Real or true spirituality is the experience of being in harmony or at peace with what it means to be human. This is a real experience of life. False spirituality is the opposite of that—anything that denies, suppresses, or violates what it means to be human. Because we have an awareness of what it means to be human, and a sense of need to experience that reality, the alternative to real spirituality is counterfeit spirituality. It is a pretended sense of moral harmony, a mask we wear to fool ourselves into thinking that we are in harmony with who we are. Pretending something to be real doesn't make it so.
A counterfeit has some degree of appearance of the real, but is lacking a critical element. Counterfeit currency lacks the authority of the government that the currency claims to be backed by. A counterfeiter may fool me into accepting his counterfeit currency. If I in good faith take it to the bank, I likely will receive the unpleasant news that I have been tricked and therefore the bank will not deposit the expected funds into my account. Authorities don't like this kind of activity and may use my unpleasant experience to seek to find and punish the counterfeiter. Authority is the key to understanding what separates the real from the counterfeit. Poorly printed but authorized currency may look inferior to carefully crafted and printed counterfeit currency, but the issue is not one of quality, but rather one of authority. The authority in the moral world that separates the real from the counterfeit is the mark of goodness. This mark of goodness is highly nuanced to be appropriate for every aspect of human activity.
What does it Mean to be Human?
To be human is to have a sense that life has meaning. This applies both in the moment in every relationship, as well as in a general way about life as a whole. I suggest that both senses are reflected in the question: What is our place in the world?
Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, describes in Man's Search For Meaning, the human struggle to find meaning in life, even when trapped in the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. He also tells of his counseling method, which he called logo-therapy. He states that logo is the Greek word for meaning. Thus his therapy method focused on helping patients look for meaning in whatever situation they were troubled about. When I first read his label, I wondered if Frankl might help clarify my shallow thinking about the New Testament statement that Jesus was the word (logos) of God. It has been a simple and enlightening step to fill the word "word" with the meaning "meaning". Jesus is the meaning (word) of God. Jesus is the meaning (word) of life. Jesus is meaning (word) of truth. Jesus is the meaning (word) of peace. Jesus is the meaning (word) of righteousness. Jesus is the meaning (word) of wisdom. Could it be that every word in the New Testament is full of meaning, and thus full of surprises for us humans who tend to bumble through life unconcerned to discern the counterfeit experiences around us? I highly recommend Frankl's short, accessible, and insightful book.
What is Our Place in the World?
This year an illustration came to my attention. The sun and moon both light our world. The Bible declares that this was the purpose of their creation. The sun is the source of the light that it shines out in all directions. The moon has no light of it own, but does reflect well the light of the sun. In the same way God is the source of all goodness. He created us to be his image bearers in this world, to know and reflect goodness, which comes from Him. Dependence describes the human relationship to goodness. It is good to be a source of goodness if one has the ability to be that source. God does, but we don't. The role of a dependent person is to be satisfied being a receiver of goodness.
There is a cascade of surprises in this satisfaction. This is a result of the nature of moral goodness. Moral goodness is about the meaning of relationships, which is all about community. God is community (trinity) and created humans to be in community with Him and to be satisfied with His goodness. When we are content with His goodness, then we naturally overflow with (or reflect) His goodness to those around us, treating them with goodness, and delighting to do so.
Sin is Rebellion Against Our Place in the World
Community is a beautiful and natural place to thrive in life. Why would anyone rebel against that good and proper place? If we understand what it means to be human we will realize that it is very easy to rebel. Adam was created with the imprint of God's goodness so as to naturally and freely experience and reflect that goodness in all directions. As mentioned above, that imprint includes the nuanced distinction that it is good to be a source of goodness, if you one has that ability, and good to be content being a receiver and reflector if one doesn't have that ability. Adam and Eve reflected well God's goodness in all directions all the time. It was a simple matter for Satan to suppress this distinction and trick them into thinking that since it is good to be a source of goodness, they too were or could be a source of goodness. To seek goodness in themselves was rebellion against their proper place of dependence as receivers and reflectors. This was a real and traumatic experience. They failed morally and suddenly were in desperate need for restoration (justification). Something became twisted deep in their nature, and this deep twisting has been inherited by all their descendants except Jesus. We all were born with a rebellious desire to find goodness in self and with a real and good need for resolution for this rebellion. G.K. Chesterton wrote humorously that this inherited rebellious nature is the only empirically provable Christian doctrine.
Restoration of Proper Dependence
God came to the two rebels and spoke a blessing over them, that one of the descendants of the woman would bring crush the head of the serpent (who had deceived them). God anticipated and promised that He would provide restoration for humanity, which He did provide 4000 years later. But for 4000 years it was good and proper for humanity to be content with God's anticipation of that restoration. The Old Testament and the gospels are a record of discontent with that anticipation—with some notable exceptions. That initial place of good dependence where human faithfulness was in the equation of life, vanished with Adam's first sin. The world was broken by that one act of rebellion. There was no going back. A new kind of dependence was needed, one of death to personal faithfulness so that humans could love without external pressure or impure motives. Isaiah said much in anticipation of that new kind of dependence on God's goodness. His words climax in Isaiah 53:11, circa 700BC.
"Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied. By his knowledge my righteous servant shall make the many righteous, for he shall bear away their transgressions."
A century later, Jeremiah boldly declared this anticipation from the human experience of what God would provide. I find this to be the theme of the New Testament.
"I will fill the souls of the priests with abundance, and my people will be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord." -Jeremiah 31:14
At Pentecost God poured out the experience of this anticipated satisfaction. The cross had just prior been the experience of Jesus dying the death that rebellion deserved in order to create a good, fitting, and glorious place of dependence where God would do all the work and get all the glory. What had been in God's heart from before the creation of the universe was now a reality in the world. The death of the faithful one had become the door into death to, and thus freedom from, human unfaithfulness. He in His delight was now free to live in His people.
Why Rampant Counterfeit Spirituality?
Above was mentioned the ease with which one can fall into rebellion against our proper place in the world. Do you agree that this is true for you? In case this is not clear, here are a few simple questions. Is it good for you to be irritated with your spouse, parents, children, friends, and fellow humans who happen to interrupt your plans for the moment? Is it good for you to hold a grudge, withhold forgiveness, or keep score on those who have hurt you? Is it good for you to minimize, or excuse away your sins or the sins of others? Is it good for other people to seek to manage your failings? Is it good for you to seek to manage the failings of others? Have you violated any of these principles (the ones which you agreed with) this past year, month, week, or hour? Socrates, who died about 400BC, said that one should rather die than violate one's conscience. That is serious. No wonder we feel guilty so often.
Some years ago I had an enjoyable conversation with Haley (23) at our "Are you a good person" booth at the local fair. She failed the the test and received the dollar coin as a surprise gift. In the course of the conversation she declared that she had left her religion of birth and become an agnostic. As she was leaving I asked her a few questions to encourage her to think more deeply about life. Here is a short dialog representative of that exchange.
Me: Haley, I have a few questions about your boyfriend (he was with her).
Me: If I see him sin, is it good for me to let him get away with it?
Haley: That is wrong. You shouldn't do that.
Me: Okay, here is another one. Is it good for me to be his judge when I see him sin?
Haley: You shouldn't do that either.
Me: Okay, then what should I do when I see him sin?
Haley: I don't know.
Me: What about this? What if I let God be his judge?
Haley: (smiling) That's it. That is good.
Me: My role in life is to agree with God's judgment when I see your boyfriend sin. The cross is the only place that resolves sin. and I need to be content with what God has provided. When I think that way, then I am glad that Jesus died for him and I am careful to be gentle in helping him notice what he did wrong. If you know that rape and child abuse are wrong, then deep inside you know that Jesus had to die to bring justice into the situation. I would encourage you to think about these things.
Haley knew intuitively that sin is not good and needs to be resolved. She also knew that it is not good to act as judge for others. With my help she realized that these two good things leave people in a quandary of what to do about human moral failings. Without the surprise that I offered her, we humans are left stumbling in the dark about how to manage sin. Sin needs management, and we all know it. It is near impossible to resist the urge to become sin managers. Some people manage the problem by sweeping it under the carpet. They deny the existence of the moral world and declare that right and wrong are imaginary. It is just tough luck for those who get raped, abused, or enslaved. Other people create lists of what needs to be done to overcome evil. Some manufacture gods to help harmonize the sin problem. All these are counterfeit solutions that dishonor what we all know intuitively about the meaning of life. It is important to realize that we need sin management solutions every waking moment every day. Counterfeit solutions are lurking in every situation we face.
Christians are not Exempt from Confusion
Socrates' shocking statement above—that one should die rather than violate one's own conscience—predates by centuries the apostle Paul's similar statement (Romans 1:32) that every person knows the righteousness of God, that every sin deserves death. This is moral knowledge, part of our intuitive knowledge of the meaning of life. Every human is born with the need for justification for their own rebellious longing to find goodness in self. We criticize others for justifying their failures, all the while doing it ourselves. Everyone I have asked has told me that it is wrong to self-justify for moral failure. One USU student agreed that he and I had both failed morally and needed justification. When he declared that it was wrong for us to justify ourselves, he suddenly burst out with emotion, asking, "If I don't justify myself, then how do I get it?" This led to clear conversation about the cross. We all are so sensitive to our need for justification for failure, that we would rather deny our humanity than honestly declare our nakedness. This is a huge blind spot.
A close cousin to this is another blind spot related to our understanding of life. Because life is full of meaning, it is easy to think that I have to be able to explain that meaning to not be guilty of failing at being good. This thinking leads back to the potential for self-justification. This time the real issue is suppression of our ignorance. We talk in circles to avoid honesty about our confusion. Some weeks ago a new grad student friend (not a Christian) laughed at me when I shared my slowness to notice my ignorance. He declared that I was just like everyone else, thinking that I knew everything and oblivious to my need to ask questions. I laughed with him.
