Thursday, December 4, 2008

7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: (6) Understanding

If one, therefore, has a solid and humble grounding in these gifts of the Holy Spirit, Fear of the Lord, Piety, Knowledge, Fortitude, and Counsel, one is now able to cultivate the next gift of the Holy Spirit, which is Understanding. Understanding means that one is able to comprehend the actions of God, and also by extension to comprehend fellow humanity. Understanding does not mean that one understands God himself, for that is impossible, due to the limitations of any life form, including humans, to understanding the all knowingness and thus the perspective of God. But this is why the Bible uses this phrase: that one is able to understand “the ways of God.”

A way of God is a particular manifestation of his will. Thus the “way of God” can be identified and discerned in everything from God’s “decision” to structure the universe with gaseous and energy filled bodies called stars, all the way to how God had a specific communication with a Prophet in the past. Each time that God creates, allows or wills something to happen, that provides insight into “His Ways.” The gift of the Holy Spirit, Understanding, allows the believer who has cultivated the previous, foundational gifts, to begin to understand God’s ways.

Also, by better understanding God, one better understands God’s creations, including the mysteries of the human mind and heart, soul and their behavior (both good and deplorable, as bad behavior comes from misuse of one of God’s gifts). When one understands God’s ways as in, for example, better understanding one of his gifts, one can better understand why fellow humans fall into temptation of misuse of those gifts, and how to remedy that sinful situation.

Further, when one understands God’s ways, one can better understand the universe, the earth, and the ecosystems upon it, and be a better steward of the gifts of creation. When one does not understand God first, such as certain scientists who are “secular” plus personally unbelieving, they risk misunderstanding even the factual measurements that they observe of their studies, for they project the way and motivations of humans onto the behavior of plants and animals, even if they are unaware that they are doing so.

When one has grounded themselves in the gifts of the Holy Spirit as preparation, and then cultivates receipt of the gift of Understanding, it brings great joy and even the most mysterious and difficult concepts of the Almighty can be comprehended by anyone, regardless of background or education. There is a very subtle but moving example of this in the Gospel, where Jesus is teaching in the very Temple of Jerusalem itself. The Temple was always busy and crowded, with holy people, priests and scholars and also many crowds of the ordinary people who have come to either worship or to learn.

Mark 12:35
And while Jesus was teaching in the temple, he addressed them, saying, “How do the Scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? For David himself says, by the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thy enemies thy footstool.’ David himself, therefore, calls him ‘Lord’; how, then, is he his son?” And the mass of the common people liked to hear him.

Jesus is here teaching one of the most complicated of the theologies, which is to understand the nature of the Messiah according to the mysterious prophesies of King David. The prophecies were difficult even for the Scribes to understand, and Jesus “calls them out” on their lack of understanding of what they themselves preach and teach. In this excerpt from what was the longer teaching, Mark preserves a real gem, actually two gems. One is that Jesus, without providing the “answer,” forces the Scribes to see that they cannot use simplistic assumptions in interpreting and understanding how God will manifest his will in raising the Messiah. The second gem is that Mark records that “the common people liked to hear him” teach these complicated theologies in the Temple.

So Jesus demonstrates the gift of the Holy Spirit of Understanding in three ways here. The first is that he affirms that King David’s capability to prophesy and the exact specifics of what we prophesied were provided “by the Holy Spirit.” Jesus thus helps people to understand the reality of the Holy Spirit by being very clear as to the Holy Spirit’s potency and moments of intervention. So Jesus provides an example of the gift of Understanding from the Holy Spirit that occurred in the prior times. Second, Jesus role models for the Scribes how to manifest genuine gift of Understanding from the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was doing, rather than false proclamation of Understanding, as the Scribes were doing. Third, Jesus demonstrates that through receptivity of the gift of the Holy Spirit of Understanding that the common people of all types and education can and did very much comprehend and appreciate the implications of the learning, and the love of Understanding of God. Mark records in this simple sentence that the common people not only “got” the complicated teaching of Jesus, but they loved it.

