Monday, 23 December 2013

My back, the kingdom of Heaven and a one storey universe - part 2

Following on from part 1, in saying that the "kingdom of heaven is near/at hand" John, and later Jesus (Chapter 4:17) are both saying that God should no longer be perceived as up there or in some way apart from us, but now through Jesus is right here alongside us and, through spiritual birth, within us. In fact Jesus tells his disciples one time that "the Kingdom of heaven is within (them) you ." (Luke 17:21)

"20 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is in your midst (within you).’"

Jesus is quite clearly educating his disciples to think differently and recognize God's immanence, crucial if they are to evangelize the world for God. And maybe that was the source of their effectiveness in the first several centuries, this living out of their lives in His presence or should I say, more importantly, living out of His life which was within.

And every 'revival' of this notion - the immanence of God - over the centuries, has brought with it a new fruitfulness as the Church rediscovers this truth and experiences a renewal of its mind on the matter (Romans 12:1-2) or as John and Jesus put it, repentance (a change of mind). I think that this message is particularly pertinent at this juncture in human history in the West which worships the mind over the heart and spiritual intuition.

Here is Bishop Jonah again from the foreword to Fr Freeman's book:

"The real Christian task is to integrate our lives and our consciousness by the awareness of God, to overcome the compartmentalization dictated by our culture, and to sanctify all creation by the remembrance of God, awareness of His Presence. In truth, there is nothing that is not permeated by God, and there is nowhere we can flee from the Presence (Psalm 139). We live, as it were, in the womb of God. It is not God who has absented Himself from our awareness. Rather, we have shut Him out and become forgetful of His Presence, intentionally oblivious to reality Himself."

He continues:

"We are faced with the task of overcoming the delusion of our own autonomy and surrendering to Him who rules over all things. Indeed, the compartmentalized world is a delusion of our own creation.It is the ascendancy of the rational mind over spiritual intuition, of the head over the heart. It creates a comfortable world with the safe borders of our own very limited perceptions and narrow vision, an illusion that we can understand and control, because it is not God who has created it."

These words need to be read and re-read slowly as they contain such deep truth and touch on so many fundamental weaknesses that we, as Christians fall into, embracing all kinds of subjects such as idolatry, worldliness, superficial worship etc. I believe that both Bishop Jonah and Fr Freeman have put their fingers on the real weakness that we as Western Christians suffer from, the notion that we are in control of our own world and our own lives, except when things get a bit difficult for us, when we run out of our own finite resources and then feel the need to call 'in' God because it isn't working for us. The results of this false understanding is that the church is in free-fall decline in many places as the momentum of Christendom slows down and we begin to realize that the whole of our faith was really a human construct predicated on a deistic (God started things up and then left) rather than a theistic (God started things up and works within his creation) understanding of God. To test this ask any church leader about the importance of prayer in their church. How does he/she perceive it? As a kind of 999 call in emergencies, asking God to step down and intervene. Or as an ever-present partner in the work of the Kingdom. Or what about Holy Communion? God present - the body and blood of Jesus - or God absent, symbols of what once happened in an upstairs room on Passover night when God in Christ paid us a visit before returning to the safety of his heavenly home.

We say we believe in God, but what do we believe about Him, and how does it affect our Christian lives? How does it affect our relationship with him and our availability to Him every day? How does it affect the way we do - or don't do - evangelism. If I believe God has left His creation, even though He watches it on some kind of interested by hands off way, then we will see that Church growth is down to our own ingenuity and hard work. If however we believe in a God who is intimately involved with His creation and partners us in the growth of His Church then prayer and listening, spiritual alertness and the belief in the importance of the Holy Spirit will drive all that we do (and don't do).

Do I believe in a single-storey universe? I should do, because is clearly what Jesus taught and the Bible bears witness to. I should do or what I will build is a kingdom centred on me with a man-made foundation, rather on the foundation which is Christ, incarnated, crucified, died, risen, ascended yet present now and always in and through His Spirit.

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