Though, in an allegorical sense, the human was turned out of the primal paradise in which he shared, albeit without formed awareness, full fellowship with the Deity and an accepted place at the heavenly table, he never lost contact with his own divine origin. God in his infinite generosity had implanted a spark of himself in the highest and holiest part of the human personality, a part known traditionally as the spirit, which in turn directs the encompassing soul in the way of true virtue. The soul, individual and responsive in the human being, is the seat of moral discrimination and judgement. It is able to divine what is right and wrong in most situations by following the golden rule of all spiritual teaching: do to others as you would have them do to you. It is only by such psychic, or soul-inspired, sensitivity that we can effect deep communion with our fellow beings, and then the message of inspired goodwill that brings with it a conscious commitment to bring love into the world breaks forth into our lives and fills us with a joy that exceeds personal aggrandizement. And so the Word was deeply implanted in the soul at the point of the spirit as a seed is planted in fertile soil. Though humanity has been forced to travel a long distance, material as well as metaphorical, from its original abode, it has never lost contact with its source, even if it has from time to time consciously turned its back on it.
The spark of God, his Word which is enlivened by the Spirit and brings knowledge about the presence and nature of the Godhead, is not merely a static principle in the soul, testifying, usually fruitlessly, to a higher meaning of life than merely selfish, predatory diversion and amusement. It is also a source of growth, maturation and fulfilment, at least when such growth and development are allowed to proceed by the sluggish, recalcitrant lower depths of the personality. For if the spirit is the repository of the forces of uncreated light that proceed from the Father in unremitting magnanimity, there is also a seat in the personality for all that is selfish, unclean, immoral and destructive. The darkness which is the antithesis of the light of God is also its complement, for in the final analysis every living form and every emotional power has its origin in the one Father who is the Creator of all that is seen and unseen. The drama of conscious existence lies in the constant interplay within it of darkness and light, of shadow and substance, of reflection and reality. "The light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered it" (John 1:5). It has also never allowed itself to be totally committed to the light, preferring a subterranean, lurking existence to full exposure where healing and transfiguration could follow. This is the perpetual conflict between good and evil, a conflict that is disregarded or rationalized away at our peril, for the very stake of existence depends on the resolution with which we confront it squarely and without equivocation.
The spark lies revealed whenever we choose, quite spontaneously, the way of self renunciation on behalf of a fellow creature, that he may attain the freedom of self actualization, that he may become what God intended him to be. It grows beyond its primal form as a seed to a young shoot and sapling as it takes over more assiduously the conscious life of the individual. And so the seed of the Word germinates into this present life, assuming the initiatory role of mentor into the deep secrets of eternity translated into the language of the current world where we find ourselves. In every generation there are those few who have grown beyond the attachment to possessions and the distorted views the world has of success and wealth to a vision of wholeness that includes all creatures while lifting them up to the source whom we call God. In these few, the seed has attained the stature of a tree, the veritable tree of life, and under its boughs the compatriots of the spiritual master will find shelter and nourishment. Their end is to participate in the full life of their teacher, and so transmit the message to those who are to come later, the generations of the future.
The understanding of reality assumes different forms in the sacred history of mankind. One strand proceeds along an all-embracing monism, in which every aspect of existence is seen to be a manifestation of the Divine. Another strand points to a naked dualism in which earthly elements are identified with evil and death, so that the object of the fulfilled life is to pass beyond the illusion of material existence and enter the timeless expanse of the spirit where the ultimate purpose is revealed. Whatever position we may personally favour, in the end we have to accept the world as it is, a collection of diverse elements and phenomena that are to be aligned into a coherent pattern and integrated into a fulfilled whole. We have to learn to work with the elements of creation in solicitude and reverence so that the entire cosmos is included in our love, to the end that the fabric of the world may be transfigured in spiritual radiance. Our lives attain fulfilment as we accept the creation as a whole to the point of sacrificing our own freedom of action, even our mortal existence, for the future development of the world. As one surrenders one's life, so one is granted a vision of reality that is all-embracing and eternal. The spark of God that illuminates the soul within each one of us leaps out in joyous recognition as it encounters the divine presence in the meanest responsive creature: deep calls to deep in the roar of God's cataracts (Psalm 42:7). It is on this basis that an especially satisfactory account of spiritual evolution is to be found in the Bible. It deals with the common people living unpretentiously in humble surroundings, and through the ebb and flow of corporate existence leaves them in this quiet, productive milieu gradually coming to terms with the enormous reality that transcends the day of light and darkness, encompassing the entire universe.
