The hedonic treadmill

Here is the basic assertion of our economy: the needs of human beings are infinite (… but the means to fulfill them are finite, so we have to be economical). Infinite needs are surely observable, but what’s the reason behind? From an evolutionist perspective it looks like this:

“And there are more anthropological constants: our emotional self-model makes it possible to consciously feel ourselves. It drives us forward in the steady attempt to feel good, to find emotional stability, protection and security. We are biological systems which are damned to search for happiness, which must try to feel as good as possible. But unfortunately, the reward system in our brain and our emotional self-model allow no stable kind of feeling good.

Admitted that especially the conscious self-models brought experiencing joy and happiness into the physical universe – to a place where these did not exist before. But psychological evolution did not optimize us for permanent happiness. On the contrary: it put us on the “hedonic treadmill“, which is driven by the permanent attempt to experience happiness and joy and to avoid pain and depression. But we also are kept in permanent motion: the hedonic treadmill – concretely the reward system in our brain – is the engine which mother nature built into us. We might discover its structure in ourselves, but it is unclear if we can ever get out of this treadmill. In some sense we are this structure. The Ego is the hedonic treadmill.”

[Thomas Metzinger: Der Preis der Selbsterkenntnis; in: Gehirn und Geist; 7-8/2006; S. 46; original in German; emphasis per original; hyperlink added to original]

We’re not interested in evolution here but in happiness: this guy thinks, permanent happiness cannot be found because the steady longing for happiness is the engine that drives all the people in this world with their lifestyle and “great achievements”. (By the way, if you need to know what’s a treadmill … .) It’s not that we want to live the way we do, but we’re driven by the search for happiness. And it’s not that we want to create, build, achieve something, but we’re again driven. Surely one finds the “hedonic treadmill” idea inspired and confirmed by so many experiences of private and public life.

Now, should we feel happy about working constantly (on “improving” circumstances) just to retain our level of happiness? That’s what the hedonic treadmill means. Up to a reasonable level of life quaity, the treadmill does a good job: it allows to feel happy while working on necessary improvements, i.e. to feel happier than “allowable” with respect to the amount of work done. And it enables humans to gain dominance over the rest of nature, which is not equipped with this treadmill thing. But after our basic needs are met, the treadmill thing should stop, and allow to do further improvements as creative freetime work, just for the fun of it, and just if one wishes to do so. But it does never stop, it has gone mad. It drives people further and further, stressing them with a desperate need for more happiness, for absolute happiness. But this need is never fulfilled, as it is not the idea behind the hedonic treadmill to produce this (but instead, to give motivation and reward while working on necessary improvements; any other use of the mechanism is actually abuse of this biological system).

Just, people seem not to realize this wrong direction of their search. They naively extrapolate that the “inner reward” they receive when reaching goals will be proportional to the goal reached, so try to reach goals that high that the reward remains for the rest of their life. Instead, the reward mechanism has a built-in fade-away mechanis, so that they can never stop to work though objectively possible after the basic needs have been met. It’s like having a job where one gets money only when beating one’s own record from yesterday … and that’s surely not happiness. Let’s envy the animals, which don’t have this treadmill thing and are happy without working for something beyond their basic needs. Where’s the way out?

Jesus about the hedonic treadmill

Me thinks that Jesus talks about the treadmill thing here:

“(24) ‘No man can work for two masters. He will hate one and love the other. Or he will obey one and despise the other. You cannot work for both God and money. (25) ‘So, I tell you this. Do not be troubled about what you will eat or drink to keep alive. Do not be troubled about what you will wear on your body. Life itself is worth more than food, and the body is worth more than clothes. (26) ‘Look at the birds that fly in the air. They do not plant or cut or keep any food. Yet your Father in heaven feeds them. Are you not worth more than birds? (27) Can any one of you live any longer by troubling yourself about these things? (28) And why are you troubled about clothes? See how the flowers grow in the fields. They do not work or make cloth. (29) I tell you, King Solomon was a great man. But he was not dressed as fine as one of these flowers. (30) God dresses the grass in the fields so it looks nice. It is in the field one day and the next day it is put on the fire. If God dresses the grass like that, he cares much more that you have clothes to wear. You do not believe in God very much! (31) ‘So then, do not keep asking, “What shall we eat?” “What shall we drink?” and “What shall we wear?” (32) It is the people who do not believe in God who work for all these things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need them all. (33) ‘Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also. (34) ‘So do not be troubling yourself about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own trouble. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’” [Matthew 24:24-34 BWE]

