Thursday, July 3, 2014

Does each of us have a "divine spark"?

In my Sunday School class last week I made an offhand comment that ignited a big discussion. I noted that one of our nation's politicians (always a resource for bad theology) had said that "we all have a divine spark" and therefore we should support her political ideology. (I promise to leave the politics out of it.) It seems that some in my class believed in this idea of some sort of "divine spark". Sometimes I forget that Christians pick up phrases from the world that sound real good but are contrary to biblical teaching. I mean, doesn't it sound real good and spiritual and uplifting to say that we all have a divine spark. It seems spiritual and egalitarian and uplifting all at the same time.

Before we can discuss any subject we must define what we are talking about. If we have different definitions of the same word or expression, then we will end up talking past one another. If we ask five people what is meant by the expression ‘divine spark’ we will likely end up with five definitions. However, it seems to me that most people who believe that we all have a ‘divine spark’ would be hard-pressed to give a definition of it at all. The concept is rather vague.

Part of the problem of defining it is that it could mean quite different things to different people depending on one’s own religious thinking and background. To a Christian it might sound something like being created in the image of God. To someone who does not believe in a Creator, it might mean that God is not out there somewhere with a distinct personality and existence but simply a part of each of us. That would mean that we all have the possibility of godhood. I am not worried about most of the church because Christians do not aspire to ‘godhood’ and would reject any such thing as idolatrous and blasphemous. Perhaps it is best that we examine how the term has been used and how it is used today.

The origins of the concept of a ‘divine spark’ in each of us goes back to an ancient Greek philosophy called “Gnosticism”. Here is a quotation: “The idea of a divine spark, most common in Gnostic and mystical religions, is that every human being possesses either a connection with God or a "part" of God. The goal of life, then, is to allow the divine spark to influence us toward love, peace, and harmony.”

Today, the concept is often divorced from any sort of religious rituals but is instead an undefined form of spirituality that anyone can achieve. And people ‘ignite the spark’ of divinity in various ways. It might be a Christian experience or not. Some of those who believe in this talk about “being spiritual, but not religious”. They will also criticize Christians who insist that one must receive Christ in order to be saved. They say that we are narrow and intolerant because we do not recognize that different people and cultures might follow a different path to God. If one has a ‘divine spark’, is it not possible to ignite that spark in different ways? Part of the problem with this is that it is man-centered. It is we that ignite the spark rather than God freely offering His grace through the redemption accomplished by Christ.

Let’s look at what scripture teaches:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient … Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-5)

Notice how Paul says that by nature we were “children of wrath”. It was our spiritual nature that was wrong. When Adam sinned, he died spiritually. He was cut off from the presence of God. His nature changed. His relationship with God was broken. God did not reignite some spark. He would provide a sacrifice for his sin.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) Jesus called these very religious people “children of the devil”. They did not have ‘part of God in them’, they had the devil in them. (I mean their spiritual natures were wrong. Their spiritual natures was like the devil’s – sinful. They were not demon-possessed.)

John later explains that not all are children of God. “We know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are.” (1 John 3:10) Jesus told Nicodemus, a good Pharisee who supported Jesus, “You must be born again.”

Ezekiel 36:26 explains the new birth this way: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.” If we each had a ‘divine spark’ why does God need to give us a new spirit? The old one would do just fine.

We are all created in the image of God, but that image has been corrupted through sin. That is why Peter said that when we become “partakers of the divine nature” that we “escape the corruption that is in the world.” (2 Peter 1:4)

Perhaps you would say that by the ‘divine spark’ you mean the ‘divine image’, but we have shown these to be very different concepts. Being made in the divine image means that you have the capacity to be either a child of God or a child of the Devil. Jesus did not die on the cross to ignite a spark. He came to seek and save those who were lost.

Conclusion: We are all created in the divine image. Jesus came to make those who receive Him partakers of the divine nature. There is no such thing as a divine spark. It is important to use biblical language to properly express biblical truths.

1 comment:

  1. Love this! I so wish people meant "created in the image of God" when they use the phrase "divine spark," but, like you, I think they do not mean that at all, but use it to insist that there is goodness in each of us.

    In The Episcopal Church I hear a constant theme of how we are *all* children of God. That gets under my skin. Though in one sense we are *all* children of God, in that He created us, in a spiritual and more significant sense we must "become" children of God by grace through faith in Christ (John 1:12,1 3). Too much sloppy theology floating around.