Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fruits of the Holy Spirit (2): Continence

When I discussed with you the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, I presented them in a particular order because there is an order from foundational to ultimate that is a logical progression in likely receipt of the gifts. For example, one is not likely to receive any of the gifts if one is not first in receipt of and in appreciation of Fear of the Lord. The scripture teaches that Fear of the Lord is the foundational gift.

I'm going to present to you the different way that one must use understanding (a gift of the Holy Spirit! :-) to perceive the fruits of the Holy Spirit. That is I am going to follow closely in the scripture the actual development (or failure) of people to receive and develop the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Thus the first fruit of the Holy Spirit we will discuss, and understand to be the foundational fruit, is not Charity, as one might guess, but Continence.

The definition of Continence is the ability to contain something successfully, and in behavior terms it is often best understood as the ability to have "self control." Most people have heard the term continence in the medical context, where to have incontinence means that one cannot control one's bladder or bowel movements. But naturally as you would expect the term continence has a traditional meaning that is much more spiritual than whether one can wait to go to the lavatory!

Continence can be best thought of as the ability to exercise self control of one's needs and desires, and not in a repressive and suppressive way. Continence has the tone of a person who is also able to be moderate and temperate in their needs. So Continence is not to be understood as someone who can, for example, jab needles in their arms and not flinch from the pain because they are "in control." Rather, Continence means to be serene and moderate in the satisfaction of both one's good desires, but also to rebuff temptations. To use a simple example, someone is demonstrating Continence if they really, really, REALLY enjoy a particular item of food, beverage, or activity, such as a sport, yet you would not realize that unless they told you because they do not hoard or over-indulge in anything, even if they really enjoy it. As you can imagine people with the fruit of Continence are not addicts because no substance or activity overcomes their discernment of 1) whether it is good or bad for them and 2) even if it is harmless, it does not ever have control over these people by immoderate usage. A person with Continence can indeed have one piece of a favorite food once in a while, but does not need to tuck into that food in huge quantities on every occasion. A person with Continence might even love a food, sticking with these secular examples, yet not even indulge in it at all, or maybe once a year for special occasions!

Thus a person with spiritual Continence is moderate and in self control in not only secular matters but also spiritual matters. People with the fruit of Continence are not power hungry, for example. And now I imagine you know why I started with this fruit to be in discussion.

Genesis 3:1-6
Now the serpent [Satan] was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, [Eve] "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" The woman answered the serpent, "Of the fruit of all the trees in the garden we may eat; but 'Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden,' God said, 'you shall not eat, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman, "No, you shall not die; for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Now the woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for the knowledge it would give. She took of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband [Adam] and he ate.

Naturally generations of preachers have spoken about the great tragedy and fall of humankind, just as it had been created in the forms of Adam and Eve, through simple disobedience of an almost incomprehensible foolishness. Here Adam and Eve had everything they needed, including the actual presence of God in the Garden, and they had the promise of children, of dominion over the world, and of peace of mind. With everything that modern humans cannot even imagine having been given to Adam and Eve, how on earth could Eve have been with a single sentence of suggestion been so easily fooled by Satan to eat of the one fruit tree that had been forbidden to them by God? Eve lacked Continence, and so did Adam.

There is no more striking example of a lack of Continence than Eve and Adam in all of human history, of course. It is the classic example of "wanting more" when one already had absolutely everything that there was to have. This is so far from someone just being greedy and out of control over something that one really wanted and/or needed. Adam and Eve had everything that a human could possibly have, promised by God, within their reach and their destiny (ample food, shelter, dominion over the world, the presence of God by their side, and peace of mind), so it's not like Eve wanted for example "more" food, or "more" dominion, or "more" of God's company, or "more" peace. They were the starting point of having it all. Yet within hours of creation Eve at only one sentence from Satan threw it all away, starting with peace of mind.

You see, when a human has knowledge of good and evil, that human loses peace of mind. While Eve believed Satan thinking that she and Adam would "gain" something to be "like God," what they did not realize is that what God can "handle" is a net loss to humans. When Adam and Eve learned about evil, they lost their peace of mind. Rather than having "more" of God, they lost what they had, which was already the most and everything that a human could have!

Contrast this, now, and I'll discuss it later under a different fruit of the Holy Spirit topic, with the sin of Satan and the angels who followed him when they were created by God and then given the choice to serve God or not. Eve followed by Adam made a sin of lack of self control. The angels who refused to serve God did not lack self control, they lacked humility. At a glance you might think these are similar, but they are not, and that is why I will explain them as being linked to the lack of two different fruits of the Holy Spirit.