As an experiment, I interpret Jesus’ words here as pragmatical verbalization, i.e. immediately do-able. Then, I suppose the theoretical background is this: Jesus does not promise riches to those who “work first for the kingdom of God”. He talks about not searching our happiness in material things like luxurious meals and fine clothing, as this results in the unnecessary activity produced by the hedonic treadmill after the basic needs are met. Working for the basic needs is oll korrect, but serving materialism like a slave on a (hedonic) treadmill is not [Matthew 24:24 BWE]. Me thinks, Jesus even teaches that fulfillment of the basic needs is possible without conscious effort, i.e. we won’t realize this as a fatigue [Matthew 24:26,28,30 BWE]. Why do you reduce life to material stuff by caring for material stuff all your life? Realize that life is more than food (or other material stuff), as Jesus said [Matthew 24:25 BWE].

But staying away from the hedonic treadmill does not provide what you searched on it. So where to find permanent happiness? Let’s look closer at the following verse: “Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also.” [Matthew 24:33 BWE]. I think that this means primarily: “[…] then you will have happiness in the material world also, the very thing you searched when serving money, the very thing you searched on the hedonic treadmill”. In my view, it cannot mean that God will add all the clothes and riches of Solomon as immediate gifts, as e.g. Paul did not experience this (we will look at this below). But the need for happiness is fulfilled, and that is the thing searched for. And how or when is this need fulfilled? When one is “first […] concerned about God’s kingdom and his righteousness” [Matthew 24:33 ISV]. This is exactly what (who …) we need for our materially unfulfilled need: God. A relationship to God, where one experiences God’s love for humans and expresses love for God by a straight life according to his will. And how exactly does a relationship with God make us permanently happy? Lets o further …

The autarky escape

I stumbled over Paul’s approach to happy practical living, which is quite interesting. He seems to have internalized what Jesus said about sorrows (see above). Let’s read what he writes:

“(10) The Lord made me very happy to know that you were thinking about me again. Yes, I know you were thinking of me before, but you had no way to help me. (11) I do not mean that I needed it. I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I am happy with whatever happens to me. (12) I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I am rich. No matter how things are, I have learned how to live: when I have plenty of food, or when I am hungry; when I have more things than I need, and when I do not have enough. (13) I can do all things because Christ gives me strength.” [Philippians 4:10-13 BWE]

You might want to read the wider context: Philippians 4:10-19 BWE. (And if you clicked the references and arrived at verse 9: these references are correct but the verse scheme at crosswire.org is shifted by mistake.) In Greek, Paul states that he learned to be satisfied whith what he has like this:

“ουχ οτι καθ υστερησιν λεγω εγω γαρ εμαθον εν οις ειμι αυταρκης ειναι” [Philippians 4:11 TR]

A word-by-word translation would be like “Not that with respect to want I say this; because I learned, in whatsoever I am, to be content.”. The word translated “content” is “αυταρκης” (transliterates “autarkes”). It comes from “αυτος” (autos), meaning “self”, and “αρκεω” (arkeo), meaning “to be sufficient”, “to be enough”, or literally “to ward off”. So together it means “self-sufficient”, and indeed this is where the word “autarky” comes from.

Perhaps Paul would accept the following variations to describe his condition:

  • I am self-sufficient, which means that my happiness depends on what is in myself rather than on what comes to myself from the outer circumstances. And in myself is Christ with his strength, resp. my relationship to him which does not depend on material circumstances.
  • I have learned that the material world with all its lack and abundance will vanish, but I know and experienced what is eternal: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and my company with them. See also what I wrote in I Corinthians 7:29-31 BWE.
  • I have learned how to deal with every situation. Which means, there was a time when I was not able to be happy instead of poverty and instead of richness, but I was trained to be.
  • I am content within every situation. This does not mean that I would be content if there’d be nothing at all and I’d be starving to death. Instead, God knows what I need, and supplies this for me. Some people will be surprised that God does not prevent me from bing poor at times, but I’m no longer surprised. Because what we call poverty also is a situation that has enough good things in it to be content with. I had to learn to see and use these goods and I did learn it.
  • God’s supply means I’ll never enter a situation where there objectively is less than I need (not: wish) to be content with.
  • The key is to basically think the present situation to be worth living (at least potentially or latently). With this premise, one will care about adapting, furnishing and customizing the situation, according to one’s abilities, and indeed arrive at something worth living. This is a situation of “conformance with one’s goals and wishes”, which is the very definition of happiness. If one instead wishes to escape the whole situation, one tries something beyond one’s abilities, which means that one’s practical life is no longer in conformance with one’s goals and wishes, which means unhappiness.

