Tuesday 18 February 2020

The World and Why It Is As It Is

As all religious people should know, though not all behave as though they do, this world is important not for itself but as a place for growing souls. That is to say, it is designed for the building, developing and testing of human beings so that they may become fully fledged sons and daughters of God, able to function in the heavenly worlds in the fullness of love and creativity. This doesn't mean it and the things in it are not real but they are not permanent, not as they appear to be here anyway. The fact that this world is not its own justification has led some to think of it as illusion but the only illusion is to take it on its own terms. The world is real enough but it is not as it seems.

The fact that the world is an environment for spiritual growth explains much about it that puzzles us, both materialists who cannot see any sign of a divine maker, and spiritually oriented people who wonder why a divine maker would allow evil, suffering, injustice and the full panoply of  negative unpleasantnesses that are so much a part of our experience. However, these test and challenge us. They bring out (or don't but could) inchoate qualities. A perfect world, such as we may assume heaven to be, would be a world in which growth, or the sort of growth we need as we are now, would not be possible. To grow a muscle you need to encounter physical resistance. To grow a soul you need to encounter spiritual resistance which is evil.

That does not mean evil is God's will, at least not evil as we currently experience it. Temporary separation from God is God's will, the separation that eventually brings about a conscious return, but evil as we know it is a spiritual aberration which can be used by God to further his purposes but was not created by God directly. It's the result of wrong choices made by beings to whom the freedom to make wrong choices so that they can consciously make right ones, as opposed to not having any other alternative, has been given.

God hides from us in this world so that we have to find him. Truth to tell, he often hides in plain sight but he is not a fact of consciousness. "Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened" is in one sense blindingly obvious but in another it is profound wisdom. You don't find straightaway but if you persevere, thus proving the genuineness of your search and that it comes from deep within as it must if it is a search made by your whole being, then you will surely find or find enough to help you continue your search.

There is no lasting happiness in this world because there is not meant to be. If we were content with what we have we would cease to grow and so waste our lifetime. But there is also no lasting happiness here because the only thing that can really fill the spiritual hole in our heart, that can fulfil our deepest desire, is God. Nothing else lasts because nothing else is eternal. Nothing else has no limit to it. In God there is always more. He can never be exhausted.

The materialist denies God because he cannot see him but he cannot see him because he is not looking properly or with the proper organ of perception. That would be faith and imagination which in the higher aspect of these two apparently separate things is one thing. Where faith and imagination join there is truth. Faith without imagination is dry and sterile, spiritually speaking. Imagination without faith may be creative after a fashion but it is destructively so. Its products do not enhance and enrich life. They do not add to it and end up corrupting it.

Some spiritually inclined people are troubled by the darkness in the world, wondering why God would, if he is not directly responsible for it, allow it. They confuse the human self as it is in this world with the soul as it exists in the spiritual realm. The human self is an aspect of the soul but it is not the whole of it, being the portion sent to this world precisely to experience this darkness and learn to deal with it. We are not meant to be happy in this world. That doesn't mean we should never experience happiness but we should not cling to it or demand it and nor should we assume that things  that do make us happy are all necessarily good. Some are, some are not. We must our judgement to discern which is which. All this is part of the learning process.

Suffering is part of life. We can moan about it, we can seek to escape it by seeking to escape that which suffers (the Buddhist approach) or we can adopt the approach demonstrated and taught by Jesus which is to accept it when it cannot be avoided (not my will but thine be done) and then refine the experience gained to develop a deeper insight into life. The face of a true spiritual person is the face of one who has suffered and allowed that suffering to work its purifying effect on the ego by giving himself over to it without resistance. This is a delicate matter. Suffering is not good but it can bring about good. This is one of the mysteries of Christianity and why turning to God does not automatically entail happiness or happiness as the world judges it.

The world is the most marvellous creation because it fulfils its function of a spiritual training ground to perfection. Yes, this world is perfect! Not perfect as in supremely good but perfect as in ideal for its purpose. The imperfection of this world points to the perfection of God.


edwin faust said...

