“spirit vs. letter of the law”

Last posting concluded with the notion that faith required “losing sight of the shore” at some point.  The issue here is going beyond the mere conceptual dimension of spirituality and addressing the finitude of existence and even the finitude of faith itself.  It is to reach that point in one’s spiritual development that he/she recognizes emotionally that “we see through a glass darkly’…no longer is this merely a biblical bromide to trot out…. and that there is a definite limit to the function of intellect in spiritual matters.  For most of us, to reach this point in spiritual development is to encounter anxiety/depression to some degree.  To some this experience amounts to what D. W.  Winnicott described as a “psychic catastrophe.”  I would apply that clinical term to the Apostle Paul’s Demascus Road conversion.  I would use the same term to describe Eckhart Tolle’s spiritual crisis when he was aged 29.


But it is easier and more comforting, in the immediate, to keep our spiritual experience confined to the conceptual or rational.  There we can find “true belief” or religious fundamentalism.  (See Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer)  Another way of addressing this issue is the distinction made in the New Testament between “the letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law,”—-the conceptual is the “letter of the law” and that which transcends the “letter of the law” is the “spirit.”   And I think it was the Apostle Paul who noted that “the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive.” (2 Corinthians 3)  In the 20th century Paul Tillich noted, “A religion within the confines of reason is a mutilated religion.”


And Tillich was certainly not recommending the irrational.  He speaking of the need of balance, that persons of faith recognize that their intellect does not give them command or control over God, that there is another dimension which must be given attention.  There is a Buddhist aphorism that is appropriate:  The finger pointing to the moon must not be confused for the moon itself.  Words are not the “thing in itself”; words are merely pointers.


One thought on ““spirit vs. letter of the law”

  1. Pingback: Embracing One’s Finitude « Kevin Nunez

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