Archive for February, 2013

Angels

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2013 by ancienthopes

Nothing could be more evident from Scripture that the spirit realm is populated with angels. Angels were everywhere in the experience of the ancient Hebrews and the New Testament believers; as real as anything else in creation. Because of the deep darkness that has benighted our world since the so-called “Enlightenment,” angels are not so real to us. If we want to be biblical, we must find our way back to angels and the spirit realm. It is not easy to do this, because we have, as moderns, embraced a cosmology that has little or no place for them. This colors the way we read the Bible.

First of all, angels did not exist with God from the beginning. They were created with the material world, and are therefore more directly related to us than they are to God. That is, they are not co-eternal with God but are rather more like distant cousins to us. In Scripture they seem to be organized in a hierarchy that links the earth from “below” to the outer region of the spirit world that borders on the Eternal. In fact, the ancients understood the plural “heavens” to consist in at least three heavenly spheres, each inhabited by three different types of angels.

The third level, the “outer” dimension closest to divine Transcendence, is inhabited by angles referred to by “thrones” in Scripture (Col. 1:16). We do not know much more about them other than what their name suggests: they are closely associated with God’s throne, and therefore are in the immediate presence of the Transcendent God. Cherubim also inhabit this dimension. We know that God’s Transcendence rests upon the wings of the cherubim in the Tabernacle and Temple (Ex. 25:18-20, I Kings 6:23-28), and that they are given the honor of being “God Bearers” when the Theophany of God rides them like a divine chariot in Ezekiel 1 (See also chapters 9-11). They are associated with great knowledge in that the wheels of these creatures have many eyes that can see all things created. Finally, we have the seraphim of Isaiah’s great Temple Vision (Isa. 6). They are the “burning ones” as their name in Hebrew suggests, and continually give forth the Sanctus before the Throne. We do not know exactly what St. Paul meant, but this realm could very well be the “third heaven” to which he was transported, whether in his body, or spirit (II Cor. 12:22). This third level of angelic existence is holiest of all.

The second sphere of angelic existence is an intermediary one that links the third and the first levels. It is inhabited by authorities (I Peter 3:22), dominions (Col. 1:16), and powers (Eph. 6:12, Col. 1:16, and I Peter 3:22). Scriptures do not give us much information about these angels. They draw grace and enlightenment from the third sphere of angels, and empower and enlighten the lower sphere of angels. Finally we come to the lower level of angelic beings, those most closely associated with the earth and human affairs. These are named principalities (Eph. 6:12, Col. 1:16, and I Peter 3:22), archangels and angels. These have the distinct identity of being agents of God’s immanence. Of the archangels, we know of two by name in Scriptures. One is Gabriel who enlightened Daniel by giving him “skill to understand” (Dan. 8:16, 9:20-23). Gabriel also was the one through whom God encountered Mary and Zachariah in Luke 1. We also know of Michael, one of the “chief princes” who helped an angel who was held up for 21 days by an evil spirit, the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” (Dan. 10:13). Michael is expressly called an “archangel” in Jude 9, and is the one who will cast down Satan and his hosts in the end (Rev. 12:7-9 with 20:1ff.). From the Apocrypha we know of two other archangels, Uriel and Raphael.

More can be said about angels and these three spheres, and you can read about this in greater detail in my article that you can reference in the ancienthopes.com website under publications. My purpose here is to show that our lives, whether we are aware of it or not, are surrounded by spirits, both good and malignant, and that we are invited by Scriptures to be intimate with and knowledgeable about this realm. The ancient prayer of the Church, “Therefore we praise You, joining our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven who forever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of Your Name,” shows that the early Church saw angels as fellow worshipers with God, and an essential part of their cosmology. The implications of this are astounding, and we hope to pursue them in the next posts as we grapple with the realities of the spirit world.

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Is Heaven all that “Remote”?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 18, 2013 by ancienthopes

Many of us live in a truncated universe where there is the material world we live in and God above in a distant place called “heaven,” a place far removed from us here, but a place we hope to get to when we die. We “believe” in angels because the Bible talks about them so much, but for the most part, they have little or nothing to do with us. The “spiritual realm” is not all that real to us now in our day to day. We believe in spirituality, but it has mostly to do with what goes on inside of our own hearts, our own subjective experience of God, or in fellowship with one another. This has been my experience for much of my life; I think there is more. But what is there about the spiritual realm that I am not getting? Why the separation?