Paul that that he had to learn to be happy in all situations. Which means one has to know some things and get some training to do so. What, for example, does one have to learn to be content in poverty?

  • Create no plans how to escape from your present situation. You’d just see them fail (and get frustrated) because poverty means you have not the resources to escape.
  • Take good care to discover all the available resources and beneficient peculiarities of your situation, and use these with a creative mind to their fullest.
  • Wish just what you can achieve with the present resources, and think carefully about what can be achieved with the present resources. This is plenty of stuff, as “best things in life are free”.
  • Await a change of the situation from the outside, i.e. look out for open doors to walk through. That is, use very moderate force to search for open doors, but do not try with full force to break doors open. You wouldn’t succeed or would choose the wrong door, and you would get stressed and exhausted, anything far from being happy.

To-do’s

  • Important: Paul talks only about the missing correlation between his money and his happiness; in this context “I am happy with whatever happens to me.” (Phil 4:11 BWE) does not mean “really all” as this would consequently say that Paul would be happy in hell as well. So one should not blindly extrapolatethese words to friends and social needs as well.
  • Did Paul expect a change of his poor situation? Perhaps it was really really equal to him (Phil 4:10-11)?
  • Verbalize the insights here as the difference between top-down life (the idealistic approach that comes from (thinking about) the ideal) and bottom-up life (the pragmatic approach to the ideal).
  • Add examples how the “hedonic treadmill” idea is confirmed by life’s experiences (par. 5): “While private life is private, we might look at some publicly visible persons: […]”, then insert here 5-10 stories of tragic persons of public life who searched for money, love and might.

Date: 2007-08-14
Last meaningful change: 2007-08-19

I’m here in the course of trying to find how to live with God practically. (Jus’ to be clear: with the God of the bible, as there is no other being who deserves this title, as it means: the supreme being, the highest one, above all.) Now, umh, here I’m going to deal with the question: what is receiving wisdom from God?
The question arises from the following verses from the apostle James:

“(5) Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to everyone generously without a rebuke, and it will be given to him. (6) But he must ask in faith, without any doubts, for the one who has doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (7) Such a person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (8) He is a double-minded man, unstable in all he undertakes.” (James 1:5-8 ISV)

