Life in the Spirit

How do you read Revelation, he asked me in exasperation. The small group was studying the book based on a study guide that explained rationally one view of how to interpret signs. But the author of the study book explained the other view. Very well.

Then I said, both views are interesting–the Dispensationalists and the Reformed–but both are merely rational and only developed long after the book was written (19th century and 17th century).

I have thought about this for quite some time. How do you read visionary writing? Are there secrets in the Bible that only the “spiritually adept” can know? Despite writing where we learn that God hates fortune-telling, we still want to believe that we can know the future with certainty.

There was a group of people in the early years of the church. Paul fought against them. They were the Gnostics. Descendants of some Greek lines of thought. They understood secret spiritual truths. Their thought was dangerous according to Paul.

But Paul was not purely a rationalist. He understood life in the Spirit. Not only did he experience the risen Jesus, he had also written about having a spiritual vision–or experience.

I think that it is dangerous to read visionary writing, that is, writing about spiritual experiences, unless you understand such experiences. I don’t believe that purely rational analysis works, and it can lead people dangerously astray.

I know that this line of thought puts me at odds with the way philosophy, theology and literature is taught in the Western tradition. Been there, done that, have the T-shirts to prove it as the saying goes. Once you’ve explored life in the Spirit beyond the purely emotional and then the purely rational, then your eyes are opened to writers who report on spiritual experiences.

In the Bible, that would be Daniel, Ezekiel and John. But outside the Bible but in the tradition would be St. John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, the Desert Fathers, and many more. A German philosopher, Hegel, tried to bring intellectual, rational order to the movement of the Spirit with disastrous results. Think Nazi Germany.

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, began as a rational seeker of the inner Spiritual life. By the end of his life he was asked if he believed in God. “Believe? No, I don’t believe. I know,” he replied. He had experienced the Spirit of God.

First devote your life to living in the Spirit. Understand the Spirit. Then approach visionary writing. These works don’t hide “secrets.” God does not work that way. They describe how the writer experiences a vision of God.

Most seekers who have had visions of God in their seeking are reluctant to write about the experience because it is so easy to be misinterpreted. If you try puzzling out visionary writing, then you understand why these seekers were worried.

The Bible was written and assembled to show us how God has acted with people throughout history and to show us how to live a life in the Spirit. That is the best stance to take as you explore the writings. Or, faith and works as James would put it. James would like the commercial playing on TV right now–I like and better than or.

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