Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The History of Heaven and Earth: Conclusion

When [zealous Jews of Jesus’ time and place] longed for the kingdom of God, they were not thinking about how to secure themselves a place in heaven after they died. The phrase “kingdom of heaven,” which we find frequently in Matthew’s Gospel where the others have “kingdom of God,” does not refer to a place, called “heaven,” where God’s people will go after death. It refers to the rule of heaven, that is, of God, being brought to bear in the present world. The kingdom come, said Jesus, they will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Jesus’ contemporaries knew that the creator God intended to bring justice and peace to this world here and now. The question was, how, when, and through whom? – N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, p. 37

A continuously interwoven theme found throughout this blog series has been the story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11. In this man’s attempt to reach heaven and become a god, his tongue suddenly sounds like that of a fool in the ears of the man he is addressing. As the Tower of our modern history progressed, as man continued to try to build a complete language that is the perfect referent for all of reality, so to speak, his languages continued to fragment. Think, for example, of how foolish the architectural language of the pragmatic architect appeared to the purely theoretical architect, and visa versa of the mid to late 1800s (discussed HERE). Further along in history, now even the languages of engineers and architects, 100 years ago the same language, often sound foolish to each other. The trend continues as we continue to try to build our Tower. As a more humorous example, here is The Italian Man Who Went to Malta - (trust me, this is worth your 1 minutes, 26 seconds to watch, haha).

As you can see from the above examples of confusions of tongues, our language is our collection of our idea or interpretation of reality. In other words, our language and our world correspond to each other. Because engineer and architect live in their own separate worlds, so to speak, they speak different languages. The same can be said for the Italian man who finds himself in Malta. This idea of different languages corresponding to different worlds is why, through the course of my study of history and my positing of my argument for who man and where heaven is, it became clear that a model for reality is required for speaking about it. I think my model has come to be implied through the course of this blog series, but, partially because I said I would HERE, I will now do so briefly.

In my mind, the most basic question about any model of reality is the relationship between what is or can be sensed and what cannot or is not. In the very long view, our Western history – from where we get our model(s) - can be broken up into three periods, corresponding with three models of reality. The first was before the dawn of speculative thought, when man’s truth about his life was acted out through myths and/or stories. In essence, then, man WAS his truth, and his senses of his fellow man and the relatively raw and primitive state of his environment was his evidence of truth. This lack of distance from his own truth left him much closer to it, so to speak. And from his position close to earth, things bigger, above, and more powerful than him played a most prominent role in his life and in his model of reality.

The second period is after the dawn of speculative thought, when man first had an exterior truth on which to reflect and theorize. This observed theory gave man something to compare to himself and his external environment. The gap between his language and the unsensed truth that still largely predominated his reality was lessened, but his theory gave him footing upon something of his own crafting.

The third period is modernity, when there was a great and largely successful quest to completely close the gap between the unseen and seen through his own knowledge and technology. There is no corner of the globe that cannot be visualized in detail with satellite imaging. There is no microcosmic world of cells or atoms that cannot be visualized with a microscope or a theoretical model that matches empirical experiment. There is no place on the globe to which we cannot travel within a day. There is no depth of the earth, ocean, or fossil history to which we cannot dive, drill, or test in order to see, sample, test for age, or time stamp. New animal species are odd anomalies, and seeing what was previously not only hidden but not even imagined is the norm. What happened in the pregnant woman’s belly was once speculation and pieced together slowly over time through autopsies. Now we have the humanly crafted technology of ultrasound to not only speculate about but actually see inside the womb, in actual time! Seeing what humans can’t naturally see into the microcosmic world of living cells, previously not even considered, is now a normal part of our education.

In other words, the mystery is gone. The role of what is bigger and beyond us, more powerful than us, is largely absent in our lives. We can know and see everything, quite literally – a view only attained from heaven. Or, so we think. Hence my Babylonian theme throughout this blog series.

As my reader may have gathered, then, my basic model of reality involves two questions.
1. How to structure the relationship between seen and unseen, and
2. Who are we, and where do we belong. What is our role in knowing and experiencing the world?