"Everything is for you .... it is all for you, and you for Christ and Christ for God." (1Corinthians, 3:22-23

William, I was meditating on this passage before I read this wonderful blog, which touches on the heart of our meaning in this world. We tend to lose God either in the consideration of the immensity of the universe or in the seemingly preposterous notion that such a Creator would be intimately concerned with the affairs of the billions of creatures He has made, including you and me. Would He who made the rings of Saturn care about the small circumstances of my life or my daily thoughts and actions? If we ask this in all sincerity and pursue an answer prayerfully I think we can come to realize that the answer is an emphatic "yes." A man is greater than a planet. We can love, which means we can participate in God's inner life, in the Trinity. And we are here to learn about our capacity to do so and to increase it. Suffering is of different kinds, but one can say that much of our pain comes from resistance to God's manifest will: a desire that the world should be ordered according to our presumed wisdom and compassion, which often comes down to our will in its selfish aspect. Julian of Norwich claims that if there were just me in this world and no other creature, Christ would do and suffer all He did and suffered just for me, and He would do it a thousand times, if that is what it would take to bring me to God. Well, I am rambling a bit. Thanks for the column.

William Wildblood said...

Thinking of suffering as resistance to God's will would make no sense to a non-believer but actually it goes right to the heart of what suffering is and the role it plays in our spiritual education. In a way suffering is love and love is suffering. Perhaps even God suffers through and for his creation and he does so because he loves it.

Anonymous said...

'I and the Father are One', so yes, I always took that to mean that Christ's suffering was God's, the Mystery of the Trinity, et c.

edwin faust said...

The early Church fathers, especially Origen, insisted that suffering was therapeutic, not punitive, and that we only suffered until all that was sin, i.e. non-being, was purged from our true being. In the end, they insisted, following St. Paul, God would be all in all. Evil - suffering - is not a substance; it has no positive being of its own, and can only persist so long as our will in turned away from God, the good. When all wills are one with God, evil disappears (hell and death are thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed, as in Revelation). But this turning to God must be freely chosen and it may take eons and eons for some souls to be rehabilitated, so to speak. Such was the early belief of the Church. It is coming back again in certain quarters. Illaria Ramelli, a classicist and patristic scholar, has done remarkable work in this area.

William Wildblood said...

I think we've discussed before on this blog that Origen was a universalist and believed in reincarnation which ties into what you say, that in the end everything returns to God. And yet there is that troubling lake of fire which I interpret as the means of returning unpurified matter to its raw primeval form.

edwin faust said...

The early Church fathers saw all matter as good; only the human will needed purification. I don't know exactly what you mean by "raw primeval form." I understand the lake of fire as representing the final destruction of evil, as hell itself is cast into it, implying that hell has no enduring substance, on a par with eternal life. If we accept the notion, which even Augustine accepted, that evil is a lack of something proper to a substance, not a substance in itself, it is difficult to make the case for evil that endures eternally. It would seem to endow evil with a power greater than God's power to perfect His Creation. Satan would seem to win in that case. This is why, when Augustine was battling the Manichean heresy, he was a universalist, for he then maintained that there could be no being apart from God, opposed to God's will forever, setting up its own kingdom. Later, when he wrote against the Pelagians, he took a different tack and reversed his earlier position. But this question of the existence of evil and eternal damnation is one that goes to the heart of our understanding the nature of Christ and our relationship to God. No one else can lay down a definition that is binding on us, as the Churches have repeatedly tried to do.

William Wildblood said...

Actually what I meant was more or less what you say. The totally unrepentant human will if such there be is dissolved and its residue returned to the virgin state.

edwin faust said...

If I seemed to be suggesting the annihilationist position, I did not intend to, as I find it does not accord with my understanding of God: no father ever gives up on his children and consigns them to oblivion as failed creations. He does all in His power to save them and never quits on them. I don't think we can resist God's love forever, and I think we only do so as long as we are ignorant, that is, as long as we mistake what is evil for what is good. Ignorance can be corrected by knowledge, despite a hardened will that is attached to ignorance. The corrective will be painful proportionate to this attachment. But I cannot imagine God, as we know Him in Christ, saying, "OK. You've made your bed. Go and lie in it. I'm done with you." and then either obliterating our individual existence or maintaining it in a state of perpetual torment. And I cannot imagine my happiness existing despite the eternal loss of anyone I have loved, or anyone at all, even if the claim be made: "They had their chance, just like you, and chose otherwise." Free will is ever ours. But the question can be asked: Is the will that chooses evil, the ignorant, delusional or deceived individual, really free, or is he the slave of sin? Jesus tells us that only the truth makes us free and that he who sins is the slave of sin. Slaves act under compulsion. Christ came to free us from slavery. Can His mission only succeed imperfectly, partly, only with some men?

William Wildblood said...

edwin, I don't know. However, scripture seems to suggest that it can only succeed with some not all. And Jesus himself implies as much.