The key, I believe, is in last week’s post. We do not understand creation. We tend to think of creation only in its material aspects. The cosmological fact that heaven is a created spiritual realm that fits with the material realm like body and soul is lost to us. We unthinkingly assume that heaven, the spiritual realm, is a remote, uncreated place where God dwells with His angels, and the dead in Christ are mixed in somehow. Again, the reality is that God stands above and beyond His creation, both the physical and spiritual realms. The line is drawn between God and all other things, not between us and spiritual realm.

There are reasons for not seeing this. First and foremost, we do not see because of our fallen natures. When God created, the material and the spiritual were perfectly wedded together, perfect harmony. It is impossible for us to understand what life was like for Adam and Eve, but we do know that there was no death and curse, that the material was filled with a glory that we can only catch brief glimpses of now. We must speculate that the angelic realm was perfectly at harmony with our physical ream, and that humanity was made to relate with angels, and that angels were made to relate with humanity. After all, the angels, although not physically bound to the physical world in the same sense as humans, were not co-eternal with God, and must inhabit created space, albeit spiritual. This spiritual space is a mirror of the physical. They both belong together. God came and went freely from this perfect union of the physical and spiritual, as that haunting verse in 3:8 suggests to us.

The fall happened when Adam and Eve cut themselves off from God by disobedience. Behind their disobedience was a desire to be autonomous, coveting the material world for their own. Their sin was at root spiritual, but it manifested through the physical. Therefore, God punished Adam and Eve by subjecting them to live by their senses. Rather than live from within, the spirit ruling the soul, and the soul ruling the body, they now lived by their senses that now ruled their interior spiritual being. Rather than living by an intuitive knowledge, a spiritual knowledge, they now were endowed with reason for the purposes of survival. However, the senses and reason cannot in and of themselves penetrate into the spiritual. When God sent Adam and Eve from the garden, they also lost their vision for, and natural relationship with, the spiritual realm. Angels, once close intimates, now become distant and remote, as humanity trudges over this cursed earth.

God has, over the course of redemptive history, has reopened up to humanity the spiritual realm. In fact, the reality is that even though we are unaware of the spiritual realm, it surrounds us and penetrates our lives from birth to death. It is not that the spiritual realm is off in the distant skies somewhere. It is remote merely because we cannot sense it with our senses, or comprehend it with our reason, the two things we rely upon most to survive in this world. In other words, heaven didn’t go anywhere; sin and death make it remote to us. If we study the cosmology of the Bible, we can see that God is, in fact, intent on revealing to us the glory of the spiritual realm, the perfect mate to our earthly realm. Final redemption will happen when heaven and earth are perfectly restored together. In this life, however, it is our business to grow in our awareness of heaven, of the spiritual realm that surrounds us, which we cannot see because of our dullness born by our dependence on our senses and reason (a dullness that is encouraged by our rationalistic, materialistic, and sensual culture).

Let’s talk about angels next week.

The Spiritual Realm

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2013 by ancienthopes

It is my impression that many Christians live in a drab and boring world of our own making; that is, one that has been handed down to us by our rationalistic culture. We think that we see the world and reality around us as it is, and that we think biblically about creation, but do we? (I include myself in this.) I have been doing a lot of thinking about the spiritual realm, and thought I would devote some time to the spiritual realm as understood by the Bible, and for much of Church history up to the so-called “Enlightenment.”

I admit that much of what we will discuss is speculative. However, speculative does not mean unimportant. In fact, to do theology well one must engage the imagination; we who are made in the “image” of God are endowed with the powerful faculty of “imagination,” a divine-like quality. Speculation is a way of engaging the imagination, and it is not only valid, but necessary for the holy life. The quality and authority of speculation depends on whether one’s premises by which we start our speculations are firm and solid, anchored in Scripture and nature.

And so we start our speculations on the spiritual realm on the solid foundation of creation itself. Genesis one tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The word “heavens” in Hebrew is actual a dual, and on material level, it reveals that the ancients thought of the heavens in two parts; the “upper heaven” of the immoveable stars, and the lower heavens of the moving planets, sun, moon, and that which is very close to us, the clouds full of the water above. This may seem simple to us, but from the perspective of observation, it is true enough.