The answers, for me, are related. For me, you have to start with the first and basic idea of the “natural” and primitive state of man – his GIVEN state – to FIGURE out who he is. In other words, you have to go to his BEGINNING to figure out how to orient yourself to the end (the now). You have to go to the given beginning to figure out how he was made, how he is “naturally” meant to experience reality. Part of what this does is establish the proper relationship between man and God – man on earth, knowing what he knows and how, dependent on and in submission to the greater, and bigger God “above” (“above” there is figuratively speaking, the figure based on our "naturally" sensed relationship to our environment).

At that point, the answer to the first question becomes the question itself. What we see is seen, and what we don’t is not. Upon the mind of modern man rests the burden of empirical proof. We forget, however, that the scientific method is a technology that itself structures our relationship between unseen and seen for us in a particularly analytic – and thus not actual – way. Thus, we forget that, when we engage in it – and, thus, implicitly place ourselves under its authority – it structures the relationship between the unsensed and sensed parts of our very self for us. Our very being and identity is then governed by the rules of scientific inquiry and turns out looking like the painting of an analytic cubist. Modern scientific findings themselves, however, can be turned back on their feet and taken as either a demonstration of what lies hidden in the mind’s recesses or, even, as enactment of myth.

The theory of evolution, for example, is still a myth. It is still a story about realities not directly seen by man on which he bases his truth and his life. Ideas about forces – moments and shear forces - are still theoretical, based on an unseen conceptual framework about unseen realities we call forces by which we make calculations used to build buildings. By the same token, the creation story of the Bible is the same. It is a story that tells of unseen truths about the character of an unsensed God that can be observed in His creation and by which we live our lives. That is why, unlike the violent Babylonian gods in their violent creation story that lead to the violent lives of the Babylonian people, against which the Jews were reacting at the time of exile when the creation story was written down, PEACE is one of the “heavenly things” listed in Colossians 3 on which to set our minds.

My model of reality, then - like Magritte’s playfully pictographic painting of a pipe titled, “This is not a pipe.” – is an affirmation of actuality.

And, this idea of a “model of reality” brings me to the Hebrew term for heaven. Originally, when this conversation started on heaven being “here”, I had in mind, from previous studies, the idea that the Hebrew word for heaven is “air” and is in reference to what we would now think of as the “atmo-sphere.”

Well, I did some more research on it, and – according to this source - it turns out I was one third right on this point, haha. This particular Hebrew word for heaven is what the Jewish tradition refers to as the “first heaven.” In the OT, it is used when referring to the “fowls of heaven” and in the context of the blessing of rain or the withhold of rain being an “opening of heaven” or a “closing of heaven.” Jewish tradition states that this heaven includes our atmosphere that surrounds the earth, and everything in it, including the clouds, until you reach the stars.

In the Jewish tradition, the “second heaven” is where the stars, sun, and moon turn around the earth like wheels or turning circuits. The bible refers to this second heaven as a tent or curtain that serves as a dwelling place for the “firmanents,” for the sun, moon, and stars. The third heaven, according to the source referenced a moment ago, in the Jewish tradition, is the “heaven of heavens.” The phrase comes from 1 Kings 8:27: "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” I find this interesting, because it affirms the idea of heaven being “here." God “dwelled” in the Temple, became it, and then built the church!

That source is clearly questionable in authority, though, because it refers to the “second heaven” as “outer space” in which the planets “orbit.” Those ideas obviously had no meaning to a Jew in Roman times. It also seems to confuse a bunch of contemporary ideas of man “going to heaven when he dies” in with the ancient Jewish tradition of the “third heaven.” One interesting scripture used to support this confusion is 2 Corinthians 5: 1-2: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” Of course, they don’t notice that it makes no sense to “put on” a “heavenly dwelling” that we go to when we die. From my covenantal reading of that verse, expounded in the last post of this series, the point of 2 Cor. 5: 1-2 is towards the new life we have in Christ when we believe, and which is the whole point of a covenant in the first place.

Anyway, the value of the source I referenced about the “three heavens” is that it, unlike any of the other sources I was able to find, gives some idea of the ancient Jewish idea of the cosmic structure of heaven, prior to the development of some complex 7 tiered structure of heaven that began to be developed after the time of Jesus. And, it also gives what I suppose are Biblical references used in the ancient Jewish commentaries that developed the three-tiered structure in question. Although, just about all of the references to the “third heaven” used in that first reference are from the NT, which was in Greek, so that is whacky if we trying to figure out the meaning of a Jewish tradition.

