God as Spirit

The idea of God as "Spirit" ‑‑ an unseen force or presence permeating the universe and holding it in existence ‑‑ is absolutely fundamental to religion. Without this concept, religion is reduced to rule‑keeping or mere ritualism at best, or at worst, to outright superstition.

It may seem odd, then, that we perhaps need to turn back to the example of some of the world's remaining native or aboriginal religions to recapture this sense of the sacred in all reality ‑‑ for example the "Mana" or spirit‑force of the Polynesians, the "Wakan‑Tanka" or Great Spirit of the Lakota, or the "Gitchie Manitou" of the various tribes around our own Great Lakes. Did not our ancestors send missionaries to enlighten all these poor "superstitious savages"? But in exchange for our eagerness to share with them the good news about Jesus, should we not also have been just as eager to learn something about the Great Spirit from them?

Years ago, theologian Harvey Cox put his finger on the problem in his best‑selling book The Secular City ‑‑ although he didn't seem to think of it as problem at the time. Cox described, or even celebrated, how the Bible had liberated the Jews from ancient humanity's enslavement to nature and nature's "gods". This "desacralization" of nature, as Cox termed it, is what set the stage for the emergence of modern world, with its belief in "man as the measure of all things".

If so, perhaps it is now high time that we have second thoughts about the results. For in dividing up the universe between what is "sacred" on the one hand, and what is "secular" or worldly on the other, were we not also paving the way for an idea of God that is so remote from nature that we in turn have begun to treat not only the natural world and its life‑forms, and, all too often, even other people, as mere "things"? We have, in frightening ways, created for ourselves a world of "virtual reality" that we feel free to manipulate, to use or abuse, at our own whims, followed only occasionally by a lame excuse or apology to a God who has become so remote as to often be called "The Man Upstairs".

The time has come, in fact is long overdue, that we attempt to restore the balance of ancient wisdom. Perhaps we even need to begin to think of God, as did the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, in other than just strictly biblical terms. This devout Jew, who lived in Egypt at the time of Jesus, was not afraid to adopt or at least adapt  certain "pagan" ideas. In fact, it appears to have been Philo who passed on to Christians the philosophical concept of the eternal "Logos" or "Word" ‑‑ used in John's gospel to describe the divine nature of Christ. So might we not also take another clue from Philo and refer to the Spirit of God, as did so many other philosophers at the time, as "The Soul of the World". If so, then to live in the constant presence of and awareness of God should be no more difficult than living in the presence of our own minds.

If we could do that, I suspect that we could also overcome another childish idea that the possession of the Holy Spirit ‑‑ or being possessed by it ‑‑ means experiencing all kinds of weird things. Instead we would begin to see our ordinary, everyday world, our environment, and ourselves and other people, in an altogether different, even extraordinary, light!

R. W. Kropf 5/15/2001                                                                         Spirit.doc   01-05-15.html