Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Post # 13 The Doctrine of God - P1 God's Attribute of Spirituality - Getting A Grasp On What We Mean By "Spirit" and "Spiritual"


    In this series of posts we are aiming to do a survey of the Doctrine of God, otherwise known as "Theology Proper". In today's post we will explore God's attribute of "spirituality". Theologian Wayne Grudem makes the following observation about this attribute of "spirituality",

“Thus we should not think of God as having size or dimensions, even infinite ones. We should not think of God's existence as spirit as meaning that God is infinitely large, for example, for it is not part of God but all of God that is in every point of space (see Ps. 139:7-10). Nor should we think that God's existence as spirit means that God is infinitely small, for no place in the universe can surround him or contain him (1 Kings 8:27). Thus God's being cannot be rightly thought of in terms of space, however we understand his existence as ‘spirit’”. (Systematic Theology, 2nd edition, page 221).

    Grudem then offers the following definition of God's Divine spirituality, 

"God's spirituality means that God exists as a being that is not made of any matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily senses, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence."

    Theologian and speaker Steven J. Lawson, in his study on the attributes of God, has noted three terms that are helpful in getting our minds and hearts to track with this attribute. Lawson's terminology below meshes well with what we just observed in Grudem’s quote above.

1. Immaterial, without a physical or material nature. 

2. Infinite, without limitations in regards to any attribute, His being, and thus His character.

3. Invisible or not having ever been directly viewed or comprehended by any creature.

Clarifying what we mean by "spirit", and how we apply it to God's spirituality

    As we reflect on the above thoughts of God's spirituality, I think it important to probe into what we mean by "spirit", and what it entails in reference to God's spirituality, due to two trends in our wider Western world. 

    First, due to the prevailing climate of belief that physics, chemistry, and energy are all that underlies our universe (often called "materialism"or "naturalism"), some reflection on what the term "spirit" refers to requires some unpacking before exploring what Scripture says about God's attribute of "spirituality". 

    The second trend in our secular culture has increasingly become fixated on "being spiritual" in the sense of Eastern mysticism or some sort of impersonal pantheism or the push towards somehow divinizing nature. Whenever we read the Bible's revelation of God's spirituality, it causes us to think on what is meant by the term "spirit" itself.  

    I offer this definition of spirit - that animating, immaterial, vital energy of a being that moves, causes, produces, and affects whatever it touches, influences, or acts. Let me briefly unpack this definition.

1. When I say "animating", I mean that which makes alive or causes to become active. In the Latin, the term "anima" refers to the principle of life or spirit (The New Latin English Dictionary). 

2. The next term "immaterial" indicates that spirit is non-physical in nature. 

3. The third idea, "vital energy", refers to movement, force, that issues forth. The English word "vital"derives from the Latin "vis" meaning "strength, force, influence". As for our English word "energy", it derives from the Greek noun "energeia" that speaks of "work from within". I'll comment more later on the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin words we find that translate our English word "spirit".

4. The fourth term in our definition talks of "being", whether we are speaking of animals, humans, angels, or God. As I'll explain below, God as "Spirit" differs from His creatures, even though He shares the qualities of spirit we are talking about in our definition. 

5. One final observation about our definition as to how it gives us the consequences or visible affects brought forth by anything with a spirit, namely "that moves, causes, produces, and affects whatever it touches, influences, or acts."

    In thinking of our proposed definition above, we will discover some key Scripture passages where we find references to animals and humans having spirits, angels being created spirits, and God as spiritual or He by nature being an eternal spirit. As a quick comment on the term "spiritual", in the Biblical way of thinking, especially in the New Testament, the Greek underlying term translated "spiritual" ("pneumatikos, 1 Corinthians 15:46-47 for example) speaks of the source from which the life of a being originates - namely a spirit connected to a personality. "Spirituality" in the Old and New Testament is never thought of as an impersonal force or as collapsed into a state of mind as taught by practitioners of Eastern meditation. 

Hebrew, Greek, and Latin terms which translate our English word "spirit".

    The Hebrew word for “spirit” in the Old Testament (“ruach”) and the Greek word for “spirit” in the New Testament (“pneuma”) both refer to “wind, breath”. If you look at that Greek word “pneuma”, you may recognize such English words as “pneumatic” or “pneumonia”. Those English words and their Greek derivative all have to do with movement or effects caused by air or breath. In the Latin, the terms "anima" and “spiritus” are used, with the latter term used to rendering the English word “spirit”.    Much like the Hebrew “ruach” and Greek “pneuma”, the Latin terms convey this idea of "wind", "air" or "breath". 

    Jesus for instance describes the spirituality of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, in John 3:8, 

"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

How God's spirituality is a communicable or "shared" attribute.

      In working through clarifying the meaning of the terms "spirit"and "spirituality", we can enter into discussion of how spirituality is communicated by God to His creatures. We have three classes of creatures that are described as having a “spirit”. Animals have this animating, immaterial energy given to them by God that enables them to live and move (Genesis 7:22). It is interesting to note that a living or moving thing in the Latin is “anima”, thus why we call any non-human creature an “animal”. 

     Human beings have a “spirit” as well. It is the original base of operations in man that is spiritual dead in unbelievers and becomes “reanimated” and indwelled by the Holy Spirit in salvation (1 Cor 6:19-20; Hebrews 4:12). Then there are angels that don’t merely have a spirit but are spirits in their created sense (see Psalms 104; Hebrews 1:13).

     But then when we come to God, we find out that He is a Spirit in His own unique right. We classify the spirituality of God as a “communicable attribute”, meaning He shares some qualities of that attribute with His creatures. 

     In as much as we can apply the above definition I gave to God, we of course realize He is unique from angels, humans, and animals. God is eternal, infinite, and without beginning Psalm 90:1-3; 102:25-27; 145; Romans 11:33-36). As J.P. Boice in his "Abstract of Theology", page 62 notes,

"But when we ascribe spirituality to God, we do not intend to simply assert that He possess a spiritual nature, but that His nature is exclusively spiritual. By this we mean that He has no material organization, that He has neither body nor members (parts) of the body such as we have, neither shape or form, neither passions (the trait that causes change in a being when acted upon by something outside of itself), nor limitations, but only a spiritual nature." 

More next time.