As this model of the relationship between sensed and unsensed that affirms actuality pertains to ideas of heaven, then, the parousia will be the full completion and revelation of what Jesus established through the church, which is his manifest presence and reign HERE composed of those who claim allegience to the King, previously manifest in the cloud, the Arc, the Tent of Meeting, and the Temple. N.T. Wright, in The Challenge of Jesus (p. 38), refers to it as “God’s reality breaking in to [our] midst.” This picture of eschatology is significantly different from the idea on which we customarily focus, which is, when we die, going away from this lesser place here that will LITERALLY disappear to the greater heaven that is thought of as "up there" or "somewhere else" (and maybe doing something while we're here to make the world better and help other people go to heaven when they die).

Dying and going to heaven is the supernaturalist response to the naturalist question posed by the Enlightenment's categorization of reality as Compte completed modernity's reductionism of it. Dying and going to heaven is also, often, implicitly influenced by the Gnosticism that belongs to history's climb up the Tower and fits hand-in-glove with modernity's fragmented model for reality (technically termed dualist). The question of where we go when we die belongs on the unsensed side of the veil in the model of reality that I am here positing, and scriptures don’t seem too concerned with it.

The covenantal reading of the scriptures described in the last post, which ties together the argument I had been weaving together throughout this blog series, unapologetically obliterates – or at least recontextualizes and significantly reinterprets - those Enlightenment categories of man and machine, of natural and supernatural, and refocuses humans on our given place in the cosmos.


INDEX for “The History of Heaven and Earth” (with links)

01: The Quest-ion at Hand

02: Behold A Man

03: The Dawn of Speculative Thought

04: The Music of the Spheres

05: From Appearance to The World

06: Roman “World Views”

07: The First Scientific Experiment

08: From Weight to Light

09: The Beginning of the Modern Project

10: “Progress”

11: One Giant Leap for Mankind

12: History’s Conclusion

13: Visits from Angels

14: The Coming Appearance

The Fulfillment of the Covenant

16: Conclusion

The History of Heaven and Earth 15: The Fulfillment of the Covenant

I ended the last post of this series with two references to the covenant. One, in the context of “Where I am, there you will be also,” was, “And you know the way where I am going.” The other reference to the covenant was 2 Peter 3: 12, about the disappearance of the heavens and the earth.

Everyone knows that a covenant is an agreement between two parties, much like a contract. What gets missed, however, is that a covenant is between two members of what is to become a newly unified body. As an extension of this lack of understanding of the forming of a BODY in a covenant, we often don’t realize that the Hebrew word used for covenant comes from the Hebrew root meaning “to cut” (reference HERE). In practice, an animal was cut into pieces - apparently, based on GENESIS 15, into halves - and the two halves of the animal were passed between by the two parties of the covenant being “cut.” As discussed previously HERE in this series, this means that ancient covenants were, prior to the dawn of speculative thought and, in this case, prior to the earliest known phonetic alphabets!, ACTED OUT. The cutting up of animals was the acting out of the death of an old body or bodies, the bodies both of the symbolic sacrifice and of the actual or concrete party or parties in the agreement. The shedding of blood was the loss of the flow of life, and the acting out of the covenant, then, was the acting out of a new state of things, of new living. In some cases, such as in EXODUS 24: 8, the parties participating in the acting out of the new living were covered in the life blood of it.

And, as in Leviticus 16: 20-22 and Leviticus 4: 13-21, it is also important that the animal being cut is chosen from the flock of one of the agreeing MEMBERS of the covenant. Just as “technologies are the extensions of man” (previously discussed HERE in the second post of this series), so also are his possessions. This is why, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is also why we will “receive our inheritance” in the parousia. We are His possessions, so we will be joined to Him fully in life eternal. Anyway, just as the sins of the people are extended to the scapegoat and sacrificial bull when the goat or bull from their flocks is laid upon by the hands of the priest, the life and being of the MEMBERS of the covenant are PRESENT in the sacrificed animal as it is cut. The blood of the animal is theirs, and, as such, what happens to it is an acting out of the fact that the members of the agreement “mean business.” In actuality, the cutting is what gives meaning to the business in the first place.

