Dr Rosemary Varghese
Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing -John 15:5
Among random discussions on online groups, the question of the need for loyalty to one God based on one’s religion often comes up. While some members counter these atheistic points of view with Bible quotes and descriptions of religious practices, others make light of it with some humorous repartees. However, the central arguments put forward against accepting Jesus Christ as The Way, are forceful and persuasive, even among Christians. They question the basic validity of the belief that a relationship with God is necessary to live good lives, justifying their stand with examples of non-believers who are capable of spirituality expressed through charity and good deeds.
The differences in how spirituality is viewed and interpreted by believers and non-believers arise from the fact that it is not considered as an exclusively religious concept anymore. In fact, this has been a subject of study in neuropsychological research for the past two decades. The studies conducted in this area give us some insights into what is now commonly known as ‘spiritual intelligence (SI)’ and its role in the spirituality or spiritual quotient of individuals.
Donah Zohar and Ian Marshall, two pioneering researchers in this area define SI as a moral intelligence that helps us distinguish between right and wrong. It also makes people capable of working for higher purposes that extend beyond selfish goals, and often leads to the development of positive character traits like goodness and compassion. In other words, it can be explained through the functioning of the human brain.
It is then, no surprise that academic literature also asserts that there is no direct connection between spiritual intelligence and religious worship. Atheists are equally capable of developing their SI when compared to practicing Christians. One cannot deny that non-believers could also display pristine characteristics like humility and kindness.
Having understood the scientific version of the concept of spirituality, we will now try to decipher how this differs from the Christian point of view. The Bible teaches us that one’s spiritual quotient is entirely dependent on one’s personal relationship with God. When God’s love fills our hearts, He sends the Holy Spirit who guides us on our spiritual journey. In that sense, a Christian can exercise his spiritual intelligence only if he is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Even if one were to assume that spiritual intelligence is part of the human psyche, it can only be activated on the basis of our relationship with God. It is only then that we can truly change the direction of our lives, and move towards God’s promise of eternal life.
To receive this divine gift of spiritual growth through the Holy Spirit, an individual has to pass the acid test of true faith in Jesus Christ. St Paul deals with this subject at length in his detailed letter to the Romans. He addresses Jews who believed they were God’s chosen people, and Gentiles, who were considered as the outsiders. He clearly states that Jews will not receive any consideration over Gentiles just because they are acknowledged as God’s people. Whether Jew or Gentile, belief in God becomes the only criterion through which we gain God’s favour, and the gift of the Holy Spirit who guides our spiritual path. St Paul underlines the condition for God’s grace as follows-“ For the ones that God will justify are not those who have heard the Law but those who have kept the Law”-Romans 2:13.
If these teachings are to be applied in our present day context, we could assume that Christians represent the Jews, and the non-Christians represent Gentiles. Only those Christians who have truly experienced the Lord in their lives, and have developed true faith through Biblical teachings and practices, are eligible to receive God’s grace. Non-Christians who practice the Word without actually being familiar with the Bible are also included in this exclusive league. A possible example can be seen in Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. He adopted a lifestyle and a leadership style based on biblical values. Right from the concept of non-violence , to community service and to the practice of humility and love irrespective of caste and creed, he was at a very highly evolved state of spirituality from the Christian standpoint. In ordinary life, one often meets people cast in the same mould, empowered in the same way, without any formal biblical knowledge. St Paul’s quote aptly describes this special relationship with God- “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” Romans 10:20. God’s Word is inscribed in their hearts and they too are blessed specially to bear abundant fruit.
Unfortunately, there are Christians who have been exposed to the Word of God throughout their lives, but, as the parable of the sower goes, the seeds never took root amidst the preoccupations of this world. The Bible clearly warns those who belong to this group that a branch cannot bear fruit once it is cut off from the vine. They access their innate spiritual intelligence and use this for purposes that are independently chosen, as they have severed their relationship with their Creator, and remain away from the guiding light of the Holy Spirit. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul speaks of this very aspect when he says: “ For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened”- Romans 1:21
Even having understood the distinction between two sets of people, God’s promise of the Holy Spirit to guide the genuine believers still remains a mystery to many. Why did God the Father insist that the spiritual growth of those who were genuinely His people should be carefully guided by the Holy Spirit? Why did He not leave it to each one’s independent discretion?
The Book of Genesis gives us the answer to this question. We all know the story of how the evil serpent persuaded our first parents to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From then on, man’s vision of good and evil became divorced from God’s vision. Man’s understanding of right and wrong could lead to other destinations— those that look attractive but eventually lead to damnation. Our world has brought forth Mother Teresas and Hitlers whose orientation and judgement of good and evil have been at two ends of a scale, and the rest of us come at different points in between. It is only through our relationship with God and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we can tread a path of spirituality that ultimately leads to eternal life in Him.
Spiritual intelligence is only a resource, a capacity of the human mind. Everyone has access to it, and can act on their independent understanding of what is best. The true path to spirituality is one that is guided from above, based on one’s personal relationship with the Creator.