Moreover, the dual also was understood to differentiate the two types of heavens, the material heavens of which we have just spoke, and the spiritual heavens symbolized by the immovable stars. The spiritual heaven is to be understood as created spiritual space inhabited by spiritual beings. This means that before creation there was just God who filled all in all; there was no place where God was not. At creation, God prepared space where “he was not” in a sense where creatures could move about with “freedom to become” by power of their own God-given wills. True, God still fills all creation with His Glory, but creation is unique as space created by God to give creatures the gift of freedom and individuality. Freedom is necessary in the divine economy, for freedom is a divine quality that God values.

It is very important to understand that the spirit realm we call heaven is a created realm, and that this realm was created with the material realm, and that these two realms cannot be understood apart from each other. We often say and think that Heaven is the eternal realm of God. No! Technically, the spiritual realm that we call heaven is a creation. God reigns above creation, above the realm of the blessed spirits, who dare not lift their “eyes” upon uncreated glory. In other words, Scripture is clear that God is not just another spirit among lesser spirits inhabiting the same spiritual space. Spiritual space is created space. True, often Scripture speaks of God dwelling in heaven, but this is with the understanding that God is not limited to spiritual space as King Solomon acknowledges, “… Behold heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You…” (I Kings 8:27). God is above and beyond everything created; He dwells apart.

Everything that will be said from here on out in the next posts depends on this very fact, that the spiritual realm called “heaven” is, in fact, a created place inhabited by created beings. Why this is this so important? Because we tend to live in a cosmos where the line is drawn between us and the spiritual realm where God and His angels are. This line has become for us a steel ceiling that has almost totally disconnected us from the spirit realm. In reality, the Bible draws the line between God and creation which includes both the created spiritual realm and the created physical realm that are designed to mirror one another. This explains, in my opinion, the unimaginative, dull and drab world we live in; all we are left with is the material. In this “enlightened” way of thinking, the spirit world is apart from us, and must be, lest we descend to the pagan world view of magic and spooks. So to save ourselves from paganism, we have embraced rationalism, and have left the true biblical world view far behind!

The Dance of Perfection: The synthesis of Action and Rest

Posted in Uncategorized on February 5, 2013 by ancienthopes

My wife is always trying to get me to dance. I argue that you cannot teach a pig to sing; it annoys the pig, and it offends the audience. I do not possess a sense for rhythm and movement, and I would be a danger to myself and others out on the floor.

We were introduced in the last post to Gregory of Nyssa’s idea that perfection was an ongoing reaching forward to God, now and for eternity, forever experiencing God anew and never getting to the end of Him. He baptized for the church the idea of change in a Hellenistic culture that dreaded change. Change is good and necessary; it is the very process of perfection itself. One may, however, wonder how this ascent of never ending and relentless motion can bring peace to weary souls longing for rest. The idea of rest, as we know, is profoundly biblical, the central idea of the 7th day of creation, the goal and perfection of creation itself. How do we reconcile action and the biblical notion of rest?

There is another great theologian, St. Maximus the confessor (7th Cent), who pondered this issue. He united Gregory’s notion of active perfection with the idea of rest by using the imagery of the dance. All of creation is, in fact, a dance, a cosmic dance, where all things revolve around God in an ever moving state of rest. He would say that our experience and understanding of motion and change is directly the result of sin and death, a confusion of contraries, meaningless motions running riot. In contrast to this, seeking perfection is like exiting the chaos of this fallen world, stepping out into the divine dance stage with God. Unlike the motion and commotion of the world, as we draw closer to our divine Dance Partner, we find that we are entering into a state of utter simplicity, for God is infinitely simple. Union with our partner is not totally a passive thing where we get absorbed into transcendence and lose our identity. No, for then there would no longer be a dance. It takes two to tango. God sets the music and draws us into motion by divine love; we may join Him because He empowers us to dance, or we may refuse and move away.

We see, therefore, that in the divine cosmic dance motion and rest become one. We are passive in that God initiates and leads the movement, yet active in that we engage our wills to the dance. No one considers the dance as onerous, an energy depleting task. It is simplicity itself. Perfection is entering into simplicity itself. Have you not seen persons who seem to attain a high degree of sanctity? They seem so simple. My mother was like that. I kept trying to pry into the secrets of her sanctity. She would struggle finding words for me; she would emphasize that it was not at all complex, but simple.

Who knows, maybe someday I will break down and join a dance class with my wife. She told me that this would make me the perfect husband. Perhaps she is right. Perfection has a lot to do with the dance, at least according to St, Maximus the Confessor. What do you think? With this post we conclude our discussion on Christian perfection which we started way back on December 10.