We’re in the midst of a travelogue, and this is already the fourth article. I recommend you to start at the beginning if you have not already done so.
Everybody ready? Let’s go.
Can you still remember what life was like as a baby? If you say yes now, I think you are confusing something. You probably know all this from the stories told in your family.
A baby is not yet aware of itself and does not distinguish between itself and others. I dare say that a baby has a proto-consciousness.
Above all, it has only one need: to survive. It needs food, warmth, hygiene, sleep and affection. And it makes sure it gets all that. Loudly.
It is only slowly that an understanding develops that the mother is another person, another being. It is even longer before the baby can perceive itself as separate from its environment, as a self. Consciousness has awakened.
From now on, this little man, this little woman grows in its abilities of abstraction. More complex thought structures are possible, new tools are discovered.
In addition to the need for survival, there now is a need for safety. The toddler realizes that it is safe in its family. It trusts that the father is always there to capture it when it leaps, to defend it against the ghosts and serpents under the bed.
The child can now go on a journey of discovery and live out a need for adventure and power. This will make the child’s world bigger, with new dangers and new demands.
It soon becomes clear that the new tools – strength, exercise of power, picking fights – are no longer enough. At first, it does not matter to the child when others are harmed, but then it learns that rules, structures, and hierarchies enable a better life together. Adhering to those rules will help to belong to a group that is bigger than its own family and held together not by kinship ties but by social norms.
This new platform awakens curiosity again and lets the adolescent do research. He discovers himself, his identity, his value, his capacity. She has a need for success and status, strives for knowledge, because knowledge is the new power.
But soon a social conscience develops. Young adults realize that others are correct in their views as well, and that much of their own views had been shaped by their experiences. They learn tolerance. It’s about letting others be who they are, accepting how he or she or it or * is. The need for self-actualization can be lived out, as they are allowed to define themselves now.
And perhaps they will continue to grow and realize how valuable each of these worldviews is. That each one is necessary in our life, and that each stage requires the former, integrated, never let go. But unfortunately, those levels have fought each other so far. They invented names for each other that are so telling of their disgust:
The terrible three, the highchair bully – expressions for children in the discovery phase. Immature rebels – teenagers who have not outgrown this phase of power. Primitive tribal cultures (we usually use other words here) – condescending name for tribal societies with power structures.
Backward traditionalists, ossified old people, fundamentalists, islamists – that’s how we often refer to people who live on the traditional level.
Exploiters, polluters, and worse for modern people.
Postmodernism, on the other hand, is a feel-good society, a welcome society that prefers to allow everyone to speak rather than make a decision. Politically correct snowflakes that prevent discussion and suppress opinions just to not hurt anyone.
Such are our prejudices against each others. But now, man discovers the value of each level and learns to integrate them.
And I’m sure it will continue. We will be able to think more and more complex, more abstract.
The image of God
The different stages of human development go hand in hand with a corresponding image of God. It should now be clear that this image of God depends much more on man’s momentary abilities to think abstract and complex than on the real nature of God.
The baby does not distinguish between God and itself. It is not capable of doing so. It walks around with God in the garden.
The toddler begins to perceive other people as separate beings. This allows the toddler to imagine gods who have the form of itself and the people in its life, usually in the form of its deceased relatives, the ancestral gods. Then as a power god fighting with the other gods of other tribes – and fighting mankind. Then as an old man in heaven, who punishes and rewards, according to obedience.
In the next stage, the modern age, people focus primarily on themselves and seem to prove with Nitzsche that God is dead, or they recognize God in themselves.
But then a new spirituality awakens, and in harmony with the newly discovered quantum physics, God reveals himself in everything, as energy, as power. Esotericism, pantheism, panentheism.
And finally the realization: God has three faces.
God is inexplicable, incomprehensible, and every attempt to explain limits God and makes God small, even using a personal pronoun like him, her or it, assigning gender where there is none or all. The first face.
God wants to meet us. He is the eternal You, our counterpart. In this second face he appears to us so that we can recognize him. Today one would say: according to our level of development. To one as power god, to others as the only, norm-setting God, to the third as all-encompassing energy.