So Eve and Adam did not have inflated egos as did the disobedient angels. At first glance one might think that as it seems as though both Adam and Eve and the disobedient fallen angels want to be "like God." But Eve did not think she would be completely like God in every way. Eve thought that she would gain a talent, some knowledge, that being the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve did not have a clue what evil was at all. They thus thought it was something that they could own, that knowledge, just "like God." They never dreamed that they would through this knowledge supposedly be "like God" in total. No, Eve and then Adam lacked Continence. They already had everything imaginable yet they lacked even the tiniest will power to just say no to Satan who offered them something they didn't even understand, when they already had everything that humans could ever have desired or possessed, including the day to day presence of God by their side. The disobedient angels, on the other hand, refused to serve God, but like Adam and Eve they did not of course kid themselves that they would ever be like God or equivalent to him. That is something Adam and Eve and the fallen angels share: they knew full well that they would not become God or godlike. Adam and Eve thought they would have a piece of knowledge (what evil is) that God had, and thus be like him in that respect, while the disobedient angels thought that they were "as good" as God in the sense that they did not have to humble themselves to him and serve him. Neither thought they would actual be step-ins or mini versions of God himself in any way, shape or form.

Adam and Eve simply could not push themselves away from the table that was already groaning under the weight of everything good for humans imaginable, and say "No" to Satan offering to put the one forbidden thing on their plate, which would be knowledge of evil. Adam and Eve of course already knew what good was because they were in the presence of God and God gave them everything good already. So how does one best understand the knowledge of "good and evil?" Here is an analogy. Suppose that you were created and lived in a world that was only one color, let's say blue. You would not understand that blue is "blue" because you don't even realize that it is only one of a choice of thing called "colors." So such a person would of course know totally the experience of being "blue" as they and everything around them is blue, but they don't realize that it is "blue" because they do not know a second color at all, and that color choices exist. Thus Adam and Eve did not need to find out what "good" was since they were living it; they just did not realize it. Once they ate the fruit and knew that there is a second choice, called "evil," now it all snapped into place where they realized that everything they already had was "good," but they now also know what "evil" is and how it can be achieved. They saw and were the victims of the first evil, which is human deception.

Adam and Eve would never have heard a lie or have been deceived, since they lived within the goodness of God's total truth. Their children would have been born, and their children, and their children, never even thinking of the concept of lying or deceiving. Once Eve and then Adam ate the fruit they got a crash course in 1) what evil is 2) that they had good all along and didn't realize it since they knew nothing of evil to compare it to and 3) the first example of evil, being the willing victims of Satan's deception. Then, in immediate hindsight, they would have realized the second evil to happen in sequence, which is disobeying God.

So the fruit of Continence springs from several gifts of the Holy Spirit. Before we list them, let us recap what Continence means and implies:

1) self control
2) a preference for all things in moderation
3) understanding the genuine value of limitations

In both secular and spiritual matters, therefore, you can see that a fruit of the Holy Spirit is born and yielded by a tree of the Holy Spirit that is comprised of the gifts of Fear of the Lord, Piety, Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom.

It is not a one-to-one match where a certain given "gift" of the Holy Spirit yields a certain or given specific matching "fruit."

You can understand this by looking back at Adam and Eve. What would have prevented them from listening to Satan? If they had great Fear of the Lord, the fundamental gift of the Holy Spirit, they may well have trembled at the very first mention of disobeying God's order not to eat fruit from that one tree of the many they had. In other words Fear of the Lord alone may well have been enough to yielded the fruit of Continence, and thus given them pause to have self restraint. Suppose they did not have Fear of the Lord (since there was no reason for God to have given them that need, since he was as yet not having to demonstrate any admonishment or punishment in righteous wrath, since they lived in the perfection of the place he had created for them as humans)? They had the gift of Knowledge because God explained not only all the world to them but they also were given the Knowledge of the one unbreakable rule, which is not to eat of the fruit of that one tree. So Adam and Eve were not gift-less, they did not lack the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They had an abundance of the gift of the Holy Spirit of Knowledge.

Those of you who followed my series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, though, remember that one rung up from Knowledge is Understanding. By one rung up I mean that one can have Knowledge as the groundwork but still lack Understanding and Wisdom, and that was the stage of development that Adam and Eve were at. If they had asked God, "Please tell us why you do not want us to eat from the fruit of the tree," God would have truthfully answered them, and they would have gained the gift of the Holy Spirit of Understanding. Thus even if they did not have Fear of the Lord (and may never have needed it), if they added Understanding to the abundant Knowledge that they had, they would have through this second scenario avoided disobeying God and losing it all by eating the fruit from the one tree that was forbidden to them.

If they had by one scenario or the other avoided disobeying God, they would have had children in Eden. They then would have raised and taught their children about God. That would have been the third rung, which is they are now the sources of Wisdom, as one cannot have Wisdom without first Knowledge (the "facts") and then Understanding (the "comprehension.") Wisdom is the synthesis and the culmination of facts plus comprehension plus experience and inspiration. If Adam and Eve had reached within Eden the gift of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, they would have fully understood why not to disobey God without ever having to "know" what evil actually is and the literal pitfalls of knowing about evil. To go back to our color analogy, they would have known and understood that "blue" is their totality of experience, and that to expand that experience would be a diminishment rather than a gain. They'd never have needed to lose their peace of mind by actually knowing what evil is and that it exists. Imagine what the world would have been like. *sigh,,,,*

So the most fundamental, the "first fruit" of successful receipt and cultivation of any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is Continence.