Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spirit World

Todd Warnock/Corbis
In our modern understanding we fancy the spirit world as an invisible plane intersecting our carnal world, inhabited by magical powers exerting a compelling influence on human affairs. Through modern influences we treat the spirit world as a sort of science fiction dimension, potent yet devoid of any knowledge of the natural world that exists just next door to theirs. This attitude of looking at the spiritual as something separate, obscure, and indifferent comes from the modern illusory need to rationalize whatever the curious mind touches, including Biblical faith. Until the modern sciences of reason, with all their impressive intellectual trappings, the believer needed no further proof of the existence of the spiritual and the supernatural. Faith and the Scriptures were all that was necessary to prove it and the disciplines of philosophy, logic, and science were nothing more than complications born out of skepticism designed to fortify inferior assertions. There was no standing up against the issue of faith until the Hellenization of ideas in the eighth century B.C., then during its revival in the sixteenth-century A.D. in the form of the Renaissance, and finally when then Age of Reason took shape in the eighteenth century. During each of these periods, an incremental deadening of the natural sensitivity to the spiritual had been manifest. What had started as a successful stage of departure of Greek thought from the influence of the gods had ultimately come up face to face with Biblical faith. And in a few hundred years, this rift of has now become a chasm. If the children of Israel elected God as their King (Numbers 23:21, Deuteronomy 33:5), now we have the separation of church and state. Back in the days of the Bible, education was made mandatory for the people to “meditate” on “the Book of the Law…day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (Joshua 1:8); today, a short prayer to start a day’s school class can become a national controversy.

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The challenge of doubt can be traced way back to the Garden of Eden when the serpent enticed Eve into disobedience with the introductory line, “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1) The result was banishment from the Garden (verse 23). In the same way, the mistrust initiated by the natural world against the very reality of the spiritual ended in estrangement of the two worlds.

The first verse in the Bible features an introduction of these two worlds: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (King James Version), two dimensions that were meant to be alike. The ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, in this matter, spoke about an “earthly sanctuary” (verse 1) and the “greater and more perfect tabernacle…not a part of this creation” (verse 11). The writer provided an ancient principle that God adopted in creating the earth: the replication of heavenly things (verse 23). This bears great significance when we consider Psalm 115:16 which testifies that God has given the earth to man, while heaven He keeps for Himself. Man himself is a copy of his Creator as he was formed in His image (Genesis 1:26 to 27). As God rules heaven, He gave the entire earthly dimension to man to “fill… and subdue” (verse 27). In this context is the Eighth Psalm understood when the fourth and fifth passages explore the wonder why God made man “a little lower than God” (New Living Translation) “and crowned him with glory and honor.” This will be the first lesson to be gleaned in our study of the spirit world: that the natural was never intended to be an inferior version of the spiritual.

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God has afforded great respect for His creation even before the seventh day when He rested from all His work. At certain points during the creative six days, the Bible notes several periods when God would seem to step back, behold His accomplishment so far and see that it “was good.” In the third verse of the Genesis 1, after creating the light, God steps back to see “that the light was good” (verse 3), then He goes on to call the light “day” and the darkness “night.” In the ninth, after God finished marking the seas and the dry ground, He again steps back to see “that it was good.” In the twelfth, after the land blossomed with the green, God “saw that it was good.” In the eighteenth, God appends the sun and the moon then “saw that it was good.” In the fifth day, God delighted in the sight of the aquatic, arboreal (verse 21), and the terrestrial animals (verse 25), which followed on the sixth day. Then in the thirty-first verse, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

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Mount Heaven?

What made God descend upon the earth “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8) was that He was as much at home in an earth that looked and felt no different from the heaven. We can even further claim that God dwelt in Eden with His creation for no Biblical account makes mention of God selecting heaven as His permanent abode prior to the invasion and corruption of sin. The idea of God seated in the clouds above all He has made comes from our imagining of Genesis 1:31, where He surveyed “all that he had made” to see that “it was very good.” Though the illustration given by the Prophet Isaiah speak of a “heaven” (Isaiah 14:13) and a place “above the tops of the clouds” (verse 14), he states that the Divine throne was situated “on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of” what was coined as “the sacred mountain” (verse 13). With God enjoying and savoring the work of His hands, He chose the highest point of the planet—the mountain—to survey “all that he had made.” The Prophet Ezekiel seconds this setting with the mention of “the mount of God” in the sixteenth verse of the twenty-eighth chapter of his book.

