The Reality Principle
There are lots of ways to think about spiritual formation – metaphors to use, patterns to characterize it, etc. One of the ones that I’ve thought about now and then is something I just started calling The Reality Principle. As you grow more and more towards God and grow as a Christian, you will increasingly live in reality. Conversely, the more you enter into and live in reality, the more you grow spiritually. (… more or less, I suppose. There may be exceptions to the converse, particularly for the unbeliever.) If this is the case, then the more you deny reality, distract yourself from it, attempt to escape from it, or push it away, the further you get from God, yourself, others (overall), and growth and formation.
This should make sense when you think about God. God only lives in reality. The moment you start dealing with fantasy, delusion, hallucination, etc., you might be dealing with a God, but it isn’t the true God. God does not live outside of what is real. Therefore, if we want to connect with Him (and that is a necessary element of all real growth), then we must do it in reality. By distracting ourselves from reality, we distract ourselves from where God is, and thus we pull away from God. Anytime we move away from reality, we move away from God.
Of course, the word, “live”, is of importance there. I spent many years trying (and still trying, thanks to those parts of me that are still being sanctified) to understand truth and reality while not actually engaging with it. My tendency is to know, but not to live. What we know is not enough. This is all too often an Evangelical (and Protestant in general… and frequently human overall) error: to find out the truth without necessarily doing anything with it or letting it affect us. Another frequent error is to only know or engage with certain things while denying others and pushing them away.
The fact that reality is pretty all-encompassing is rather important. What one thinks is part of reality. Those thoughts might be fantasy or falsehood, but the thoughts themselves do exist, so they are part of reality. If they are fantasy or falsehood, that truth is part of reality. What one feels is part of reality, and what we are designed to and called to feel is part of reality; we must engage with both. What happens around us is part of reality. What people around us do, think, feel, desire, etc. are all part of reality. The work of God in the universe is reality as well as His thoughts, desires, feelings, etc. The felt presence or felt absence of God is reality. The actual presence of God (thankfully, there is no actual absence in this life) is reality. We must live in the midst of all of this, and as we grow, we should be able to incorporate more and more of these truths and happenings into how we live and move through life.
The more reality we live in, the more we can live where God lives. Makes me think a bit of Psalm 84:10, “I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tends of wickedness.” (NASB) And isn’t the king of wickedness also the Father of Lies (unreality)?