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Questions about Suffering
In Practical transformation
Stephan Vosloo
Aug 29, 2022
This is beautiful! thank you so much In line with what you wrote - I wrote a paraphrase of 2Cor 3&4 a while ago. I think this may be the time to unveil it 😉 It connects to the topic at hand and the veil that blinds creation. We are bold in our approach because we know that the glory we have in us is permanent and will not fade. The people have become blind to the liberty that exists wherever the Spirit of the Lord is in control. We are called to reveal the kind of thinking that forms the foundation of that liberty and we understand that it will offend many. When we live in the liberty of the Spirit, the light of revelation that the Spirit gives, pierces this delusion and opens our minds so that we can see the glory of Christ in us. When we see the glory, we can believe that we have received the power that will set us free into the liberty that is the very life of the Trinity. This is a powerful calling given to us and we do not lose heart for the mercy of God covers us against the attacks we face. We do not rely on deception or craftiness. We speak the truth as we see it and we call God as our witness as we appeal to each of you to live with the discomfort of new revelation. If the good news we preach is veiled, then it is veiled to those who are perishing. Their minds are blinded by the god of this age, by the kind of thinking that life requires these days. They are bound in competition, comparison and contradiction. That kind of thinking acts as a veil to shield them from the piercing light of the Spirit that reveals the indwelling of the glory of Christ. That is why our message sounds so different for it has no self-promotion in it. Our message is not the good news about self gaining control but the good news about servanthood and other-centeredness and giving up control. And why are we different? The same God who called light to shine from the darkness of nothing, had put the spotlight on the presence of Christ in us and has changed our thinking. We had realised that life is not about us but we are about life. That kind of thinking precludes selfish gain and motivates us to serve you as bondservants. It is as if a light shone in our hearts and in the light we saw the face of Jesus Christ - in us. We are not serving you for your sakes nor for our own gain. Once we saw the face of Christ in us, we started to serve for his sake. But we carry the glory of this revelation in earthly bodies. We carry God in human containers. We are hard pressed on every side yet not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed. The human container acts like stage curtains concealing the glory of the play that the creation gathered to see. On the outside it looks as if we are dying. It actually seems that we are delivered to death every day! And when the human container falters, the curtains are drawn away and the glory of the life of God is revealed behind the curtain as the spotlight falls on the main character - Jesus Christ. That is the only way to make his way of life known to all creation. When we are imperfect, the perfection of Christ is unveiled on the stage of our lives. When our lives seem to grind to a halt, the life of Christ carries us through and when you see that, you see Christ. Suffering is the only way to reveal that to you for suffering is the only thing that brings us to the end of ourselves so that Christ can be seen. Therefore, our suffering is for your sakes and for God's sake for when you see Christ revealed in us, the mystery is revealed: Christ is in me, the hope of glory. And as this revelation spreads amongst you, you are changed from one degree of glory to another and increasingly God is worshipped. The glory that is in you rises to the surface and in the end, God gets all the glory when only the face of Jesus Christ is seen in us. And this drama is witnessed by the Powers and Principalities and a great cloud of witnesses that have booked seats for this drama. When we realise Christ is in us, we learn that all good comes from him. When the light shines on his face, our faces fade into nothingness and we become mere vessels that openly carry the glory of God and so we fulfil our original calling. That is when we see that the pain caused by our afflictions fades in the light of the revelation of Christ in us. As death works in us so that life can work in you, we can see the reason for our suffering in the liberty that comes into your lives. And in the light of that we can see that our affliction is momentary and comparatively light for it has an eternal purpose. Our affliction reveals Christ in us and that revelation can open the curtain that hides your hearts. For this reason we do not lose heart. For though the curtain is often violently torn open, it is only because the hidden glory in us has to be revealed, day by day. The brokenness we experience for a moment in comparison to eternity, allows the exceeding glory of Christ to come forth for creation, both visible and invisible, to see. But to understand that, we have to look inside and see the eternal kingdom in us. We have to compare that to the temporary brokenness we live in and realise the eternal purpose had always been to incarnate the unseen God into the brokenness we live in.
