Life in the Spirit

Happy Moltmann Monday!  This morning’s Moltmann quote comes from The Spirit of Life. In this section, he is attempting to provide a non-dualistic understanding of Paul’s discussion of the battle between the spirit and the flesh.

Life in the flesh is false life, life that has missed its way, life that cannot live and leads to death. Life in the Spirit is the very opposite. It is true life, life springing up from its divine source, life that leads to resurrection. This gives particular emphasis to the sphere of the flesh as the sphere of sinning, and the sphere too of death because of sin. It is not a question of an ontologically lower rung on the ladder of being, compared with the higher rung of soul or spirit. What is meant is sin and death as a field of force into which the whole person has entered, body and soul, together with (his) whole social world…Here ‘flesh’ is a total statement about human beings, and must not be restricted to their physical nature. The sin which misses the mark of life is not centered in sensuality, the drives, or so-called lower instincts. Its center is the whole person, and especially that person’s soul or heart, the center of (his) consciousness, or of his will if he is possessed by the death instinct…

When Paul sees ‘flesh,’ ‘sin’ and ‘death’ as supra-personal forces which enslave people, destroy their world, and make the whole creation beyond the world of human beings ‘groan,’ this is not a matter of unenlightened mythology. It is apocalyptic realism. The greater the hope, the more profound the exposure of misery.


Here’s something Christians tend to ‘language’ incorrectly: when faced with a difficult choice, or the consequences of a bad decision or an unfortunate event, you tend to hear people separate out their own identity, like an attempt to throw on a sin hazmat suit. (It’s not me! It wasn’t my fault!) Or, people will say, in effect, that their bodies got the best of them, as if “they” are some separate entity fighting for the upper hand in their own bodies. Personally, I find all of this language unhelpful. I much prefer envisioning our actions as fields of force, moving either toward life or toward death. These are not totalizing declarations about your personhood; they just honestly describe the fact that when you do something, ALL of you does it. Your body didn’t somehow put a fast one over you, like it’s working for another team. The body is not a lower form, or even a separate form, of identity. Paul was not attempting to separate us into warring chambers of soul and body. Moltmann argues that Paul intended to describe the difference between two ways of life. It’s a far better use of energy to think about which way you’re following at any given moment, rather than deflecting all failures to some strange, dualistic notion of your rebellious flesh.

And, since I’ve had zombies on the brain, it can’t go unmentioned that the phrase “death instinct” certainly lends itself to imagine all the ways the zombie is a projection of our own self-destructive tendencies. Who doesn’t fear the human monster who wants only our own destruction? As I said at church, this, coupled with their existential emptiness of purpose, is the reason why it’s so appealing to grab a skillet and knock their heads off. It’s rejection of purposelessness and self-destruction writ large.  (Does that count as a “profound exposure of misery?!”)

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