Monday, September 20, 2010

Spiritual Maturity and Theology of Fallibility Part 3

Jesus' Founding of the Church of the Holy Spirit at the Last Supper

At the last supper, Jesus informed his disciples that it was necssary that he should "go away" in order to make it possible for the Holy Spirit to come into the world and dwell in our hearts: "Yet you are sad at heart because I have told you this. Still, I am telling you the truth, it is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go I will send him to you...However when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth" (John 16: 6-13).

Over many decades of theological reflection on this passage I have wondered what was that necessary link between Jesus' death and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Why could the Holy Spirit come to us only after Jesus' death. One central interpretation of that neccesity has to do with the issue of the spiritual matuurity of Jesus' followers! As long as Jesus remained alive and present, his disciples had their center of authority outside themselves. As a result they were not totally responsible for their actions. They were striving to meet the expectations of an external authority. They had not yet become fully creative and responsible adults.

But after Jesus' death his Spirit became what Paul called 'the glorious freedom of the children of God!': "The proof that you are sons and daughters is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the spirit that cries,'Abba Father'; and it is this that makes you a son or daughter; you are not a slave anymore" (Gal 4: 6-7). Paul clearly understood the good news of the evangelium, the gospel message, is exactly the message of our freedom... "Christ set us free, so we should remain free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be fastened again to the yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1-20).

Paul has the same understanding of freedom as found in the Sanscrit root of the word. The word freedom in Sanscrit had two independent meanings. First it meant to be a free member as against a slave member of the household. Second it meant to be loved by the master. Anyone in the household that the master loved, by that very fact became a free member of the household. Anyone who was not loved was a slave member of the household.

I find the insight that comes from this double meaning of the word very profound. It is love; it is knowing that we are loved; it is by living in the atmosphere of love that we humans are genuinly free. The child that knows it is loved with an unconditional love is free to play and to develop in a healthy way. We adults, if we are fully conscious of God's love for us, are psychically free to mature and to play life to its fullness in the presence of a loving God. As Iranaeus, the Greek Father, put it: The Glory of God are humans fully alive!" Love creates the space in which freedom florishes.

Paul saw the pagans as not free but slaves in relation to their gods because they related to their gods in a spirit of fear. But Christians, he argues, are free because their God is a God of love, who has adopted us all into his family.

"All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God; for what you received is not a spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out "Abba. Father"! The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And as we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God." (Rom, 8:14-17).

Paul continuously repeats the theme that God's Spirit dwells within us and, if we ask, will empower us. "The Spirit too comes within us in our weakness: for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that could never be put into words..." {Rom.8:26}.

There is a yearning and longing deep in our psyche which is not just that of our ego, but that of the Spirit of God dwelling in the depths of our spirit. Maurice Blondel gave a philosophical expression to this same theme in his Philosophy of Action: "Our God dwells within us, and the only way to become one with that God is to become one with the authentic self!'

James Alison, my favorite theologian who happens to be a gay mam, in his most recent book Broken Hearts & New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal, in Chapter 15: Befriending the Vacuum, comes up with an original and profound reading of Jesus' discourse at the Last Supper. Alison interprets the discourse as deliberate settong Jesus" death and resurrection3 in the context of the original account of creation in Genesis "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God's spirit hovered over the water" (Gen 1: 1-2).

My hunch is this: that Luke portrays Jesus, in between Gethsemani and the cross, as deliberately retracing in historical form the route back from (present) created reality, to being outside of and thus prior to Creation. From his prayer of obedience and sweat "like clots of blood", in which he is fulfilling Genesis 3:19,so that the new Adam is able to get right what the old Adam had fouled up, he moves to the formless and dark void which is described at the beggining of Genesis, and once again in the darkness and failed sun that accompanied the Crucifixtion, Thus, in breathing out his Spirit to the Father on the Cross, he is entrusting to the Father the concrete historical and human form of the bringing into being of the New Creation; which he has opened up by going to his death. {Luke23:44-46). It is from then, until it is breathed upon us that the Spirit hovers over the vacuum.

Alison advances the thesis that just as the old Adam tried to achieve immortality without God's help and ended up with the dualist idea of immortal soull and mortal body; Jesus , as the new Adam. in obedience to God, his Father, entered into the void of death. This act of obedience enables God's spirit to undertake the new creation by sending the immortal Spirit to dwell in our hearts.

(Part 4 will deal with how the LBGT Christian community should deal with a fallible and homophobic leadership in the Church)

1 comment:

  1. Hi John,

    Just wanted to say that I appreciate your reflections. James Alison has meant so much to us here at the Raven Foundation. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!