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Questions about Suffering
In Practical transformation
Stephan Vosloo
Aug 28, 2022
Thank you Joe, the concept of the spheres is helpful. The following quotes helps me to see deeper: "Human disassociation from God makes the human-sphere intrinsically dysfunctional. It is broken. As a broken sphere, it exploits, ravages, oppresses and disappoints. The sphere then lacks the transcendence and immanence that is true to it. What then governs it is power, covetousness and darkness, not Light and Life. ... We go into all of the 'cosmos' and order it through talking, doing and reconnecting it to the rule of God. This is called the great commission, ..." I want to offer another cosmological approach that may offer some more answers. I may be wrong but I still see in your approach, the very subtle seed of dualism. Because there are spheres, it is easier to separate them in our minds and the separation then becomes experiential. What if the spheres are constructs of our reasoning, our cerebral attempts to describe and understand the Indescribable, strengthened by Plato and other philosophers? Is it possible that the spheres are constructs of a cosmology that denies the ontological oneness of all things? This kind of reasoning is represented by Plato's, "I think therefore I am". I want to turn that on its head (forgive my presumption!) to "I am, therefore I think". That approach will have its inception in being, instead of reasoning. What then is the reason for being? What is the reason for existence? Once that is established, I can start reasoning about the outflow of being, like pain and suffering for example. From that perspective, I find a reason for the existence of pain and suffering in being and not in judgment and penal consequences. That approach answers a whole lot of questions that arise from "original sin", the "justice of God", God's omniscience, prevenient grace, the existence of hell and heaven, "eternal damnation" and especially from Calvin's "predestination" theory. These cerebral concepts have been the source of much division and blood-shed in our tradition. In this primarily Perennial Wisdom approach, the spheres you describe are one because everything, every one and every moment exists only in the Creator (our name for the Ground of all Being is God, so let's use the name with the caveat that it is an Anglo-Saxon word that can never describe anything). It exists only in God for it is ontologically one with God-self. In my language, God used the only matter that existed before God created sequence and time - God-self. in other words, starting with sequence, he/she created within God's own being. Which means that all things carry in themselves the God-seed. A massive Oak tree is still in being an Oak although it is radically different from the Oak seed it grew from. You once wrote to me, "The incarnated Life-Seed of the Holy Spirit imputing the life of Jesus in us is clearly the root of the Christian existence. Without this, nothing. The contemplative spiritual life, if it is to have any effect, aims to nurture this donor Life-Seed within." I can agree wholeheartedly and I did at the time, but if you really read the preceding paragraph, you will see that I am now expanding the "incarnated Life-Seed" to being the foundation of all life, all created matter, and every moment; and not only the "root of the Christian existence". This view is the foundation of Franciscan spirituality and I think Bonaventure expressed it sublimely: “The magnitude of things . . . clearly manifests . . . the wisdom and goodness of the triune God, who by power, presence and essence exists uncircumscribed in all things. God is within all things but not enclosed; outside all things, but not excluded; above all things, but not aloof; below all things, but not debased." The theological differentiation between Pan-entheism, and Pantheism is very important here and Bonaventure draws a clear line between "all things are God" and "God is in all things". This is where being becomes the initial and foundational departure point for all reasoning, without playing around in the murky waters of worshipping monkeys and cows - "I am, therefore I think". I think my mind was made up when I read this from Richard Rohr: "Bonaventure spoke of God as one “whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” Therefore the origin, magnitude, multitude, beauty, fullness, activity, and order of all created things are the very “footprints” and “fingerprints” (vestigia) of God. Now that is quite a lovely and very safe universe to live in. Welcome home!" I came home to a very safe and lovely universe as the foundation for my own reasoning and then only extrapolated it to my thinking on original sin, the justice of God, God's omniscience, prevenient grace, the existence of hell and heaven, eternal damnation, predestination, eschatology, the "Great Tribulation", the "Rapture", the "Marriage Feast of the Lamb", the "Second Coming of Jesus" and restorative versus punitive justice. You beautifully concluded at the time (a couple of years ago): "Presumably, contemplation is the experiential mystical experience of a person simply touching the divine. The Life-Seed flourishes best in that specific ecosystem. The ecosystem that is the love quadrangle relationship of the triune, plus one. If that one-us can touch and maintain this touch with the Tri-Divine, the Life-Seed is energised with Life." Now, if you find any value in my ramblings, just expand that sublime statement to all things, all people, and every moment and let's see how that influences our discussion on suffering.
