“There is something in the human spirit that will survive and prevail, there is a tiny and brilliant light burning in the heart of man.” –Leo Tolstoy
It is common today to hear phrases such as “I am spiritual but not religious.” This phrase is interpreted by different individuals from different cultures, religions and worldviews in a variety of ways. Today, I want to look into what being ‘spiritual’ means in Christian literature.
Christianity believes in a triune God – One Divine Essence but Three distinct hypostases namely: Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Previously, we referred to the Son as Logos. And we have come to know that the Logos is the invisible image of the Father in previous posts. As for the Spirit, John Damascene says that He “is therefore a like and undeviating image of the Son, being different only in proceeding; for the Son is begotten, but does not proceed” (John of Damascus – Third Treatise on the Divine Images). In Christian thinking, being spiritual is nothing but a cultivation of the image of the Spirit and even possessing the Spirit Himself. The Spirit is identified in Christian worship as the “Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who are everywhere and fills all things, treasury of blessings and giver of life” who “comes and abides in us and cleanses us from every impurity and saves our souls.” In Genesis, “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). Cyril of Alexandria, a fourth century Christian theologian, identifies the ‘breath of life’ with the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere, Cyril would identify the Holy Spirit with the mind of Christ. The Spirit dwelt in the human being and as such, the human being is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Humanity is not only an image of God but also His temple. It is permissible to say that humanity is the micro-temple within the macro-temple, the cosmos.
Gregory of Nyssa writes, “He imparted them [mind and reason], adding to the image [i.e. the human] the proper adornment of His own nature.” (Gregory of Nyssa – Creation of Man IX. 1). A Christian is not simply using his brain to think rationally. A Christian is one living in union with God, aware of the divine presence within Him and can think and act with God. Christianity offers a worldview in which God and man work together in synergy, or co-operation. God does not force Himself upon humans but rather works with them pending upon their acceptance of His offer to work with them. As Augustine of Hippo puts it, “God who made you without you shall not save you without you.” A Christian ought to work out their salvation in communion and synergy with God. All other [noble] actions likewise ought to be done with God for without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
The relevance of this today is that it makes Christians not subject to a rigid legalistic sense of what is right and what is wrong. Rather, the question becomes: is this something I know I will be doing while I am aware of God’s presence within me? Will God participate in this work with me? It makes the human being, with God, a master of His own morality and conduct. In this manner, Christians behave as co-heirs and co-workers with the Logos and the Spirit rather than as slaves avoiding transgressing a set of laws proposed by a distant deity as the case is in many religions.