Questions from a non-religious colleague after reading John and the teaspoons!
What is pure and blameless?
Each and every one of us must share some responsibility for those things around us that we consider to be wrong. This ranges from the way we live a wasteful life which affects the ecology of the planet, e.g. global warming, deforestation et.c, to the way we interact with each other and upset or hurt each other's feelings and undermine self esteem. We do this:
'In thought, word and deed,
in the evil we do
and the good we do not do
through our own deliberate fault.'
To be pure and blameless is possibly only achievable in the very first weeks of life, the innocence of childhood, the time when the 'self' has not yet developed. Arguably even then the strong survival instinct and behaviours that serve this can be upsetting to those around. We are not agreed on when a child becomes responsible for this.
As Christians we believe that the only human being to achieve the title 'pure and blameless' was Jesus himself, although I would be hard pressed to find record of any comment he himself made to claim this for himself. Nevertheless by studying the written accounts of the way he lived and what he taught, and through a prayerful relationship with him we believe we can grow to be more like his example, inspired by his spirit.
By whose concept 'pure and blameless?'
Purity is not relative. Either something is pure or it isn't, and whilst for some things our proportion of the 'blame' is deemed to be low (only a little bit our fault) or high (all our fault!) again the inescapable truth is that we are not blameless. So the interesting thing here is 'by whose concept'. The answer must be by our own. We conceptualise our world and all facets of it, and as a result of this conceptualisation our behaviour and thinking develops. It would be impractical to live by following the conceptualising of another person, as we could never be sure that what we understand to be their thoughts were indeed what they consider them to be. But in forming our own concepts the experiences of the life we have, and those events that infringe on our personal consciousness, play a vital role. It is only through seeing, feeling and learning about a table that we can form any concept of table. We must then decide whether a structure with only one central leg supporting a plane surface is a table, just like that first table we experienced with four legs. We adjust our 'concept' to incorporate the new design as 'table' or we reject the idea out of hand and call it something else. As Christians we believe that Jesus calls us to examine and re-examine our concept of purity and blamelessness in the light of new revelations in scripture, or in our spiritual lives.
Are we not the source of our own purity, blamelessness and perfect goodness?
I would guardedly say yes. But we are also the source of our own impurity and blamefulness. We have the potential to work hard for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5) but we also have within ourselves the tendency towards indecency, feuds, wrangling, jealousy, bad temper, quarrels, disagreements, factions, envy, 'drunkenness, orgies and similar things'. We must form our concept of 'wrong' in the same way, which is through our experience but also through our spiritual growth. For example, to what extent can you take drunkenness before you see it as ‘wrong’? Fine to have one or two Sherries, but what if you then end up behind the wheel of a car? Also what do we consider to be 'indecent'? In fact being ourselves the source of our own potential purity/impurity and blame/blamelessness we must realise the effects of our own development on ourselves and others around us, and accept responsibility for them.
Who are we to judge other people's purity blamelessness and goodness?
We are not to judge. Luke 6.42 shows us that none of us is in a position to judge other people; we are all in the wrong. Also James 4.12 'There is only one Lawgiver and he is the only judge and has the power to acquit and sentence. Who are you to give a verdict on your neighbour?
Aren't we responsible for ourselves and our own judgement of ourselves?
Yes, I believe we are responsible, and we owe it to ourselves to ensure that we judge ourselves within a framework that cannot be, or is not changed at whim according to the fashions and fetishes of the time we live in. If we are to be happy with ourselves in a moral sense, bearing in mind that our purity brings joy, and our impurity brings pain, then judging ourselves in a superficial way will lead to the development of a superficial self-concept. God, if he is accepted as our inner light and strength, provides the framework for a sound spiritual growth, unaffected by, but not remote from our time.
Do we need to give the discovery (our own inner light and strength) a label like 'God'?
