God is not a human. This means He is not subject to human weaknesses. What weaknesses do I mean here? I mean God does succumb to anger like a mere mortal, God does not feel resentment as humans do - all these things which we imagine He feels are in fact far from God. We feel them because we are far from God. These feelings are what one experiences in what is called a 'fallen' or weak state.
As God does not feel resentment, He is incapable of hate or harbouring bad feelings towards anyone. This attitude of God was demonstrated by the example of Christ on the cross. Imagine if you could do this - look on dispassionately as people treat you terribly, even kill you. Wouldn't most people resent their tormentors? Wouldn't they be angry? Wouldn't they curse them? Want to take revenge on them? - this is the human reaction. God, however - as demonstrated by Christ - is above such emotions. He would not allow whatever people do to Him to diminish His love for them in any way.
What about God's judgement you ask? What about His wrath - that we read so much about in the old testament? The flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Let me suggest that people - even the authors of the old testament - tend to interpret these events and actions from a human perspective. This is the way of people - the pagan gods for example, were all seen as being subject to human desires and emotions. It seems that most people cannot imagine an intelligent, loving being that is not weak like themselves in relation to other emotions. Well God is not like us. What we see as wrath is merely God's wisdom at work. If unfortunate events must befall people, then these happen, or are allowed, for the ultimate benefit of people. God certainly does not allow these out of anger - but He might out of wisdom. Just as a parent might send a child to bed, or allow the child to fail at some task as a learning experience. The parent acts only out of love, and so does God.
What about judgement you ask? All the bad things we do? Does He not hold us to account for these? My answer is that God does not seek to punish us for our sins - He does not need to judge us and punish us - we ourselves will be our own judges - our own conscience will judge us and our actions. God seeks only to allow us to see our errors of understanding and behaviour. He allows us to see the consequences of our actions - sparking within us the recognition of what is right and wrong in what we and others do. But far be it from God to seek to judge us with the intention of looking at us with less love or care, or worse, seeking to punish us out of frustration or anger as a human might do.
So what about us weak humans? What can we do? We have no control over our emotions - we cannot help but feel resentment when mistreated. We cannot help but feel anger and frustration at times. Well this is true - as long as we stay as natural humans we will be subject to all these weaknesses - but it need not be this way. We can chose to become like God - in fact we are all called to such a destiny - we are all called to become 'God's children' - in the likeness of God (spiritual likeness that is). If you follow this path you will see yourself gradually change - your human nature will become more and more a Godly nature. Your spirit will gain control over your body and your passions. You will separate yourself - raise yourself if you like - above nature. Feelings of resentment will beat futilely at your door - as your strengthened spirit stands like a strong castle wall on which wild winds have no effect. Anger will be more and more easily be held at bay. Love will prevail - even in the face of mistreatment and selfishness. And best all of - fear will receed - fear of failure, fear of the opinions of others, fear of the future, fear of death - all this will dissipate. You will feel yourself becoming more and more like Christ in your spirit. You will identify more and more with how He felt on the cross - you understand deep in your soul how He could only feel love, and how far feelings of anger and resentment would be from his heart.
And it is beautiful. It is joyous. Imagine having no fear. Imagine feeling only love. Imagine having space in your heart and life for joy instead of anxiety, insecurity, instead of fear, resentment and anger. Imagine the blissfulness of being such a blessed being. Imagine being free from the passions and calls of hunger, of lust, of pain. All these things come more and more under your control as you separate yourself from your physical human nature, and you become more and more spiritual. Your body and your desires become not part of you, but something outside of you - something which you - as a spiritual being - now have control over. How could you not? Everything is subject to the power and will of God, so the closer you get to God in yourself, in your inclinations and control, the more these things must become subject to you. It is not a lust for power that drives you - it is lust for pure love, and the inevitable consquence is the conquering of your human nature and mastery of of the entire natural world. If you think about it, nature and the spiritual world could not be organised, nor exist, any other way.
St Francis loved the Lady Clare. It was a pure love, not based on any physical relationship. It certainly was a romance, but I believe this was not just a pure romantic love between a man and woman, but it was also a romantic love between a man and his God. I believe that in Clare Francis saw the beauty of her (and his) creator – Francis saw: humility; devotion to caring for others; patience; kindness; and of course the most tender love and gentleness, and as such to him to see Clare was to see the spiritual representation of God.
