeptic; and that there are plenty of alternative explanations for them. But I know they were miracles, and I also know that they were meant for me specifically.

Once we start to think this way; we will find that there are many events in our lives that confirm, sustain and increase our faith - but (as a general rule - recognising exceptions) we must not yield to the temptation to try and use these 'spiritual gifts' to convince other people.

We should be grateful for them, and use them in our personal lives, as evidence of how we ought to be living. 

Thus we may build-up a solid, sustaining faith in the reality and power of 'spiritual processes'.


Chiu ChunLing said...

One key point of recognizing miracles is to learn to rate them from how they advance the will of the Lord rather than our own desires. Of course the Christian life also involves aligning our will with God's so that what God wills is also what we will. But to do that, first one must recognize that there is a difference, as well as coming to see what that difference is in practical terms.

We should come to see even the signs of the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord as miracles. It is well that we are not eager to go through such upheavals, but when they do come we must face them with courage and faith that they serve God's purposes.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - "One key point of recognizing miracles is to learn to rate them from how they advance the will of the Lord rather than our own desires."

I don't agree! See:

Chiu ChunLing said...

I feel that a miracle that doesn't lead us to look up from what we desire to see what God designs would fail to deserve the term "miracle". It would merely be a satisfaction.

"Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts."

Or as Christ Himself said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed."

And again Jesus said, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day."

As with every other miracle Christ did, the bread was not merely to fulfill some transient human need of the moment, but to show the eternal purposes of God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Well, it's semantics... Obviously what Jesus did had a different purpose from everyday miracles.

Andrew said...

Neville Johnson has been a revelation for me in thinking about theosis and spiritual realities. He comes out of the Pentecostal movement but has concluded that church life is needing to change and must involve far more individual discernment. He touches on many of these things in this talk from a number of years ago:

-Andrew E.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I think that it may be 'obvious' that Jesus' miracles were on a different scale of grand historical import than particular 'everyday' miracles. I would have trouble saying (or even understanding what could be meant by suggesting) that they have a different purpose.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL I see no reason why all 'miracles' should have an identical purpose. Nor even that all miracles should have an identical form. I regard them as a large and loose category of phenomena. We don't really know enough about them to say more.