I will continue to examine these verses from the perspective that the relationship to God is in the average case “mediate”, i.e. without individual interaction between God and men. (By the way, I realize that this perspective needs a name to identify it.) Choosing this perspective willingly is not to say that it is the ultimately correct one, but to examine its validity on the go. What follows is a selection of theses and arguments for them:
  • Getting wisdom is not getting a concrete answer what to do but goodness ability. When trying to understand a text one has to use the meanings (or: connotations) that an author attributed to his words, not one’s own. This is esp. important when dealing with old or translated text as both changes the language and might increase the difference in meaning to the average use of words today. This holds true somewhat for “wisdom” here. Intuitively, we will understand this verse as: if you don’t know what to do in any concrete situation, if you lack any answer, pray to God for it. However, James has a more general concept in mind, as appears from his following words: “However, the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure, then peace-loving, gentle, willing to yield, full of compassion and good fruits, and without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:17 ISV). Cf. also the context: James 3:13-17 ISV. For James, wisdom is the ability to live rightly. The same seems to be true in King Solomon’s case (I Kings 3:7-12 NASB): he prayed for wisdom and received an ability to be wise “himself”, not a communication channel to ask God whenever he needed a decision.
  • Wisdom from God comes without concrete interaction, on average. We saw that wisdom does not consist in concrete answers but in ability to generate concrete answers. This opens the possibility that God might give wisdom not in a concrete, delimited interaction but without it. This assumption is supported somewhat by James’ not saying what experience we’ve to expect when receiving wisdom from God. And by the experiences of those who prayed: it seems to happen very infrequently that we received wisdom from God in an explicitly supernatural way. Instead, the wisdom might “just be there” or “just grow up”, just as it seems to have been with Solomon.
  • Wisdom is the agency of the Holy Spirit. When comparing James’ description of wisdom (James 3:17 ISV) and Paul’s list of the “fruit of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23 ISV) it appears that both is the same, in essence. So wisdom, the ability to live, is due to the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is unclear however if it is something “human in essence” as the effect of the Holy Spirit’s teaching and educating, or something “divine in essence” as the concrete agency of the Holy Spirit as our “new core”. Or both. This is however not that essential …
  • Answers for concrete situations are termed “knowledge” in the bible instead. One of the charismatic gifts is the “gift of knowledge”, enabling people to recognize what God thinks about a situation and what he proposes concretely. Quick hint: in I Corinthians 12:8, speaking wisdom and knowledge is identified as two separate gifts.
Date: 2007-08-04
Last major change: 2007-08-08
In my articles “The third way of life in this world” and “What kinda company with God is possible?” I argued that God’s mediate gifts are the normal case and immediate contact with God is the rare case. Immediate contact with a supernatural being as God is itself supernatural by character, and supernatural experiences are indeed the rare case in this life.
Thinking and talking about this again, I found that this is not all. My conception of classifying contact with God in the “mediate” and “immediate” area was simple but not enough. Between these is a third area, which I just touched in “The third way of life in this world” when I said:
There might be a greater number of cases where you cannot discern if it was really God (e.g. having some spontaneous thoughts, some visionary images and dreams, and for events where you suspect supernatural coordination). This is just normal and shouldn’t bother.
What I am going to do now is surveying well-founded reports from believers about this “cream white area” of contact with God. (Umh, this wording is just to avoid “grey area” to describe something undecidable … grey does not harmonize with God’s character as grey is boring and akin to darkness, and God hates darkness.) I will use here the Bible as my source for finding such reports. Before showing some examples I define interpretable immediate contact with God (or, creme white immediate contact) as something that fulfills these conditions:

  • What happens seems to be a context-sensitive and individual gift. It seems to be something intended for the present individual situation as it is quite rare (not one of those omnipresent or highly probable good things) and one of a small number of things that can help in the present situation.
  • No supernatural experiences are involved. Supernatural experiences include those which break the laws of nature, but also those which conform to the laws of nature but unquestionably show a supernatural agency. The latter is the case e.g. for prophetic dreams that reveal something to the dreamer he could not know – for example if a code appears in the dream like a bible verse reference, and the decoded verse hits to the ground of the situation.
  • The result is not the intended result of human agency. Both an immediate and mediate gift of God might involve a human being as the actual “giver”. If the gift’s effect is just what the human giver intended, this is a mediate gift: it’s good because God’s creation contains people who know what is good in a certain situation. If however the gift’s result was unpredictable by the human giver (e.g. comforting somebody regarding a problem unknown to the giver), this might be an immediate gift from God … and in other cases, chance.

Because no supernatural experiences are involved, one cannot unquestionably argue for God’s agency. But because what happens seems to be a context-sensitive gift which comes not from humans, the situation is open to interpret it as an immediate encounter with God. Such a situation is undecidable: this might be an immediate encounter with God (just implemented in natural means); or it might be a purely mediate gift which seems to be context-sensitive by chance. In any case, one has the same reason to praise God, but the amount of comfort to draw from this would be different. So in the practical case, interpretable immediate contact with God generates an amount of comfort between that of mediate gifts and (uninterpretable) immediate contact with God.

Cream white contact 1: God comforts Paul by the arrival of Titus

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.” (II Cor 7:6-7 NIV)

What does this mean?

Cream white contact 2: supernatural gifts

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (I Cor 13:1-2 NIV)

This is case that hardly fits in the “cream white contact” category … because here, supernatural experiences are involved, but the other two above conditions apply: it seems to be an individual gift and the result is just as intended by the transmitting human. So, it has the “good, self-supporting system” character from mediate gifts, and the supernatural character from immediate gifts. One can clearly see God’s agency, but it is not clear what part of this gift’s context-sensitivity is God’s and what is human’s. So the immediateness of this gift form God remains open to interpretation.