No wonder a covenantal reading of the scriptures is no longer the primary one. The lens handed up to us by our history makes a covenant nearly impossible to “understand,” precisely because its members don’t intellectually assent to it but, instead, ACT IT OUT. As explored throughout the history portion of this blog series, man and his interpretation of the world and reality has changed quite a bit from the time when covenants were “used” to “seal” agreements. In fact, I put “used” and “seal” in quotes there because - as discussed previously HERE and HERE in this blog series in discussions of pragmatics and literacy - both of those terms, fundamental to our language and its meaning, are at the root of how we, now steeped in our literary vision, act out or lives and our reality. “Use” and “sealed” don’t have much to do with covenant making, though. They do fit well with a complex and intellectually theorized system, both seen and crafted in the mind, written down, and, at a distance from the thought and written theory, applied. It is the acted out covenant, however, which is, historically, as far from us as the ghost from the machine, that ties my whole argument that “heaven both is and will be here” together. And that, at least partially, is precisely because a covenant is between two members of what is to become a newly unified body.

This new body is, in fact, part of the actual language of the covenant in Genesis 15. That new body is the nation of Israel, itself. In Genesis 22, this new body being formed by the covenant is experienced by Isaac when he rises from the sacrificial alter as a new person. There, it is revealed that the covenant, from its beginnings, was intended to be the formation of a body that would bless all the rest of the nations of the earth.

And, in the process of the formation of this body and as an extension of the covenant, while the holy mountain where Moses met with God was covered in a great cloud, the Law was given as a way to distinguish this body (Israel) from those around it (the nations). God’s presence was then manifest in a cloud that led Israel through the desert to the promised land. Israel broke the covenant and, as part of the terms of the covenant, was itself broken apart. In the process, because the LAND was promised in the covenant, Israel found herself in exile. While in the process of being exiled, God affirmed Israel as His chosen body to whom He was faithfully joined, and spoke through Jeremiah 31: 31-34 of a coming “new covenant”, when her sin would be wiped clean. Thus, part of God’s purpose of the covenant was to deal with sin.

While actually in exile, under the bondage of another nation, Ezekiel received a vision of the last days, described in Ezekiel 37. These last days would be marked by a great resurrection of the broken, dead, and dried up body of Israel, and she would return from her exile with an eternally ruling king in the line of David. In Daniel 7 this Messiah King’s throne is associated with the turning lights of heaven itself and, thus, authority over all the nations. In addition, he is imaged as judge of the nations who had broken and enslaved Israel. In this judgment, the King is also vindicator or justifier of His body of people. This just judgment and salvation affirms God’s body of people as such, which is why it is a vindication.

(Doubting Thomas, exploring a cut that fulfilled the covenant)
Eventually, when the High Priest of Israel, still in what was referred to as political exile under the rule of Rome, despite living on the land given in the covenant, asks Jesus if he is the prophesied Messiah King to vindicate God's body of people, Jesus associates his rule with that of God Himself by making it a point to quote the part of Daniel 7 that included “coming with the clouds in heaven.” Daniel 9: 26-27 then comes true, and the general resurrection described in Ezekiel 37 doesn’t occur, leading many to believe that Jesus was not the promised eternally ruling King. When Paul encounters the blinding heavenly light of the resurrected body of Jesus, however, he interprets the meaning of the meeting with the covenantal scriptures just discussed, and everything changes when he realizes that the promises of the covenant had been fulfilled in Jesus! Although Paul’s meeting with the resurrected Jesus was different from that of Doubting Thomas, the effect was the same.

Notably, Paul’s SEEING of the resurrected BODY of Jesus –HERE - indicated the fulfillment of a central part of the covenant. This meant that the rest was true as well. The new days were here! Israel’s eternal King rules! The exile is over with! Christ’s appearing to Paul meant his sin was wiped clean and that the judgment and vindication of God’s body of people was occurring by the Messiah King of heaven and earth, who Paul now realized was also God Himself. This centrality of the bodily resurrection to the covenant narrative is also why, for example, the rising and living of Lazarus is a major hinging point of the gospel of John (see John 11 and 12). Paul didn’t have special, private insight into the meaning of the resurrection for the covenant people of Israel. The centrality of the resurrection to the rest of the covenant was why people flocked from far and wide to see Lazarus. The resurrection of Lazarus was also, then, when the Pharisees went from threatening to stone Jesus in the heat of the moment to plotting his death. The resurrection was so significant that they even planned to kill Lazarus.

