I’ve been contemplating this passage from Ephesians that was read in many churches last Sunday:
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
A power at work within us that is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine is an idea that leads to all kinds of difficulties. For one thing, as in “Bruce Almighty,” I can ask and imagine an awful lot but it tends to come out as the sort of stuff I might demand from a genie in a magic lamp. Indeed there are some preachers of the gospel of prosperity who proclaim that that is exactly what I should be doing. If it doesn’t come to pass there are two possibilities. First, I must not be a real Christian of real faith with the right kind of prayers offered up to the genie in the sky. Second, there is no genie in the sky and I’ve been lied to by those sneaky Christians all this time: nothing more than a heavenly bait and switch routine to sucker us into church. It’s one of the serious stumbling blocks that stand between the Church and a very skeptical, but spiritually hungry, public.
The problem with an abundance of something more than one can ask or imagine is that one cannot ask or imagine it. And that is compounded by the added problem of some mysterious power at work within us. If demonic possession is no longer taken seriously, why should some divine possession be treated with any credibility? Isn’t that the province of the rubes who dance around, swoon and get slain by the spirit, whatever that means?
As one who firmly believes that what Paul wrote really is true beyond our wildest imaginations, the questions I need to wrestle with are: true in what way, and how can I make that truth known so that it makes sense to the ones I most want to reach? It was a great deal easier for generations up through the Reformation, and has become progressively more difficult from the Enlightenment on, at least in the western world. It was easier because an imminent spiritual realm was commonly held to coexist along side the material realm. It was unnecessary to convince anyone of that. It was only necessary to provide a convincing argument that God’s Spirit at work within us trumped any and all other spirits that might be lurking about.
It has become harder because we have debunked almost all of that nonsense about the spirit world through logic, science and medicine, and I think that was right. We have debunked the nonsense. But debunking the nonsense also shrank the arena for the reality of God’s Sprit to be made readily known, and it did not eliminate a gnawing spiritual hunger.
Flowing into that void has been a variety of spiritual twists and turns that are well within our ability to ask or imagine, and that has brewed up some very weird teas that make early Gnosticism seem tame by comparison. It is precisely because these newly brewed teas are within our abilities to ask and imagine that the scandal of our Christian message is so hard for many to take seriously. It is too far outside our abilities to ask or imagine. There probably should be a conclusion to this. I’m working on it.