c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: June 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012

Our Quadripartite Nature, Spirit

The integration of human personality (integrity, health, wholeness, wholesomeness, Shalom, salvation) depends on this aspect of our nature, the highest, which is spirit.

For purposes of illustration let us say that spirit is the “silver cord” that runs vertically through every part of us.  Imagine attached to the lowest end of this cord is the body, like a heavy stick of wood, say, a quarter hewn piece of oak firewood.  From it the cord runs upward to the heart, which can be likened to a red balloon Valentine, full of emotion for what it likes and dislikes, loves and hates.  Now, some hearts are small, shriveled up, hard, dark, and misshapen.  But we imagine the vibrant, warm, beating, and colorful soul of a Christian, whose heart is aflame with the love of humanity, like the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Next our cord runs through the mind, which is like a steel trap.  It captures and subdues beasts of the forest in order to subdue them to the benefit of Man.  But no, that sounds cruel.  Some dedicate their minds to that: to lie in wait, conceiving evil things for fellow creatures, ready to snap, pounce, find fault, judge, argue, and condemn.  But that is not the proper use of the mind.  A more gracious image is to see the mind for its best imaginative qualities, like a pure mathematical equation, suspended above the log and the flowery heart, 2+2=4 in a titanium sculpture of Florentine script.

From there the silver cord runs skyward, up and out of sight and to unseen reaches, into the heavenlies.  The mind has words for the spiritual realm but always speaks by analogy, approximation, and abstraction, symbol, and similitude.  Jesus taught in parables, for instance, arguing from the known to the unknown because that is the best we can do to describe the wondrous mysteries of God!  But spirit is the part of us that connects with God, if we have God.

The Bible tells us about the spiritual realm.  It says, for instance, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  We see in this passage that the spiritual realm contains not only God, Jesus, and the angels, but also the devil and his minions.

The question for us in spiritual formation is who has the other end of our silver cord “up there,” so to speak?

If evil forces are tugging on our spiritual chain several things could happen, all of them bad.

It is natural that the log of our body touches the ground.  I will boldly say that the Buddhists are correct about the need to be “grounded.”  In this also Freud is right.  Mental health depends on accepting our body and basic physical needs.  As long as we understand the difference between what we want and what we need there should be no problem.  Jesus instructs us to pray, for instance, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  That is a humble prayer for the lowly aspect of being.

That being said, the evil forces, if they are in charge of our lives are likely to drag us through the mud.  All men suffer but there are two kinds of suffering, noble and ignoble.  The difference between the two is the cause of suffering or the cause for which one suffers.  Jesus’ suffering and death was noble on both counts.  Many people sacrifice their bodies in worthy pursuits, from putting food on the table through hourly wages or contract labor, to spending long hours in study, deliberation, or management, to military personnel giving themselves in battle to defend us.  But the indignity of moral compromise is not God’s will for the body.  We are not meant for the gutter or sewer but that is where our bodies may be found if we give our members over to sin and self-indulgence.

Likewise, if an evil force controls the spirit, the heart and mind may follow the body in tragic descent.  We sometimes “look for love in all the wrong places,” for example.  Or we might try to “feel better” by the abuse of substances.  Our hearts may, therefore, fall into a depression, no longer visible above ground, and our minds entertain dirty thoughts.  The carnal mind calculates angles and devises strategies to get what the depraved body and wayward heart “want” rather serve its proper role of finding, serving, preserving, and representing truth.  One of the most frightening things to realize is that the mind can “go,” if we live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.”  Satan has practically won if he can drag our minds under.  The first recorded words of the devil came in the form of a question, attacking Eve’s mind, “Did God say …?”  The clincher for Eve in the decision to partake of the forbidden fruit was a false conclusion, “It was desirable to make one wise.”  In other words, she believed propositions put forth by the devil.

It is axiomatic that every feeling of the heart and every action of the body has an idea behind it.  The carnal mind has bad ideas.  The spiritual mind is full of good ideas and beautiful truth.

But another tactic of the devil is to lift us up too high so that we are detached, above it all, arrogant, prideful, haughty, and self-righteous.  In this state no one is good enough for us so we do not love anyone with our whole hearts.  Our minds become overly ambitious; we imagine vain things, refuse to submit to legitimate authority, rationalize failures, and make excuses.  To those too high and mighty the Bible says, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

But another thing might happen, which is very confusing, both to ourselves and to those that observe our behavior.  Did you ever cast a fishing line to discover that the baited hook, cork, and sinker were all jumbled up, tangled, and out of order?  Of course, we think, no fish would fall for that mess!  In the famous words of a brilliant politician and mini-messiah, who wants to save the planet from its fever, “What’s up should be down and what’s down should be up!”