Precisely because of the centrality of the bodily resurrection to the covenant narrative, when he sees the resurrected Jesus, Paul realizes that the last days of the old age of death, exile and bondage – the world as it had been known to him - had already ended, and the first days of the new eternal Kingdom of life and freedom from sin had begun! Because of the death of the God of heaven and earth (of the universe, you might say) on the Cross, the disappearance, the death, of the old heaven and earth, and of the old body, had already begun! The completion of this death or disappearance of the old had been mentioned by Peter in terms of the parousia in 2 Peter 3, which also mentions the judgment of the world and vindication of God’s family promised in Daniel 7. Paul also realized, however, that the resurrection didn’t occur as a general rising of all of Israel, as he had expected. Instead, Jesus was the first born son who would come again in the parousia, when the truth of Ezekiel 37 would be more fully revealed. At that time, the King would gather the members of his body to himself to dwell in the city of his eternal rule. “Where I am, there you will be also,” thus had a double meaning in reference to the union with us that is God’s passion and joy (Hebrews 12: 2), and also in reference to his sufferings in which we are to share. This joy is a product of His love for us!

In the mean time, before the completion, before this “Day of the Lord,” since the Law was fulfilled in Jesus and partially meant to distinguish Israel as the God’s chosen, God cannot be reduced to a tribal deity of the local nation of Israel by forcing new Gentile believers to be circumcised into the chosen family. This question arose, because, when Paul realized that the covenant had been fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus, since the exile was over and the new creation had begun, Paul also knew, from the scriptures, that it was time for the Gentiles - “all the nations of the earth”, to quote Genesis 22 - to receive the covenantal blessings of eternal life that come with being a child of God (2 Peter 1: 3-11)!

Instead of being distinguished by the Torah of the old world, the faith by which Abraham believed in and acted on the promise of a coming seed of salvation from the stench of sin and death is what is taken to be the distinguishing mark of a chosen member of the family to be gathered unto the bosom of the King in the parousia. The “new life” of the believer is perfectly consistent with the very meaning of the term covenant in the first place, fulfilled in Jesus. The old has gone, and the new has come. Notably, in the process of this fulfillment of the covenant, the Incarnation brought the highest heaven to earth, and the Spirit by which the faith that is the mark of a member of the body of God is given does the same. As a result, the love - which produces the joy of God’s passion that binds us to him HERE – demonstrated among believers and SEEN by others, is how it will be known that we are his people!

Just as the sacrifice of an animal from the flock of one of the parties in a made covenant brings a new life determined by the terms of the covenant, so the dying of old life, of the flesh of the believer, does the same. And, as the sacrifice is an extension, a possession of the covenant maker (GOD), so the GIVEN faith (in the given Son) of the newly believing family member is, you could say, the substance of God’s choosing, of God’s joining us to Himself. This faith given by God brings heaven’s reign here – just as John the Baptist proclaimed. Thus, the new life of faith in the “reign of the heavens” (the disciple Matthew's version of the "Kingdom of God") is consistent with the very meaning of the term “covenant” in the first place, as well. “Thy will be done” brings a piece of heaven here. Thus also, heaven both is and will be here - eternally, because God is eternal (and because it is impossible for God not to be everywhere, as discussed HERE).

With that, it should also be noted that this series of blog posts was initiated with the question of where heaven is, but, in reality, it became and was a question of eschatology, which was just discussed in covenantal terms (pretty much as taught by N.T. Wright in What St Paul Really Said, I should add). I will briefly discuss the meaning of the Hebrew term for heaven in the conclusion of the series, which is the next post, but ultimately, as discussed in the previous post, the point here is, we will ultimately be HERE – on earth, in the royal city - perfectly and completely joined with God as humans. That royal city in the book of Revelation, by the way, is depicted as a cube in Revelation 21: 15-16. Because of the orthogonal order of a man standing upon the earth, discussed previously in this blog series HERE, cubes and the squares have always been symbols of Earth, whereas circles and spheres, as noted by Galileo (discussed in that same post), have always been symbols of heaven. “Thy will be done, ON EARTH, as it is in heaven.”

