Modern Man and the Ultimate Question
I am greatly interested in the inward direction of our thinking these days, which is causing so much religious ferment. It seems to be giving the skeptic cause to say, "Where is your God up there? We can do without these external religious forms and the dogmas of a distant Deity. We have our answers to our human enigmas: they are within, not without."
Of course, we know the "natural man" always has said and will say that kind of thing, whereas the man of the Spirit knows another dimension which includes the within and without. But taking him on his own ground, there is a direction in modern discoveries which does emphatically point inward, but which, so far from making irrelevant the "faith once delivered to the saints", brings it so sharply into focus that it alone is the final answer. We will start from there.
It is true that in area after area of human life, wherein the past we had no complete explanation of the working of things, we now find the answer within. Most exciting of all has been the mystery of the composition of matter. Of what does it consist? The schoolboy now knows that (to use the language of the amateur) within matter is the molecule, within the molecule the atom, within the atom the nucleus, within the nucleus illimitable energy.
Then what about the body? Where is the key to physical life? The answer again is within–in the cell, the genes, or whatever their correct names are, to the point that some claim that physical life will soon be reproduced in a test tube.
Then the mind? Are mental conditions due to outside influences? Now we probe within, the psychologists explore the subconscious, the unconscious, the doctors investigate the brain cells. Even in our social relationships, we no longer accept the imposition from without of "the divine right of kings", or "the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate", as if some by birth, race, or colour are inferior people. We seek for the answer within and among us in the right of every man to an equal opportunity.
It is true that our answers are being found within–within–within: and that brings us directly to our final inner problem–ourselves as humans, the human personality, the individual self. And here we are stopped short. We meet the insoluble to which no one on a merely human level has found the answer. We all agree–all philosophies and religions have said the same thing through the centuries–that if we humans have not a nature that is naturally loving and to the point that we genuinely are as concerned for the welfare of our neighbor as for ourselves, then the life of the human race, with all its boasted developments, can never be more than a patched-up affair and can be lived at best under some forms of external control. We have never known and do not know by what means this final inner citadel of man can be captured, and self-loving man become naturally self-giving man. We are beaten at the center.
If, therefore, there is some inmost fact about us humans which is missing, and which could put us on to the right track, what is it? Here is precisely where there always has been the answer, and an inward answer–but not in man. Here it is, and always has been–in the Bible. Paul put it in one word which he stated to be the hidden secret of the universe which always had been known to the initiated, but had only now come into public view. He called it "the mystery which had been hid from ages and generations but now is made manifest…." The trouble was that it has been so overlaid by external religious forms and symbols that what was really an internal truth–an inner relationship–had been given the image of an approach to an external and distant person–to God "up there" that than God "in here".
No Foundation, No Building
Jesus made the ultimate statement when he told the woman of Samaria, a simple woman of her day and no profound philosopher, "God is Spirit". We understand what a spirit is in Biblical terms, because we are human spirits, for the writer to the Hebrews called God "the Father of spirits". The Bible definition of a spirit is the inner self–as Paul says, "What man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him?" The spirit is the I, whether of God or man, which can only say of itself, "I am". It cannot be described, it can only be affirmed. We are–that is all we can say. But the important point is that this inner ego, which is I, is invisible, unreachable, meaningless, unless joined to me as part of me there is also means of expressing my "I". Therefore, we humans have, as spontaneous parts of ourselves, our souls (our emotions and reasons), and our bodies. They are not actually ourselves, they are our means of self-expression, yet they are so much parts of ourselves that we function as a spontaneous unity.
So with God. The Bible from the beginning reveals him as "The Universal Spirit", The One Person in the universe ("beside me there is no other"), who is also invisible, unapproachable and meaningless except to Himself, unless He has His means of expression. The Bible shows that the universe is His means of expression. The second verse of the Bible says, "The Spirit moved upon the face of the waters", and lo, the creation.
That means that we must recognize Him as the world’s Creator in a different relationship from the way we regard, for instance, a carpenter and the chairs he makes. We humans make things, but are separate from the things we make. But we have to learn not to attribute the limitations of our three-dimensional thinking–length, breadth, height–to the dimensionless One with whom there is no such thing as space and time, as here and there. With Him, therefore, we are to see that He is the things He makes; they are the forms He takes, in the same ways as our bodies are we, and yet not we. He is to be seen in the atom, in the tree, in music, colour, everything; as Browning says, "God is seen God in the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod." When I look at a person, I don’t differentiate between him and his body, though I know that actually he is not his body. So with God.
The important thing is to begin to see Him, the Spirit, as the Within One, rather than the Without One (though He is that also). Open our eyes and everything is actually He manifesting Himself in one form or another. Not some things which He makes and should be regarded as apart from, like a carpenter. When we see this, we begin to see that there is only One Person in the universe.
