Agnostics Anonymous

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

The popular view of an agnostic, I suppose, is of some poor devil who simply cannot make up his mind whether God exists, or not. Most dictionaries, however, tend to offer a more positive definition. Chambers, for example, holds that an agnostic is “one who holds that we know nothing of things beyond material phenomena.” He might, therefore fervently believe that God does indeed exist, but that we have no such evidence and that we are unlikely to find any – in this world, at any rate.

The term ‘agnostic’ (in contrast to ‘gnostic’) I find, was first used by T.H.Huxley in 1869, though there is mention of an inscription “To an unknown God” in the book of Acts 17,23. The term has also been used to include the more extreme view that knowledge in general can only be applied to what is available to the senses: everything else being irrelevant. Any agnostics found lurking in our churches would scarcely go that far. Others may feel pretty sure that God probably doesn’t exist, but are nevertheless quite prepared to be convinced otherwise.

When I contemplate the immensity of infinite space with its innumerable galaxies, I may find it impossible not to think that somebody must be in control. At the same time, it may also seem equally impossible to concede that anybody is in control. Whether that ‘body’ is masculine, feminine or neuter simply defies human imagination.

Most church-goers, of course, are not plagued with such ambivalent misgivings. They have presumably long ago been totally persuaded, or have persuaded themselves that God, in some shape or form, undoubtedly exists, if not in bodily shape then maybe in some other way.

In this latter case the agnostic’s problem may be somewhat diminished. I suspect that some dubious agnostics, who are also devout church-goers, may attend in the hope that Christian conviction may rub off on them, as it were by a process of osmosis. Such aspiration, I hasten to say, is by no means the same as what a true worshipper experiences as devotion. It can nevertheless be sincere and heartfelt.

However, our benighted agnostic may already have made up his mind that church-goers, though possibly on the right lines, are much too glib altogether. He will seek his evidence elsewhere – in the wonders of the natural world perhaps. Do they speak of God?

The world is full of remarkable things and contains great mysteries – but they prove nothing. Nature might, after all, well, have just happened – sort of emerged ever so slowly all by itself as Darwin and Dawkins eloquently suggest. Then there is the notion that maybe it all stands for something else. Perhaps our planet is a great treasure-chest full of symbols, all of which hold-hands and spell out some almighty ‘spiritual’ story. One day the divine story-teller himself will explain it all – that would surely clinch the matter.

Agnosticism is a perilous addiction, for which no cure is infallible: it requires excellent balance like learning to ride an unswerving holy bicycle: it is so easy to fall for a religious faith on one side or slide into atheism on the other. Such are the perils of uncertainty, the demands of honesty can make for a bumpy passage.

There are many perfectly good and virtuous reasons for regular church-going, not all of which are necessarily theological. A love of church music can be a powerful incentive, especially where there is a good organ and an impressive choir. Tradition and liturgy can impart great comfort in a changing – often threatening – world. The discussion of moral problems helps to stimulate the brain and maintain a caring social conscience. Some of us enjoy holy theatre, and are moved by ritual. Some like to keep up with the local news: the church may often be the best social club in town, and the incumbent an ever-present comfort in times of trouble. But, I wonder, though it is none of my business, may not some of these good people perhaps harbour the guilty secret that they are not always, absolutely certain that God exists?

Sitting on fences is never an easy stance to maintain, since it is, I suppose, an intellectual position without a great deal of support. A true religious faith, on the other hand, is altogether more heartfelt, arising from emotional springs deeply grounded in the human soul. The agnostic needs all the help he can get: fortunately, he gets along very happily with others of a like disposition.

Christian agnostics, being scarce and hard to identify, probably pose the greatest challenge and problem to the believer. But the mysteries of Incarnation are much too deep to fathom here.

Copyright 2010 G Roland Smith

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on31st October 2011CategoriesMeaning of life, ReligionTags,, , , , , ,, , , , , Leave a comment

A personal God for thinking about

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Personal GodMany people believe there is a higher spiritual energy they call God that transcends the mundane material world. This for them is not a personal God but rather a higher power that ensures there is order in nature the laws of which can be discovered by science.

Idea of a personal God

Another view is that God is the origin for all that is humanly good in the universe — the  higher principles of ethical living, human virtue, creative inspiration, depth of the human soul and its capacity for wisdom and compassion and so on.

