Christianity is such a conglomeration of physical and social realities: of cathedrals, churches, schools and cemeteries; of hierarchies, feast days, customs and practices; of bibles, prayer books, hymnals and missals; of sacraments, seminaries, symbols and synods. Yet none of such externals, necessary though they are to aid our human nature, constitutes the essence of Christianity.
The essential reality, the thing that really matters, is what God does in our heart. “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). Since we are body as well as spirit, God meets us in images we can see, hear and touch. But the end
result of God’s action is an inner transformation that heals and sanctifies even the body, from within.
We Christians express this belief by saying that we have received God’s Spirit. His Spirit lives in us. Through his Spirit we can think, feel, speak and act in a new way Through the presence of this Spirit in us we know God in a new and intimate way. We feel strengthened and comforted, ready to undertake difficult tasks or endure severe trials. The Spirit of God makes us happy, optimistic, positive in our dealings with others. The Spirit helps us to be kind,
understanding and patient. The Spirit teaches us a whole new way of considering what is important and what is not.
The deepest roots of the Spirit in us lie in our created nature. If we reflect we will have detected in ourselves a longing for what is absolute, a reaching out to the infinite. Plato described this when he spoke of “eros”, that natural love in us which seeks beautiful things but which ultimately can only be satisfied by the highest good. Others have called it “the human capacity for creative self transcendence’’, or ”the unrestricted open-ended quest”. It is clear, both from mystical experience and philosophical analysis, that both the origin and the goal of this dynamic thrust are ultimatereality, that is: God.
The mystics of all ages, whether Taoist, Hindu, Sufi, Christian or whatever tradition they belonged to, agree on this universal experience of the “Spirit”.
We Christians believe that Christ has brought us a heightened awareness of that same Spirit.
Or rather: by re-creating us internally, Christ raised the activity of the Spirit in us to a higher level. This is sometimes expressed by saying that he gave us of his own Spirit. This spiritual activity, which is God’s love in
us, is his new law and the inner judge. This new presence of God in us is the substance of Christian life. Its distinctive sign is the love kindled in our heart.
When the New Testament speaks of “love”, it calls on the best in our human nature. Love means respect for the other, leading to selfless commitment. The love Jesus demands in the Gospel urges us to wash people’s feet, feed the
hungry, clothe the naked, nurse the sick, welcome strangers, visit prisoners and serve rather than expect to be served. If you love people with Christ’s love, you tell the truth even if it embarrasses you; you forgive them for their failings; you turn the other cheek rather than take revenge; you pray for those who curse you and persecute you. Christ’s love opens our eyes so that we can love people for what they are; not for what we can get out
of them. It requires us to make sacrifices, yes even to give our life if this be necessary.
God is Love
“If you keep these commandments of my love,” Jesus assured us, “I will make
myself known to you” (see John 14:21). By practising Jesus’s love we
will have direct experience of him. The love that we feel and practise is
God’s own doing in us. Through his love we are in direct touch with God
himself. It is God who fills us with his love; who manifests his love to others
comes from God.
Whoever practises love
is born of God and experiences
Whoever does not practise love
has no experience of God.
has ever seen God.
But if we love one another,
God shows that he lives
Yes, it is his love that flourishes in us.
By this we know that
God and we share the same life
because he gives us his own Spirit (of
1 John 4:12-13
Whoever lives full of love
lives full of God
for it is God
who fills that person.
1 John 4:16
The implication of these texts is absolutely clear. When we strive to be fair and loving; when we try to be kind to others, defend their rights, treat them with respect, are willing to help them at some cost to ourselves, are patient and forgiving rather than spiteful—in short, when we try to live Jesus’s commandment of love, we know that these feelings and actions flowing from us manifest the Spirit of God. We are not talking here of extraordinary deeds of
self-sacrifice; we are speaking of our every-day efforts to be loving in our relationships. The remarkable message of sacred Scripture is that precisely such happenings in us disclose the presence of God to us.
God who created us in the first place, who gave us the capacity for transcending love to begin with, now through Christ strengthens our ability to be truly loving and constructive. Is it not a wonderful discovery to find out that this inner life in me, which I know so well because it is part of my every-day striving, is a tangible sign of God’s presence in me?
Where do we meet God? — in giving and receiving
Many Christians will know what I am talking about —from their own spiritual experience. Some who have lacked proper instruction or who have lost their way in the maze of externals, may wonder if I am only proclaiming a limited and
personal interpretation of Scripture. For their benefit, allow me to expose how what I have said is precisely the teaching of St Augustine of Hippo, that eminent Doctor of the Church who left us so many standard classics of Christian
theology (A.D. 354-430). Let us hear what he has to say.
that God lives in us. How do we know it?
St John tells us: “Because
he has given us of his Spirit.”
But how do we know that God has
given us of his Spirit. . .?
Search your heart. If it is full of love,
you possess God’s Spirit!”
Treatise on St. John’s Letters, 8.12
you will tell me: I haven’t seen God.
Will you tell me: I haven’t
seen a human person?
Love your neighbour. If you love the neighbour you
see, by this same act you will see God. For you will see love itself and God
lives in love.”
Treatise on St. John’s Letters, 5.7
doesn’t love his neighbour cannot see God.
Because he does not possess love.
If he possessed love, he would see God,
for God is love.”
Treatise on St.John’s Letters, 9.10
“Who does not love other people,
stays outside love and thus outside God
for “God is Love”. . .
If instead of looking on people in a purely human fashion,
you’d love them with spiritual love,
you would see God who is love itself.
You’d see God with an interior view which alone can make you see God.”
About the Trinity, 8.12
Augustine points out that we can know God precisely because we are aware of the love that exists in us. It is this experience itself: of our feelings towards others; our attempts to understand and reach out; our joy and excitement when making human contact; our desire to be honest and of use to others — in short:
The actual experience of our every-day “loving” is the reality
in which we know God. Let Augustine speak again.
” Since we
love other people through love, and “God is love”, it is through God
that we love them. We can only love by first loving love itself through which
we give love. Therefore love of God and love of other people include each
About the Trinity, 8.12
Does it follow from the fact that you love love itself
that you love God?
By loving love, you love God.
Have you forgotten what has been stated in Scripture: “God is love”?
If God is love,
whoever loves love, loves God.”
Treatise on St. John’s Letters, 9.10
“Let no one say: I don’t know what I love.
Let him love his neighbour, then he will love love itself.
In fact he will know the love with which he loves better
than the people he loves.
Therefore, God —who is love— will be better known to him than his neighbour;
better known because God is more present;
better known because God is more interior;
better known because God is more certain.”
About the Trinity, 8.12
doubt, if love lives in a person, he or she is a temple of God.
For God is love.”
“The Holy Spirit who is himself God, once given to a human person enkindles in that person love for God and for other people
because the Spirit himself is love.”
About the Trinity, 15.31
How could God be more interior to us? Our human energy, our spirit, turns out to be nothing less than a manifestation of God’s Spirit!
From God Within Us by John Wijngaards,
Collins, Fount 1988, chapter 19