Our own inner light and strength do come from 'God' and 'Godness' in its broad sense, (not necessarily confined to Christianity) but God himself is far greater than the part of him that dwells in us. To label our own inner light and strength as 'God' is to minimalise him as we are but tiny specks in his universe.
If people need a label to hang their faith upon, how real is that faith?
If your faith is totally personal, i.e. you have your own belief system, which has nothing to do with anyone else, then a label is not necessary. A label is specifically for the purpose of communicating. In this case the faith is not hung upon the label, rather the label is attached to the faith. It is useful in that it allows us to talk and compare experiences in order to support and enrich each other in our search for spiritual truth. The spiritual truth that underpins Christianity has evolved and been uncovered over several millennia of people talking about 'God', some of whom we believe to be more directly inspired by the Holy Spirit than others, e.g. prophets and saints, but all of whom look to 'God' as not just being their own inner light and strength but the centre of community light and strength and ultimately that of the world.
Who is Jesus? Who is 'God'?
Linked together because one was the incarnation of the other. Jesus is as much 'God' as the Holy Spirit and the Father. Together these make the trinity, three in one but only one God.
But exactly who is God? WE are not able to understand fully what God is. He is too large and complex for our human mind to grasp, but that does not discourage us from trying to know god better. Just as our own identity is made up of different facets, e.g. one lady can be a mother, daughter, sister, friend, carer, teacher, netballer, musician et.c, we also see many facets to the identity of God.
Perhaps the most famous is 'God is Love' (1 John 7.8). The experience of love is greater than ourselves, God being the source of our love and of the love of others for us.
God is Creator, accepting that Genesis is primitive man's myth of creation, nevertheless there is enough order and design in nature for us to see that a higher force is at work. The process itself is one that is little understood, but scientists are finding out more and more about it, or at least they believe they are. But there is a creative process and to us this is one face of God. It may be argued that it is the 'Godness' in us that fuels our own creativity.
God is Father, related to the creative role but more personal, representing the care and love of a father for us, his children. As a facet of God this is undermined by the increasing number of children whose experience of 'father' as parent is less than ideal (i.e. abusive or non existent).
God as still small voice, from the story of Elijah, shows us that the will of God is to be found in silence and reflection rather than razzamatazz or extremes.
God as King. This image was so strong that it was not until Saul that Israel would take a king, as God was King. The Old Testament shows that earthly kings must be at best vastly inferior to the kingship of 'Yahweh' or God, and records a multiplicity of the disastrous results of this form of Government.
The concept of what God is is still being developed, but we have thousands of years of mans yearning to know God recorded in the Old Testament where a small group of tribes have built up their concept of God through his revelations to them as a result of the pathways they took through life, formative experiences such as exile in Egypt and Babylon and the Exodus or escape from Egypt. A study of these experiences from a theological viewpoint cannot be disregarded in formulating our own concept of God. That is not to say that these are the only revelations of God. In the New Testament more insight into the nature of God comes from the sayings of and about Jesus.
The Vine is symbolic of the life flow that comes from the root to the branches by way of the Vine. Because we had fallen so far short of God and therefore could not take his power directly, Jesus came as the channel through which we can reconnect with God.
The Word. See John's Gospel, the 'word' is another way of saying the 'concept', the message of God, which has always been there but became human in Jesus.
The Bread. Spiritual food, 'Man cannot live by bread alone'. The life and example of Jesus, as well as other instances of God revealing himself through the example, writing and teaching of those close to him, is food for our faith and for our spiritual lives.
The way the truth and the life. In that our impurities and blame cut us off from 'Godness' Jesus is that part of God that came to meet us and show us the way back, should we choose to take it.
The Good Shepherd. The New Testament image was of one who led his sheep and protected them.
The Gate of the Sheepfold. The sheepfold was a horseshoe shaped wall to protect sheep. The Shepherd slept across the mouth of the horseshoe, the only way in, protecting the sheep from straying out, and guarding against wild animals that might try to get in.
