The Intersection of the Material and Spiritual Worlds

The Incarnation (God becoming a human being in Jesus Christ) is a foundational claim of the New Testament and thus of Christian theology, shaping the mindset of a biblical worldview.  Christianity offers a holistic perspective on reality, not a dualism  segregating material and non-material realities.  I (as do you) encounter this intersection of the material and spiritual worlds every day and every hour of every day.  Today, I’m struck by several intersections.

I’m reading again about the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the British “prince of preachers” in the 19th century.  I read a biography about him when I was much younger and appreciated his contributions, but was rather turned off by his person. This may have had more to do with me than him. I’m not prepared to analyze this presently, but my current readings startled me in regards to areas of his writings and attitudes that resonate with my own experience.  Previously, I lacked a long-term experiential base.

Spurgeon suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually. His chronic health issues certainly impacted his emotional and spiritual development and yes, even his hermeneutics (methods of textual interpretation and application).  I now have had years and years of such experience to be able to identify with him.  All people suffer in various ways, which probably offers one significant reason for Spurgeon’s amazing impact upon people —  not just on many people, but upon such of variety of people from different segments of society in so many countries. We all are broken.  Hurting.  All.

How did I come back to Spurgeon?  I chose as my field of study for my summative research and writing project (dissertation) to pursue constructing a “biblical theology of suffering.”  Sigh. This is an intimidating and sometimes discouraging field of study.  So many have analyzed, written, and preached about this subject. Maybe I have nothing to contribute. There is too much to process. At times, I’ve considered just dropping it all. I don’t have to complete this doctoral degree. I just love to learn. God provided an opportunity that works within my physical limits.  I could just let it go.  After all, I do have (as many jokingly say) an ABD  — All But Dissertation degree!

However, I’m going to continue to pursue, even if my pace makes a snail look like a speed skater. I’m motivated by the thought, “Patience is genius,” descending from Michelangelo’s famous quotation, “Genius is eternal patience.”  How delightful that genius in not simply IQ.  Genius of any sort is dependent upon character development — which of course means, never giving up.

I discovered this journal article on Spurgeon in  the Evangelical Review of Theology (ERT): “C.H. Spurgeon and Suffering,” by Peter J. Morden.  Morden explores the relationship between Spurgeon’s  long term experiences of physical, mental, and spiritual suffering and his theology. A very interesting article. As I thought about Spurgeon’s physical suffering — his cause of death at age 57 was described as “congestion of the kidneys complicated by gout” — I wondered what kind of health he would have had if he lived in our times.  He experienced long term, chronic pain, much of which would have answers today.  God knows the causes and solutions to all our ailments, yet lets us live within the limitations of our own times and cultures. (This, in my simplicity, stuns me. I cannot write about this now.)

Our physical health, as we all know, impacts our spiritual health and so on. I’ve lived with chronic pain since I was 12 years old when I fell down a set of oak stairs, landing fully on my tailbone, fracturing it, the force running up my spine, moving some neck vertebrae and discs.  That moment, I left the comfortable world of childhood (although since age 2 my immune system evidenced weakness).  In my late 20’s, I was diagnosed at Cleveland Clinic with what is today called “Fibromyalgia.” My chronic back-neck-head pain had spread through my limbs. In my thirties, chronic pain digressed to constant, body-wide pain, and I have never left this planet.  It amazes me when someone says that he or she does not hurt anywhere. I can hardly imagine.

I have fought for my life, especially the last 13 years. This brings me to some sites about health that I want to share with you. I’ve appreciated Jordan Rubin of the first site for years. I discovered sites 2, 3, and 4 just this year. They’ve blessed me in numerous ways. I’m not saying that all are “Christian” sites.  They are run by alternative health practitioners — nutritionists and naturopathic students and doctors.  If you dislike alternative medicine, you probably won’t want to explore these.  Always employ discernment. Because of my personal experience, I do not trust conventional medicine — it has done me much harm.  But it has its place. It has also saved my life and the lives of my two girls through two emergency Caesarean deliveries.

The strong suite of conventional medicine is largely composed of diagnosis, emergency intervention, and surgery. The strong suit of alternative medicine is health maintenance and self care under the natural laws of the Creator.  Check out online the following and let me know what you think:

1. Biblical Health Institute (Jordan Rubin)

2. Wellness Mama  (Katie)

3. Underground Wellnesss (Sean Croxton)

4. The Whole Journey (Christa Orecchilo)

It does not matter how sincere we are — when we violate God’s design in either the material world or the spiritual world, we have a price to pay.  I’m endlessly grateful (understatement) that Christ died to pay for my sins. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus, Christ, our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Christ’s work on the cross does not negate our need to follow good lifestyle practices. God has designed an orderly world for us, and it is our responsibility to learn that framework and blossom within it.

The Creator God demonstrated His huge respect for His creation by entering this planet via the Incarnation of Christ. Our theology must include our science and our health and our art and culture and all aspects of life.  Dr. John Frame defines theology as “the application of God’s Word by persons to all areas of life” (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 76).  All areas.  Application.  Truly, the material and spiritual realms do more than intersect — they sing together in harmony.  I’m seeking to harmonize with them.

*Philippians 2: 5-11.

Categories: Joy & Suffering -- Good & Evil, Spiritual Growth | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The Intersection of the Material and Spiritual Worlds

  1. Martin Zuidervaart

    Karen, your meditations and reflections are deep and nourishing to my soul–in a similar way when I listen to sections of Handel’s Messiah. Your thoughts are especially timely because I am leading a discussion at our elders’ meeting tomorrow evening on the role of spiritual disciplines/practices (Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Catholic mystics) in the spiritual formation of our hearts. Your point about the integration (“harmony”) of the material and the spiritual is a helpful reminder. Frame’s
    words also will serve us with a useful framework (pun intended). On a different note, I returned from Bakersfield this afternoon where Louis and I enjoyed our annual 24-hour rendezvous. We found ourselves talking about our mutual fondness for you and your blogging ministry to your readers.
    One last thought: for what my opinion is worth, you DEFINITELY have a contribution to make to the ongoing understanding and surrender to the mystery of suffering. Louis and I will be among your readership!

    • kltolsen

      Ah, Marty!
      Your words come at a beautiful time for me. My inner spirit is hurting so right now. I am physically weak. My head pounds and I’m rather dizzy. I cannot sleep. Yet, I sense such a joyful surrender. The Spirit of the Lord is quietly present with me. I sigh and can rest now. Maybe I can return to sleep for a while.

      • Martin Zuidervaart

        Good morning, dear friend. I have prayed that your day be more gentle than what your night was to you. Marty

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