c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: Our Quadripartite Nature, Spirit

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.

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