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Questions about Suffering
In Practical transformation
Stephan Vosloo
Aug 19, 2022
That is a great exposition on the formation of the false self and your connection to suffering in this paragraph is excellent: "Much of our pain and, if it is chronic, suffering comes from the 'self' created from the feed of the four channels". I agree. Therefore I understand that suffering is optional and depending on our level of identification with the "self" we created from birth to help us to survive the pain we were born into. This physical realm we live in with its sharp corners and hard surfaces is what we have inherited. Our most basic instinct for survival required that we develop survival techniques. The separate self is our answer to the existential threat we face daily. No wonder we are so deeply identified with it. As you have explained so well, this very survival mechanism is the root cause of our suffering. This is where I can agree with RIchard Rohr. The pain of and existential threat all living entities face daily is par for the course of life. Pain is the inheritance bestowed on humankind. Pain is in essence loss and according to Paul in Rom8, the whole of creation was subjected to the pain of futility and corruption by God-self. That does not mean that we should necessarily suffer. Pain can be the vehicle that manifests glory. Without the pain of loss, we would never have seen the glory of overcoming in the life of Job for example. And the cross was the vehicle through which Jesus demonstrated the power of a life lived free from the false self’s protection. Life is the stage on which this glorious drama is unfolding with background decor of both agony and ecstasy. The agony of the pain that is the fabric of the very canvas of life and the ecstasy of the victory over the false self is the spectacle as actors walk out of the bondages of self-centeredness and enter into the freedom of the other-centred purposes of the Trinity. Suffering is a psychological state that we enter into because we desire a painless life. But pain is a given. Once we let go of our desire for a painless existence, we enter our own Gethsemane and there we learn with blood-sweat to let go of one thing - our entitlement to a painless world. We learn to pitch our tent in the brokenness of this life, like a quadriplegic who makes peace with his wheelchair and becomes an Olympian. The false self, who is primarily concerned about its own well-being, suffers in these circumstances for it is designed to fight for survival. Once it is exposed as the main driver of suffering through mainly entitlement and desire, we can break our allegiance to it and choose to be aligned with the real self who realises that it is ontologically one with the One who called into being a cosmos where pain is built into the very fabric. Once we realise that, we can distinguish the cry of the false self from the reality of Being, make God’s purpose our own and start to understand Jesus’ statement just before his own Getshemane: "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name." (Joh 12:27-28) We can learn from the way Jesus handled the ultimate pain and sacrifice. The “joy held before him”, the very motivation to “endure the cross” was not heaven or a painless life but the “purpose” of his Father. In realising this truth, Jesus could stop his own suffering in the midst of the pain by surrendering: “Not my will but Your will be done”. Suddenly there was a greater purpose behind the pain that took care of the suffering false self. He was still in pain but had overcome the temptation to summon legions of angels to save him from the pain. He could, by surrendering, withstand the demands of the false self that had one goal - to minimise the pain and to survive, and end his own suffering. Siddharta Gautama (the Buddha) spent his life discovering ways to make peace with the wheelchair and most traditions have evolved ways to handle the pain of this life. That is probably one of the main functions of any religion - to reduce suffering. The way Christianity handles it, is by offering a very personal, indwelling and loving Presence to guide us through the struggle to a promise of personal perfection, to a blissful and perfect destination called Heaven and an eschatological moment when our Saviour will return to re-create the cosmos as a perfect place where all suffering has disappeared - “there shall be no more tears or pain or death and the lamb shall lie with the lion”. This expectation of coming bliss is what the authors of the letters written to the churches seem to keep before the suffering Christians as motivation to not give up even though they were required to become hanging lanterns in Nero’s streets or objects of amusement in the arenas of dictators. As this portion from the letter to the Hebrew Christians proves: “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: "FOR YET A LITTLE WHILE, AND HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME AND WILL NOT TARRY. NOW THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH;. (Heb 10:35-38) I want to submit that a new paradigm is gaining prominence in Christianity. It started with Jesus’ example and Paul expanded on it. It is currently becoming more and more the motivation for Christians to “take up your cross daily and follow me”. We are discovering alternative ways to handle the pain. It became necessary for the promises we are reading about in the letters to the suffering Christians, have been tarrying too long. We need another way to handle the pain while we wait and try to live by faith. I want to submit that this new way is an understanding of the ultimate intention of God, the reason why "creation was submitted to futility" (Rom 8). If we can unearth that reason, we should be able to connect with the purpose of our loving Father. And once we connect with the purpose, we can also say with Jesus "For this purpose I have come to this hour, Father glorify your name" and depart for our own Getshemane. Hint: Paul described this purpose in his letter to the Corinthians (2Cor 4). We can talk more about that in future.
