The Spiritual Universe
There is of course the universe we inhabit. This describes the sum total of the planets, stars, galaxies, matter and energy which we can perceive. Contemporary calculations suggest that this universe is 93 billion light years in diameter.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) recognised the moral universe. He argued that the supreme principle of morality is a standard of rationality. He called this the Categorical Imperative. Kant characterised this as an objective, rationally necessary and unconditional principle that we must always follow despite any natural desires or inclinations we may have to the contrary. All specific moral requirements, according to Kant, are justified by this principle, which means that all immoral actions are irrational because they violate the Categorical Imperative.
Kant did not pluck his basic idea out of thin air. It can be traced back through Christianity to the Old Testament, to Judaism. The objectivity of moral law was expressed in the calling and formation of the Israelites and was focussed specifically in The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 : 1 - 17). Their source was to be found not in the mind of Moses but in the very being of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This rationally understood moral universe became the basis of scientific advancement throughout later centuries.
The Greek philosopher Plato (428 – 348 BC) thought that the universe could be understood by pure reason. His theory of the Forms suggested that the physical world is not as real or true as timeless, absolute, unchangeable ideas. His pupil Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) distinguished metaphysics from mathematics and physics being contemplative theological study of the divine. He observed that everything has a cause. He posited a First Cause, a prime mover, an unmoved mover. Christians later identified this being with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and of Moses and the Father of Jesus Christ. It has always been popular to identify Greek philosophers as the masterminds of European civilisation. Their influence is undeniable. However, what is hardly every suggested is that Plato, Aristotle and others lived alongside the Jewish diaspora about 1000 years after the giving of The Ten Commandments. Greece’s luxurious polytheism was tempered and informed by Judaism’s monotheism and replaced in time by Christianity’s Trinitarianism.
We live in the age of the scientific universe. We have discovered much about how the universe actually works, hangs together, remains. The moral universe (Judaism) and the rational universe (Greek Philosophy) are now accompanied by mathematical proofs as part of the physical universe. Famously Isaac Newton (1642 – 1726) concluded that objects fall because they are pulled by earth's gravity. Newton described gravity but he didn’t know how it worked. His was the mechanical universe. The Scot James Clerk Maxwell (1831 – 1879) provided a bridge between Newton and Einstein. His theory of electromagnetism showed that light was electromagnetic radiation. Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) agreed with Newton that space had dimension: width, length, and height. Newton didn’t believe that space was affected by the objects in it. Einstein did. For him gravity was a natural outcome of a mass’s existence in space. He theorised that a mass can can warp it, bend it, push it, or pull it and with his 1905 Special Theory of Relativity added time as a fourth dimension to space, calling the result space-time. This was the universe of relativity. Since then quantum mechanics have provided a description of the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. This is the atomic universe.
Today, all sorts of theories abound. Chaos is an interdisciplinary theory which suggests that within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness and self-organization. Superstring theory suggests that the universe exists in ten different dimensions. These different aspects are what govern the universe, the fundamental forces of nature, and all the elementary particles contained within. This is a long way from Newton but is also an inheritor of his discoveries. Nanoscience and nanotechnology involve the ability to see and to control individual atoms and molecules. The microscopes needed to see things at the nanoscale were invented in the early 1980s. One nanometre is a billionth of a metre. There are 25,400,000 nanometres in an inch. A sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometres thick. If a marble was a nanometre, then one metre would be the size of the Earth. Entanglement theory suggests that particles may somehow remain united regardless of the amount of space separating them. It is conceivable that a particular living body could continue on in some form, even after it has died and its component particles have decayed and/or physically separated. Entanglement theory also suggests that particular events leave a lasting “mark” upon their subjects, right down to the subatomic level.
How different all this is from contemporary post modern thinking which rejects any idea of unifying objective realities. ‘Theory holds that objective knowledge – that which is true for everyone, regardless of their identity – is unobtainable, because knowledge is always tied up with cultural values’. (Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories, Swift Press, 2020, p 79). This is what is behind today’s cultural wars with its applied identity politics. Immanuel Kant can be held to be a typical white western privileged male whose reasoned argument is secondary to his identity. The knowledge he articulates can be held to be a construct of power which requires to be challenged. Newton and Einstein are also suspect. ‘Postcolonial theorists insist European philosophy must be entirely rejected – even to the point of deconstructing time and space as Western constructs’ (Ibid. P 81).