The Word that emanates from the spark deeply set in the soul is the voice of God that speaks with prophetic authority. It is present in us all, but is generally so overlaid with the darkness of unacknowledged sinfulness that it cannot be appreciated, let alone make itself known as a magisterial presence. It is the apex of the mountain of conscience, an incontrovertible focus of inner judgement within each of us that is disregarded at our peril. Only when it is acknowledged and accepted can the great work of transmutation be started. As we read in the first chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, "When in former times God spoke to our forefathers, he spoke in fragmentary and varied fashion through the prophets. But in this the final age he has spoken to us in the Son whom he has made heir to the whole universe, and through whom he created all orders of existence". As humanity grows in inner spiritual receptivity and moral awareness, so the Word incarnates more fully in the entire personality and is empowered to direct the human organism to its final encounter with God, in whom all things are transformed to attain their full potency.
The glory of the fully realized human lies in his conscious self-giving to God at the moment in hand. When he has lost himself in service to his fellow creatures, he has found his true nature, his authentic self in God. At that point in time he moves beyond the form of a circumscribed individual, and attains as identity that embraces the total human consciousness. As we read in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel, "There appeared a man named John, sent from God; he came as a witness to testify to the light, that all might become believers through him. He was not himself the light; he came to bear witness to the light. The real light which enlightens every man was even then coming into the world" (1:6-9). The real light had, in fact, been performing his enlightening work from the dawn of creation, so that the indomitable human spirit could sweep aside all obstacles from its path in its onward thrust towards the mastery and reclamation of the world. And now the light was attaining full incarnation in one whose soul and mind were so transparent that the divine energy could show itself at the present instant of time and point of space by effecting a transformation of the coarse psychic atmosphere surrounding the life of this world. The victim of this world's greed was reclaimed through him by the forces of light. The end of this psychic transfiguration was a universal, heightened compassion that embraced all human existence, being no longer foreign to any sordid detail of mundane degradation. The essence of this change is not an escape by the victims of the world from their immediate situation or the general demands of life around them. Instead, all people are endued with a heightened awareness that leads them to assume an overall responsibility. This finds its fulfilment in giving itself without reserve for the raising up of all creation to God.
This is the eternal significance of God's incarnation, described so movingly in the account of Jesus' ministry, passion and resurrection in the Fourth Gospel. The sacred history of mankind, rehearsed with unique emphasis in the Chinese, Indian and Hebrew dispensations, came to a focus of climactic fulfilment in the life of Jesus, who shared in his perfect humanity the full working of the Word in our world and the final working-out of that Word in history.
The spark that is in all humans became fully incarnate in Jesus, and the proof of that total spiritualization of the body was the effect his presence had on all those with whom he came in contact and were as ready to receive him as he was always open to accept others. "He was in the world; but the world, though it owed its being to him, did not recognize him. He entered his own realm, and his own would not receive him. But to all who did receive him, to those who have yielded him their allegiance, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:1012). The feature that sets Jesus apart from all the other great teachers of antiquity - whose spiritual message, on the surface, has much in common with that of Christ - is his radiant presence that transforms all it encounters. It does this by yielding itself of its love so that the other person is enriched beyond material measure. If the beginning of the created order manifests the self giving of God the Father, the transformation of humanity into children of light is the fruit of the self giving of the Son. He effects this transformation neither by exhortation nor by manipulation, still less by coercion. Indeed, he does not strive to effect anything, but rather gives of himself freely and without stint to all who will come to him. He does this because his nature is love, and the essential property of love is its ceaseless giving of itself in order that all who will respond to it may become fulfilled in their own integrity and be free to develop into something of the nature of Christ, to become authentic children of God. Love looks for no recompense; it has no eye to future reward, let alone justification for its action. Its action, on the contrary, transcends the temporal sequence and works in the atmosphere of eternal values.