The thing searched after: life

As humans, we search for many different things: friends, food, love, a living room, sex, a notebook, a family, some money and so on. Let’s summarize: we search for a happy, meaningful life, for a life worth living. Some people argue that God is where to find life because the Bible says: “[G]odliness has value in all things, having the promise of the life which is now, and of that which is to come.” (I Tim 4:8). Sadly, these people are somewhat clueless how to take grasp of what God promised. They have taken different roads to live this life out, here called the “first” way and its counter movement, the “second” way. Sadly, these ways do not work in practice and are “religious”, as will be seen. As an alternative, the “third” way is developed, not by averaging the opposed extremes but by taking a third direction.

The first way: cloistered orthodox piety is life

When searching the life that God promised you will quickly hear that the “world” is evil and unholy. The first thing that comes to your mind is to avoid as much interaction with it as possible. What remains is your action-less faith, i.e. orthodoxy only: you know what is right and believe and say it, but you do not know how to experience it because spiritual things are invisible. So you simply repeat the orthodox spiritual facts over and over, and that’s all you do. The facts do not change and you see no reason why you should change how you repeat them, so things quickly develop into a formalistic, traditionalistic, liturgic faith ” life”. Needless to say that it does not feel at all like ” life”. This is not what you searched.

The second way: face-to-face community 24/7 with God is life

Now you think about your first way and you realize that you are far from the ” world” but you feel not near to God. You’ve heard that God is life so you decide to find close company with God in order to find life (and so did I). The intuitive conception of the closest company with God is perhaps as follows:

  • God speaks to you at least once in a day through spontaneous thoughts, visionary images, dreams and also with an acoustic voice.
  • The relationship to God is “symmetrical”: just as you direct prayers and worship to God directly and personally you expect him to direct answers and gifts to you directly and personally.
  • Experiencing the supernatural power of God and his Holy Spirit is the normal case: healings and other miracles are just as usual as one intuitively thinks they were in the book of Acts.
  • God speaks to your congregation regularly through concrete prophecies.

This conception of company with God is modeled after the personal, immediate face-to-face company we experience with other people. In this sense, it is very understandable. When it comes to practice, people often report the following as their experiences with God:

  • They report to feel and encounter the presence of God in a Sunday service.
  • They sometimes feel deeply emotionally touched when singing worship songs and take this for a direct encounter with God.
  • They report that God talked to them personally through a Bible passage they read in their Bible time. It might be a passage that really hit its reader and helped him in a special situation or acute problem.
  • They report that people prayed for them prophetically and it really hit to the ground of what they needed.
  • They believe that lots of the details in everyday life are coordinated by God. So if they had a good day they thank God for providing this good day for them.
  • They often have spontaneous thoughts and visionary images in their head and believe these to come from God.

When examining the biblical testimony, it is apparent that at least some such experiences are indeed possible:

  • On Pentecost, the first congregation of Christians had a direct encounter with God when the Holy Spirit came on them (Acts 2:1-21).
  • Peter experienced a vision when praying on the flat roof of a house (Acts 10:9-20).
  • God spoke through prophets to the congregation and to individual persons, e.g. through Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10).
  • Paul had the gift of healing and astonishing things happened because of that (Acts 19: 11-12).

There are good indications that all of these direct, supernatural encounters with God that we read about in the book of Acts do also happen in these days. There is however one big question: how often. That is, does God intend that direct encounters with him fill all of our days and life, does God intend immediate 24/7 community or not?

My preliminary result to this question is: such direct encounters with God are rare. I fully admit that this is not the impression one gets from reading the New Testament: the NT and especially the four Gospels and the book of Acts have the problem of being far from representative because they recount the highlights and special events only, and this from decades, a multitude of places and a multitude of people.

This preliminary result is also based on critical observations of supposed-to-be encounters with God (remember that Bible says that we should test prophecy etc.). Some of these experiences are genuine, as reasoned for above. But most are not (I think) because they can be traced back to purely emotional, psychological processes or to sociodynamic processes or might happen by chance without any problem. Let us define: whenever a person interprets a natural event as an immediate encounter with God, this is a “religious element of faith”. It’s simply not true.

This is not to say that a 24/7 immediate relationship to God wouldn’t be life. It would, and in heaven it will be just that way. But as long as we live in this world such immediate company with God is rare and we simply need to cope with this truth.

