Archive for June, 2012

Time: The third point on the Cosmic Triangle

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2012 by ancienthopes

In Greek lore, Cronus, old father time, has a long, white beard and appears with a sickle. This symbol reveals the Greek ambivalence toward time; a benign old man on one hand, but with the sickle of the grim reaper on (in) the other. The 18th Century Enlightenment, which went back to the classical world for inspiration, shared this ambivalence. The deism of the time viewed the world like a machine, a clock wound up by some remote deity that ran by on laws of its own. This is thoroughly pagan; time is cyclical and going nowhere, a rather depressing thought. Hegel tried to inject meaning for time in the 19th century by making time and culture itself divine. This coincided with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Time is progressing, and German culture itself (or English if you were British), was the crowning achievement of the human/divine march toward perfection. As we know, it all ended in the world wars of the 20th century, and the western world again lost its enthusiasm about time. As a culture, we have little or no hope in the future.

It is in this context that we ought to revisit Genesis 1-2. These glorious opening chapters of the Bible provide the three great building blocks of a Christian cosmology, or, using the imagery of the cosmic triangle, the three points of transcendence, space/matter, and time. We cannot help but see that creation comes into being in the context of time, days of a week progressing to a grand conclusion, the seventh day of rest. This taught the ancient Hebrew something that the pagan world around them did not know, that time is not only cyclical like the seasons, but it is also linear, with a beginning and an end, and has a conclusion where all will be made right. What we do in time we are accountable for, because in the end there is God.

For the pagans, there were two ideas of time, sacred and secular. Sacred time was the time of sacred festival tied to the seasons. Their cultic rituals were magically connected to the ancient myth of the fertility god battling the chaos monster. They had to be re-enacted or the rains will not come for the growing season. Sacred time was real time to them, a pristine time of power and meaning. Secular time was painful and sorrowful, dominated by the mundane task of survival. This linear time was not real to them. In fact, it was threatening, for this time is going nowhere and will eventually swallow them up. The pagan tried to live as much as he could in sacred time.

The Bible opens up a whole new cosmic view of time. God breaks into secular history and transforms it by His presence with us. This was true in the Old Testament, but is especially true in Jesus Christ, who because of the incarnation and defeat of sin and evil becomes Lord of Time. Jesus fills each day. To be bored in time, or to fear it because of the effects of aging and eventual physical death, is not to live in reality, not to live in truth. In Jesus the “secular” become sacred!

With this we conclude our little talk on the cosmic triangle. The Bible affirms the reality and goodness of transcendence, space/matter and time. Here is the beauty of this simple cosmology. You can study any religion, theology, or philosophy, and ask yourself the simple question: what does this worldview have to say about transcendence, space/matter and time? Every cosmology will affirm the reality of one or perhaps two, but none except Christianity will affirm all three. For instance, Platonism, Islam, and Eastern cosmologies in general will affirm the reality of transcendence, but it does so by dismissing the ultimate reality of space/matter and time. The materialism of the west obviously recognizes only the reality of space/matter, but has little idea of true transcendence, and does not know what to do with time. When space/matter and time is disconnected from transcendence, then we humans become jaded, and the very matter we worship becomes onerous and unreal to us, and everything then seems to be an illusion.

Dear friends, my son Jeremy and I will be going to Kenya, leaving Tuesday, June 26 and coming home July 15. We will therefore not have any blogging for two weeks. Please pray for us.

May Jesus be with you!

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Space/Matter: The Second Point of the Cosmic Triangle

Posted in Uncategorized on June 18, 2012 by ancienthopes

In our last post we began with the top point of the cosmic triangle, that of transcendence. Transcendence is the north on the compass; without it we poor humans are lost, and “lostness” explains our culture. The reality of transcendence, of the almighty God who exists beyond our cosmos, who is in full control even of the chaos of this world, and will bring creation to a blessed conclusion, is fundamental to our understanding of the world.

