2008-02-11

DO OUR SPIRITS CHANGE?

Today on facebook, one of my friends asked me a difficult question about the nature of our Spirits. First he noted that:

"A) God created us in his image.
B) God is unchanging.
C) Animals are instinctive and vulgar creatures, conforming themselves to their environment to survive.
D) Humans are amphibians, part spiritual beings, part animal."

Then he asked:

"But our spirit is eternal, right? ... How about here on earth? It is possible to taint your spirit, to throw in the Enemy's camp. So our spirit is capable of change, right? What do you think?"

Here is what I think:

This is a really interesting question. It kind of goes right to the heart of what it means to be created by a Creator in his image. So, I am going to give you a long answer...

I will tell you what I think: And there are a lot of theologians who disagree with what I am about to put down here, and a lot that do. If you ever want to research this, I can lead you to some sources.

But, my basic thesis is this:
1. God is Triune [Three Subjects in One Object, Three Persons in One Being].
2. All of creation bears an analogical relationship with its Source [cf. Aquinas on "analogy of being"]
3. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find Triune structures all over creation.

I think we see this in the basic structure of creation. The basic "stuff" of creation is triune:

1. There is matter. This is the principle of "stability" in creation. We don't know exactly what it is (whether it is just dancing subatomic "strings" or something more "substantial"). But we do know that the "matter" in particles give a sort of stability, a sense of having "things" in creation. I think this principle of matter reflects the Person of God the Father, who is unchanging and ever-stable.

2. There is energy. This is the principle of movement and activity in creation. Again, physicists don't know what "energy" is, except that it is the quality of movement in what we call "matter". Furthermore, matter and energy, while being distinct, share in one another and can be transformed into one another (cf. E=MC2). I think this principle of energy reflects God the Spirit, who is the active principle of energy and creation in God.

3. There is dimensionality/relationality. Matter and energy "dance" together in space/time, according to fixed ratios and physical laws. We can see this in Einstein's equation E=MC2. E (energy) equals M (matter) according to the ratio or relation of C2 (the speed of light squared). This dimensional/relational principle reflects God the Son, who is the Logos- the Word, the Pattern, the Plot, the Form, the Relationship, the Meaning- of all Creation.

And, while matter-energy-dimensionality are all distinct, they all share in a cosmic "dance", and cannot be separated without destroying the fabric of reality. Now, this "analogy of being" between creator and Creation falls apart at some point, because while it shares in God's Being, God also transcends creation and cannot be bound by creation.

Now, since we are both part of creation, and uniquely made in God's image, we also reflect the Trinity-in-Unity of our Creator and Father. I believe that, according to an "analogy of being", humans are sort of a trinity-of-trinities. We are triune in structure, and triune in experience. Let me explain:

A. Human triune structure: Various Bible passages represent humans as: (1) One composite unity, a "living being"; (2) A dual unity, as a material body and a non-material spirit-soul [several passages seem to equate spirit and soul as the same thing]; (3) A triunity, as being made up of a body, spirit, and soul [cf. 1Th 5.23]. All of these passages are correct, from different perspectives. From one perspective, we are one organic whole, and to separate anything is to kill a human. From another perspective, we are a duality, because there is one part of us you can see and touch (the body) and a part of us you cannot (the spirit and/or soul). But, I think that triunity does the best job of describing our structure. We are:

1. Humans are body. We are matter. This body is the part of the "self" that is empirically aware of other beings, and able to relate to them in Creation. This part of the self relates directly to the principle of "matter" above.

2. Humans are spirit. We are "energy". The spirit is the part of the "self" that is spiritually aware, able to relate to spiritual realities (such as God, angels, demons), and which energizes and gives life to the body and soul. This part of the self relates directly to the principle of "energy" above.

3. Humans are soul. We are "self". The soul is the part of the "self" that is aware of the self, that is conscious. The soul gives form to the self, and is that which relates spirit to body, and relates our "self" to other beings and other selves in Reality. This part of the self relates directly to the principle of "dimensionality" above.

Body, spirit, and soul are distinct, but cannot be separated without killing a person. One cannot be a disembodied soul, because part of being a "soul" or a "self" is to be in relation to other selves. But this relationality cannot be done without a medium through which to relate(the medium we relate through is body and spirit). Just as dimensionality would be empty and void without matter and energy filling it (indeed, unimaginable without matter and energy!), so also the soul is unimaginable without connectedness to matter through the body, and connectedness to spirituality through the spirit.

B. Human triune experience: Again, various Bible passages speak of different facets of the "self" or the "soul". This is too complex to explore in detail, but suffice it to say that the Bible speaks of "heart", "mind", "strength", "will", "memory", "appetite", "conscience", and a host of other terms to describe the inner function of the self. I think that all of these facets of the self can be understood within a triune "grid" of heart, mind, and will.

1. The self as "heart": This is the affective part of the self, the wellspring of emotions and aesthetic experience. The key factor in the heart is that of being "prescriptive" and viewing Reality as it SHOULD be. Our imaginations and aesthetic ideals are based on what we hope reality SHOULD become. Our emotions are largely based on whether the state of reality conforms or deforms what we think SHOULD be.