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Questions about Suffering
In Practical transformation
Stephan Vosloo
Aug 17, 2022
Thank you for this very well researched and thought provoking article. I loved your cosmological approach to answer the question of suffering. I am personally not in agreement with your view (at present), but open to be swayed. I thought in stead of just espousing my view, it will serve the purpose of the forum better if I ask some clarifying questions as my first response. You may even sway me. I quote, and pray that I am not quoting out of context: "Hardship simply amplifies the constant whisper of the pain of separation and makes it scream or even shout loudly. Suffering makes the God-breath's separation from God amplify the primordial 'My God why have you forsaken me" residue in us..... There is a total cure for suffering; it is a God-engaged/ abiding/ grafted/ connected/ life, never disrupted or disturbed union with God .... Also, this does not make suffering, or the causes of suffering cease. It disarms the effect of such suffering internally. Suffering becomes bearable, forgivable and tolerable. Not nice, not fun, not cool - survivable and eventually we can pass through victoriously, even though victory seldom feels triumphant, mostly just feelings of relief." I understand that you connect my tendency to suffer with my deepest desire for reconnection with the God whose Breath I am. Kind of like an asthma sufferer's deepest desire for an unimpeded breath of clear air. I agree with that and I agree with your statement that there is a total cure for suffering - "a never disrupted or disturbed union with God". 1. I presume that your place of departure is that the union was disrupted by the original sin and that mankind lost the breath until we could breath it in again when we are "born again"? 2. Richard Rohr's statement rings in my ears: "Pain is the rental we pay to live this life but suffering is optional." It says that the hard edges and sharp corners of this very difficult and complex life is par for the course but that we do not have to suffer. I see here a clear difference between pain and suffering. I do not get that so clearly from your exposition. Why is pain the rental we have to pay to live this life? Why is it so damn difficult at times? I get it that the pain is a stimulus to seek re-connection with the God of the breath. But was it planned that we lost the connection first so that we can be stimulated by the result of our lostness to seek re-connection? I agree with you that the answer to the question of suffering is probably hidden in our cosmology and I therefore need more clarification on your view of our origins and God's plan. I am very aware that we are each describing only the part of the elephant we can feel. I confess to my own short sightedness ... blindness. I happen to say the Shema with the Hebrews at least once a day these days to remind me that I am trying to describe the Indescribable: "Hear oh Israel, the Ineffable is God, the Ineffable is One".