Love is not simply a spontaneous giving of affection and warmth to those around the lover. It also encompasses a radical renunciation of the person of the lover even to the point of physical dissolution. St Paul was later to say of Jesus' ministry, "For you know how generous our Lord Jesus Christ has been: he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Just as he was aware of the power leaving him as he was touched surreptitiously by the woman who had suffered from haemorrhages for twelve years, so his entire ministry was one of unceasing self-sacrifice on behalf of those who drained him with the selfish inconsideration of little children. They, however, seldom had any awareness of what they were receiving, let alone any thankfulness for the priceless gift of the presence of the Son of God among them. Love, in other words, has its intrinsic debt that is paid without demur by the lover. In due course, the beloved pays that fearful debt too, but not to the lover. Instead, he gives of the love he has received to those around him, as his own life moves beyond personal acquisitiveness and vain ostentation in selfless, devoted service to the grey world of suffering and incomprehension that forms the foundation of our living society. The nature of love is acceptance with unflagging service; its end is a raising of the whole created order from torpid stagnation to vibrant activity.
In the atmosphere of John's account of Jesus, who is the personification of the divine wisdom heralded in the literature of the Old Testament, the Word is perpetually available, giving of itself without price to all who will receive him. "Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars; she has killed a beast and spiced her wine, and she has spread her table. She has sent out her maidens to proclaim from the highest part of the town, "Come in, you simpletons." She says also to the fool, Come, dine with me and taste the wine that I have spiced. Cease to be silly, and you will live, you will grow in understanding" " (Proverbs 9:1-6). Jesus says of his eternal nature, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall never be hungry, and whoever believes in me shall never be thirsty" (John 6:35), and again, "If anyone is thirsty let him come to me; whoever believes in me, let him drink" (John 7:38). Thus he gives of himself in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, as he does also in the turning of the water into wine in the miracle at the marriage feast in Cana-in-Galilee. This miracle has an even more significant spiritual message: anyone encountering the living Word is raised in awareness from the insipid watery consciousness of mundane existence to the fiery self affirmation of new wine, an affirmation that finds its end in union with God. This is indeed the spiritual journey of the soul - from matter to spirit, in the course of which the material universe is affirmed, served and raised up to spiritual potency.
The end of the Word's life on earth, indeed the very heart of his incarnation, is submission to the forces of darkness. Though without sin himself, so that there is no cloud of impurity to come between his soul - indeed, his total personality - and God the Father, he voluntarily enters the scarcely penetrable fog of psychic evil that encompasses the world, and starts to clear it. He enters willingly the satanic realm when, after his baptism, he is led by the Holy Spirit into the world's illusion to be tempted by the forces of cosmic darkness. He is invited to show himself as one of them by using his superlative spiritual gifts to his own advantage, even to the extent of claiming a world dominion in which to assert an overriding power. But the other property of love is respect for those to whom it flows out in selfless service. It will not take over another individual, even to the minimal extent of guiding him in the way of enlightenment, until the soul of the beloved is alert and willing. Each person is infinitely valuable because each is a unique child of God; each person's will is sacrosanct, since it cannot fulfil the work it has come in to perform until it is in the service of a perfectly free individual, whose soul responds vibrantly to the summons of life. When things went well for Jesus in the course of his ministry among his fellows, all the common people received him with rapture. The professional religionists alone rejected him, because they could not bear to sacrifice the veneer of piety that hid their inner baseness. The common people had no shield of rectitude to protect them against the knowledge of the darkness within them, and so they could respond to the Word by an inward leap of joy when they realized that they were accepted for what they were. To respond to love can be as painful an experience as bearing rejection. When we are rejected we feel that we are of no use, and there seems to be no future to envisage; when we are dearly loved, we face the terrible fact of our own unworthiness, and are only slowly enabled to identify ourselves with our baseness as surely as we are accustomed to bask in the glamour of our more attractive characteristics. Rejection strikes at our sense of self-esteem that is often confused with pride. Love exposes our pride which will in turn shrink from the light of that love, until the pride is shattered by a fall that exposes our impotence totally and without mitigation.