The spiritual universe exists alongside the physical, moral, rational, scientific and atomic universes. It is luxuriant in experience, pioneering in life experiment, rationally understandable and demonstrable in outcomes. The spiritual universe is multi-dimensional colour, parallel to our concepts of space-time and open to eternal life here and now and in post human life. Atheists, agnostics and sceptics about the existence of God negate the claims of theists and of Christians. They judge the content of knowledge of God from their own physical and material standpoints and world view. But if they considered the claims of theists and of Christians from the point of view of the spiritual universe, what appears to them to be foolish, absurd, impossible and perverse, becomes sensible, understandable, possible and reasonable. Albert Einstein imagined what it would be like to ride on a beam of light. Imagine then seeing the world, creation, the universe and humanity from the perspective of the spiritual universe.
There is general spirituality and special spirituality. Some people claim to be spiritual but not religious. By this they mean that they have a sense of something beyond the visible physical and material. However this is not defined. It might include a feeling of wonder while looking at the stars, having an existential moment on a summer’s day sitting beside a river or reaching the top of a mountain. For some the birth of a child inspires wonder and a sense that life is more than flesh. The word ‘soul’ appears in much human discourse, referring to the unseen inner depths of our consciousness. Many testify to their sense of the numinous, the other, the holy.
Being religious means adhering to a set of beliefs and practices incorporating world-views and offering answers to questions about the meaning and purpose of human life. Spirituality and religion cross over and there is a subtle interweaving relationship between them. Some regard religion as being divisive and the cause of humanity’s inability to live in peace. Most inter-faith competing claims when examined are irreconcilable. How can anyone discern genuine from false and real from imaginative?
Special spirituality refers to the specific apprehensions of God recorded in the Old and New Testaments and in the testimonies of Christians thereafter. Within the churches there have been many who doubt these descriptions in the Bible. Some theological academics and clergy deny the miraculous supernatural content of Bible passages. They are judging from the point of view of the physical universe. From the perspective of the spiritual universe however, the testimonies make sense.
In the early second millennium BC ‘Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness’ (Genesis 15 : 6). ‘the angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush (c. 1311 BC). Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up. When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am’ (Exodus 3 : 2, 3, 4). Around 1000 BC King David wrote ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me’ (Psalm 23 : 1, 2, 3). The prophet Isaiah testified ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, (742 BC) I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory’ (Isaiah 6 : 1,2,3). Jews were and still are identified as the People of God with special identity and calling which continue to be manifested in their return to their homeland, their survival and prosperity and in the disproportionate contributions Jews worldwide have made and continue to make to the betterment of humanity in science and letters. It is not acceptable to distinguish their social and spiritual history, accepting one and not the other.
Around 3757 in the Hebrew calendar ‘In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end' (Luke 1 : 26 - 33). This is the paramount apprehension of God in human experience. It was incarnational. It was the very beginning of Christianity.
The conception, birth, life, public ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus occurred within the spiritual universe. This makes sense of what appears to some twenty-first century minds as improbable, mythical, delusional, deceptive and nonsensical. The Gospel of Mark reads ‘At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased' (Mark 1 : 9 – 11). There is consistency and context in this experience with the calls of Abram, Moses, David and Isaiah.
Jesus’ ministry referred to in John’s Gospel 14 : 11 as his ‘works’, that is, his miracles, are purposeful revelations of the spiritual universe. One example recorded in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 5 : 1 ff) has a different character from the others. ‘Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As Jesus stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ This is a disturbing and fascinating example of the dynamics of the spiritual universe. This mentally tortured man recognised Jesus for who he really was – unlike anyone else at that moment including his disciples and members of his family... ‘Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind...The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you. So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him’. This was a very good outcome, the healing redemption of a suffering human being.