Receipt of the gift of the Holy Spirit of Understanding is properly felt in small pieces that one at a time just “click” into place. One comprehends one example of God’s ways or his will, and suddenly “get it” at both an intellectual and a heartfelt level. The feeling is like, “Ah, so this is ‘why’ God requires this, or this is ‘how’ God allowed that to happen.” True Understanding as given by the Holy Spirit is sometimes as small as appreciating for the first time the fullness of meaning and implication in several words or a phrase in the Bible, or in prayer, or in something that a saint or prophet of God once said. God cannot be understood “holistically” or “as a whole.” That is one of the mistakes of “New Age” and other mushy thinking and philosophy. God cannot be reduced to a holistic understanding that fits within a human brain, or can be characterized by a human at the keyboard or holding a pen. God can only be comprehended by the gift of Understanding of one small example of his ways and his will at a time.

This is why the great Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy men and women can often meditate upon just one aspect of God, as experienced through a single line of prayer, a Jew bowing ("davinging") at the Wall, calligraphy of the name of Allah, the writing and contemplation of an icon, or meditations upon the cross. These holy people are studying and comprehending with the mind and the heart “one way” of God’s will. It is not a self centered and self denying pretension, such as “New Age” “meditation.” All true uses of the gift of the Holy Spirit of Understanding focuses on comprehending and appreciating God’s ways and will, not turning “inward” or “outward” in “detachment” and self gratifying control over one’s own mind and senses. Cultivating one’s own “control” over whatever is hardly the route to the gift of genuine Understanding, which is only received when one turns directly toward God. An analogy is that “New Age” “meditation” is like being a student in the classroom and cultivating how many ways you can block out the sight, sound and words of the teacher and instead, focus only on some trivial aspect of your own self and glorify it. That becomes quite a problem when it is final exam time. One also shortchanges one’s self on experiencing the genuine joyousness of Understanding, of comprehending the ways and the Will of God. Further, such misuse and misunderstanding is obviously detrimental to understanding one’s fellow creations of God. Humans were made in the image of God, not in the image of the strongest human meditation ‘expert.’

Far from being a barrier or a diversion, fuller use of the gift of Understanding as given by the Holy Spirit enhances one’s success and insight in even secular subjects, such as science, mathematics, physics, biology and human behavior. Secularists inadvertently close off in their mind consideration of alternative hypotheses due to their conditioning to be only “factual.” By trying too hard to be “factual” one misses interpretations and facts that are fact based, but simply would not have occurred to a mind that attempts to be so self focused and rigid. Humans are very limited due to the facts of being a physical being with a given life span. God has no limits. Thus God can envision and will scientific facts and solutions that humans cannot. Thus, one who is rigidly anti-God is also truncating their mind’s own flexibility, as they unconsciously assume that nothing in science can exist except what can be understood by one’s self. This is an especial danger and blinders of people who are “high achievers” “at the top of their field of study.” They not only unconsciously shut out a scientific fact that seems to “far out” for them to ever have considered, but they unconsciously shut out the voices of their colleagues, who are “secondary talents,” in their minds. When one receives with humility the gift of the Holy Spirit of Understanding, one enhances, rather than reduces, one’s own understanding of mundane life and the scholarly studies of it.

Understanding combined with Fortitude gives each human the resiliency that they need to cope with the realities of life. This is something that young people have been robbed of by their negligent parents, faith instructors, and profane society. It is no wonder that so many young people cannot cope with any heartbreak without turning to drugs or guns, or falling into depression or other mental disorders and sufferings. Young people used to be very faith and reality based, and thus grew to be adults that were rocks, were the salt of the earth. The past generations are filled with young people who were blessed with Understanding and Fortitude from the youngest ages, and they grew into the remarkable men and women we both read about in history books, or never hear about because they were the quiet folks who kept life and society going. There is no education system, no pharmaceutical or street drug, no science fiction or meditation, and no entertainment that can take the place of Understanding and Fortitude. It is not only the salvation of the soul that is at risk without the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but also the health and sanity of the individual and society as a whole. If one needs air to breathe and in order to continue to live, attending classes that tell you that you do not need air, taking a drug so you can imagine that you do not need air and to help you ‘forget’ that you do not have, reading a book about ‘aliens’ who do not need air, chanting ‘I am air itself; I do not need earthly air,’ or playing a video game where you shoot people who may or may not need air, none of those will save one’s life and prevent one from dying a death due to lack of air.

That is why the holy people, and the ordinary people, have great joy in the genuine gift of the Holy Spirit, Understanding, because is it comprehending reality, not fiction.

I hope that you have found this helpful.