We shall not get the world or the universe, or ourselves with our human problems into focus until we have settled in to the consciousness that there is only One Person in the universe; and all things and people find their place and meaning as derivatives and manifestations of Him, whether negatively or positively. Exactly as the Scriptures say of Him: "In him we live and move and have our being", He "fills all things", "God all in all", and Paul, that the non-Christian is without excuse because the visible things manifest the Godhead of the Invisible One.
But Spirit is person. We are spirits, we are persons, and personality in its freedom, originality, endless potential, can obviously not express itself through things, for things are limited, persons unlimited. How then can this One Person in the universe, God the Spirit, the Within One, express Himself? Obviously, by persons; and so we come to the Bible revelation of the meaning of the creation of persons. It is to be The Person through persons.
Human beings, therefore, are not fulfilling their destiny unless they are in a relationship in which we living is really He living by us. Anything less is really sub-human. But it must also be a relationship in which we are completely human persons, completely our- selves, not living by effort or compulsion, or law or dutiful obedience, but in a spontaneity in which we are we in all the full enjoyable expression of our humanity, and yet–so deep is the paradox–it is really He!
Turn to the Bible again, and we find it is exactly so. As far back as Joseph, a pagan monarch made the comment, "A man in whom the spirit of God is". Moses was told he was being given a successor "filled with the Spirit of God". David prayed in his great prayer of repentance, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me", and "Uphold me with thy free Spirit". Years after, when David’s Psalms were quoted in Hebrews, it spoke of the Spirit, "saying in (not to) David". Ezekiel said, "I will put my Spirit within you".
Peter gathered all the great men of the Old Covenant together under one comment, "The prophets inquired what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify…"; and Jesus, the Son, again spoke the final authoritative word. He had often spoken of His relationship to the Father, and that He was going to the Father. So the disciples very sensibly asked Him, "Show us the Father", obviously thinking in our dimensional terms that some vision would be given them of a Person outside them. But His answer clinched it, when He said that the relation- ship of deity to humanity is the The Person within a person, not without; for they would have no vision given them of an external person. If they saw Him, they saw the Father, and not because He was the Father, but because "the words I speak unto you, I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works".
Then He went straight on to say that it was good He was leaving them, because if they understood that far, they now localized God as within Him; whereas God who is the Spirit was coming to universalize Himself within millions of humans, starting with themselves. He had previously called God Spirit and now He was saying that the Holy Spirit would be in them–the same Person.
And that was what happened at Pentecost. There they exchanged their faulty concept of an external God for the inner fixed consciousness, which cannot be described in our third-dimensional language, but can only be experienced, of the God who is Spirit, fused with their spirit, Ego with ego, as one and yet two. The means by which a human has a "personal Pentecost" may vary; that is not the important point. The end is invariable–a consciousness, a fixed unchangeable relationship in experience of God and me as one person.
The apostolic letters, which we call the Epistles, wholly bear that out. Paul’s constant theme was Christ in us, expressed specifically as a part of his message in the statement already referred to–"the mystery hid from ages and generations, but now made manifest . . . Christ in you"; and his own marvelously balanced definition (to which we shall make further reference) of humanity and deity in combined action–"Nevertheless I live, no, it is not I, it is Christ living in me; yet now it is I living, and living by the affirmation of that fact", to paraphrase his great Galatians 2:20.
John takes it even farther, for Paul tells us how to get there, and John then tells us what we are when we do get there. John says, "No man hath seen God at any time"; and at once with our separated outlook, our eyes go upward and we say, "No, we have not seen Him"; but John as good as says, "You have got it wrong, He is not up there. I am not talking of a vertical but a horizontal God. If we love one another, that is God dwelling in us and His love perfected in us". God is actually the love between us when we are just spontaneously loving one another without direct consciousness of Him at all. (1 John 4:12).
What then matters is, if He is the One Person in the universe, what kind of Person is He? The Bible makes that plain. To the three-worded statement, "God is Spirit", we add John’s "God is love". Then we can see, what we said at the beginning, how we humans are right to find life’s answers within, not without; but how we are brought to a final full-stop, when we cannot solve the ultimate "within" problem of man himself, who is not love, and cannot and does not want to live by living for his brother.
We are rightly brought to a full stop, for we are here faced with the ultimate and only meaning of the existence of persons. It is exactly here that the true revelation of God and man makes the only ultimate sense and is the only answer; for God as being love means something very different from our watered-down version of love. We mean by love, "give some, but keep plenty". But God as love means that He really is other people. Love is living other people’s lives, and that is the whole meaning of life, its purpose, its fun, its gaiety, its seriousness, its fulfillment.
We can now see that if the Only Person in the universe is love of this kind, and if, being Spirit, the Within One, He has as His means of manifestation a human race living this same kind of life, spontaneously and delightedly through His unity with them, so that they also are love, then the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle of the human race is in place and the picture whole–every limitless development of our human potential at full stretch, yet all geared solely to me for my neighbor, my neighbor for me. God and his universe have then come home.
–The Spontaneous You