All these spiritual ailments, too high, too low, cyclical, or out of sorts, may result from the influence of evil spiritual forces jerking us around, that is, if we eliminate any medical or psychological diagnoses.  For our purposes in spiritual formation we must assume a normal and ordinary soul that wants to grow in the Lord.  This is how we do it: by righteous living, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines communicate to the spiritual world who is your Lord and God.  Let the universe know to whom you give your spirit.

If we choose God and maintain our relationship with him this is what happens: by the Holy Spirit our spirit, and thus our entire being, will be lifted up from the miry clay, or lowered to the fertile soil, whatever we need, for as Scripture says, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away” (James 1:9-10 ESV).  Likewise, all will be put in its proper place; we are held steady and secure by God, our Father:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:15-17 ESV

For the Christian, then, spiritual does not mean being one with the universe because the universe contains evil.  It means to choose God and his holy ways, thereby sending shock waves up our silver cord, to continue with the analogy, causing the evil forces to take their filthy hands off us.  Spiritual means to be comforted, empowered, instructed, and ultimately led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14).  It is by the Holy Spirit that God speaks to and communes with our spirit.  The messages of the Spirit will first come to the mind, become intelligible there.  That is why Paul says, for instance, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).  Likewise, when Jesus rebuked Peter about the way of the cross he said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23 ESV).

How we think about things is the greatest variable in spiritual formation.  But the directions we receive from above, from God’s Spirit through our spirit, in guidance and direction, will be confirmed by the whole of our being because spirit runs through and affects every aspect of our personality.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Quadripartite Nature, the Mind

The body demands, “I need food!”  The emotions may lead us to Andre’s where we order Chicken Chassuer in French.  But as soon as we see the wine list the mind kicks in with calculations about the occasion relative to the price of offerings!

There are 10,000 variations on emotion and 100,000 if we count the nuances thereof.  For the most part we live by our feelings.  The worlds of art, music, sport, and romance are filled with emotion.  Religion and politics have colorful overlays of emotional appeal in the quest for good feelings.  How sad it is for those that lack emotions in significant ways or whose feelings are not fully developed or invested.  The person that feels deeply can love deeply and has a rich experience of life.  But because we are finite beings we can only imagine possibilities that soon and often might be frustrated by the realities of which our mind informs us, if we listen.  The mind causes us to count calories, keep a budget, set boundaries with people, weigh things by a cost-benefit analysis, follow rules, and amend behavior according to long-term rational self-interest.  Boring!  But we know it is “true” so will sometimes set side our feelings to listen to logic.  When that happens we may find that in the area of spiritual formation Jesus does not hesitate to reason with us, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits his life?”

Jesus said things like that because he wants us to think.

Other thinking passages are these:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. –Isaiah 1:18 KJV

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. –Luke 14:25-33 ESV

Notice how the cost-counting saying of Jesus above cuts across the strongest of emotional attachments that we have, the primary relationships that give us the most comfort and joy in life, including liking our own selves!  And so we finally get to the point where spirituality begins, in the life of the mind.

It is the mind that lifts the desires of the body to the level of refined emotion, which is the basis of human relationships, cooperation, love, and civilization.  Therefore, having proved itself in that way, the mind can take us to the next level, if we dare to go.  We find in Jesus an ally of the mind that calls us to transcend mere human civility in our loyalty to God, who is spirit (John 4:24).  It is this step in spiritual formation that may often separate us from others in a profound way and so seems counterintuitive to the conventional religion of church and family values.

But growth always requires pain and often means leaving others behind, figuratively and emotionally, if they will not go with us.  That’s what Jesus did.  John 8:31-59, for instance, records a heated exchange between Jesus and, oddly enough, “the Jews who had believed in him.”  It all began when Jesus said the truth would set them free.  They began to argue with him.  Accusations went back and forth to the point that Jesus said they were killers, liars, and followed their father, the devil!  They questioned the legitimacy of his birth, and said he was a Samaritan and had a demon!  In the end Jesus proclaimed himself God and the Jews wanted to stone him!