The third way: being a free and cared for child of God is life

The alternative to the lifeless first and the illusionary second way is here called the “third” way. One should read about its both elements before making up one’s opinion. And keep in mind that this is just a proposition that remains to be tested in real life … so please comment on its weak points and on your experiences with it rather than just throwing it away as a whole.

For a start, let’s consider some of our day to day experiences:

  • You eat bread and thank God for it. What do you mean? Let’s say you bought the bread at a supermarket. The supermarket bought it from a large industrial-style bakehouse, the bakehouse bought the cereal from a wholesaler, the wholesaler from, I dunno, some other guys who bought it from an agriculturist. Who in turn used seed to grow the ears, buying the seed in the first instance from a wholesaler of cultured seeds, developed in several hundreds of years from wild cereal plant species. The plants reproduce automatically from the beginning of the world … and there, at creation time, we find a concrete deed of God, namely, creating the archetype of cereal plants. And perhaps it’s the only concrete deed of God regarding your daily bread … .
  • You got to be friends with someone and thank God for this guy or gal. What do you mean? In nearly all cases this will be simply a natural consequence of how God created men: he created them so that they love to socialize and enjoy friendship, which enables you to make friends (cf. Gen 2:18). So actually you thank God for the way he created this world!

Natural things like these make up our day, and the supernatural things make up perhaps 0,3% only (audacious estimate). Now “natural” should not mean that t
hese things have nothing to do with God; in the Bible, every good gift is attributed to God (James 1:17). But they have an observable mediate character: we receive these gifts because God created once a system that produces these gifts on its own accord (e.g. food, human relationships). And not because God personally and directly distributes these gifts – in this case one would have to explain e.g. why God distributes the food on the world in such an unfair manner.

What then is an adequate reaction to God’s mediate gifts if we cannot thank him for providing them individually to us? We can live in these things “for God” in that we are conscious that we are free to deal with such seemingly ” unspiritual” but enjoyable matters because God himself made our relationship to him whole through Jesus Christ. We are free to do what we see fit and interesting because God has done anything else for us so that we do not need to bother about our redemption any more!!

Another thought: God wants to teach us how to deal right with the huge amount of freedom he imparted to us by a world full of mediate gifts where we can act as it seems fit to us. God, as a father, takes care of us: giving us all freedom that’s possible, just limiting it where he needs to protect us from hurting ourselves or others. We just need to take care of our relationship to God: as long as nothing is between God and us (i.e. nothing is more important than God and what he says), everything is fine and we’re on the right track. So if God keeps silent it means usually: everything’s o.k., just move on; or: just remember what I said and the truth you read in the Bible, and you’re fine, knowing all that’s necessary for now. Probably we should fully dismiss the idea that the amount of time and effort invested into our spiritual and our worldly life says anything about their respective quality and about their importance to us. Not time but the quality of our relationship to God (in analogy to the quality of human relationships) defines the quality of our spiritual life.

Now, the second part of the “third way”: if there would be nothing else than these natural experiences, these mediate gifts of God and mediate words of God, this would be a mildly deistic point of view. Because then we’d think that God created the world once and then left it alone as a gift for us; and that he gave us his word once in the Bible and then left us alone with this truth; and that no direct immediate contact with God is possible in this world, until we arrive up there.

This, indeed, would be no life also. Men would have to feel helpless and alone in this world, sort of marooned by their heavenly father in a big, cold world, all on their own, without any concrete help. So let’s be glad that this is not the case! 🙂 There is the second element:

As argued for above, there always was and still is God’s immediate, direct agency, his dealings with us personally, our direct encounters with him. As said also, this is rare. There are not yet any measurements what frequency you can expect, but: if you experience one really, justifiably supernatural encounter with God every several months you are lucky. There might be a greater number of cases where you cannot discern if it was really God (e.g. having some spontaneous thoughts, some visionary images and dreams, and for events where you suspect supernatural coordination). This is just normal and shouldn’t bother. And additionally, there might be an even higher dark figure of God’s immediate agency where he works below the threshold of what is perceivable and measurable. But anyway, the mediate agency of God as demonstrated above occupies by far the largest part of our experiences.