2. The self as "mind": This is the cognitive, rational part of the self. This is largely where our worldview is formed. The key factor in the mind is that of being "descriptive", and viewing reality as it IS. In our minds we analyze and synthesize what we think the state of reality IS based off of the evidence we have gained. Our reasoning and memory may be flawed, and it is influenced by how we feel in our hearts, but this is largely how we develop our worldview.

And, as a sidenote, almost all of our education in the western world is aimed at cultivating the mind and not the heart or the will. We are very "mind-heavy" in our way of relating to Reality.

3. The self as "will": This is the volitional, active part of the self. This is the part of the self that makes choices to shape our inner and outer realities. The key factor in the will is the process of BECOMING. In fact, the desires and choice of the will can be seen as the bridge between heart and mind. The will is that part of the self that acts to conform what IS to what SHOULD be. We can either act inwardly to conform the self to reality (decide that what IS is what SHOULD be), or act outwardly to conform reality to the self (decide that what SHOULD be should shape what IS).

C. I would just like to add that there are other facets of what it means to be made in God's image, such as human community and sexuality. But, for the purposes of answering your question, these are less-than-relevant. So, I just wanted to make sure that you did not reduce being made in God's image to JUST what I have said above. There is more...
D. But, now that we have defined what I consider to be the core meaning of what it means to be "human" ( we are a triunity of body, spirit, and soul, with the soul as a triunity of heart, mind, and will), we are in a position to answer your question:

Does the Spirit change?

1. In one way, the spirit IS change itself. It is the principle that animates the Body and Soul and indeed animates the whole universe as Divine Energy. Our spirit is an extension of the Holy Spirit who "brooded over the waters" at Creation to bring forth life out of non-life (cf. Gen 1.1-3).

The Spirit is the divine energy that is drawing us into deeper relationship with God. As such, the Spirit draws us through stages and levels of awareness, and as we draw closer to God we are filled more and more with this Divine Energy.

So, on one hand the spirit does change because the Spirit is change.

2. In another way, the Spirit never changes. The Spirit is God (the third Divine Person), and God never changes. Furthermore, if the Spirit is the principle of change itself, and if it were to change from being that principle, then it would have to become non-change.

So, on this analysis, it is not the Spirit who changes, but it is the Spirit that changes all of creation from non-life to life, and from life to human life in the divine image. The Spirit stays the same as the Force that draws us into God. We change as we go through the ages and stages of growth into God's image.

3. In fact, I would ultimately argue that our "Spirit" is not ours at all, but is a gift on loan from God. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 we find that "the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it". In fact, I would argue that Spirit is the gift of God Himself dwelling in us to a greater or lesser degree (as we open ourselves to God's presence). You can find information about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in places like John 14-17 and Romans 8.

From this perspective, our Spirit changes because we allow more or less of the Spirit into our lives to fill and energize us with divine life. The "gateway" which allows the Spirit in is the decisions we make in our soul. We can "harden our hearts" to the Spirit by choosing things that SHOULD not be. We can "darken our minds" to the Spirit's reality by choosing the believe things that ARE NOT true. We can "stiffen our necks" to the Holy Spirit by willing to do things that grieve God and harm his children.

All of these choices- these sins- constrict the flow of the Spirit in our lives. And if we keep it up, we can actually cut ourselves off from the Holy Spirit. If we do that, we die and become an un-man. We can either die physically, or die spiritually, as a person who is completely filled and controlled by a spirit that is not of God (i.e. possession).

E. So, to put the "cookies on the bottom shelf" I would say that:
1. The Spirit is God's Spirit, and does not ultimately belong to us, although we need Spirit to be fully alive and fully human. It is proper to speak of "our spirit" (because it is part of our structural makeup) as long as we do not forget it is ultimately God's Holy Spirit.

2. The Spirit Herself does not change, but is the Agent of God who leads us on a path of change as we are transformed into God's image.

3. We can experience more or less of the "fullness" of the Spirit based on the openness of our souls to God (whether our hearts, minds, and wills are more or less congruent with God's), and the health of our bodies (whether we are tired, injured, or have proper brain function).

4. This experience of fullness/emptiness of God's Spirit is what we think of as a "change" in our spirits, as we become further/closer to God.

5. There are other spiritual beings in creation, such as angels and demons. As far as I can tell from Scripture, God's obedient angels always stay "external" to persons and do not inhabit, fill, or possess us. It is for God's Spirit alone to fill and possess us.

Yet, fallen angels- demons- can and do take advantage of the "spiritual vacuum" that happens when we are empty of the Holy Spirit. "Nature abhors a vacuum" is a dictum not only empirically but also spiritually. If we do not have the fullness of the Holy Spirit, demons can "demonize" us and even "seize" us (i.e. fill and possess us).

Now, the authority of Christ and surrender to the Holy Spirit can fix this. But we have to will it and want it. God will not be an unwilling guest within us. Thus I end with a promise and admonition from St. Paul:

Ephesians 5:18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.