Chesterson argues that the only way to explain the irrational exuberance of St Francis is to see him as a man in love. When Francis hands back all his possessions to his human father, and walks semi-naked into the snow, with no shoes, no-where to go, no shelter from the elements, he broke into song. Following this St Francis wore the cast away clothes of a poor peasant, he ate the refuse from peasant's tables, and cared not about any of these things – just as a man in the first throes of love cares for nothing in the world beyond his lover.
The love of St Francis captivated many of his generation - within a few years of him adopting his cast-off clothes and carelessly draping a rope around them thousands of other men – young and old - could be seen wearing the same uniform. Something about him was so compelling that even wealthy and powerful men left their positions and gave all they had to the poor. Francis’ call to poverty and service appealed not only to men, but to women, for which Clare is an example. It seems that St Francis could perhaps fairly be called a kind of 12th century pop phenomenon.
Perhaps sensing the change in Francis as he began to turn away from the bawdy behaviour and revelry of his peers, his friends asked him laughingly if he were thinking of marrying, he answered "Yes, a fairer bride than any you have ever seen". Perhaps he meant his “Lady Poverty”, perhaps he meant Christ, perhaps he meant both. Or perhaps he meant all men and women, as he ‘husbanded’ them all: caring for the poor and the lepers with great humility.
The life of St Francis embodied and demonstrated the love and simplicity that so many Christian sages have talked about. And I find the great beauty of this example, is that he was not God, he was a man like any other, who provided the consummate example of how a mortal could aspire to Godliness. That no matter what weaknesses and past mistakes you have made, in the end none of this should matter, nothing can stop you from at any point in your life following the example of Francis, at least his example of love, humility and service; and that a human, anyone of us – man or woman – can aspire to Christ’s example. It is not beyond us, as so many thousands discovered in the 12th Century. And as St Francis himself confessed:
"I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.”
“We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God's sake”.
- Francis of Assisi
"We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others."
--St. Clare of Assisi
*an acknowledgement to Chesterson whose influence can no doubt be detected in this writing.
A man who fancies himself as a good footballer might take offence at the one who suggests he is not. Such a slur goes to the heart of the man, to the heart of what he takes pride in. Similarly, the one who thinks himself generous may well take offence when it is suggested he is not nearly as generous as he thinks himself to be, or could be, or – even worse – as some other man is. Such a suggestion is likely to lead – on top of anger – to justifications and comparisons as to why he has less to share or similar. In the same way, the footballer might seek comfort: if only he had the time to dedicate to the game as the supposed better player does, then he too would be as good. Both retorts attempt to leave the man’s pride intact. Both aim to suggest that the man is as good, or better than, any other contender in this area that is near to his heart, on which he bases his self-image, his self-esteem.
Thus it is in the nature of a worldly person to seek refuge in the idea that he has worth in some worldly manner. And it is these forms of self-esteem and self-evaluation that are fraught with danger – as one knows, deep down, that there is almost certainly someone else – probably many – who would be better than one's self in any worldly respect. Of course, such slurs have no effect if they do not ‘hit the mark’ – i.e if they do not attack the man where he is vulnerable. For example, someone who stakes his pride on being a good footballer is unlikely to be offended if another suggests he is a terrible race-car driver – as that is not the arena where he is staking his claim (planting his pride). But for the worldly there needs to be some area in which a man (or woman) can think himself great, otherwise he will despair - for in the world’s eyes a person has only worth if he is great in some area: talented, or beautiful or famous. But the tenuous nature of such claims leaves the worldly person perpetually insecure. Fortunately there is another way. There is the way of Christ.
The way of Christ is entirely the opposite. Christ says that ‘the least is the greatest’ – that the man (or woman) who thinks he or she is the least talented, the least generous, is the one who is in fact ‘worth the most’. This strange paradoxical set of values is one of the beauties of God. It allows our otherwise insecure souls to take great comfort in our relative nothingness, to find solace in humility. It allows a soul to bask in the surety that it is better than no-one, and need not be good – let alone great – in any worldly way. Thus you can be accused of incompetence at work, and not be offended – for such competence is not important in a spiritual sense – and any worldly skills that might be so valued, have in fact only a temporal significance. Such humility also allows one to even take slurs on the attributes that one values without offence. For example, even if told that you lack love, are selfish, are proud etc. The follower of Christ will say – of course, I am – for by the standard I hold myself to I will always fall far short of – as that standard is the standard of perfection which can only be achieved by God. In fact, a true Christian will be thankful for such a reminder of his own inadequacies as it increases his humility, which is something he truly values, even as he struggles to maintain it.