Sandro Vannini/CORBIS. Mount Zion today.
The matter may be trivial to begin with, but we have never considered if God originally ridged the earth with an uneven elevation of hills and mountains at all. Yet whether or not the earth’s horizon was meant to be beheld in an uninterrupted line running from the east to the west, there was one height that had risen on earth so high to surpass the clouds, exceeding the firmament where it was once believed the stars and the two great lights were supposed to have been hooked upon. King David alluded to this in prophetic song in Psalm 113:5 to 6:

“Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?”

Lebrecht Authors/Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis
The Biblical writers saw the sky as a vault as did any ancient observer. Back in their time, the idea that the heavenly bodies actually surpassed the earthly clouds by light years was out of the question. What was firmly established then was that the sun, moon, clouds and stars were parts of the sky. The sky, which to them may have been understood as the blue may in turn have been part of the vast canvas of heaven. Yet the complexity did not end there. In 2 Corinthians 12:2, the Apostle Paul wrote of a “third heaven" ruled out any possibility of God’s sacred mountain being scaled by even the most physically enduring. Jesus hinted on this in one of His parables where it took several angels to assist the departed beggar Lazarus in flight to “Abraham’s side” (Luke 16:22). But the seclusion of heaven came after the visitation of sin.

Heaven is representative of the vast authority of God; the sky, heaven’s earthly depiction, illustrated God’s dominion over the earth. Heaven, as pictured by Jesus in His prayer pattern in Matthew 6:10, is a place where God’s will is fully enforced. So when Jesus declared, “your will be done on earth,” He may have almost been alluding to Eden, for it was the most perfect place where God and man communed. Eden was a place of delight; its very name meant “pleasure,” used figuratively to speak of a voluptuous life. Later in the New Testament, Jesus and the Apostles Paul and John the Beloved referred to it as “Paradise” (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 12:2, and Revelation 2:7, respectively). Its foundation was God’s expression of His desire to be in the company of man and all His creation. Yet to keep it from the defilement of sin, He had to withdraw it from man’s and the earth’s corruption and share it with him at a later period in man’s after-death existence when he had shed away his “corruptible” mortality and put on “incorruption” and “immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:54, New King James Version), for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption” (verse 50, New King James Version).

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Before the fall of man and all creation, God spent His days on His uncorrupted earth. He dwelt with His creation and took great pleasure in beholding His masterpiece whether closely at the unique intricate detail of a humble organism or from atop His sacred mountain that provided the grand vista of all the earth. Contrary to the common impression, God, when He finished creating, did not withdraw to His throne in heaven behind the clouds and leave the earth to wind in its cycles of perpetuity. Albeit on a limited scale, any human artist who had ever stepped back to view and fall in love with the work of his hands can understand the love and awe God felt, and still feels, for His creation. But while the human artist can only dream for his creation to come to life, it was only God who inspired life into His work. For this delight, He communed with His masterpiece. Back in the days before sin, man and God—the natural and the spirit—shared one world, one dimension.

The Interdependence of Worlds
Corruption changed everything for the spirit and the natural. Principles changed. But God’s will proved sovereign. Where there was a chasm, God maintained a point, a bridge where He and man could commune. And in the matters He redesigned, He outlined a pattern that reminded Him of unity and reconciliation.

The human creation is of two most basic components: the body and the soul. The body, or that which is made up of flesh and blood, is primarily the result of the physical ability to reproduce. Its precise and awesome design is a network of interdependent parts developing, protecting, and maintaining each other in a perfectly orchestrated concerto of survival. But mere parts minutely assembled together do not produce a living organism. In somewhat the same extent as the complexity of the physical body, the human being is also a system of urges that drives the further equipping of the body and impels for more survival. This is where the soul comes in, to power the physical apparatuses into action.