There is great intensity and even confrontation within the spiritual universe. The stakes are higher. The outcomes are extraordinary. This is different from Jewish existentialism. It is distinct from Greek rationalism. It is qualitatively different from today’s external physical universe. However, it is not so far away from theories such as Chaos, Superstring, Nano and Entanglement. Though these are apprehensible by scientific study and argument and the spiritual universe is apprehensible in relationship, they both offer evidence of a more complex and deeper understanding of life on earth.
Calvary is not completely understood by anyone. The various theological theories, classic good verses evil, penal substitution, perfect sacrifice, debt cancellation, moral example and prayerful intercession taken together do not suffice. At the event itself the interaction between the spiritual and physical universes was seen in destabilising meteorological events. ‘It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon’ (Luke 23 : 44). However the main transaction was between Jesus and God, God and Jesus on behalf of humankind. It was multi-dimensional. There are clues in the Old Testament. ‘Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity us all’ (Isaiah 53 : 4 – 6). Out of such degradation was born Christianity. It makes no sense according to the laws, dynamics and values of the world. It is of a different essence and quality from the physical, rational, moral, scientific and atomistic universes. Only in referring to the spiritual universe can such an event produce comprehension of Christianity’s existence in the world today.
Christianity is based on the resurrection of Jesus as witnessed by his disciples. This event took place in the spiritual universe. This is where the actuality of divine relationship is experienced. John 20 : 19, 20 reads ‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord’. The outcome of this event continues nearly 2000 years later. It is visible, verifiable and calculable being the collective life, practice, work and witness of Christians world wide.
The Christian Church’s starting point was Pentecost Sunday after Jesus’ resurrection. Acts 2 tells us,
‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them' (verses 1 - 4). This was an explosion in the spiritual universe and its reverberations are continuing throughout the world today. This was necessary to change frightened men and women and children into confessing witnesses for Jesus’ resurrection and for their empowerment to become channels of the life of God to others.
The first person independent of his own followers to experience the resurrected Jesus was Saul of Tarsus, later known as St Paul. His conversion is narrated by Luke in Acts 9. ‘Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (1 – 6)…. ‘Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, and after taking some food, he regained his strength’ (17 - 19).
Think Richard Dawkins with worse attitude and add persecution and violence. That was Saul. Now read Paul, composer of some of the most beautiful words ever written. ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love’(1 Corinthians 13 : 4 - 13). This is evidence of the spiritual universe and its effect, a meeting out with the confines of human social life resulting in a consequential change in human nature.
Throughout the Christian centuries prayer, worship, hymn singing, preaching and sacramental expression have given expression to the spiritual universe as well as to the content of these practices. Atheists say that all this is beyond reason. A particular act has to take place, the act of faith which cannot be proved. Much human life is also based on acts of faith. Lots of scientific experimenting begins with belief and faith. Einstein conducted imagination and visualisation experiments. These took him a long way. Entry to the spiritual universe requires an experimental approach, adventure, seeking what has been hitherto unknown, searching for God. In Christianity it is personal (unlike Buddhism). It is economical (unlike Hinduism). If the Abrahamic faiths are held to be equal then you say to the Jew ‘Jesus was not the Messiah’ and you say to the Muslim’ Jesus was not the Son of God’.
The Reformation stressed the intellectual understanding and explanation of Christianity. Its content was doctrine based on the events of the Bible. John Calvin (1509 - 1564) distinguished the visible and the invisible Church. By this he meant the church on earth with its sinful people is different from the invisible church in heaven with its saved and perfected saints (Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV, Chapter 1, pp. 1016, 1021-1024). Calvin’s presentation of Christianity was morally and rationally based. Scottish Christianity became a strict type of Christianity with common sense, ethics and authority to the forefront. This was Christianity kept within the confines of the moral and rational universes.
