Water and Spirit

In the remarkable colloquy between Jesus and Nicodemus, detailed in the third chapter of John's gospel, the Master goes to the very heart of the problem of being and draws with unerring accuracy the line of demarcation between the real—the spiritual—creation and the fictitious claim of a universe evolving on an unspiritual basis. Unfortunately, however, the synthetic gospel has suffered more, if anything, than other books in the Bible at the hand of the authorized translators, since it deals in the most precise terms with metaphysical distinctions quite beyond the grasp of scholastic theology. And because of this inadequacy, the force of the logic with which the Master cuts away the ground from under the Pharisee's attempt to controvert spiritual truth with materialistic reasoning is obscured, to a considerable extent, in the English version of the night-time interview.

On the strength of his visitor's tribute to him, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God," Jesus broaches the subject by launching out at once beyond the depth of the apologist for a physical theory of creation, with the sweeping declaration, "Except a man [the word thus translated is the indefinite pronoun which signifies "one"] be born again [more properly "from above"], he cannot see the kingdom of God," thereby implying that the truth of being can only be discerned from a more spiritual standpoint than that which testifies to fleshly existence. Whereupon Nicodemus, seeking to justify the concept of man as a fleshly personality, artfully retorts, "How can a man [the Greek word signifies a mortal or individual of the human species, and is not that which occurs in the previous sentence] be born when he is old?" Since the "old man," begotten of the lust of the flesh, cannot be born from above, but must be "put off" in the rebirth or awakening to spiritual being, Jesus passes over his interrogator's evident attempt to beg the question and restates his original position (here, as in the first place, the indefinite pronoun is used), going a step further in elucidating the spiritual standpoint: "Except [one] be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." In the former affirmation it was merely the question of recognizing the truth that was considered; in this supplementary explanation it is the more practical issue of demonstrating the truth, of entering into a realization of man's spiritual estate.

Following his customary method of illustrating spiritual verities by object lessons at hand, the Master avers, it would seem, that human consciousness must undergo a radical change of base before it can come into harmony with spiritual reality. And here again the translation misses the mark; for in order to complete the analogy as it is in the original, the wording would have to read literally, "water and air," instead of "water and of the Spirit." Water, the most familiar form of matter in the liquid state, and air, the most widely diffused form in the gaseous state, suggest lesser degrees of density, resistance, obstructiveness, inertia—propensities of the carnal mind particularly exaggerated in the pharisaical temper—than does matter in the solid state. May not there indeed be a better reason than is sometimes suspected for the closeness of the analogy; for what, after all, is the phenomenon "matter" but the externalized manifestation of the selfsame qualities and characteristics which are unveiled within the thought realm in mental concepts and tendencies? How well do the determinations of present day physics seem to bear out, in this respect, the conclusion stated long ago by Mrs. Eddy on page 372 of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," which reads, "What you call matter was originally error in solution, elementary mortal mind,—likened by Milton to 'chaos and old night.'"

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"The fruit of their thoughts"
December 25, 1920

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