Action Reaction

Every object at rest will remain at rest, and an object in motion will remain in motion, unless acted on by an external force.

The force on an object is equal to its mass multiplied by its acceleration.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Newton's Three Laws of Motion

Physics, we would say, is defined by a set of laws that are universal and constant. The laws of physics are not "positive laws," that is, they are not created by man to suit man's desires. They exist and no amount of denial will change the fact that they exist. Thus, they are what we call "natural laws." All that we can do is learn them and learn how to apply the laws to accomplish our goals.

So much for physics. What about the non-physical, or what we might call "spiritual" laws? They are parallel, and in the abstract, they are one and the same.

Some will say there is no such thing as non-physical being and existence is within the domain of matter-energy or not at all. That's an assumption that is only proven by begging the question. If we say that all evidence is in the form of material phenomena we a priori discount anything that is non-physical. To answer the question of the existence of the non-physical requires admitting the possibility of something other than the physical and finding some way to detect it that is not dependent on physical phenomena. That's tricky. But Jesus gave us a clue:

Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus at night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus replied, "I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (Joh 3:1-3)

At first glance, the response Jesus gave seems to ignore the statement by Nicodemus. But the apparent non-response is due to the translation, not what Jesus said. The English translations give you the meaning of the words, but cannot convey the subtle interplay of words that takes place in the original writing. There are two words we should look at more closely: "know" and "see." The word translated as "know" is the Greek word eido and the literal meaning is "to see." Just as in English, the word is used in a figurative sense. If we understand someone, we might say, "I see what you mean." Jesus' response is with the word eido as well, but this time it is translated as "see." It's a clever pun. What is expressed in Jesus' response is a duality of physical and non-physical. To "know" in the physical sense is contrasted with "to see" in the spiritual sense. Nicodemus claims to "know/see" something, but Jesus responds that a person cannot "know/see" these things without something else in play. In effect, Jesus has said, "You see/know the physical manifestation, but lack the ability to see/know the spiritual reality behind it."

That "something else" the NET Bible translation has as  "born from above." Other translations have it as "born again." It's another word-play, and can be translated either as "again" or "above" because what the phrase literally means is "top-born." And, like English, the "top" can be the higher place or the beginning place. "Take it from the top," in other words. Nicodemus fails to understand, continuing to think only in physical terms.

Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time, can he?" Jesus answered, "I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Joh 3:4-6)

Here the contrast is made plain. There is a physical reality and a spiritual reality. We are all born into a physical reality but must also be birthed into a spiritual reality as well. That still leaves open the question of how we know something is a spiritual reality. Jesus provides a metaphor to help:

The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (Joh 3:8)

This is another word-play that does not come across directly in translation. The word for "wind" and the word for "Spirit" are the same word in the Greek text: pneuma. This same word is used for "breath" throughout the New Testament. For example, in Matthew 27:50 and in Luke 23:46, Jesus dying on the cross gave up his "spirit." The phrase could have also been literally translated as "gave up his breath." The metaphor is that just as breathing is necessary for physical life, the spirit is necessary for non-physical life. Jesus uses this parallel meaning in speaking to Nicodemus about the Kingdom of God.

Imagine that you see a leaf on the ground start to move. You know that it did not move itself, but that a non-visible force made it move, in this case most likely the wind. This is an example of Newton's laws of motion at work in the physical world. Nothing changes state without the application of some force. The wind blows on the leaf and the leaf reacts accordingly, thus we know the wind is there even though we don't "see" it directly, and we don't "know" where it came from. Nevertheless, we don't deny the existence or action of the wind because we see the effect caused by the wind. Jesus teaches that spiritual things are the same way. When we see a spiritual change we know that a spiritual force is at work. And, a spiritual change requires a spiritual force to be working in order to effect that change. There is no "boot-strapping" the spiritual condition, in other words, but we must rely on an unseen spiritual reality to work in us if our spiritual condition is to change. Unless and until that force is at work, we cannot "see" the Kingdom of God.

Jesus goes on to chide Nicodemus for not knowing these things. The same metaphor of "breath/wind" and "spirit" is used throughout the Torah. Thus, Nicodemus as a teacher of the Law, should have understood the parallel between the physical and spiritual. He should have known that God "breathed into [Adam's] nostrils the breath of life" (Gen 2:7) and that is what made Adam a "living soul." Those who study the Bible, or claim to have studied it, should know the same thing. Only those who have that breath/spirit and retain that spirit are alive in a spiritual sense. Nothing we do or can do of our own power will change the physical nature into a spiritual nature. It must come "from above" as it was in the beginning with Adam.

Furthermore, the physical forces of action and reaction can never cause the spirit to manifest. That manifestation must come from God. He must "breathe" on us to make us live.