And then, I am created in his own image. I am. The third face.
I may speak of God as the ground of being itself, called It by psychology, as the eternal You and in the first form as Self. And this is the unity that I perceived in my early vision or experience I described in an earlier part of this story.
We can see all this throughout history, as is what the Bible is about: God, the un-revealable, revealing himself as our counterpart and in ourselves. Now, finally we come closer to what the title promises: my definition of the Bible.
The Bible is a collection of poems, stories, accounts, instructions, sayings, songs, and so on, inspired by the eternal You, expressed by the divine Self of the writer, describing the action of the incomprehensible It with mankind.
When this Eternal You reveals itself in ways the current development and abilities of the Self allow for, then that experience and revelation is shaped by the scribe’s understanding.
We know that very well today. It is a realization of postmodernity that truth is subjective. The fallacy is often that there is no objective truth. But since we are limited, have a dualistic world view, and because of our imprint and our personality, we can only ever perceive this objective truth subjectively. We all have our filters and biases.
In other words, when the Eternal You talks to my Divine Self, the message travels through several filters until I become conscious of it, and my understanding can only be subjective in nature. This is true for the Bible, any inspired word, the testimony of another person, or actually anything we say, hear, see, or read. If not, how could there be all the different interpretations of the Bible and the many misunderstandings between people.
The images of God, that is, the different revelations of the Eternal You to us humans, as I have shown them for the developmental stages of the individual, are mirrored in the history of humanity.
In the beginning, it’s all about survival. This is evident in the name of God: Yahweh Jireh, the God who sees. El Shaddai, your provider.
The great awakening symbolizes the beginning of the transition to tribal culture, the family clan. One is aware of the other, and God is an invisible family member to whom we give sacrifice. This is true from Cain and Abel to Abraham and the tribes at the time of the Judges. God is called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Abraham dares to move away from Ur, Moses performs the ten plagues and frees Israel, Joshua leads them into the Promised Land, David is a Warrior King. Yahweh Nisse, God, your banner. Yahweh Zebaoth, the God of hosts. Whole tribes are eradicated in the name of God – that’s how people understood their God at that time.
Moses gives the law, the prophets call people to obedience and promote deeper understanding. God becomes Elohim ächad, the only God. There are no gods except Him. Isaiah calls other gods pure human works, pieces of wood, one half of which is declared god, and the other half burnt to keep us warm.
Jesus and Paul explain to us the importance of personal relationship, one’s own identity. But it is Luther, Zwingli, and friends who break through with this truth, and it is half-heartedly implemented in church. God becomes the personal God, called Father. Unfortunately, a large part of the church does not take this step into the modern age.
Again it is Jesus and Paul who show us the importance of uniqueness, personal growth, cooperation, mutual acceptance far beyond our limitations and natural borders. Think of the Phoenician woman or the Good Samaritan, where national boundaries are broken. The Pentecostal movement, the so-called outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the Later Rain were moments when the Eternal You revealed himselves in a new, cross-border, tolerant form, poured out on “all flesh”. Again, the church generally could not take the step.
My thinking has changed through all this. It seems as if the life of each individual and humanity as a whole evolve in parallel, just at different speed, and the incomprehensible It reveals itself in different forms of Eternal You to each person according to one’s present state of knowledge.
This for me is a model of the plan of God. As George Box put it, every model is wrong, but some are very useful. This model is currently the most useful for me to explain my understanding of the Bible, my image of God, my experiences, my horizon of experience, and my being.
From this model flows a great love and respect for the Bible, at least for me.
It is the accumulated experience of generations of people telling us how their Divine Self experienced the Eternal You getting a glimpse at the incomprehensible It.
It is the encouragement that this Eternal You meets us where we are. It manifests itself at every stage of human development. And if we get involved in his plan, draw closer to the Eternal You, he promises us that he will come closer to us. This does not talk about geographical distances. It corresponds to what is meant when the Bible says: more Christ-like. Our Divine Self breaks through more and more, through our imprint, our injuries, our false ego. Until we can finally say with all our heart: I am.