July 26, 2009

Reconstructing Spiritual Events

History deals in probabilities. Without evidence, it’s difficult to evaluate fantastic claims, such as miracles. However, if we accept the record of the Gospels as reliable testimony, then the Resurrection counts as an historical event - no problem. So dealing with miracles is easy as pie.

What’s more difficult, I’m finding, is to render a reasonable account of spiritual events. I am uncomfortably finding it more difficult than I’d expected to reconstruct Jesus’ spiritual life in Nazareth without depending on theo-logical assumptions.

I’m trying hard to stick to the attestations of spiritual encounter – such as the Jordan baptism, the Transfiguration, and personal claims made by Jesus about his connection with the Father, as early as age 12. Overall the evidence shows a definite spiritual history between Jesus and God, which developed over time. The first challenge there is to boil down what must have happened during that process, event-wise, without editorializing or characterizing the reconstruction in order to romanticize it.

I have no problem saying there was something big going on in Nazareth. It happened. It was spiritual. It developed. It had (and has) tremendous significance as a part of the Lord’s History on Earth. And I do believe we can extrapolate a basic, relatively minimal outline of practical aspects which must have been part of that development, historically. But reconstructing Nazareth has to be an extra careful task. We can't just say whatever we want to say.

For example: It’s easy to say I believe everything I said in yesterday’s post is true. But some elements of that post should be called romantic, for the way I expressed them. Some of them definitely relied on theo-logical assumptions, in the way I tied them together. And yet some of them, I believe, may be fairly described as “spiritual events, attested by scripture”. The categories might overlap, but all I'm trying to say is that I'm trying to stick to this third category as much as possible. And I’m finding out it’s even tougher than I thought.

For a more specific example: Paul told Philippi that, before coming to earth as a man, Jesus emptied himself. (Php 2) Paul told Colossae that, after ascending up to heaven, Jesus was indwelled by all the fullness of God. (Col 1) Therefore, we may conclude, somewhere in between those two points there must have been a filling process. I’m perfectly comfortable categorizing all three of those points as “spiritual events, attested by scripture”. But what IS "emptying" and "filling"? I take it to mean Jesus was actually, actively, spiritually filled up with God. To me, that's not "theo-logic", it's a spiritual event. But someone else will say I'm still interpreting Paul's statements and so, technically, I'm relying on theo-logic.

Even given my reading, there's another problem. I'm not sure whether I have to employ “theo-logic” to conclude WHEN that filling-up process took place. Someone else might say it all happened after the cross. I think it began gradually, during his earthly life. But WHY do I draw that conclusion? Is it because of other scriptural attestations? Or because of theo-logical assumptions?

I don't like dealing with theoretical theo-logic. I try to think exclusively in terms of concrete elements - people and events. And yes, spirit is "concrete". But this is really, really difficult.

Feel free to school me here. Meanwhile, I'm heading back into the Gospels, again....

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