JESUS AND SPIRITUALITY
I am not sure this was his original intention, but Jesus has come to be known as the founder of a great world religion. Today 31% of the world’s population identify as ‘Christian’. They have some link, some historical, cultural or personal connection to Christianity.
One the other hand, there is a growing number of people who don’t wish to identify with any “organised” religion, certainly not Christianity. This is particularly true in the minority Western world, and it is also increasingly present in the Majority world where secularism is increasing as well as disillusion with many political expressions of different religions in religiously dominated societies.
Spirituality, in the broader sense, is becoming more popular, widely sought after.
I understand that USA book publishers are fond of the word, ‘soul’. Apparently any book with the word ‘soul’ in the title sells 10-15% more copies than usual. We see this popularity in such titles as, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Soulful Baker, The Soul of a Woman, and Soul Fuel, to name but a few. So ‘soul’ sells. Why? Is it because despite people’s problems with organised religion, the desire for spirituality persists? It seems that a “thirst for spirit” is embedded in our human nature as we long for more than mere materialism.
These two things, the rise in interest in spirituality and Western society’s drift traditional religions including Christianity, mean there is a notable rise in the West of alternative spiritualties. Why is this? The search for meaning, the values of a higher power and the vacuum created by a rejection of mainstream traditional Christianity are all possible answers. But why the drift away from Christianity?
Part of the answer may be a reaction against religious abuses. Christian institutions have lost credibility due to recurring examples of abuse of power and authority, physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Then there is the broader cultural shift.
Popular spiritualities can be seen in part as a reaction against dogmatism. Western people are now more culturally inclined towards a more open, flexible approach. There is a reaction against most forms of organised religion. People wish to be more individualistic, holding to private belief systems, not wanting to be part of the artificial edifices that have come to be built around religions in general and the Christian religion in particular. This too may be a reaction against rigid belief systems in favour, personal intuition and cultural preferences. This is particularly true of Christian moral teaching on marriage, gender and sexuality.
There is a danger in mere reaction. Following something because you are reacting against something else, does not guarantee that you are on the right path. Could it be that people are throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?
It is possible that a form of ‘adolescent’ rebellion at work. Western parents know all to well that part of adolescent development is the need to establish oneself as a separate entity, a person in one’s own right. The typical identity crisis in adolescence often leads to a rejection of parental values and sometimes going the opposite extreme in belief and behaviours. Maybe this settles down in later years, and rebellion can have positive effects, if the true motivation is ‘search for truth and validation is genuine.
There is no doubt people have abused Christianity, using it for their own ends. But simple logic will tell you the abuse of a good thing does not invalidate the thing itself.
Fine wine, food and sex, are all good in their proper place, but they can all be abused. Taken to extreme and without self-control, the love of food can lead to obesity, alcohol can become and addiction and sex can become abusive. But the fact of abuse does not invalidate these things in and of themselves, and do not negate their potential benefits to personal well-being and enjoyment, and to society as a whole.
Perhaps that’s the same with Christianity?
I find that most people who hold to various forms of spirituality, have also bought into other forms of dogmatism or, at least, some fundamental framework of belief, that in the end is quite inflexible, in what it excludes as well as includes. Some have adopted worldviews that permission them to explore alternative spiritualties which are defined by their antagonism to the more historic forms of Christianity.
Since the 1960’s generations of young Western people have been inspired first by the Beatles and then by many celebrity endorsements of Eastern-style religions. For decades people in West are fascinated with these forms of philosophical religion. Popular culture has been influenced by the idea that God/god is not some personal being ‘out there’ but that he/she/it lives in us all as the ‘divine spark’ in all of us. Often the divine is described in negative terms:
- not a God ‘out there’
- not the one who created us and has a design or rules for us to follow
- not a God to whom we are morally or personally accountable but a god of love without justice
- not a God who judges and throws people into hell
- not a God who, in Christ, sacrificed himself for our salvation.
The ‘new spiritualities’ may not be dogmatic when describing what God is, but they are very dogmatic when insisting on what he is not.
Being clear about anything, even in your own mind, always involves definite ideas. That in itself is not the problem. What really matters is making sure that what you believe is based on sound thinking and good reason. The conclusions you hold and the judgments you make must be the result of having checked out, as far as you can, the facts of the case.
I had a background in a form of Christianity and church-going. But when I was 16 years old I moved away from that. I arrived in Britain, enrolled in the Royal Ballet School and was ready for new things. I began to think that God was as I had been brought up to believe. He had to be more like nature, some force, or something like that. I don’t know exactly why I thought like this. I certainly hadn’t checked it all out. Perhaps it was because I had not really understood or had not yet truly deeply or personally experienced the purported claims of the Christian faith for myself. Perhaps I was wanting to leave behind a set of doctrines that seemed to be so limiting for my personal, preferred life-style choices. Or maybe it was just a reaction against my upbringing.
Whatever the reason, I was making a choice, a personal choice and a worldview choice. With all worldviews, you need to have ways of checking it all out. Is there is any proof or any sound reasoning to support your the world view you have adopted?
I find people always ask me to prove what I believe, but often never think about examining the basis of their own beliefs, or even defining or describing what they believe. Of course there are many people who do not subscribe to the major world religions and their clearly-defined doctrines who, nevertheless, can give an eloquent presentation of what they believe and why. But generally, people do not often go that deep, unless they are committed to some religious or philosophical system of thought. For example Monism (the absolute oneness of all existence), polytheism (paganism), new age, mysticism, TM etc. All these are systems of thought, philosophies, which are either reflect a true view of ultimate reality, of things as they really are, or they do not.
But how can we know? I think we can go back to look at, to reconsider Jesus. He is highly respected by nearly all religions. He is almost universally seen as a moral, a spiritual and a religious leader. So perhaps it’s wise to take a fresh look at Jesus.
Jesus’ approach to spirituality
This a good place to start if you are ready to think through how you should approach faith and spirituality. Surely, if nothing else he was a spiritual man. He subscribed to the teaching of the Jewish Scriptures and stood in the Hebrew prophetic tradition and believed in Jewish doctrines.
His teaching on spirituality is summarised in his statement found in John’s Gospel Chapter 4, verse 24. It contains a wealth of information on Jesus’ view of spirituality.
“God is spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.”
What we can understand about God from Jesus:
- God is spirit – he is and he is spirit, non-physical spiritual being
- God is personal – Jesus uses personal pronouns of God. He may be more than personal, but not less than a fully personal being, a ‘he’ not an ‘it’
- God is eternal and uncreated – the source of everything that exists; There is no eternal being apart from him. He is both transcendent (out there) but also immanent (close by)
- God is Father – he is above gender but revealed as ‘Father’ in order to show us what it means to be loved as part of his family. Human marriage and family are earthly comparisons, pointing to something far greater.
- God is worthy to be worshipped – but must be worshipped for who he is, not who we think he is, or want him to be. In other words he must be worshipped in sincerity and accuracy. It matters how you think about him and how you approach him.
- We are created by God for relationship – with God and with others.
- We can only be fully satisfied by God – we will never be fully satisfied, or at rest within ourselves, until we come to know the One True God.
Anyone who is seeking spirituality and believes that Jesus has something to say about it can check all this out.
A good place to start is by John’s Gospel. It is very spiritual and reflective Gospel. Or you might prefer the Gospel of Mark. It is shorter, practical and fast moving. It’s up to you.
Want to dive right in? Check out John 4:7-30. Find the verse I quoted (verse 24). Look at it in context and reflect on it for a while.