While God’s immediate agency is rare, it is important, and enough to encourage our faith. We see God at work therein, in the 21st century!! This reignites our faith and proves anew that God is still alive, that he will help us when we need it and that he will fulfill all he promised to us. Jesus talked about this experience when saying something about praying in his name: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.” (John 16:24 WEB).

To take the most encouragement out of these highlight experiences it seems a good idea to write them down. Just as Luke did in the book of Acts, encouraging millions until today. That way we won’t forget what God did in our life, and we can share it with others. And, seeing the misuse of the “miracle” term today and therefore the problems of many people to accept something as a miracle, it seems a good idea to collect well-funded contemporary miracles in a book and publish it.

Summing this up: a world full of mediate gifts and words from God is there to have fun with before God, and immediate encounters with God are to encourage your faith in an invisible God and sometimes to correct you. Together, this makes up the “life in this world” promised to us in I Tim 4:8, namely: enough experiences to believe and to know that God cares, and enough mediate gifts for a grateful, interesting, satisfying life until we go up there. Every attitude (such as the first and second way) that does not value the material world as our place to enjoy God’s gifts is ” religious” and simply does not work.

Summary. This short article discusses what company is possible between human beings and God, and contains some initial thought on how to live these insights out.

Company with God: as intended by God for this world, not as according to human’s intuitive ideal conception

When this world was just finished, new and perfect, and everything else was good, God found something that was still not good: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Gen 2:18 WEB). So right from the beginning men couldn’t have company with God in a way that would fully satisfy him. Men need other people (… here, a woman). Each human being having the company with God that is possible in this world but having not the company with other people is alone!
This means for today: human beings need “more” than even the full company with God in this world. Company with God lacks the many, permanent concrete experiences possible in inter-human relationships. Inter-human relationships are a surrogate to fill up what’s missing in the company between God and men. They’re thought to “materialize”, to “flesh out” how the company with God is meant but not yet experiencable.
This is important to see: God did not create this world with so little immediate encounters with Him because he would be unwillingly to allow this to his creatures. On the contrary: he intends humans in this world to resemble him, and their relationships to resemble his love. This is a near-closed system where we learn about God from the images of God (cf. other examples beyond “company”: God our father, being child, loving each other etc.). And in the other direction, where God says that we should love him he means “love your neighbor” to be the equivalent: “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (I John 4:12) and “Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these mybrothers, you did itto me.” (Mt 25:40).
So Christians should not expect their company with God to develop towards a more and more concrete, immediate, permanent company. Instead, to experience concrete permanent company they should focus on their fellow Christians who “represent” God in this world.
Now, this is not meant to say that Christians will never have immediate encounters with God as a person. These happen, indeed. But one cannot find them, one can just be open to them and be hit by them when God seems it fit. Which is on rare but weighty, most important occasions.
The new testament testimony is a further indicator for the rareness of immediate, personal encounters with God. These things did happen (miracles, answers to prayer, prophecies etc.) but no NT character is reported to have had a permanent personal encounter with God, face-to-face discussions so to speak. Even Paul needed to be corrected by the Holy Spirit several times in his travelling plans … something that couldn’t have happened if Paul had the permanent immediate company with God.

How to live without the permanent immediate company with God

Here are some hints:

  • Be open for immediate encounters with God, but be not desperate that your everyday life lacks them. For example, look at how the “Mobile Freak Gemeinde” lives (http://www.mfg-home.de, German).
  • Search company with God’s people and a meaningful life task to fill the space where you lack immediate company with God. Until heaven, company with God is incomplete (I John 3:2) and you need something interesting to do until then. For example: “hanging around without agenda” with friends, a world tour, a meaningful job that is to the good of others.
  • Practical Christian living is not so much about two-hour personal discussions with God Almighty but about a holy life and doing good.
  • View the NT reports of miracles and visions of collections of the remarkable highlights of the Christian’s experience with God. It’s far from representative for everyday life!
And now some tips how experience your immediate encounters with God to the full:
  • Track your prayer requests and God’s answers, perhaps in your diary or by audio recording on your mobile phone or notebook.
  • Pray for the gift of prophecy: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” (I Cor 14:1). But keep in mind that you cannot force God to give this gift to you, just pray and then wait. You also do not need to fulfill special prerequisites to receive this gift … it depends on your God!
  • Let your fellow Christians in your congregation serve you with the gift of prophecy.

