Listenings: God’s Pronouns

Evelyn Underhill emphasizes that the spiritual life is not exclusively about the cultivation of one’s own soul, “poking about our interior premises with an electric torch.”

We can get this idea from the early days of our Christian life, when (of necessity) the emphasis is upon “me”—the conviction of sin, repentance, and new birth.  In the early days, God is “working on me” in order to bring my life into alignment with Christ.  And afterwards, whenever the problem is “me,” God makes my spiritual life intensely personal.  We never fully leave behind the personal nature of the spiritual life, because our ego (false self) never loses its ability to deceive and lead astray.

But God’s pronouns are not “I, me, mine” but rather, “We, us, and ours.”  God intends for our personal spiritual life to be intensely social.  An individual piece of fruit on a tree exists because it lives in relation to other pieces of fruit on the same branch, which themselves live in relation to many other branches.  The spiritual life matures as it becomes more and more communal.  The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) only makes sense in relation to others. Every attribute connects to someone else.

One of the saddest forms of spirituality is the one that thinks it’s “the only one.”  Christian history is replete with examples of deadening exclusivism, where one part of the Body of Christ believes it is the only part.  The notion existed in early Christianity, and Paul tried to combat it by asking, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” (1 Corinthians 12:27)  By it’s very nature, a body is made up of many parts. So also, true spirituality finds its life and its ministry in community.

As we learn the language of the spiritual life, we must learn to use God’s pronouns as often as we can.

About jstevenharper

Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies at the Florida-Dunnam campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando. Author and co-author of 19 books, the latest two being Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn't Make Sense and A Pocket Guide to Prayer--both published by Upper Room Books.
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One Response to Listenings: God’s Pronouns

  1. dharris50 says:

    Thanks for this reminder, Dr. Harper. My reading of the Scripture recently changed fairly dramatically when I was reading a passage of the Sermon on the Mount. I had always read all of the “you”s in the sermon (and practically all of the Bible) as being singular, addressing an individual person. What a wake-up call when I realized that all of the “you”s are plural, addressing the community!

    This is why I contend we need to have more Texans on the groups that produce translations… I would have understood the Sermon on the Mount better much sooner if I had been able to read it: “Y’all are the light of the world…”

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