Paul prays for the Ephesian church “that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:19b). Nice sentiment, we think. Kind-hearted thought. And then we read it again: me? Tiny me, filled with all the fulness of God, who created all this vastness and multiplicity? Does Paul realize what he’s saying?
Paul generally does know what he’s saying; he chooses his words carefully. Moreover, he asks the Holy Spirit to guide his pen, because he’s speaking for God and Christ and does not want the fledgling church misled by a thoughtless word. I take this prayer as strong evidence that it is possible that I might be filled with all the fulness of God. I then stop and wonder how it could be possible – not as a temporary illusion on an LSD trip, but as an everlasting reality I might awaken to. I picture myself as an infinitesimal point by comparison to God’s endlessness – with nothing inside and everything outside. Then I catch myself: I wasn’t really thinking of a mathematical point, which has no inside, but of small things with small but positive inner content: grains of sand, periods printed on paper, neutrons. Of course those things can’t be filled with infinite content inside, but a dimensionless point can, because it has neither inside nor outside but only, if embedded in a surrounding space, “side.” The point is to lose self, have no more inside, and thereby know the Fulness. Not to worry: one remains what one always really was, the creature made in the Creator’s glorious, perhaps dimensionless, perhaps qualityless, image.
I in God, and God in me: it’s all unimaginable, I know, from the point of view of a self embodied in mortal flesh in a world of space, time and change. Poets have sung about this mystery as they passed through mortal flesh, Lao-Tse, Parmenides, John of the Cross, all in metaphor. One of the most beautiful poems comes from the Upanishads:
Pūrnāt pūrnam udacyate;
Pūrnasya pūrnam ādāya,
Om. Śāntih, śāntih, śāntih.
Om. That is full; This is full.
From Fulness arises Fulness.
When Fulness is taken from Fulness,
Indeed Fulness remains.
Om. Peace; peace; peace.
A poem more familiar to readers of the Bible begins, “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.” If I were filled with all the fulness of God, how could I want? It dwarfs my worry that I won’t be able to pay all my bills this month, or finish that difficult job on my desk, or live to retire with my debts paid off. God will wipe away all tears from my eyes, your eyes, and in the end all creatures’ eyes, even those that may have exiled themselves to some outer darkness where there’s wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Persuaded that this Fulness cometh not with observation, I wait to be surprised by it. As it’s nothing I can earn by my own merit or ready myself for by special exercises, I can only go on with my everyday life, but enormous gratefulness wells up in me when I think that God’s generosity is such that you and I, who feel ourselves to be deserving of so little, are to be given All That Is.