Monday, 6 September 2010

Instinct for God - from before 'original sin'?

When birds migrate half-way round the world, they know where they are going 'by instinct'. I suppose if any one bird was unfortunate enough to have a more developed brain so that it was aware of other options and choices, this instinct would be drowned. But then it could always just join a flock and follow for the sake of it.

The patterns birds make in the sky when preparing to migrate are hypnotic. They seem to take on a collective mind, and can even appear like a single organism. This picture looks to me like a giant fish in the sky.

But what of mankind? If we have 'original sin' in our make-up, ought there not to be a remnant of even earlier (before the fall) perfect connection with God? A connection that would be truly 'original', although it could not again be wholly innocent or perfect in this world.

This train of thought began with wondering why 'fasting' seems to have no place in the religious tradition I was brought up in. Everything I read about fasting, and its association with prayer, seems to make sense. Not only did Jesus fast for 40 days, but he appears to have taught self-denial (of power, wealth, possessions, etc.) - or at least that all self-centered worldly desires should be secondary to the love of God, and the love of one's neighbour. His example was such: born in a stable with nothing, died on a cross with nothing and lived 'without a place to rest his head'. Where the prosperity gospel comes from, Heaven alone knows!

I was told that fasting can actually bring on a sense of elation - is this true, and why? The one thing I'm sure about is that when my life is busy, busy with 'stuff', and when my mind is a constant buzz of 'interests', even religious 'duties' do not bring me to a frame-shaking sense of His presence. Maybe fasting is a state of mind, uncluttered by the world, where the voice of God can actually be heard.

Before I finally shake off my denominational baggage and head off for a hermit's cave, I suppose I better reflect on the fact that fasting and self-denial was never an end in itself, but a preparation.


  1. Very interesting! I do believe there is a part in the recesses of humanity that has some remembrance of the perfect nature we had. Since we are created in His image, it is still there but often covered by the weight of the millenia of sin. I believe we can still get there but most of us probably will not this side of heaven. Every once in a long while I feel like I get a glimpse, but it fades far too quickly.

    Fasting is another interesting topic. My church background does recommend it but I do not see a lot of people running to take part (including myself). I know people who have done 40 day fasts and have had wonderful spiritual experiences. They rely completely on the Bread of God being real food. I believe it is. When I have fasted for shorter times my flesh protests loudly. I have a tendency towards hypoglycemia and feel terrible. I still believe though that if I would just quiet my flesh and rely on God I could press through that.

    I did the fast for Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, last year and plan on doing it this year as well. It is coming up in a couple of weeks. I have found that when my body is complaining of hunger, it reminds me to focus on the Lord and it has been fruitful. The fast for this feast is to "afflict our souls" or be a reminder of the price that had to be paid for our sins to be covered. It is one day of hunger to remind us of Christ's atonement.

    Great post!!

  2. Great post. I fasted once for about 22 hours (was shooting for 24), but I finally had to break down and eat a couple crackers or I was going to be sick, maybe because I'm overweight and was suffering "withdrawal." I suspect that we miss out on many blessings by not doing it more.

  3. Good thoughts :) In preaching or sharing I often use the imagery that we were made in the image of God, but that image has been marred or scarred or broken by sin. Is not every yearning for greatness and goodness an echo of our original state? Though we are fallen, there is still generally an internal moral compass, a belief that some things are right and others definitely wrong or evil. Our hunger for truth and beauty and noble character (even though we cannot measure up to the standards we know are right) -- aren't all these things echoes of Eden?

  4. Gary,
    Yes, there is an echo - I like that word - and I find great hope in the fact that the early Patriarchs could hear it so clearly, without the benefit of church, law or scripture. The heavens declare the glory of God to those that have not been reached by the gospel, and I find comfort in the universality of a spirituality in mankind.
    I have heard that in some Muslim countries, where Christians are forbidden to proselytize, that most converts come to faith in Christ as the result of a vision or a dream.
    The haunting echo is not just a primeval evolutionary relic, but a living force that connects to those that have ears.


    I suspect that fasting means different things in practice to different metabolisms! Not that I have it, but I think it is a state of mind.
    And fasting is definitely NOT equivalent to dieting.


    Thanks for your clear focus on such a hard thing to get a grasp of. You do seem to have the discernment to do more than 'catch a glimpse', and I continue to be stimulated by your fresh thinking on the 'original' Jewish character of the church.

  5. I think you hit it when you said Self-Denial. If it's about how it can improve you, then it ends up being self-focus.

    We fast because we're in anguish, we're humbling ourselves to the dust, crying out to God for aid.

    Some have pointed out that when we enter into such seasons of fervent prayer and devotion, rather than change God's mind (as if that were possible)...we ourselves our changed.

    So by focusing on Him, we are changed.

    By focusing on ourselves, we change how we think about Him...that is, we elevate ourselves.

    I hope that makes sense.