Those who favour a personal God suggest that any idea of God as as an infinite force or abstract law behind the facts of science, that is anything other than a Divine person, actually makes God something less than we ourselves.

It is argued that without our sense of God’s human dimension there would be no point to looking for the benefit of communication through prayer and no chance of sensing God’s personal presence.

But if God is to be thought of as a personal God ie divinely human, is God merely an image of us or are we an image of God?

Literal or symbolic understanding of God

David Wulff has pointed out that many religious people interpret images and rituals in a symbolic way. Many others, however, interpret such things in a literal manner. Most Evangelical Christians will say that the whole Bible should be taken as factually true, but even they will accept that ‘the mountains skipped like rams’ (Psalm 114:4) is not a factual description of a major earthquake; it’s a poetic metaphor.

But where do you draw the line? How much is factual? Did Jesus do miracles? Was his a virgin birth? And so we find different attitudes towards the Christ of history: either a view that the truth about the Divine needs to be metaphorically or figuratively expressed (if it is to be communicated at all) or an acceptance that Christ was literally ‘the Son of God’. Do we have to have to believe in the Chirst of history as divine in order to be able to relate to a personal God?

The interpretation of Christ by Carl Gustav Jung as a central archetype is an example of the symbolic orientation. This is because Christ’s quality is said to be intimately related and continuous with the figure of the Father. This is probably an easier position to accept because Jung was not talking about any God but rather our image of God: he was writing as a psychologist and not a theologian.

There are many mainstream Christians who although not requiring that all the events and sayings in the Bible are literally true, nevertheless,

“… just want so much to be told that at least this one really happened, that at least this one saying was really uttered by Jesus. They do not want to hear that stories are legends or that they emerged from the consciousness of the primitive church.” (James Barr)

Personal God of church dogma

Apparently a lot of Christians are still prepared to go along with church dogma about Jesus as part of a Divine Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Others are searching for a more rational understanding. For example in their rejection of what they see as an illogical doctrine of the Trinity, Unitarians deny that Jesus is their personal God.

A different so-called Christian heresy, Monarchianism, which began before AD 200, also rejected the Trinity, holding that there is only one God, not three divine persons of the Godhead. It saw Trinitarian belief as polytheism. Instead it claimed that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one being, simply performing three different roles, like an actor playing several parts and thus implied that the Father suffered on the cross.

Swedenborg’s idea of a personal God

Something similar to this view of a personal God is found in Swedenborg’s books. Here we find a new concept that of Divine Humanity, a central feature of God, which became fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.

According to this view, in Jesus, God took on a human nature, which could bring the Divine into more direct contact with every individual member of his human family. Jesus was to grow up as a normal human being. He could grow weary, become angry and weep. But because his paternal heredity was divine, he never gave in to temptation but grew in love and wisdom. The tendencies towards being self-centered, that he had along with us, were gradually removed, until he fulfilled his divine potential.

And so the position is that before the days of Jesus there was no direct link or bridge between the infinite and the finite, between the perfect and the imperfect. But after his life he was fully human and fully divine and a more direct link was established so that people could approach the Lord Jesus in prayer as the one person of God in whom there is a heart of compassion (symbolised by Father), a head of wisdom (symbolised by Son) and hands of power (symbolised by Holy Spirit).

“Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair ” (Blaise Pascal)

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Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on24th November 2012CategoriesMeaning of life, ReligionTags,, , , , , ,, , , , , ,, , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Jesus Christ: A Reflection,

The Swedenborg Digital Library. Books about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ

The Best Book Ever Written On The Lord Jesus Christ

A short, thought-provoking introduction to who Jesus is and what He really did for all of us, taken from the teachings of His First and Second Coming.

from Chauncey Giles, Lectures on the Incarnation, Atonement and Mediation of The Lord Jesus Christ, (4th Edition. New York: General Convention of the New Jerusalem in the United States of America 1870)

Click On The Image To View The Book On The Website Or Link Below

Jesus Christ: A Reflection, by Chauncey Giles

Jesus Christ: A Reflection, by Chauncey Giles
swedenborgdigitallibrary.org

 

PART II. Assumption and Glorification of the Human by the Lord

< Chapter XXV. The Wicked. ^ Discrete Degrees ^ Chapter XXVI. The Human of the LORD before the Incarnation. >

 


Previous: Chapter XXV. The Wicked. Up: Discrete Degrees Next: Chapter XXVI. The Human of the LORD before the Incarnation.