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The soul is the seat of man’s consciousness, his psychology, his will, his intellect, and his ability to distinguish sensations. The soul also contains the emotions, the ambitions, the power to decide, the conscience—the storehouse of morals, the ability to recognize and weigh right and wrong. By Biblical principle, the soul holds the life the physical body is endued with. Without the soul, the body in all its intricacies will cease to function. This relationship is illustrated in Colossians 2:19 regarding the connection of every believer—“the whole body”—to Christ, the soul or “the Head” of the Church:

“He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

Sandro Vannini/CORBIS
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word used for “soul” is nephesh which is widely employed to speak of desire, lust, pleasure, will, and even the body. “Life,” however, would be the best word to abridge the variety of specific applications. Two of the world’s most reliable Bible translations will demonstrate this in their rendition of 1 Samuel 24:11:

“…there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it” (King James Version).

“…I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life” (New International Version).

It doesn't matter what anybody tells you. Without the soul, the body is just as dead as the coffin it lies upon or this awesome funeral mask of the Egyptian boy king Tut.

Brooklyn Museum/Corbis
In the same way, the sustenance needed by the natural world to function and exist comes from the spirit world, from Christ essentially:

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).

And, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Jesus Christ, therefore, is the soul of the material world. At a very vital point, survival is the position at which the natural and the supernatural crisscross. In such a condition, it may appear that a perfect yet precarious balance of power will exist between the two worlds. Throughout the Old and the New testaments, there seems to be a pairing of the two worlds with every occurrence of “heaven and earth,” suggesting an interdependence that must not be severed.

But it shall never be severed, for as far as Jesus is concerned, the natural world shelters the Church which He desires as His “bride,” His chosen city Jerusalem, and “all things” created simply because He loved them (Revelation 4:11):

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (King James Version).

The natural world needs Jesus Christ, its Soul, for without Him, it would cease to exist. Jesus, however, needs nothing from us, the natural world, except for the extreme delight He gets from beholding “all things” which He had been “appointed heir of” (Hebrews 1:2).

Worlds in Marriage

Elizabeth Etienne/Corbis
Another idea that will perfectly illustrate the unity of the spirit and the material worlds is that of marriage. It was, in fact, from which the principle of the marriage was derived. The prophetic psalmist sang of this wedding in Psalm 85:10 to 11:

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs for from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.”

Based on the song, it is clear that God lavished the natural world, or “the earth,” with
love and righteousness, while the latter offered her faithfulness and her peace. This principle of marriage between the natural and the supernatural was very much applied to the indivisibility of the soul and body and the intended inviolability between man and wife. In these marriages, it is not hidden to us that any separation that occurs meant the involvement of death.

The concept of marriage has been the most precise depiction of God’s relationship with His people, a harmony manifested between the natural and the supernatural spheres as well. The Bible repeatedly alludes to this. In the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet composes an inspired allegory of God’s love as He courted a personified Jerusalem in the hope to elicit her peace and faithfulness:

Araldo de Luca/CORBIS
“…I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine” (verse 8).

What follows next is a wonderful attention of a supernatural Lover presenting His mistress to the stars. It was in this same and unadulterated manner how the supernatural world looks after its physical half:

“I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver, your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord” (verses 9-14).

Tetra Images/Corbis
Many centuries after the Prophet Ezekiel, John the Revelator saw the same sight of this transcendent natural earth in the form of “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).

And being the loving husband to a lovely bride, God delightfully descended into the natural realm and personally shared with her His undivided time and attention, “walking in the garden (of Eden) in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). Until Adam and Eve gave in to the sin of disobedience, God, after the creative six days, did not spend the rest of the days seated on His throne on lofty heaven merely surveying the work of His hands. This spiritual Deity enjoyed a dynamic relationship with His son Adam and his wife Eve in the natural realm, feeling the grass, the smell of the flowers, the rippling sound of the river of Eden, the awesome sight of His flocks aflight even as they blocked the daylight sun with their mighty numbers.

[There be more, folks, thar be morrre!]

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