    As far as Original Sin...the fallen Adamic nature which we inherit, or as some would have it the imputed sin of Adam acting as our Federal head....sure I think there are remnants of the pre-fall glory. We see it even when unbelievers produce things of beauty, when our souls are stirred. I think we see it in a glorious sunset, or in the companionship between a husband and wife. All imperfect of course, just shadows of what was...and what is to come. It's always marred by the effect of Adam's fall. As sad as it is, it helps us to remember we're pilgrims and our hope is not here, but in that which is to come.

    Thankfully we have the 2nd Adam who has made a way for us to an even better Eden (so to speak) and verily we will dine on the Tree of Life.

    I think you're spot on when you say....not an end, a preparation. That's a good way to look at it. It's laying up our treasures in heaven rather than saying okay, if I do this it will help me be a better Christian.

    Sometimes it seems like a subtle distinction but it's really quite profound.

  6. Hello phillip. Firstly the picture of the grouped birds does look like a giant fish....I am often amazed at how birds fly in unison.
    I believe in Fasting and praying. By doing this we let go of our physical body and its desires, wants and cares.
    Coming into our spiritual innerself we are more able to concerntrate and get closer to our Creator God. Whenever I have an extra serious petition I fast. It is so wonderful!! On my last occassion it was for my 42yr old son who desires a loving mate....after doing this I was shown to leave it completely with God and stop praying. This I have done. My son lives and workes driving coaches to the mines in northern Queensland. He is a beautiful Christian man who desires to meet someone of a like mind. God knows the right time for everything, so it will happen.
    Yes fasting is a must when you truely believe....after all, Jesus (our example) did it.
    God Bless you.

  7. I also commented on wrestling, below...

  8. A good book on fasting I recommend is "God's Chosen Fast" by Arthur Wallis. Perhaps take a look at it if you can find a copy. Wallis has written some good books including The Radical Christian. Though the restoration movement he was prominent in decades ago laid foundation for some off-the-rails streams today, the truth and understanding he articulates in Radical Christian is valuable. Perhaps, especially because you call yourself "post-denominational, you will get a lot out of Radical Christian also.

  9. Crystal Mary,
    Thanks for your different comments. You mentioned below that you wished your middle name was 'Joy' - well it might as well be! Did you know that C.S. Lewis's wife (in later years) way an American called Joy? He was born in Belfast and never forgot his roots and his autobiography is just as good a read as "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", and it is called "Surprised by Joy" - a reference to the time he was saved, rather than being pounced on by his future wife!

  10. Victoria,
    I've checked Arthur Wallis out, and he does seem like an interesting person. Wikipedia says "God's Chosen Fast" is "the acknowledged classic on the subject of fasting", so I must try and get hold of it as well as "The Radical Christian". Thanks for the tips.

  11. Crystal Mary,
    I meant to also say that as well as the birds looking like a giant fish, when small fish swim in shoals, they twist and turn together with the same hypnotic patterns. The "whole" of creation is greater than "the sum of its parts", isn't it?

  12. Protoprotestant (or John A. if you prefer),
    Thanks for your take on this subject - as always, very thought provoking. Self-denial or self-elevation? Like worship, it's what comes from the heart, and not the mouth that is important. Do we walk the walk or talk the talk?

    I like the idea of "humbling oneself" - no matter how important we think we are, we are commanded to go to the foot of the table, and not assume a high station.

  13. Hello Phillip, Thank you for telling me about C.S. Lewis wife,I didn't know that.
    And you are so right about the fish, they mesmerise you once you begin to watch.

  14. The movie Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger tells the story of CS Lewis and Joy. I'm not sure how accurate it is. I read a biography on Lewis years ago and I seem to recall there were some differences...which you have to expect with any movie.

    Anyway, if I recall it's completely clean...though hard to watch. My mother-in-law died of cancer and my wife had a difficult time sitting through it...a bit too vivid.

    Victoria, can you point me to someplace I can read about the Restoration movement? The only one I know of is the Stone-Campbellite movement in the 19th century and I have a feeling that's not what you're talking about.

    I too have fasted...I say have, because it seems like it was more from my single days. Married family life seems less conducive. I suppose I could do it during the day...skip lunch or something. I know some couples fast together, but we just don't think about it I guess. We're constantly talking about the Bible and related topics, we've always done that. We spend endless hours in discussion, and we've certainly had some pretty desperate situations when we're praying fervently. Maybe we've been wrong not to focus on it more? We have friends who do it, but they kind of broadcast it...and that definitely puts me off. It has nothing to do with proper fasting, but that's definitely how not to do it.

    Humbling ourselves is always a good thing...but I have to confess...I start thinking...Hey, I'm being humble...and just like that the needle flips and is pinned to the other side where the gauge reads....disgustingly prideful.

    Perhaps my own fleshly weakness has led me to avoid such exercises, but I will freely's my problem. (smile)