We now turn to space/matter, the second point of the cosmic triangle. When God created the cosmos, everything He made was pronounced “good.” We often use the word “good” in a sensual way concerning something that is “pleasing to the eye,” or “good to taste.” The sensual is certainly included in the Hebrew idea of good, for the senses are part of God’s gift to humanity. The Garden of Eden was a sensual delight beyond anything we can imagine now. However, goodness has a moral and “ontological” aspect as well. By “ontological” we mean that everything made by God is good by merely “being” or “existing,” since its idea was shaped and formed in the “mind” of God. Everything has its place in creation and has a right to exist, fulfilling the purpose of its creator. Everything demands respect. Moreover, we know that even though all creation has been deeply affected by the moral and spiritual fall of humanity, and “groans” for its redemption (Romans 8:19-22), yet it still reflects the glory of God (Ps. 19). God is even said to “fill heaven and earth” (Jer. 23:24). Though we know that creation is not divine (we are not pantheists), God “wears” nature, so to speak, as one wears clothes (Ps. 104). In fact, Jesus Christ Himself, in some mysterious way, intimately is connected to all things, for in Him all things consist (Col 1:17). This is a radical idea. God is all around us in the material world. If we could see things as they really are, if our eyes of flesh were connected with the interior eyes of our spirit, we would go about in absolute amazement and awe, for we would see God everywhere through the things we think so common day after day.

It is only the impurity of our souls that keeps us from seeing the material world for what it is. When we idolize things, they somehow become less real to us. We are so jaded by disappointment because we seek in things what we should only seek in God, ultimate satisfaction. When we purify ourselves from sinful attachment of material things, and give ourselves over to the quest of God who transcends all created things, then eventually created things begin to open up their secrets to us, and heaven and earth become one. True spirituality is a very material thing.

We humans find it hard to live in paradox. For many of us, transcendence is only real, and the things of this earth are either rejected as illusory, or abused in our own confusion over them. Or, the material world is only real, and transcendence seems to us illusory. By nature or temperament we tend to fall on one side of the spectrum or the other. Only a true biblical cosmology brings the two together and embraces both transcendence and the material world as real. Here we discover that heaven and earth come together in the incarnate Christ, for in becoming man, God has affirmed the reality and union of both the transcendent and the material. Christ has done in His own Being what no other philosophy and religion has done. So many of us Christians are hypocritical; on one hand we reject the material world and long for heaven in our church services and in our “reflective moments,” but feed and gluttonize ourselves on material things as if they were ultimate on a daily basis.

Dear friends, do we see that everything is a cosmological issue? We say we are biblical because we read our Bibles, but do we really have a biblical world view? How we view the world determines our reading of Scripture and our spirituality.

Transcendence: The Top Point of the Cosmic Triangle

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2012 by ancienthopes

Foundational to a biblical cosmology is the idea of a creator-God that is completely above and beyond the universe. Of course, it is even misleading when we use prepositions like “above and beyond” to describe God. It makes it seem like the transcendence-God is essentially distant in the way we think of distance in space and time. The space between us and God is not marked in light years. Rather, distance is understood ontologically (quality of being─uncreated divinity), morally (purity of being), power (all powerful), and knowledge (all knowing). There are two biblical words that describe this unearthly idea of distance, holiness and glory. The opposite of holy is “common,” and everything on earth is common in comparison to God’s holiness. Holiness cannot come into contact with the common. Though God’s glory fills the earth, still what we see of God’s glory is but a glimpse; nature could not stand before the full exposure of God’s glory, let alone sinful humanity. We might say that these transcendent qualities of God, holiness and glory, render God “wholly other.” In fact, there is not one image from nature or an idea of the human mind that can even begin to comprehend God.

But how can we even know that there even is such a transcendent being if He exists so far beyond our powers? How do we know that such a being is not merely human invention? There are two complementary ways of knowing this. First there is nature itself. Though God is always infinitely beyond creation, creation itself is a reflection of the divine mind. However, there would be no way to discern this unless there was a soul powerful enough to receive this knowledge. We humans are made in the image of God, and as such, we have souls and minds that intuitively and indirectly know and sense this great “Unknowable God” Through His creative expression. As we look inside and outside of ourselves, we cannot escape the knowledge of God and an understanding of His transcendence. It takes a moral act of rebellion and the twisting of conscience to deny it. Natural theology is the term the Church uses to describe this ability to know God from within and from without, and we will be held accountable for this knowledge before God (Rom. 1). Moreover, with the powers of faith and love, we can even directly know this great transcendent God.

