In Pursuit of Spirituality
There is a growing interest in new spirituality in our times. With its all-inclusive approach to religion accompanied by its emphasis on the spiritual disciplines, the East has become an object of great attraction. Eastern spirituality offers a wide variety of options from which one can choose depending on inclination. Prominent among them are yoga, astrology, holistic healings, and transcendental meditation, among many others.
The term ‘spirituality’ is sometimes used in a very vague sense. Gordon Wakefield offers a very helpful definition which says that in “all (Christian) traditions, and in many non-Christian faiths and philosophies, the underlying implication is that there is a constituent of human nature which seeks relations with the ground and purpose of existence, however conceived.”(1) The Bible describes this same predicament as a consequence of God’s work in us so that mankind would somehow desire and reach out for the Divine.(2) Over a period of time, this basic truth about human nature has taken different shapes and forms in terms of its expressions.
According to the new spirituality, the diagnosis of the problem of mankind is not moral sin against a Holy God (as diagnosed by the Biblical view) but that mankind suffers from “a type of metaphysical amnesia—an ignorance of their divine nature.”(3) In order to overcome this ‘metaphysical amnesia,’ the new spirituality has introduced several mystical paths as a means of attaining salvation or, in other words, to awaken people from a deep seated ignorance to the realization that they are god. What then lies at the heart of this path to ‘self-realization’ is the “transformation or alteration of consciousness,” which involves the process of “following a mystical path,” which would ultimately aid in the union with the Divine.(4)
These prescribed paths in turn are to be pursued with the sole spiritual objective to acquire the union between the finite and the infinite, wherein the individual in the ultimate sense ought to lose one’s identity by being one with the divine (like a drop of water loses its uniqueness when it merges with the vast ocean). Clearly, one has to strictly follow all that has been prescribed in order to earn one’s salvation. However, despite the labor that this spiritual exercise demands and the length of time that it consumes, there is, in fact, no assurance that one can ever attain success. Most importantly, there is also no way for us to verify if these paths are at all true.
In contrast, the Bible teaches that God is pure and holy and the problem with humanity is not metaphysical amnesia but moral amnesia, that we are sinful. Salvation then can be attained not by work or by following some mystical paths but by repenting of one’s sin and by accepting the sacrifice that God provides through his only Son, Jesus Christ. The spiritual experience here which is the subjective element of faith is deeply anchored in the objective truth claims of Christ, which can be verified and tested for its truthfulness. This salvation which is offered in Christianity as the good news is freely available to anyone who is willing to accept and above all, it is assured.
Furthermore, transformation comes about by submitting and surrendering our bodies, minds and our entire lives to God. As opposed to the new spirituality, God, in this regard, is not impersonal or supreme consciousness, where one loses his or her individuality when united with the divine, but God is a relational Being (Holy Trinity). Relationship or union with the Triune God is possible primarily because God himself is distinct and this ensures that one’s individuality or identity is not obliterated.
Moreover, this means, for a follower of Christ, that the physical body ought to be taken care of because the Bible teaches us that bodies are the temples of the living God. The Bible affirms the importance of the physical because it holds promises for both the present as well as the life to come.(5) According to the apostle Paul, true spirituality is treating our bodies in a way that is holy and pleasing to God.(6) Holiness and transformation comes about by the renewing of our minds and not the emptying of our minds as the New Spirituality would have us believe. Paul then ends by saying, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will.”(7) The new spirituality, therefore, seems to be a mirage in light of the True spirituality.
Balajied Nongrum is a member of the speaking team with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Shillong, India.
(1) The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, ed. Gordon S. Wakefield (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), v. as quoted in Ajith Fernando, Relating to People of Other Faiths (GLS Publishing, 1989), 163.
(2) See Acts. 17:27.
(3) Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 236.
(4) Ibid., 238.
(5) See 1 Timothy 4:8.
(6) See Romans 12:1
(7) Romans 12:2.
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