ALL POWER HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME

ALL POWER HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida March 31, 1991

“And Jesus came and spoke to them saying: `All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth'” (Matthew 28:18).

The message of Easter is one of victory and new life. It is fitting, on this occasion, that we give thanks to the Lord for His glorification and redemption. In the Lord’s resurrection we also have His assurance of our own resurrection into the spiritual world, and the heartening assurance of His Divine power over the hells. By His resurrection we are also assured that good can, and always will, prevail over evil. If we are willing to receive power from the Lord evil will have no power over us. He freely imparts His power to all who look to Him, love Him and keep His commandments.

“All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Not only had the Lord risen victorious from the death imposed by the corrupt leaders of the Jewish Church, not only had He conquered natural death, but in doing so He took to Himself all power in heaven and on earth. The concentrated forces of all the hells, through the agency of evil and selfish men, had sought to destroy Him; and in the moment of their apparent success, their utter failure was revealed.

Here we see clearly the impotence of evil against good dramatically demonstrated. Because the apostles had to perceive this truth, the Lord, in commissioning them to establish a new church, said:”All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore, and teach all nations … ” Secure in the knowledge of this truth, that the Lord had all power in heaven and on earth, they could fearlessly preach the Gospel, confident that nothing could defeat their mission. For, working with them and through them was the Lord Who, after His resurrection, had confidently proclaimed:”All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth … And, lo, I am with you always, even to the consummation of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

In the revelation of His Second Advent, the Lord has fully revealed the nature, quality and operation of His Divine power to bring mankind into the happiness of eternal life. He has revealed the glory, beauty and wonder of His eternal kingdom. His power in is the laws of His Divine providence, all of which operate to draw all people to heaven as many as do not will fully refuse.

His kingdom is one of love and wisdom conjoined in use a kingdom where all are brought into such a harmony that the joy of one is communicated to and shared by all, and the joy of all is felt in each one individually; a kingdom where the delight of living increases and deepens to eternity a kingdom where the mutual love of husband and wife grows deeper and stronger to all eternity.

But, like the disciples of old, we live in an age which is, for the most part, far removed from the reception of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. On every side, in the place of love and charity, we see hatred and envy; in the place of wisdom we see bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and empty sentimentality; in the place of use we see the lust for pleasure and reward; in the place of conjugial love we see the lust of self-gratification.

The message of Easter is that in the midst of this hostile environment, and in spite of it, we can, nevertheless, receive the spiritual things of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom within ourselves. We can receive genuine love for the neighbor, true wisdom from the Word, the good of use from the Lord, and love truly conjugial, and manifest them in our lives and the life of the church.

In the midst of a sphere of hatred and contempt for others we can receive the Divine love of humanity into our hearts. In the midst of a sphere of intellectual pride and an overwhelming trust in scientific achievement, and contempt for spiritual values, we can nurture, by devotion to duty, a spiritual love of use and a deep and joyful love for our marriage partners. All this is possible because the Lord has established His kingdom a kingdom not of this world, and revealed its nature to us because after His resurrection He took to Himself all power in heaven and on earth.

While in the world, the Lord preached a doctrine of love and charity toward the neighbor, a doctrine of mercy and human compassion. He taught a doctrine of spiritual and moral values. He revealed, and His life was an example of, devotion to others. But the hells, through their human agents, the Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees, tried to destroy these spiritual values. They were not interested in spiritual things nor were they interested in a spiritual kingdom. They wanted a Messiah Who would establish for them a natural kingdom a kingdom where they would enjoy power over their neighbors, a kingdom in which they would be able to satisfy all their natural longings and sensual appetites. But because the Lord’s kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), they sought to destroy Him and all that He stood for.

Let us realize that there is a similar struggle and conflict within each one of us. The hells, entering in through the loves of self and the world, and inflaming them, seek to destroy in us, the love of the Lord and His spiritual kingdom of charity, spiritual intelligence, devotion to use and conjugial love. They seek to persuade us that if God indeed exists, He would satisfy our every ambition and desire; He would provide for us every worldly comfort and pleasure; He would do away with famine, pestilence, disease and natural suffering; for, are not these the enemies of human happiness? They seek to persuade us that if there is a Kingdom of God it should be here and now, and not hereafter; that we should experience its joy and satisfaction without effort on our part. By the insinuation of these ideas, our belief in the Lord and our love for Him and the things of His Kingdom is undermined and threatened with destruction by the malice of hell acting through their agents the love of self and the love of the world.

