Spirit and Flesh – 6

Another great example of a natural metaphor to explain a supernatural phenomenon is evidenced by the manifold answers to the following question:

What, exactly, did Jesus accomplish on the Cross?

It is cast as ransom for a prisoner, as redemption of a slave, as rescue from behind enemy lines, as a jailbreak from the gates of Hell, as vicarious suffering of a punishment, as repayment of a debt, as a lamb being led to slaughter, as a new Passover (itself somewhere between physical/historical and spiritual)…and this is just off the top of one’s head.

What is interesting is that one is often taught that no single metaphor captures it.  In fact, some are downright scornful for some scholars, except that they appear in Scripture, and so must be addressed.  The redemption of a slave received this treatment recently.

I am personally of the view that we should not be so quick to judge Scripture, and that whatever the case may be just is the case.  If God Himself would tell us to imagine we were slaves (to sin) and that He came to redeem us for a price (His suffering and death), what exactly is my objection?  That He did not order the Universe properly so as to avoid a slave analogy?  That He did, in fact, redeem me?  Nonsense.

Anyway, this great spiritual reality strains all analogies, which is a lesson that the spiritual realm is truly a different realm.  Just as new formulas and rules govern 2D geometry and 3D geometry (and beyond), so are there new rules in the spiritual which we can hardly begin to imagine by way of the physical.

One of the more acute ways of demonstrating this point follows:  Imagine you are speaking to a man who has been blind since birth.  How would you describe a beautifully cut, flawless diamond?

You could approach it – perhaps some exquisite smell, like a rose, with an almost geometric perfection – or perhaps by means of heat and texture, as well as construction that might be conveyed by touch.  You see the point, though.

In no way have you shown this man the diamond.  And we left you the benefit of four senses.

Likewise, in no way do we really understand what Jesus accomplished by His Passion and death.  Yet even a child can understand it was marvelous, miraculous work, and precious to possess.


Nota bene:  Naturally, these metaphors do not refer to purely physical phenomena.  The social construct of slavery, for example, does not appear to have any parallel in the animal kingdom, and relies on abstractions such as dignity (or lack thereof) and power.  The spiritual analog is, therefore, a next-level abstraction.

Spirit and Flesh – 5

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

– John 1:1-2, 4-5

Supposing you had a real but indescribable experience – how do you go about sharing it with a friend or confidant?

Consider an epiphany you’ve had.  There was some problem, some riddle of existence which you could not answer.  Perhaps for days, perhaps for years, you sought the answer and could not find it.  (We are already speaking in metaphor, but hang with me).

And then, quite unexpectedly, you had it.  The answer.

Now the physical phenomenon of an epiphany might be described as a new neuro-pathway, the literal (physical) firing of synapses across particular neurons in a particular order which rendered the new thought to your consciousness (whatever that is).

For one thing, this is a quite dull and tedious way of telling the story of your epiphany, but let it pass.

For a second thing, it is anything but clear that thought is, our could be, a purely physical phenomenon.  Never mind this, too.

The salient point is that the truth discovered, the object of the epiphany, the objectiveness of the truth, is non-material.  Insomuch as we engage with it, then, we are operating in the abstract/spiritual realm.

So when you say something like, “And then I saw it…” or “That’s when the light bulb came on…” – which functionally mean the same thing – you are pulling an abstract experience through the filter of a physical experience.

Or, you are reaching up to understand the abstract by means of the physical, which is the thesis here.

Now what if (literally) God came to Earth and became (literally) man, and dwelt among us?  What if this God-man taught and demonstrated a doctrine which corrected our moral and intellectual (spiritual) deviancies, healed and exalted our wounded bodies (literally) so that we might transcend them to a greater reality?  How would you describe this experience?

You might call Him the Light of the world.  You might describe Him as irresistible, unassailable, like a light in darkness – in no way can the darkness overcome the light.  Just so, in no way could evil overcome Him or His mission.*

And if you’ll accept the Gospel and believe in Him, that same invincibility – on the spiritual level – is conferred upon you.

Next example…

*Arguably, even mission is a metaphor.

Spirit and Flesh – 4

We have laid out three ways of knowing the spiritual realm, which is further proposed as the true realm.  The physical realm is but an echo.

The difficulty remains that – ordinarily –  we know the physical realm with a higher degree of confidence than the spiritual.  It feels more real because it is more obvious and less deniable.

There is a reason, after all, that apostates are made by imprisonment and torture.

So if there are three ways of knowing the spiritual, which are nevertheless nebulous to the populace; and if we have a systematic and reliable way of learning about the physical; what could ground us more firmly in true knowledge of the spiritual?

Here is my thesis:  The spiritual realm is the source of the physical.  It is often analogous to, but not an exact emanation of, the spiritual.

In some ways this sounds like Plato.  I said before – honestly – that I don’t know whether the world of Forms is real.  Nevertheless, we are not saying that there are forms, per se.  We are saying that, if one imagines that forms exist, it gives us a useful way of learning about the spiritual from our experience of the physical.

Indeed, suggesting that humans have a spiritual sense captures what we’re about here – that one’s physical senses are analogous to one’s spiritual sense.

But what if your spiritual sense is dull, or inoperative?  Or what if you simply don’t trust it?

What if you think Plato is interesting, but he’s mostly talking ho-bunk?

If, still, you wish to learn something about the spiritual realm, I suggest you can learn it by a careful study of the physical realm.  We’ll take some examples next time.


There is a reason, after all, that saints are made by imprisonment and torture.