In my more recent blog posts, I have had a tendency to emphasize the life that God has that is given to us in Christ and by the Spirit. The theme of life has taken on a real importance for me these past few weeks. Not because I had a new birth just recently, but because in the integration of my life and heart from pasts traumas to a greater sense of wholeness, I can now look and reflect upon the life that Christ has given and continues to give to me by His Spirit. I feel vitality of life now, even as I could see and experience the work of God within me.
There is something I have also emphasized more recently. We come to know and understand this life from God by the Spirit.
There is an important caveat I want to offer to all of this. I want to avoid a Platonic conception of the divinely given life. For much of Christian history, especially after Augustine, there was the tendency to imagine the blessings of God’s life, including the beatific vision, through the lens of an idealistic lens of what things should be like. Consequently, what it means to come to a knowledge of God and His blessings is at its core the imagination of the idealization of God’s love, righteousness, wisdom, etc. This way of thinking is ultimately Platonic in its form, associated the true of God with the idealized forms that for Christians define the heavens, which is markedly different from the real forms here on earth.
I want to put forward, however, that the understand of God’s gift of life and all that it entails is not reached by contemplation upon the attributes of God or some other similar practice. Instead, I want to put forward that the understanding of God’s gift of life and all that it entails is closer to an empirical process, where the experience of the life that God has given to us forms and transforms the way we think and comprehend so as to understand the gift of this life that is everlasting. We don’t comprehend the new life of God’s new creation by primarily idealization and contemplation, but by reflection of what God has done in us (and others) in light of the Scriptures. Our experience that emerges from God’s work in us and our interpretation of the Scriptures come together in a reflexive, mutually interactive relatonship, much like observations and theory work together in science. While we can not quantify our experiences of God’s gift of life so as to approach a robustly scientific analysis and theorizing about the new creation, the qualtitative observations we make about our life both come from and form our interpretation of God’s Word.
The Platonic way, subtle as it is, often lead us astray with idealized visions of God’s gifts, throwing into an insular cycle of ecstatic, enthusiastic, unmitgated passions that is reinforced by our own imaginations. A little imagination about God is not a bad thing, but when we get caught into the Platonic style of thinking, we lose touch with the reality of the new life that God is bringing into us. We read the Scriptures through the lens of our dreams and imaginations and not through the life that God has given us. We may look at our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts that emerge as a result of this phase and think “This is God’s work,” but it may in fact be a self-instigated enthusiasm and idealization.
The consequence of this is that when the Spirit of life helps us to comprehend the meaning of Jesus’ words that are life-giving, this does not mean we are getting lost into some idealized imagination that then effects our ‘religious’ experience, but we are pulling from the waters of the Spirit that are welling up in us. We are not getting so “heavenly minded to be no earthly good” becaues our understanding of heaven is that which has come here to earth, where God’s kingdom has come in the giving of life and thus God’s will is becoming done by faithfulness.
Thus, understanding God’s life is profoundly empirical. However, becuase God’s gift of life is not a publicly accessible good, it is not something that can be readily describe and understood with language that people who have not had this experience of life can understand. Much like Nicodemus didn’t understand Jesus’ words about being born from above and the crowds didn’t undersatnding Jesus’ words about eating of his flesh and blood, the life given to us in Christ by the Spirit is not something that an be clearly demarcated by a publicly understood language that most anyone can readily understand and comprehend as distinguished from the regular, perishable, earthly form of life. We can try to endeavor to describe it in other ways, but in the end, that we make a claim to have an expeirence of God’s gift of life that others do not have entails that there is a meaning gap that serves as a barrier to conveying what it is that we have come to discover in Christ. That is why, intsead, we talk about Jesus, who is Life, and it is from coming to believe in the name of Jesus that can lead us to then believing in Him so as to have this life that others can get glimpses of what this life is from Him before they begin to understand it from what they experience in themselves. Describing the life of Jesus, and not so much our own experience (except perhaps as a validation of God’s power), along with the demonstration of God’s Spirit is the hope for the world to come to understand and recieve this life that God freely gives to us.