The Lamb. A symbol of sacrifice, from the Passover when the blood of the lamb was put on the lintel and doorposts of the Israelites, so that the Angel of Death would pass over and spare the occupants of that house. Jesus, through his death on the cross, protects us from what we deserve.
The Light of the World. The light shows the true path to pure and blameless living and oneness with God, unachievable without God showing us the way. We are also a light to others reflecting that original light and so hopefully encouraging others to join us.
The Water of Life. 'Nobody can live who hasn't any water' this image is linked with the vine above.
The Son of Man. The name Jesus gave himself, bridging his divinity with humanity.
The Resurrection. In rising from death, death itself is no longer a barrier to life in the Spirit.
The Servant King. Jesus didn't come to lord it over all, although he is Lord of all. He came to serve the purpose of God's Kingdom and by example encourages us to serve each other. If everyone were to look after everyone they met and serve them, then everyone would be looked after and served.
These, and many more, outline some of the many characteristics of God and Jesus. Other Old Testament names include Yahweh, Elohim, El Shaddai and more, each giving a perspective on God's identity.
The bible is the story of how man has tried to reach God, and how through his faults he has continually fallen short of his aim. (Sin is the distance from the centre of a target that an arrow lands in archery.) Through this struggle to know God, over thousands of years, we have built up an understanding of what and who we believe God to be. But the struggle and yearning has not been one sided. Individual people, Old Testament prophets, and saints of the New Testament and later, who have shown a thirst for God have had inspiration from God in helping us to get to know him. God is calling us to be with him. Ultimately he came in human form to give us the best possible understanding of what he means and what he wants from us.
Who are the people in the bible that tell us this?
One could go into the writers of the New Testament, or even of both testaments. In the case of the New Testament people who themselves knew Jesus, such as James and Peter, and those who knew people who knew him. The most influential writers must be the Gospel writers and St. Paul. In many cases the writers do not appear to agree, and there is a certain amount of evidence for the point of view that St Paul had more influence over the church and its formation than Jesus himself! Nevertheless even though these people often argued, Peter with Paul, James with Paul, and had different perspectives from which to give their side of the story, Luke from the point of view of a gentile, Matthew with his obsession for linking everything with past prophecy and the incredibly powerful writing of John in the fourth Gospel with all their difference of opinion the life and example of Jesus Christ still shines through, overriding such difficulties.
And in as much as we believe Jesus to be a revelation of the will and person of God we believe that through the human agencies of these writers God himself is telling us!
Why does God need glory and praise?
He doesn't. (John 5.41) 'As for human approval, this means nothing to me.' But the process of worship, or appreciating the worthship of God and appraisal lifts our minds to hold the 'word' in high esteem, therefore in consciousness where it can best influence our concept of blamelessness and purity and help set our sights to aspire to get as close as we can to this.
How can we be free, and at the same time serve God?
John 8.32 'You will learn the truth and the truth will set you free.' 2 Corinthians 3.17 'Now this Lord is the spirit and where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.' Galatians 5.1 'When Christ freed us he meant us to remain free. Stand firm therefore and do not submit to the yoke of slavery.'
Freedom; what do we mean by it? Being able to do anything you like whenever you like? Freedom of conscience, with no nagging guilt? Freedom of speech; say what you like and never mind how anyone else feels? Where is the line between freedom and anarchy?
We can be free to love, to enjoy, to be kind, to be trusted and to trust, to be gentle and to exercise our own self-control. As St. Paul says, there can be no law against this, no restrictions.
If however we act in jealousy, bad temper, indecency, drunkenness et.c, we eventually find our freedom is curtailed by others, and maybe rightly so! If everyone serves everyone else then everyone is served.
Whose message? Whose spirit? Whose service?
God's message. God's spirit. God's service.
But in God's service we serve the 'Godness' in each other and the wider creation. This is not bonded labour bur service freely given. Through this service, strengthened by the spirit, renewing our own inner light and strength we seek God's message and the ideal of life in his kingdom.