So what then motivates such a person to be good, to try and perfect himself, if he knows the standard is impossible to achieve – that he can never be good enough, that he will always fail, that by his own efforts he cannot succeed. There are two aspects to this. The first is that he knows that although he cannot perfect himself, God can perfect him, so the standard can be achieved – although without much credit to him. But this is only one aspect. There is another, more important, and deeper motivation. It is the same motivation that makes a boy seek to please a girl he likes – that makes him seek to show her his best nature, his most appealing skills. It is the motive of love. The boy knows that he may not be the best tree climber, the best athlete, or have the kindest or most generous nature, but in his desire to please her, he will try his hardest, and hope it is enough to win her heart, at least she may love him for trying, for the effort, if not for the outcome. And such is the relationship of the Christian with Christ.
This next topic is something quite deep. It goes to the very heart of who we are, of our personality and individuality. I will say from the outset, that this is a far more complex topic than most of us imagine, and it is difficult to comprehend, yet it is something of which - by the grace of God - I have been given an inkling of understanding about (and which everyone will also gradually understand through the course of his or her spiritual development).
Let me start by posing some questions: Was John the Baptist the same person as Elijah? Jesus said: "For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:7–14). So John is identified as Elijah who was predicted to come before the Messiah. The coming of Elijah as a the messenger of the Lord was prophesied in Malachi 4:5: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes."
John himself said he was not Elijah when asked by the Pharisees: "And they asked him, 'What then? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' And he answered, 'No.'" (John 1:19–23).
So who was John? If he was not the prophet Elijah coming as a messenger, then who was? If John was Elijah why did he deny it? I will state here that I believe that John's spirit was the same spirit (soul) that animated the prophet Elijah on earth. This is confirmed by the message given to John's father Zechariah about John's mission in life: "he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah". (Luke 1:17) (as a side note, The Great Gospel of John makes it clear that Zechariah himself was animated by the spirit of Moses, so here we have another example of a soul or spirit returning to another life on earth).
So why did John deny it? I think it was because the personality of John was not the personality of Elijah, even though both were in a deeper sense 'the same person'. If you think about it when a soul is born into the world he or she takes on some attributes of the parents - both in appearance and personality. Also, the circumstances, education and development of a person born of one set of parents at one time and someone else born of other parents at another time are completely different, leading again to personality differences.
So the question arises, if John's personality was quite different to Elijah's in what sense were they the same? I believe the soul, or spirit was the same. So what comprises a unique soul or spirit? Mainly, the heart, the inclinations - these are our most important unique spiritual features, and are perhaps also combined with different and unique measures of patience, wisdom etc, as given by God when the soul was initially created.
Thus I wish to suggest that each of us has the potential to quite radically change many of the deepest aspects of our personality. If you think about this, it is very empowering. It means we are not bound to be who we currently are. We do not need to be forever burdened with the weaknesses or genetic personality attributes we are born with. For example, we need not be quick to anger, if that is something we have inherited; we need not be alcoholics, if that runs genetically in our family. We are not bound to become 'our parents' - this can all be changed by us if we work with God on these changes.
How wonderful is that? We truly can be what we want to be, be who we want to be, at the very core of our being. However, to be meaningful our changes to ourselves should not so much take place in the outer person, but more so within the 'inner' person, then these spiritual qualities will remain with us and would, as with John or Zecharias - shine through, whatever 'outer' personality we may have. Thus, John, on earth, was still John, not Elijah, but the spiritual man within John and Elijah was the same, just the 'outer skin' of the personality had changed. I suggest that as someone living on earth, John/Elijah would act out of the same love, with the same compassion, with the same 'heart' if you like, regardless of his parents and circumstances.
This transformation of the inner person is hinted at in The Great Gospel of John (7.177.17):
"According to My Word, everybody will become a David within himself forever in My Kingdom."
PS. As a note to this, at a deeper level again, we need not have just the one personality within ourselves. Our personality is who we feel we are inside. I can let you know that it is quite possible to be able to identify with a number of different 'inner' personalities - although these will not be necessarily evident to others, they will be evident to you, as you will 'feel' differently. These different ways of feeling - corresponding to different states of your heart - are like adornments to your soul - gems of the spirit if you like. But these gems do not come for free, we must shape them ourselves though our work on our own inner person, and it is a wonderful creational power that God has given us to shape ourselves, not only into one beautiful person, but many (internally).