Then, standing before Pontius Pilate, who pointed out that his own people betrayed him, Jesus returned to the theme of truth:

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. –John 18:37 ESV

It is impossible to become truly spiritual if we spend our entire life establishing and maintaining attachments to people, places, and things.  Ecclesiastes, which is part of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, concluded that such work is “futility and chasing the wind.”  After talking with Jesus the woman at the well went into town confessing, “Come see a man that told me everything that I ever did.”  Likewise, Paul also says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV).  Further, he wrote:

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. –Romans 8:5-8 ESV

The emotions are closer to the body than to the spirit.  The mind is closer to the spirit than to the body.  That is why we Christians have battles within us between what we feel and what we believe.  We have feelings just like everyone else but the world looks at us and wonders about our loyalties because of our beliefs, which we sometimes live and sometimes don’t live.  So it does not help if we are confused about it, sending a mixed message!  But if we choose the higher plane, the spiritual way, and know why we have chosen then we help both ourselves and others to understand things more clearly.  That is what the mind does if we let it; it clarifies our values and causes us to live above the world and its games.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Quadripartite Nature, the Emotions

The flesh/body vs. spirit/soul dualism of the New Testament is so profound that once we accept it everything about the radical nature of Christianity falls into place.  Paul says, for instance, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14 ESV).  This puts the body in its proper role as serving the cause of God.  If we are called to work, marriage, or ministry, for instance, the body exists for the benefit of others and of spiritual pursuits, not itself alone.  We then care for and use the body only to serve the higher purpose.  That is what Jesus did.  He fulfilled his calling by dying on the cross for our sins, sacrificing his body for us.  The body is the instrument of “doing” so when we pray for God’s will we are asking what God wants us to “do” with our bodies.  The body is the handmaid and servant of the soul as the soul is filled with the word and Spirit of God.  So Paul wrote, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1 ESV).

But what is the challenge of bringing the body under this rule?

If there were a clear contrast between body and soul then our task would be easy.  But the body throws up defenses against this program; it hides behind strong allies in our passions and desires, that is, emotions.  In the Bible passions and desires are attached directly to the body:

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. –Romans 13:14

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do … those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. –Galatians 5:16 and 24 ESV

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. -Galatians 6:7-8 ESV

… Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. –Ephesians 2:3 ESV

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. –1Peter 2:11

All that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. –1 John  2:16 ESV

This is confirmed by medical science, which attributes feelings to specific substances called hormones.  Thoughts and prayers cannot be contained in a test tube but feelings can in the sense of being identified with isolated and chemically described physical substances that the body produces to materially protect and replicate itself.  The fight or flight hormone, adrenaline, and those associated with sexual attraction, testosterone and estrogen, for instance, are among the most powerful.  Therefore, do not always believe the feelings.  They have a more ethereal nature than the body but are not necessarily more spiritual.

Some attempt through various forms of religion to sanctify or justify any and all emotions, even vile ones, but feelings, like actions of the body, can be judged by content.   Likewise, just as actions can be improved upon so can feelings.  This is done through spiritual disciplines that address them.

The first step is to realize the morality of feelings.  Feelings may be either sinful or righteous.  The Bible says, for instance, that whoever loves God must hate evil.  Love and hate are strong emotions.  Aimed in the right direction, so to speak, with appropriate objects of affection or repulsion they can be used in service of the good.  But what if someone loved evil or hated God?  Yikes!  In fact the Bible speaks of those that call good evil and evil good.  That kind of twisted moral sense can be a sign of disturbed thought or trauma to the body but it can also result from emotions all out of whack.  Therapists are trained specifically to help us with our emotions and a wise minister will pay attention to how we feel.

My point is that in the hierarchy of relative challenges to spiritual formation the body is the most difficult and only a little less difficult are the emotions, that is, because of their close association to the body.  That is why emotions are often best experienced in more-or-less controlled environments, like marriage, family, friendships, and churches.  These small groups and primary relationships are the incubators of the heart.  Emotions are best experienced when subjected to rational categories like social propriety within smaller, interpersonal relationships.  Yelling like a maniac for your team at a ball game is fun, for instance, but it would be inappropriate at a funeral.  “Yay!  Uncle Russ got to go to heaven!”  Such an outburst or leakage of emotion is a sign that work should be done on the emotions.  Our feelings can be trained to conform to expectations.  In fact most human relationships are a matter of managing emotions.  The most popular people (and some of the most evil) are the ones that can master emotional connection with and appeal to others on the basis of their mutually felt needs and desires.  But above all these considerations is the question of whether one has brought body and the soul under the Lordship of Christ.