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Evolutionary incarnation
In Incarnation and evolution
Stephan Vosloo
Oct 31, 2021
I love the way you put this: " ... the thought that comes to me is that in reality, God is the ultimate other. Probably, we cannot find one more 'other' than us. The beguiling thing of other is the deception of 'same'. We associate to with God. We think we know such transcendency. Our hubris assumes familiarity. We may be shocked to see the difference." In the context of evolutionary incarnation, I want to shed some light on the way we got ourselves in this dilemma you describe so eloquently. The antropomorphism of God is a common mistake we make to bring "Him" to our level so that we can describe "Him" and in that way feel more in control. We actually think we can control God with prayer so that we can improve our circumstances and for most of us "He" is more a giant cosmic servant than anything else. If we can keep "Him" there, then we feel in control and we can handle life better. I think we want to strengthen our illusion of control by understanding things. And to do that, we create words to describe those things. It is exactly what toddlers do to enable them to create a persona that will not be swamped by this world we live in. And we continue to do that as adults whenever we encounter new situations that may be threatening. We do that with the indescribable reality we call God. The problem is that the naming and classification of things and objects are very much influenced by our environment and specifically by our parents, family and extended family, social and other media that influence us subconsciously in our decisions on what is beneficial and what is dangerous (for me). For everyone who are trying to help the toddler were born into this paradigm and have to function from it to be able to survive the challenges of this life. And there is nothing wrong with it initially, for you have to learn how to define good or bad to survive. But, as we grow older, we learn that there is another paradigm available that makes life much easier to live. As we ask the questions that open the way to peace and love, mostly in the second half of life, we learn to distrust the fight or flight paradigm and start to trust the inclusive thinking that characterised the latter half of the life of Jesus. The first chapters of Genesis called the development of the first paradigm, “eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and when the first humans did that, their eyes were opened to see that the world they inhabited could be divided in benefit and threat, positive and negative, agony and ecstasy. Before that moment, they lived in a world where all things belonged, were perfect and necessary. They had no need to recognise the agony of life as a threat, because they knew its purpose and they could exist in bliss in the midst of threat and even loss. They understood that life was an expression, an evolutionary incarnation of the Love that was the Ground of All Being, the Source, the Creator. They knew that this Love expressed itself in both ecstasy and agony and therefore they accepted the existence of the agony of life as a given and not something that had to be avoided at all cost. Life was not about humans but about the manifestation of the Unseen and that simply precluded the exclusion of anything - even the pain. Motivated by self-fulfillment, they became self-sufficient and lost their one-ness with everything. The agony of life became a threat and fighting to live in the ecstasy of life became the goal. They chose to distinguish between good and bad and from that moment all things became either tools to establish ecstasy or threats to the existing ecstasy. The classification caused exclusion of some animals, plants and moments and the inclusion of others according to their own definition of good and bad. THe first humans learnt to define everything, including God, so they expected God-self to become a threat when they disobeyed. They hid from her when she walked in the garden and they felt ashamed. They expected wrath and exclusion for they were now able to experience the fear of loss that motivates self-preservation. They projected their own new experience on God and expected to be excluded. In this way a paradigm was established that would influence thought and actions for all generations. Our word for that paradigm is “sin”. My new definition of sin is, “the exclusion of things, people and moments based on my own definition of right and wrong”. That obviously includes myself and God. The moment I define myself as “sinful”, or toxic, I have already excluded myself from the whole and that opens the way to a multitude of aberrant behaviour patterns, like depression, fear, anger, self-pity, unforgiveness, addiction - and murder. All in the name of protecting the ego against the perceived threat of loss. This paradigm influenced the story-tellers who established the history of humankind. Generations of people were thinking along lines of exclusion, fight and flight. Survival instinct classified all things, God included, as either good or bad and the story they passed on to the generations became the one recorded in Genesis - one of a God who excluded the first humans from a blissful and safe environment as punishment for their sin and cursed their existence with hard labour and painful procreation. The doctrines of penal justice, eternal damnation, substitutionary atonement and Christian supremacy followed easily from there. The systemic problem is binary thinking that gave birth to dualism. And it is a human condition. When Jesus cried on the cross, “Father forgive them for they do not understand”, he was speaking as one who was born in the same dilemma but through suffering learnt to reclaim the unity of all people, things and moments in God. It became clear later in his life that he had started to think differently and that he had learnt in the end to include not only the one he called Father but also the Pharisees who crucified him, the agony of the cross, the betrayal of his closest friends as integral parts of the large painting of the unfolding love of the Unseen and Indescribable. Our words for that may be, the evolutionary incarnation of God. I understand that this is a different take on a sacred story but that is what forums are all about, so let's talk ...
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Stephan Vosloo

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I look at life from both sides now, and still ...

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