There once was a damsel who had been captured by an evil ogre, who kept her imprisoned in his castle. The castle walls were strong, and it was surrounded by a moat. Fierce animals guarded the damsel, who was trapped such that she could never be freed through her own efforts. Fortunately for the damsel, she had an old friend who loved her very much. Her friend was a brave and noble knight. When he heard of the damsel's distress he resolved that he would not rest until she was freed, even if it should cost him his own life. The brave knight approached the castle, which was artfully hidden in clouds of darkness, however, the clever and determined knight carried with him a great light that soon revealed the dark castle of the ogre. The knight scaled the castle walls and fought the many monsters that then charged at him. But his skill was such that they were soon vanquished. He then climbed the castle tower, finding the poor damsel imprisoned and in a terrible state; thin with ragged clothes and chained to the castle wall. The brave and strong knight applied all his strength to pull the anchor of the chain free from the wall. Able to see their way out due to bright light he carried, he led the damsel out of the castle and then rode off with his prize, leaving the inhabitants of the dark castle once again shrouded in darkness.
This story too, is about Jesus. The damsel trapped in the darkness with chains she can not escape from alone is each of us before we find God. The darkness is our lack of understanding of God and his ways. The chains our earthly weaknesses (eg: conceit, pride, lust, etc). The light that lets us see our pitiful state is the light of God's teaching as provided by Christ. The thinness indicates a lack of love and the ragged cloths the poor state of our souls. The brave knight is Christ himself, who is prepared to (and in the end must) sacrifice his own earthly life to save us from the castle, which is the world. The fierce animals are all the earthly temptations, lies, and deceit that must be overcome before the light can reach us, and this is achieved not so much through our efforts but God's (as our saving knight).
There once was a prince who had many worldly riches and pleasures available to him. One day there came to the prince's court a traveller from a distant kingdom. The traveller talked of a beautiful princess in his kingdom, whose tenderness and glorious beauty were of a like to be found no where else. As the traveller described the princess the prince fell deeply in love with this most sweet princess. From then on the prince could think of nothing else, the thought of the beautiful princess had captivated his heart completely. He decided to leave his kingdom with all its comforts and amusements and seek out the princess. Now the princess heard that the prince was seeking her, and she deliberately hid from him. This is because stories of the beautiful princess encourage many an unworthy rogue to seek her out. But this prince she hoped was different. The princess decided to test the prince's devotion, as she knew her nature was such that once she gave her heart to someone she herself would be utterly devoted and could never again leave the object of her love.
So while the prince went on his travels encountering many difficulties, and suffering much want, she secretly watched him, to see if he indeed was worthy of her. The prince's love for the beautiful qualities of the princess held true, and he gladly suffered all the trials that came his way for the thought of obtaining his beautiful princess. As the princess watched the prince she noticed his generosity, his kind and gentle heart, and the more she watched and waited the deeper in love with the prince she fell. Finally, she could wait no longer, and she revealed herself in her full beauty to the prince, who was completely smitten by her appearance - finding her even far more beautiful than he had ever imagined - and he embraced her as if he would never let her go. From that point the prince and the princess remained forever in love with each other, and their combined kingdom was known far and wide as the most beautiful of all the lands: a most just, peaceful and joyous place where visitors would find the most generous and loving people.
The princess in this tale is none other than God himself in the person of Jesus. The princess' beauty is a spiritual beauty - it is Jesus's gentle and loving heart combined with his (greatest possible) meekness and patience. You and I, and everyone else are the prince. Everyone must leave their earthly pleasures and amusements and seek out the princess (God) above all other things. And such is the nature of God that He will not let Himself be won easily. Before He will let Himself be found you must first go through many trials to cleanse your heart of all dross; until you have a heart worthy of being presented to God. Also, like the prince, you must demonstrate your devotion and love of God's beautiful spiritual qualities above all else before obtaining this prize like no other.
"For My Kingdom suffers force, and those who do not seize it forcibly will not enter it."
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."