Welcome, all you nice guys and gals. This is just the start of my long, long weblog which is not about everyday life, that is, in short, it is about neveryday life. So … welcome, nice to meet you. I’d suggest you schedule your next visit for the middle of August as I’ll have prepared some articles for you to read then. cu 🙂

»Gott ist ein Geist, und die ihn anbeten, müssen in Geist und Wahrheit anbeten.« (Joh.4,24). Das heißt, Gott ist körperlos. Die Existenz Gottes als eine Person ohne Körper beweist dass es Geist als solchen gibt, d.h. dass Geist kein materielles Substrat braucht um zu existieren. Niemand hat Gott jemals gesehen, also auch die ersten Menschen nicht. Der Umgang mit Gott war also schon immer »besonders«, weniger unmittelbar als mit materiellen Wesen.

Menschen sind im Gegensatz zu Gott Geistwesen mit einem Körper, wobei der Mensch wie ein Gott ist in der materiellen Welt: er kann alles tun was nach den Naturgesetzen möglich ist, beherrscht aber nicht die Erschaffung von Materie durch den Geist (Gottes »fiat«). Wenn dem so ist war der Mensch Jesus ein Geistwesen mit göttlichem Geist und einem Körper. Der Geist muss es gewesen sein der den Unterschied ausmachte: Jesus’ sündlosen Charakter, den er aus seiner Präexistenz bei Gott mitbrachte. Bei Menschen dagegen entsteht der Geist bei der Zeugung ohne Programmierung (und wird durch sündige Menschen mit dem Programm »Fleisch« programmiert).

Diese Theorie von Geist, Materie und Gehirn postuliert hauptsächlich: es muss etwas wie Naturgesetze der Beziehung zwischen Geist und kodierter Information geben. Diese würden z.B. bewirken dass jede physikalische Änderung der Hirnprogrammierung entspr. ihrer Bedeutung den Geist (die »freischwebende Software«) gleichermaßen ändert.

Alternativ: Identifikation des menschlichen Geistes mit dem Unterbewusstsein?? Das würde u.a. erklären warum es zugehörige Hirnprozesse gibt bevor der Mensch gewahr wird dass er etwas »will«: das Bewusstsein wäre eben nicht das Zentrum der Person, sondern nur der (eingeschränkte) Modus der Selbstwahrnehmung, evtl. ein rein materielles Phänomen. Der Mensch hätte dann evtl. das Gehirn als rein materielles Organ zur Informationsverarbeitung (es wäre nicht »reiner Geist«, hätte keine direkte Beziehung zur geistigen Welt, keine beständige Strukturäquivalenz mit dem menschlichen Geist). Das Gehirn würde zum Körper gehören: hätte die Aufgabe einen angemessenen materiellen Ausdruck der Person zu ermöglichen. Dazu würden dann z.B. gehören: Emotionen, emotionale Steuerung der Stimme usw.. Der Geist wäre das Invariante dahinter: der Charakter der sich so ausdrückt, der die Ideen liefert was jetzt zu tun ist (wobei das Gehirn den Ausdruck dafür generiert). Während Logik eine Tätigkeit des Gehirns sein könnte, könnte kreatives Denken eine Tätigkeit des Geistes sein (und »Intuition« die Wahrnehmung von Eingebungen durch den eigenen Geist).

Paulus spricht von seiner Zustimmung zum Gesetz Gottes »nach dem inneren Menschen«. Charakteränderung würde dann bedeuten: die Kopie von »Programmen« vom Geist (dem inneren Menschen) ins Gehirn (den äußeren Menschen). Weil das Zeit braucht gäbe es doch keine uneingeschränkte Strukturäquivalenz zwischen Geist und Materie im Gehirn.

Sog. »kleines fiat« als Methode der Geist-Gehirn-Kommunikation? Das heißt, der Geist könnte spontane Gedanken im Gehirn erzeugen indem er den Zustand kleiner Bereiche von Nervenzellen definiert.

Außerdem: Gehirn und Geist nicht miteinander zu identifizieren ist unproblematisch weil es die »Auferstehung des Leibes« gibt: auch die Gehirnstruktur wird rekonstruiert, auch diesen Teil seines Seins verliert der Mensch nicht.

Datum: 2007-06-22