Listenings: Willed Correspondence

Every person is made in the image of God, but that does not mean everyone is “godly” as the Bible understands that concept.  Evelyn Underhill notes this when she writes that there must be “a willed correspondence of the little human spirit with the Infinite Spirit.” (p. 30)

God’s will is not in question.  Agape is the defining nature of God, and in terms of God’s will it means that God has only one intention for human beings—indeed for all creation–our salvation.  Every act of grace to us is a manifestation of agape and God’s saving intention.

But our will is not so fixed.  Theologians will forever debate why, how, and to what extent the human being has “freedom of the will.”  But the fact that the Bible tells us we can “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) is enough to bestow some fluctuating capacity to our will.

So, in terms of our spiritual life and our spiritual formation, we must will a correspondence between our spirit and God’s Spirit.  Amazingly, God allows us to do this.  Some people choose not to live in that correspondence.  The result is not the absence of a spirituality, because the imago dei never goes away, but it does produce a deformed spirituality, where the human spirit becomes turned in upon itself and lives according to the dictates of the ego.

But when there is a proper “willed correspondence”—when we seek to align ourselves with the One who made us, we move into increasing conformity to God as made known in Christ.  Underhill believes that this movement (when willed) becomes as natural as the movement of iron filings toward a magnet (p. 31)

This means that a truly spiritual life is not one of conflict as much as it is one of congruence.  This does not mean the spiritual life is without challenge.  By no means!  The ego dies hard, and may even “play dead” for a season, only to rise up after we thought it was no longer a factor.  But at least we can say that the challenge is not one of becoming a “freak,” but one of becoming a “child” of God.

Perhaps this is why Jesus sometimes approached a person with this question:  “What do you want me to do for you?”  It’s a question which inquires whether or not there is any sacred wilfulness at work in the divine-human relationship—whether there is a “willed correspondence” between what we want to happen and what God wants to do.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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