It is to me a marvel, the way seemingly disparate sources give us puzzle pieces that fit together into a unified whole. I seem to be developing a whole cosmology (or is the Spirit teaching me?) out of bits of various readings.
Awhile back, in N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope, I found the startling (to me) claim that the Kingdom of Heaven is a separate, physical “place” that is nevertheless all around us. I picture something like a parallel universe with which we have very limited communication that appears to us, because of the limitations of our world, to come from disembodied spiritual beings. Wright tells us that God’s plan is to eventually unite the two universes, so that the “spiritual” and “physical” – what we perceive as embodied and disembodied – become one, and God can be all in all. This uniting has begun to happen as the two realities intersect at certain points, such as the Sacraments. Each believer also is a “new person,” a duality of the two kinds of being, “spirit” and “flesh,” gradually being transformed by the Holy Spirit into a unified, integrated whole. The mission of the Church, the body of believers, is to multiply in population and grow in perfection, manifesting this spiritual life more and more fully in the world.
I’ve been chewing on this perception for some time, and I find it offers a way to make sense of some of the perplexities of our faith.
Now more recently, I have been studying a training manual for the Healing Rooms ministry. In considering how and why miraculous healing happens, its claim is that healing is always God’s will, and his love/power/healing is always being poured out toward us. The healing we pray for is immediately granted; however, it requires a vehicle or conduit in order to reach its intended goal. And that conduit is the person of faith who is infused with the Spirit and whose will is submitted to and aligned with God’s will in the matter.
So here is the “how” of the matter, how the process of manifesting the Kingdom in the world works in the specific area of healing. Once again there is a dual reality: God is in his heaven, pouring out the requested healing – but the ill person is in the world, and the two realities are separate. Once again, the person of faith is the point of intersection between the two, the necessary vehicle by which God’s healing can manifest here.
Now the question comes: Why? Why would God make such a cumbersome, complicated system? Why would he require the cooperation of weak, fallible creatures like us to manifest his power? The answer to this, and other big questions, comes to me from Abraham Joshua Heschel, a foremost Jewish theologian of the 20th Century.
We are all aware that we need God. But according to Heschel, God needs us, too. Now that is stunning. But God’s need is not a result of any weakness or limitation, but of His overflowing love. It might be more accurate to say He desires us. In fact, it may be that the whole point of Creation has been to gain for himself a Beloved. A faithful Beloved, who returns His love, a perfect complement to His un-reproducible Self. How to go about that?
Well, first would be to create a being in His own image (something like “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”). Set them in His garden, lavish them with all the wonders of His creative art, joy in fellowship with them. But wait. Something is still missing; the ultimate joy is not something He can give Himself. It is love, returned to Him freely. He must give them free will to make that return, and with it, the temptation to reject Him – which, inevitably, happens.
And so begins the long, painful process that is the only way to what God desires – a Bride suitable for Himself, to live with Him in His Kingdom. He woos, He pursues, she flirts, she is unfaithful, He rages, He punishes, she comes crawling back and He forgives, only to go through it all again and again. All along the way, each of us either accepts or rejects His advances, accepts or rejects the infusion of the Holy Spirit to work His transformation and make us ready.
As I stand back, I see that the whole, painful process of fall and redemption is necessary, a part and perhaps the last stage of Creation itself – the formation of a Beloved to share in the Kingdom. In the fullness of time, the “world” will be completely overcome by, and united to, the Kingdom. Here, now, we each have our small part to play in connecting the two; and in the hereafter, our membership in the Bride.