In Creator Spirit, Steve Guthrie contrasts Platonic and biblical metaphors that express the spiritual journey. “The Platonic vision . . . uses the spatial metaphor of ‘ascent’.”
The language of ascent, of course, suggests that the realm of Spirit/spirit is above and other than the realm in which we reside. The realm of true Being, the really Real, is not here, but “upwards” in “heaven.”
The Christian tradition, however, turns the contrast of “heaven above” and “earth below” on its side, speaking much more naturally of “this present age” and “the age to come” (see, for instance, Mark 10:30; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:21; Titus 2:12). The Christian hope, strictly speaking, is not “going to heaven,” but for a new creation and a new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2, emphasis added). God’s people, then, do not desire to ascend (to what is above) but long for God’s reality to arrive (from the future). They do not aspire; they hope.
From this perspective, then, the glory that we perceive in the material world is not a signpost directing us to journey above or some dim participation in a heavenly reality. Rather, we see in the world around us intimations of its own transformed glory. And we look with longing, not to some ideal realm beyond the skies, but for the inbreaking of God’s promised future (p. 66).
Guthrie’s distinction between the Christian posture of hoping and the Platonic posture of aspiring has great potential for discerning various ways that Platonism has hijacked and perverted Christian theology and spirituality. Here are just a few random observations provoked by his statement that God’s people “do not aspire; they hope.”
Aspiring leads to dissatisfaction with present circumstances and relationships. Focusing on ideal people and fantasizing about ideal relationships fosters disappointment in my actual relationships. The biblical posture of hope calls for us to bear with circumstances, relationships, and actual friends and family. We can acknowledge that we’re all broken in various ways and be set free to actually enjoy one another.
Aspiring prevents us from freely and effectively receiving God’s grace. Focusing on ideal attitudes and states of mind fixes our gaze on how far short I fall from such ideals. I wonder if the strong Platonic impulses within evangelicalism account for so much misplaced evangelical guilt. Hoping, however, focuses on God’s love and his promises of restoration. This enables a vision of ourselves through the lens of God’s redeeming grace and magnanimous love.
Aspiring fosters individualism. Just look at the burgeoning evangelical self-improvement industry. Hoping orients us toward others and creation, yearning for God to fulfill his promises to restore creation and us so that we can once again flourish.
How else might this distinction between aspiring and hoping change the way we conceive of Christian discipleship?