The goal in spiritual formation for the emotions is to love what God loves and hate what he hates.  It is axiomatic for Christians, for instance, that God loves people and hates what hurts or destroys us.  As John wrote:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. –1 John 4:20-21 ESV

Friday, June 8, 2012

Our Quadripartite Being, Part One, The Body

This is how human personality breaks down relative to the project of becoming spiritual.  We have a quadripartite (four in one) nature: body, emotions, intellect, and spirit.  These form a hierarchy of challenges: beginning with the most difficult at the bottom, the near-hopeless body; less difficult and able to be improved, the emotions; next higher is the mind, considered spiritual and lawful, being the most likely to help, with some help itself with instruction; and the most easily satisfied and loved by God, the spirit.  James says, for instance, that God especially likes the human spirit:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:4-5 ESV)

The body itself is the least spiritual aspect of our being and the most difficult to reclaim for spiritual purposes.  Some say that the Biblical word “flesh” refers to the sinful nature and not to the body.  But this is wrong.  According to Romans 8:13, it is “deeds of the body” that should be put to death so that we can have the life of Christ.  Here is the moral history of the body: The first thing that Eve saw about the forbidden fruit was that it was “good for food.”  The whole world went downhill from there!  The first redemptive act of Christ was to be conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary as the incarnate God.  He had a body but did not serve it and was anxious to shed it (John 14:28).  He did not marry and lived as a wandering ascetic with “no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20/Luke 9:58).  He said not to worry about food and clothing (Matthew 6:25) not even to work for the bread that perishes (John 6:27).  Jesus commented to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41/Mark 14:38).  He demonstrated not only what happens to the body but what we should do with it: take it to the cross (Matthew 16:24/Mark 8:34/Luke 9:23), figuratively speaking, so that we can have a new one in glory.  Therefore, since we will cast off this “tent” of our body (2 Corinthians 5:1, 2, and 4), the Apostle Paul wrote that with food and clothing we shall be content (1 Timothy 6:8) and, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV).  Even in his corrective exposition of faith completed by works, James is modest in his plan of care, saying only that we should provide food and clothing to needy brothers and sisters, which he calls “things needed for the body” (James 2:14-17).

Please, do not mistake me.  This discussion is limited to spiritual formation at its core, beginnings, and origins.  We must first deal with the incessant demands of the body.  There is a war going on inside us between the spritual and carnal (1 Peter 2:11).  The body is the enemy!  We must strive along with God to let his side, the soulful side of our nature, win.  The fruit of that work may include ministry to the body, soul, and society at large; it may involve artistic expression, work in a business or trade, agriculture, construction, all of which are very materialistic endeavors – and  inherently dangerous.  Therefore, beware, the more “worldly” the pursuit, the more it is attached to the body and things of the flesh, the more problematic it becomes for spiritual development:

I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:16-24 ESV)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Idea of Spirit, Continued

Another use of the word “spirit” in the New Testament supports the conclusion that a person can be overtaken or characterized by a quality of being, sometimes by choice and sometimes not.  In this context the idea communicated is the pervasiveness or triumph of that quality over other qualities.  It is not necessarily attributable to “a spirit” as if an alien being (a demon, for instance) had possessed the person, though that does occur, but it speaks more to the fact that we are ourselves spiritual beings with the capacity to have and to hold perspectives, modes of operation, or personality traits that are, again, deeply rooted, acquired, chosen, persistent, and dominant.  This uncelebrated aspect of personality, this spiritual-ness of the human being, is the key to understanding human nature, both in our greatest deficits and greatest victories.  An addict, for instance, may find his body wracked, mind addled, and feelings disturbed, but something from deep inside can keep him alive and/or functioning, and can even lead him out of bondage and set him free if accessed and developed.  Heroes are seldom lauded for their strength alone, wit alone, or their great compassion alone but because of their spirit, who use their gifts in the face of great hardship because underneath their other attributes is a foundation of courage and faith, which are spiritual qualities.  At the conclusion of the Matrix Trilogy, for instance, Agent Smith asks Neo with raging frustration, “Why do you keep getting up?”

The following passages use “spirit” in the way described above:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” –Romans 8:15

As it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,

eyes that would not see

and ears that would not hear,

down to this very day.” –Romans 11:8

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. –1Corinthians 12:2

What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? –1 Corinthians 4:21

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak … -2 Corinthians 4:13

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. –Galatians 6:1

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him … and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds. –Ephesians 1:16-17 and 4:23

This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. –1 John 4:3

We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. –1 John 4:6

The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. –Revelation 19:10

We are taught to think that everyone is a mixed bag of belief and motivation.  For most purposes in life that is a useful proposition.  But the spiritual perspective outlined here and previously creates the possibility that someone can be completely one way or another due to an underlying spiritual condition.  On more than one occasion I have found in pastoral counseling a subject that seems totally clueless about life and his own life in particular.  Likewise, I have known clergy colleagues that regardless of Biblical reference or logic of argument will not confess the deity of Christ or the sacrificial nature of his death.  Not only that but they protect their ground as if it is taken turf that will not be yielded back, spirit of error-style.  Conversely, we know some as saints because the core of their being is devoted to goodness and truth – in the manner of a spirit of gentleness.