For the regeneration person these are the trials of temptation. But unlike the Lord in temptation, we are not alone in ours. He is inmostly present with His infinite power to uphold us and sustain us if we will but turn to Him for help and guidance. And with His help we cannot fail, for by His resurrection He took to Himself all power in heaven and on earth.

We are told in the Heavenly Doctrine, that the Lord’s rising again on the third day, in reference to man, means that the Lord, working in love and faith, can rise, in the regenerating person, every day and every moment (AC 2405:7). In the same way He may also be present continuously in His church. When we are brought, through temptation, to the acknowledgment of our own helplessness, and at the same time realize that we may receive all power from the Lord, then we grasp the real significance of the Lord’s resurrection, for it is then being re-enacted in our own lives.

We would note that the sacrament of the Holy supper is intimately related to this festival. For the Lord instituted and partook of this supper with His disciples just prior to His crucifixion and resurrection. It is this acknowledgment the acknowledgment that we are entirely dependent on the Lord that is represented in that sacrament. For it is because we see that we can do nothing that is really good, nor think what is true of ourselves, that we approach the Lord to receive His Divine good and Divine truth, represented by the bread and wine.

In taking the bread we acknowledge that all good, every spiritual love is from the Lord alone, and we seek to receive it from Him. In taking the wine we acknowledge that all wisdom, truth and spiritual intelligence is from Him alone, and we seek to receive it.

Jesus said:”I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever … The words that I speak to you they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:51,63). If we truly acknowledge this in our hearts, then, as we partake of the Holy Supper, the Lord’s power will descend into our lives to uplift and sustain us to all eternity. Amen.

Lessons: Matthew 28; AE 806:2,5,6

Apocalypse Explained 806:2,5,6

It has been shown in the preceding article what the faith is that has been accepted by the general body in the church, namely, a belief that God the Father sent the Son, that through Him there might be propitiation, mercy, redemption, and salvation; likewise that the Son of God bore our iniquities, that He intercedes for us, and that His merit is attributed to those who pray for it from trust and confidence; and it has been shown in a former article that these are all vain expressions, in which as interpreted by the learned there is nothing of truth and thus nothing of salvation. That these are vain expressions in which there is nothing of truth is evident from the teachings of the Word respecting the reason of the Lord’s coming and why He suffered, namely, that the Lord came into the world to save the human race, who otherwise would have perished in eternal death, and that He saved them by subjugating the hells, which infested every man coming into the world and going out of the world, and at the same time by glorifying His Human, since thus He is able to keep the hells subjugated to eternity. The subjugation of the hells, together with the glorification of His Human, was accomplished by means of temptations admitted into the human that He had from the mother, and by continual victories therein. His passion in Gethsemane and on the cross was the last temptation and complete victory.

That the Lord subjugated the hells He taught when the passion of the cross was at hand, in John: “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:27, 28, 31). In the same: “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In Luke: “Jesus said, I beheld Satan as lightning falling from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In Isaiah: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, walking in the multitude of his power? great to save; Mine arm brought salvation for Me; so He became their Savior” (Isa. 63:1, 5, 8; 59:16-21). Because the Lord subjugated the hells He gave the seventy disciples: “Authority over demons” (Luke 10:17, 19).

That the Lord glorified His Human, and that the passion of the cross was the last temptation and complete victory by which He glorified it, He teaches in John: “When Judas was gone out Jesus said, `Now is the Son of man glorified, and God shall glorify Him in Himself, and straightway shall He glorify Him'” (John 13:31, 32). In the same: “Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” (John 17:1, 5). In the same: “`Now is my soul troubled; Father, glorify Thy name.’ And there came a voice out of heaven, `I have both glorified it and will glorify it again'” (John 12:27, 28). And in Luke: “Ought not the Christ to suffer this and to enter into glory?” (Luke 24:26).

This was said of His passion. “To glorify” is to make Divine. From this it can be seen that unless the Lord had come into the world and had become Man, and by this means had liberated from hell all those who believe in Him and love Him, no mortal could have been saved. Thus it is understood that without the Lord there is no salvation. This, now, is the mystery of the Lord’s incarnation.