The 'world' I write of here is a spiritual force. It is the force that makes you feel insecure and unsure deep inside. It is the force that tells you that you can overcome these uncomfortable feelings by meeting its expectations and standards: i.e by becoming popular (and at best famous), being liked by other 'worldy' minded people - usually by doing the sorts of things they do; perhaps drinking, speaking as they do (swearing maybe), standing out at sports, seeking to appear in ways that please others. Notice that most of these things are not natural as can be determined by looking at the behaviour of unspoilt children. Do children swear? Are they concerned about their appearance? They certainly do not drink alchohol or smoke (and most like neither, but often later - as teenagers - force themselves into these habits to fit in with peers).
The spirit of the world whispers through a thousand different channels that if only you can be successful enough (at sport, business: ideally everything) or beautiful enough, or sexy enough, or famous enough, you will be secure, fullfilled, happy and contented. Of course this is all a lie. Achieving these things for wordly reasons will at best leave you feeling insecure and uncontented, or at worst it will leave you feeling arrogant and confident, but strangely deeply insecure at the same time - as if you know the things underlying your confidence can easily disappear leaving your 'ego' naked and insecure again.
The opposite to the spirit of the world is the spirit of God. This says - very quietly and modestly - that all those worldly things mean nothing. That your worth comes from intrinsic, spiritual things, not material external things. The spirit of God tells us that what makes us valuable is our love for others. That if we seek our worth in our measure of love for others that we will find not only self-assurance but also deep contentment and joy. And such feelings can never be taken away from us, as they are based within ourselves, within our very being, not on anything external to us. Therefore they are our true posession for eternity.
Imagine that you could have your heart's desire. Is this impossible? Not at all - you just have to desire the right things! If your desires are good, then they will match God's and all things can be granted to you. Thus as we shape our hearts in this life, to more and more desire good things, then more and more can our desires be granted and satisfied.
One thing you may wish is to leave all the bad things you have done behind. This desire too can be granted. Jesus talked about a spiritual re-birth. This means completely changing yourself, and making yourself more and more perfect (more like Him). As you do this, you leave your old self, and your old sins, behind. How can they still be yours, when you yourself have completely changed? If you are no longer the person that committed those errors, then what point is there in holding you responsible for them?
God has said that He will forgive our sins - if we turn away from them with a penitant heart (i.e sincerely detest sin). And why should we doubt this? A human father will surely forgive his children as they grow and learn - and the grown man is in many ways a completely different person to the child. Certainly, the child as he grows will learn what is good and what is bad, and if raised well will turn towards the good. What use then the father in constantly reminding the man of the errors he committed as a child? Of seeking to punish him continuously for old errors and behavours which have now been left far behind? A human father instead of dwelling on the troubles his child caused him, would rather take pleasure in the man his child has become.
If a human father can do this - then how much more a divine one, whose love and forgiveness far exceeds any human? So let go your guilt for sins and errors that you have left behind, instead focus on eradicating any remaining ones. And then, at the end of your journey you and your Heavenly father can at last be close to each other, in heart and in person. As you each will share the same desires and will - once you have developed fully into complete manhood (or womanhood, as the case may be) - and can stand independently beside God, as two people of a like mind.
Oh, what it is to know the living God. To know - without a trace of doubt - that He lives, that He is real. To know every word He says is the utter truth. To know that truth will set us free of all conflict, all fear, and fill each with confidence and joy. To know this, and to know eternal love, love like the romantics could only allude to, to know that He is there for you - loving you, despite all your faults. To know all this - yet to see the discord, the disillusion, the madness of those lost in the world - and yet not being able to reach them. How must He feel then, knowing well His own reality, knowing well the complete error of thought and action of so many here on earth - yet to be able to do nothing. To know that these people must find the truth on their own, that even His gentle prompting and guidance leaves many still astray. To know He cannot do more for fear of harming those He loves - to watch as they languish in pain and suffering, yet to yearn, as no human can yearn, for their return to Him and to comfort and sanity.
Truly He must have super human strength, as no father could stand to witness his own beloved child, yet alone many children, to suffer so much and to be so powerless to help them from their misery. How He must suffer as a consequence of this, and how because of this I yearn to do more for Him, yet I can do so little, so much less than He himself, how He, and I, must restrain ourselves so as not to do more harm than good - not to push the lost further into darkness.
Imagine a lost lover, who loves you more than anything, but can only watch on helplessly as you suffer, but wants desperately to do more. Imagine such a lover, used to omnipotence, who can create worlds, universes, all forms of life, yet He cannot help those He loves most. How must He feel?
The author, Matthew, draws his ideas from writers such as C.S Lewis, Jakob Lorber, Emanuel Swedenborg and others.