Pic of the day: Paradise life from the anime Aishiteru ze Baby.
Paradise found & lost
I first encountered the expression "paradise life" in the writings of Johan Oscar Smith, the reluctant founder of the Christian Church popularly known as "Smith's Friends". He was writing about the three realms of human life: Spirit, soul and flesh. On this topic he freely admitted to having learned from Mrs Jessie Penn-Lewis, whom he held in high regard. But Smith was not simply translating; he was himself a keen observer of the inner life and tested every theory against both the Bible, real life experience and the perceived presence of God in his own heart.
As for me, I cannot even begin to compare myself to people such as these. But I write it anyway, in the hope that someone might happen to find it and remember it when they need it. Hopefully God's Spirit will fill in what misses, so what you remember is not exactly what I wrote, but what is relevant to your own life. At least this is how it seems to work with me.
The Fallen life:
Most of us at some point of our life realized that our inner life was not doing too well. We have grown used to some sins and enjoyed them, but their joy did not last and the fruits were bitter. A life ruled by the flesh is one of constant conflict: Conflict with others (whom we would try to use as objects, and they us) and with our conscience. There is no peace, no quiet. There are spikes of pleasure, but then we fall back down in displeasure again. When alone, we cannot simply rest and enjoy being alive: In the silence, we are accused by our own thoughts, and accuse others who have frustrated us in our search for ever more joy in the flesh and the material world.
As humans we have a spirit as well as a body, and were never meant to live like simpler animals, just taking our joy from biological functions and from gaining status in the pack. Some people never get out of this and just try to ignore the emptiness within. Others pull themselves together, and through diligent work they strive to improve themselves. And some of us turned to our Lord and pleaded for mercy, holding on tight to the helping hand that offered to pull us out of the bog. Yeah, it may seem too cheap to be real, but here we are. The bad habits are hard to shake off, but generally the more disgusting and detestable they are to us, the quicker they are gone. A measure of peace finally enters our day. We start to move into a kind of paradise while still on Earth.
When the apostle asks his readers to "lay off the desires of the flesh that battle against the soul", it is not in order to make their life dull. No, once these coarse sins are gone from our life, a new and deeper kind of joy comes in. We finally start to live the kind of life humans were made for. With a good conscience we can sleep well and wake up with a thankful heart. We no longer need to spend time and money chasing intense sense pleasures, because we have more subtle pleasures that may be less intense but far more lasting. We appreciate the beauty of nature, of art, of classical music. We enjoy the bonds of friendship and love that are caring and sharing, not just using each other for a common goal. We learn to trust, and others learn to trust us. We become genuinely liked and respected, because people realize that we are looking out for their good and not trying to use them. Employers can rely on us, and give us more responsibilities and the corresponding rewards. But we are not greedy, we try to give as much as we take at the very least.
As time passes in this paradise life, we enjoy ever greater love and respect from our family and friends. Our senses grow keener in appreciating beauty, and our social skills are honed so we avoid blunders we made at first. We wake up and realize that eternal life would never become boring: Each day is good, and even if we were to make no further spiritual progress, we still enjoy this life so much we would not mind to stay this way forever. (In fact, most people in this state either don't know that further spiritual progress is possible, or they think they are already making such progress, when they increase their skills in doing good deeds. Not that this is a bad thing to do.)
Paradise lost again:
The end of the paradise life can come in several ways. For some it just goes on until they quietly slip into their eternal rest. Others live to see days come which they have no joy from, because of afflictions to the body or to the nervous system, and they realize that the real paradise is still a thing for the next world, not this. And also as long as we are in this body, failure is always an option. Temptations undercut the righteous like water undercuts the riverbank. To fall is human, but some falls are deeper than others, and pride makes you fall from a greater height. Together they may crush you. "The seed is in danger until the harvest."
But the flesh is not the only side that may invade the beautiful balance maintained by the soul. There is also the risk of incursions from the spirit side. And not just evil spirits, of which I have little knowledge and would like this to remain so. But amazingly, God is also perfectly willing and able to ruin your paradise life. For he has other plans for you, plans that ordinary people cannot understand, nor would they want to. And so he starts to pull on your spirit, suddenly or little by little. The complacency of your achievement fades, and a new restlessness bothers you. Maybe you wonder if you have somehow fallen back into the old life, and you ask God to renew you to the good life you had with Him. But God refuses. You grow frustrated. And one day you realize: Paradise is lost again. You grab your wandering staff and turn your back on the garden of Eden. You chose the Giver over the gifts, and follow Him into the unknown.
Tides of the spirit:
The soul tries to balance the demands from the spirit within and the body without. Paradise life is the high noon of the soul, a life of easy balance. But you can kiss that goodbye when you set off into the desert, led by the spirit. Like an addict or like someone in love, all semblance of balance is gone. No longer your own center of gravity, you are in orbit, tied by invisible chains to something outside yourself. Or in this case, within, but the effect is still the same. For the universe within is surely as vast as that without, the realm of the spirit at least as endless as the material world. And into that unknown recedes the mighty wave that rose up and crushed your paradise like a sand castle on the beach. All you can do is follow it, stumbling like a madman into the depths of God's mysterious world.
Perhaps you can stop at any time, but I have not heard from those who did, if they ever existed. For those who press on, the word is fulfilled that says: "The one who seeks, shall find." Eventually they find again the boundless goodness of God's presence, and an overwhelming joy and happiness fills them till it seems they would burst from it. But it is only for a time; then the palpable presence of God recedes once more, leaving them feeling helpless, weak and dirty in their own small self. Once again they follow, once again searching, once again finding. I don't know how often, and I think the rhythm of this varies from one to another. I know to some it can take years for each greater wave. But eventually a clarity develops; not so much that the tides of God stop, but something remains, a clarity or calmness that is neither overwhelmed by the joy nor by the longing. (Or so I have been told...)
So how do you know that you are indeed beginning a spiritual life rather than a manic-depressive cycle? Well, a family history of mental illness is not an auspicious starting point. But also you should be able to test yourself. If you start weeping while praying and confessing your sins and those of your people, it may be the Spirit that moves you. If you start weeping when your kid drops the vase you got from your grandma and it explodes all over the floor, then probably not. (No offense to your grandma.) Likewise if you are filled with the glory of God and it makes you feel thankful and eager to help those around you, then probably it really is God. If you are filled with the glory of God and you realize that you are a Very Important Person and people should obey your without questions, then probably not.
The Internet has its fair share of people who claim to be highly advanced spiritually. Not so I. I am just some guy. I really did not want to finish this when I saw it in writing, but it would not let go of me. Perhaps it is meant for someone out there to read, I just don't know who.
Visit the ChaosNode.net for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.