We all are confused at some level, and it is not good to be confused. We all have blind spots, and it is not good to have them. Whether you are a new Christian or a seasoned Bible school professor, you are confused and have blind spots. By definition we can not see our blind spots. Noticing them in others should make us aware that we have them, too. It is not good to be apathetic about out confusion or blind spots. It is good to seek to notice them and to want, request, and welcome help from other people to reduce our confusion and notice our blind spots. This is one blessing of community. Glad thankfulness is a good response to a person who cares enough to help us in this matter. Do you gladly thank those who criticize you?
Are you insecure about your confusion and blind spots? Insecurity means that you are confused about satisfaction in life, as quoted above from Jeremiah. It is good and fitting to find your satisfaction in God's goodness. All other satisfaction is fleeting or impaired. Begin thanking God that He is everything for you. Declare openly that you are confused and have blind spots. Thank Him for loving you anyway. Tell God that only perfect freedom from confusion and blind spots is good. Thank Him that it is good for other people to offer you help in this matter and that it is good for you to want and welcome their help. Invite God to send helpers your way. Get ready for answers to this prayer. One blessing of this prayer is that all critics and complainers become answers to prayer rather than being an opportunity for defensiveness resulting from self-justification.
The Key to Begin Spotting Counterfeits
If you had a magic key that would open your understanding to notice many of the lies, counterfeits, points of confusion, and blind spots around you, would you be interested in at least hearing about the key to see if it might possibly be real? Jesus stated in Luke 11:52 that there was a key to understanding. Have you ever heard anyone talk about it or tell you what it is?
"Woe to you experts in religious law! You have taken away the key to knowledge! You did not go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in."
First, I suggest that what is entered is life—God's life—life in God's goodness—eternal life. Second, I suggest that the key is the simple understanding that perfect love is the only good way to see life. This means that perfection is how we should evaluate all things moral. Jesus is the only place we find perfection in this world. Therefore, He is the only good reference point and we should always compare ourselves and all others to Jesus. When we do this much confusion disappears quickly. Are you an obedient Christian? Not, when compared to Jesus. Are you holy? Not when compared to Jesus. Are you a good person? Not when compared to Jesus. Are you confused? Yes, when compared to Jesus. Comparison to Jesus leaves us with nothing but Jesus as perfect love to cling to. All other things lose their appeal and we find ourselves drawn toward other people.
Awareness of this key is highly motivational. Isaiah saw the perfection of God and was stripped of his pride and prepared to gladly preach to hardened and unresponsive Israel for 50 years. They couldn't hear him because they had rejected the key and were drunk on their own righteousness (Isaiah 29). With practice one can see how perfection fits every situation of personal relationships and helps clear away our confusion. I further suggest that it is very helpful in understanding many confusing Bible passages. I experience hundreds of witnessing conversations annually. My principle is to carefully use the key of perfection to help people honestly and properly evaluate themselves and realize their intuitive awareness of their need for the death of Jesus as the only good way of righteousness and the only good way to perceive life in every moment. It still surprises me sometimes to see the surprise on a person's face as the person hears their own mouth declare that they should always compare people to Jesus (or perfection, in the case of agnostics). My goal is to sensitize people to their intuitive knowledge that only perfection is good in all aspects of personal relationships (including with God). My hope is that this new awareness will take root in their hearts and the cross will become unavoidable for them. I also use the key of perfection in conversations with Christians to help them realize the simplicity of God's way of life and begin renewing their minds to perfection as the place of God's delight.
Do you see life as a spiritual battle? Do you see life as full of counterfeits? Do you want to grow in sensitivity to them so as to be less often tricked by them? Might you be unwittingly embracing some counterfeits right now? If you were, would you want to know about it? This is the first in a series of posts on counterfeits. I suggest that every Christian concept has a counterfeit to watch out for. Satan is a counterfeit Jesus. Paul declares that he counterfeits light and righteousness (2 Cor 11:14-15) Below is a list of some of the counterfeits that I have spotted and plan to write about. They are set as questions because I find that questions help me notice where I have been tricked. The first one is set first intentionally (others are in random order) because it has been my biggest surprise (that I am aware of) and seems to have accelerated my awareness of other counterfeits. It will be the focus of the next in the series.
- What is the flesh?
- What is righteousness?
- What is holiness?
- What is worldliness?
- What is walking in the spirit?
- What is love?
- What is a Christian?
- What is a sinner?
- What does it mean to die to self?
- What is sin?
- What is forgiveness?
- What is grace?
- What is law?
- What is light?
- What is the discipline of the Lord?
- What does it mean to endure to the end?
- What is repentance?
- What is the fruit of being a Christian?
- What is the alternative to laziness?