So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you." And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone's sins, they are retained." (Joh 20:21-23)

The words and action of Jesus recalls the prophecy of Ezekiel:

This is what the sovereign LORD says to these bones: Look, I am about to infuse breath into you and you will live. ... I will put breath in you and you will live. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' ... As I watched, I saw tendons on them, then muscles appeared, and skin covered over them from above, but there was no breath in them. He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man and say to the breath: 'This is what the sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these corpses so that they may live.' " (Eze 37:5-9)

First the physical nature is built, then the spiritual force brings life. The physical structure alone is not sufficient. In all things, the life of the spirit must be "born from above" and cannot be generated through physical actions alone. Always, and everywhere, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is as John the Baptist prophesied and as Paul confirmed:

"I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am  I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Mat 3:11)

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. (Rom 8:9-10)

That Baptism of the Spirit is the ultimate proof of the reality of the Spirit. Those who have experienced that "immersion" can never doubt the reality of that experience anymore that we could deny the reality of the physical things we have experienced. Like the wind, we don't see it and don't see the source, but we know its reality because of the change it produces.

The same is true of evil spiritual forces. The force on you, or around you, will produce a spiritual effect in you. When you sense anger, hatred, bitterness, etc., then know that you are under the force of an evil spirit. The inner change of spirit is the evidence of the outside spiritual force.

As Jesus goes on to explain, all of this knowledge is first given to man in physical metaphors of things that we can see, and we are to grasp the parallel with the things that we cannot see.

If I have told you people about earthly things and you don't believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? (Joh 3:12)

Simply - if you don't understand the physical conditions, then likewise you will never understand the spiritual conditions. We are placed into situations in this physical world that God uses to show us spiritual things. If we observe and analyze and are aware, the Kingdom of God is manifest around us and we can see His hand at work, teaching us His ways at all times.

With the understanding and knowledge that spiritual forces are constantly at work on us, we now have to learn the dynamics of those spiritual forces. As with all things, what we encounter as physical laws become the metaphor for understanding spiritual laws. The existence of a physical force is made manifest because of the change in position that force produces. Now, consider the Third Law:

"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Think of trying to move a large boulder by pushing against it. The mass of the boulder, and the friction of the boulder against the ground, would require a force far greater than you can produce. More importantly, the inelasticity of the material means the boulder is pushing back against you. That's the "opposite reaction" that prevents the boulder from moving. But if we apply an appropriate lever, we can move the boulder. In that case, the inelasticity of the pry-bar material and the friction against the fulcrum works to our advantage instead of against us. Manipulating the boulder is not done by direct action, but by using the indirect action of the lever, relying on the natural reactionary force of the lever to do the work.

Can you apply this to your life? The manipulators of the world know that people will push back if they attempt to force you to do something. So, they use "leverage" by getting you to react in a predictable way. Knowing that most people will respond defensively when attacked, you can "move" a person by creating a threat, real or perceived. It is the natural reaction of the person against the threat that accomplishes the goal of the manipulator. You become the "lever" the opposition is pushing against and inadvertently do their work for them. This is also what some call "the game" - manipulating by indirect influence, knowing how the person will respond. To break the game means acting in a way other than what is predictable. This is the nature of a spiritual attack as well. The spiritual attack is designed to get you to react in a predictable way, thereby altering the conditions because of your reaction, possibly destroying you in the process.

Now, we can come to an understanding of living in the world, among the wordly, subject to physical laws yet acting spiritually according to the spiritual laws at work on us. It is not the physical forces working on us that determine our spiritual condition. It is always and everywhere, our reaction to the spiritual forces we must be aware of and control.

The temptation always is to assume that the forces acting on us are the problem. It is easy and tempting to think that if "those guys" who are manipulating, controlling, doing wrong things, could be forced to stop, all would be well. We think it is "their" fault, and they are the ones we must pray against and use force against. But what this fundamental law of "action-reaction" teaches us is that our reaction is half of the condition we encounter. God honors free-will choice, and those who choose to manipulate and control will face the consequences of their action. Human beings, lost in sin and confusion, lacking a true spiritual understanding, will do wrong things. It's inevitable, and the ultimate reaction for them is inevitable as well. But what is not inevitable is how we react to those forces used against us. Just as others have free-will in their actions, we have free-will in our reactions. We do not have to react predictably. That's the other part of John 20: 23 quoted above that I skipped over before. Look at it again:

"If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone's sins, they are retained." (Joh 20:21-23)

The spiritual force of evil results in sin and that sin is the driving force used against us. Remove the sin and the spiritual force is thwarted and of no effect. Simple. Condemning, judging, attacking the sin is pushing back against a force, an inelastic response, thus creating a contest of wills where you may not be able to overcome. Forgiveness changes the conditions. The sin is not retained and spiritual force behind it does not affect you.

The necessary counter-reaction to evil is not an equal force of evil. It is love, forgiveness and compassion for the failings of others. "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do," was the prayer of Jesus. He removed the sins and thus the spiritual evil directed against him, and in so doing was reborn in all power. We who carry the "breath" of Jesus in us, must do the same.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another. (Gal 5:22-26)

Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. For each one will carry his own load. (Gal 6:1-5)

"Let each one examine his own work" is exactly what I am getting to here. Continuously living as if "they" are the only consideration is to ignore the importance of our own spiritual condition. Our spiritual condition determines how we react to the conditions around us. Then - knowing with full confidence that Jesus is with us by the power of the Holy Spirit is sufficient knowledge to be able to overcome any attack. Our actions become controlled by the Spirit within us, not by the spirit that is in the world, and we react in a way to manifest that spirit from God, not from the world. This is also called "faith."


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