When we know we are nothing and experience love, we can at last begin to accept that love and grow as people in its radiant warmth. The love has to assimilate the darkness of the world around it, confronting the baseness of so much human nature, in order to accommodate the demonic element in life. Only by a complete accommodation, a radical acceptance without pretending that things are other than the truth, can the darkness be lifted up to the light. Then alone does its powerful negative charge become incorporated into the body of living beings, and its contribution to the growth of mankind become positive and powerful. The darkness that is healed by love has a peculiar contribution to make to our common good in that it can in turn approach the raging agony of life and bring it to the peace of acceptance. Only that which has known the powerful forces of destruction, submitted to them in abject faith, undergone disintegration, and then experienced regeneration can be a worthy companion to all who suffer and are in raging torment.
Thus the earthly life of the Word made flesh ends enveloped in the gloom of doubt and the astringency of failure. First the acrid psychic stench of naked evil and despair are encountered in the garden of Gethsemane, a meeting survived only by the power of rapt prayer to the One who is hidden behind the darkness. And then the ignominy of public disgrace with its attendant malice is embraced on the cross of Calvary. It is important to grasp how far Jesus was from understanding the full import of his ministry and passion during the last part of his agony on the cross. Not only did God the Father seem to have forsaken him, but the validity, let alone the success, of his mission was sorely in doubt as the forces of darkness hemmed him in to the point of suffocation. The spirit that had been given to Jesus at the time of his conception was now given back to his Father. But what had he done with that spirit during his life on earth? Judging by the events on Calvary the spirit had achieved little to its credit, and the life of Jesus was consummated in futility. An agnosticism, holy but terrible in its frankness, illuminates the terminal scene of his ministry. Only when he died was his full glory to be realized, first by the Roman soldiers who were greatly moved by his noble bearing and calm acceptance. Later, his resurrected body was to bring a new understanding of the destiny in store for the entire creation to all who would pay attention and listen to the word of God. But first he descended into the hell of those who had died in the darkness of total incomprehension, so that they too might be released from the burden of guilt to enter into a new life of acceptance and love. Thus the Lord of light has dominion over the darkness also.
The darkness that Adam and Eve had brought upon themselves as an inevitable part of their growth into self-knowledge when they had departed from the heavenly fellowship, a darkness gradually to be lifted by the work of the prophets and saints of antiquity, was now, in the great event of Jesus' resurrection, brought into the full light of another day so that it could be finally delivered from the realm of evil. The spark of divinity that lies eternally in the holiest part of the human soul was at last finally cleared of the usual surrounding miasma of sin and could shine as an inextinguishable beacon in the world. As Jesus' physical body was changed to spiritual light, so the whole created universe was given its first glimpse of a total resurrection of matter to spiritual essence. Matter, though holy inasmuch as God made it, is coarse, corruptible and evanescent. The spirit, emanating from God's Holy Spirit, is refined, incorruptible and eternal. The life, death and resurrection of Christ, by reconciling the entire cosmos to God, brought about the preconditions for a total resurrection of the world. But first there had to be a resurrection of human nature. This was effected in the life of Jesus by his healing power on all those who could accept him. But the transformation, though initiated by Christ, has to proceed according to its own momentum. This is the burden of individual incarnate life and the basis of the world's history.