This is not the whole of Christianity however. In the twentieth century a few individual souls discovered the spiritual universe through what came to be called ‘the healing ministry’. This was the prayerful mediation and channelling of divine healing power in the name of Jesus Christ usually but not always through the laying on of hands. Padre Pio in Italy (1887 - 1968), Rev Howard Cobb (d.1930) and Rev George Bennett in England and Rev Cameron Peddie (1887 – 1986) and later Rev George Fox (1931 - 2015) in Scotland according to their own and others’ testimonies found themselves ministers of the healing power of the Risen Jesus Christ. These ministries required greater depth and devotion than parish ministry and academic theology. They also reflected the spiritual universe as something beyond the moral and rational boundaries of normal church life.
In George Bennett’s book ‘Miracle at Crowhurst (1970) he gave his account of his apprehension of the spiritual universe in a way not thought possible in the 20th century. In 1958 he had begun to develop Howard Cobb’s Christian healing ministry at Crowhurst in East Sussex. Describing a moment of healing he wrote ‘I stood silently at her bedside, holding her hand and, in a few moments, closed my eyes. Silently I prayed that the Lord would use me - weak and helpless as I felt – as a channel of his grace. And, as I stood there praying I remember seeing the whole room filling with angels. So full of light they were, so beautiful, so happy. They came to us both and surrounded us. There was a time when I did not believe in angels but ever since I had begun many years before to minister our Lord’s healing grace to sick folk, they had become very real to me. They certainly came into the room that night’ (p. 55).
Cameron Peddie, a Church of Scotland minister in the rational and moral Christian tradition of Calvinism discovered the spiritual universe after a long six year prayerful search. This occurred while he was a parish minister in a tough area of Glasgow and while he was a married man with a family. He began by asking himself and God why the gift of healing so evident in the New Testament was unavailable in his time. After a series of deep spiritual experiences he embarked on his healing ministry. He published his account of the journey and its outcomes in ‘The Forgotten Talent’ (Fontana, 1961). The most arresting and astonishing healing that took place in his ministry was that of a Downs Syndrome child. Her name was Anne. She attended a special school. Her father and mother brought her to Cameron Peddie’s manse for his healing ministry. After four services her parents noticed improvement in her condition. Her doctors acknowledged her developing along natural lines. Peddie conducted two more healing services for Anne and then the family disappeared without explanation. Three years later Cameron Peddie was invited to attend a picnic day out at Loch Lomond for special needs children organised by Glasgow City Corporation. He came across a group of Downs Syndrome children and asked the headmistress if any Downs Syndrome child had ever become normal. ‘In all my experience’, she replied ‘I have only had one child who became normal. Her name was Anne and it was the most marvellous thing I have ever seen’ (p. 111, 112).
At this time Cameron Peddie and his group of fellow ministers interested in the healing ministry were being called ‘the lunatic fringe’ by academics at Glasgow University. Ronald Gregor Smith (1913 - 1968) was Professor of Divinity there from 1956 – 1968. He specialised in secular theology, part of the ‘Death of God’ (William Hamilton) and ‘Honest to God’ (John Robinson) movement of the time. He was reputed to begin his lectures to first year divinity students training for the ministry with the words ‘the bones of the man Jesus are rotting somewhere in Palestine’. I was spared this apostasy because he died suddenly at the age of 56 weeks before I was due to attend his class. I have published an account of George Fox’s healing ministry on the Publications section of my website.
The Reformation was the progenitor of the Enlightenment. Christianity’s credibility has been attacked ever since. But the intellectuals got it wrong. In the words of the poet Francis Thompson (1859 – 1907) , ‘The angels keep their ancient places;—Turn but a stone and start a wing! ’Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces, That miss the many-splendoured thing’ (In a strange land). European theology has a lot to answer for in the continuing decline of Christianity throughout the continent. The spiritual universe exists. It is apprehensible even amid the wreckage and apostasy of today.
Jesus taught the following principles for entry into consciousness of the spiritual universe. ‘At that time Jesus declared, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children’ (Matthew 11 : 25). He said to Peter who confessed that he realised that Jesus was the Messiah ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 16 : 17). To Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Parliament Jesus said ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again’ (John 3 : 3). These remained truths throughout the Christian centuries. John Newton (1725 - 1807), a former slave trade ship captain become an Anglican clergyman wrote one of the most widely known hymns ‘Amazing Grace’. It includes these words. ‘Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I'm found was blind, but now I see’.