Second, this natural theology is supplemented and expanded by God’s Word, which is in complete harmony with nature. As Aquinas tells us, “Sacred writings are bound in two volumes─ that of creation and that of Holy Scriptures.” But God’s written Word is itself merely a reflection of God’s living Word in the flesh, Jesus Christ. To know Jesus is to know God in His transcendence, for it is only through the Son Incarnate that humanity can know the Father (John 14:7).

The world we live in has abandoned the idea of biblical transcendence. Since the Enlightenment, the problem of theodicy, that is, how to reconcile evil with a benevolent, transcendent God, has overwhelmed the modern mind. The larger evil seems, the smaller God becomes. If there is a god, he/she must be in process with us, struggling and hoping that things will work out. We have reduced God down to our image. We therefore live in fear and anxiety. When the knowledge of biblical transcendence is lost, the compass of life is without its true north, and the needle goes haywire.

In the Bible, the larger evil and chaos seems, the bigger God becomes to the believing soul. Meditate on Ps. 93. God’s transcendence, His “wholly otherness,” is the foundation of the life of worship. We modern westerners feel that we need to understand everything to have a sense of peace. However, we cannot worship what we understand, for if we can understand Him, we have brought Him down to our meager powers of understanding. The truth of the matter is the closer we come to God, the more we “know” Him, the bigger He becomes to us, and the more we realize that we do not know Him. It is in this “unknowing” where we find true joy. Transcendence, therefore, is foundational to our life and worship.

The Cosmic Triangle

Posted in Uncategorized on June 4, 2012 by ancienthopes

The way we think about God and the cosmos, consider how the creation works and how we as a race and individuals fit into it, is called “cosmology.” We all operate with a cosmology. This is true whether we thought much about it or not. I find that many people, even Christians, do not think about it much at all. We are given bits and pieces of a cosmology from Church, the Bible and our culture, but often we are not very intentional in developing a life that is shaped and formed by a thoroughly biblical cosmology. We may think that believing in Jesus is enough, and apart from this, how we think about creation doesn’t really matter. However, cosmology, the “science” of “how all things fit together,” is essentially linked to our spirituality. In our discussion above on the Enlightenment, we found that our culture has lost hope in a comprehensive theology or philosophy that can inform us how all things fit together. Instead, it is committed to eclecticism, and this attitude has subtly made its way into the fabric of Christian thought. This contributes to our spiritual and moral brokenness.

Let me introduce to you a very simple way of understanding biblical cosmology. I call it the “cosmic triangle.” It is found in the opening two chapters of Genesis. Imagine three points making a triangle. The top point is God who is above and beyond creation, and not essentially a part of it. We find this idea in the very first verse of the Bible where “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Here we are introduced to a Creator-God who exists outside of space and time. We call this “transcendence” in that God goes beyond any creature or idea a creature might have of Him.

Now let us consider the next point which we place down and to the right of our point of transcendence. We call this point space/matter. Here we have all that God created in the six days of creation; all the wonderful things God made in heaven and earth and the space to give room for them. We see that God proclaimed them “good.” “Good” is a theological word; it includes the idea of “pleasing to the senses,” and as we shall see, far more.

Directly across from this point of space/matter and down and to the left of transcendence is the point which we call “time,” completing the triangle. God created everything in the context of time. Time itself is a creation, but as we shall see, it reflects something of the reality of transcendence.

We now have our triangle. (I would diagram it for you if I knew how to do this on the website software.) We have God and transcendence above, and below, belonging to creation, space/matter and time. In the next few weeks we will discuss each of this and show how they relate to one another, forming a complete cosmology. For now let us say that how we understand each point of the triangle is critical to our lives and worship. Moreover, this simple cosmic triangle helps us to evaluate every world view that is thrown at us through the media or literature. We always must ask, what is this person saying about transcendence, space/matter, and time? Finally, we hope to understand Jesus better through the cosmic triangle.