This is why, when I think of the “chasm” between the righteous and unrighteous mentioned in Luke 16: 22-26 and discussed in the first post of this series, I think of the chasm as the difference between joined - and having eternal life - and not joined to the God and King of the entire universe. The chasm can’t be crossed because it is as wide as the universe. The idea that the “bosom of Abraham” is "up in heaven" only comes to us because it is natural to our modern mind, and, possibly, due to common Gnostic influence. Scripture, however, sure does seem to indicate that, in the end, Abraham will be resurrected and live in the "holy city" - HERE, on the new earth. Besides Ezekiel 37, see, for example, Daniel 12: 1-3. And, on top of that, the phrase “into the bosom of Abraham,” in itself, indicates a JOINING TOGETHER, on the basis of faith, to the one with whom the joining was originally acted out (the one with whom the covenant was originally made).

Scripture’s emphasis on the promised bodily resurrection is probably why, as Wikipedia’s post on the resurrection of the dead notes HERE, early church fathers defended the doctrine “against the pagan belief that the immortal soul went to the underworld immediately after death.” This note on Wikipedia is in the midst of its discussion of why the resurrection has been deemphasized by modernity. The discussion includes a notation of the parallel between the ancient belief against which early church fathers defended the bodily resurrection of the dead and the modern belief that we go to heaven immediately after death. N.T. Wright notes the same parallel in his youtube video and book, referenced in the previous post HERE. The Wikipedia post on the resurrection of the dead also discusses the timeframe in which this shift in emphasis away from the resurrection occurred, noting that it was through the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Rather interestingly, the Enlightenment’s contribution to our current de-emphasis on the resurrection, according to this discussion on Wikipedia, was Deism.

All of this and more has been discussed previously in this blog series. Also, notably, Wikipedia there says that the rationality that began in the Renaissance and culminated late in the Enlightenment harmoniously allowed for a belief in the immortality of the soul (generally speaking) but did not leave room for a belief in the bodily resurrection (which, as Paul noted, sounds utterly silly to pagans). Specific to this blog series, then, the Renaissance and Enlightenment left room for an idea of going to heaven when you die but not for the bodily resurrection, so, conveniently, we made ourselves into heavenly gods and scrapped the bodily resurrection on earth.

Speaking of scrapping the bodily resurrection on earth, Dispensationalism came about late in the Enlightenment, after a literal reading became the only way to interpret an authoritative text, after metaphors and analogies were relegated to being considered a hierarchically marginal or secondary source of less-than-truth, and after we had forgotten the properly ordered relationship between abstract and concrete that could give power to symbolism. This is relevant, because the Dispensationalists are premellennialists, which means they believe that, when Christ returns, he will take the righteous back to heaven with him. According to N.T. Wright in the previously referenced discussion on life after death, Dispensationalist eschatology hinges on an overly literal reading of 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 that, according to me (and probably according to N.T. Wright, too, if you read his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church), totally misses the power of the symbolic content contained therein. As N.T. Wright puts it, the dispensationalist reading of 1 Timothy 4 is just not what 1 Timothy 4 is about. The powerful effect of embodied symbols was previously discussed in the third post of this blog series, HERE.

Returning to the “great chasm” of Luke 16: 25-26, Jesus was referring to a concept that was born in what is known to the historians as the second temple period. This was when the idea of “the bosom of Abraham” first entered Jewish thought (referenced HERE) as a conception of what happens after death. It was modeled after the Greek myth of the river styx (referenced HERE); this is partially what the Wikipedia post on the resurrection of the dead was referencing when it noted the parallel between ancient pagan and contemporary evangelical beliefs on life after death. In this myth of the river styx, the dead arrive at a river that must be crossed in order to get to the underworld. The river can only be transversed by and with the ferryman, so, as a token of what you can bring with you when you die, the dead give the ferryman a penny and, thus, are able to cross. The Jews adapted the myth in various ways. In one, the story is essentially the same, except the ferryman is an angel. In another, the general picture of the myth is used, and the righteous are said to be in a place of peaceful rest awaiting the resurrection promised in Ezekiel 37. The unrighteous dead are said to be “in the fires” and separated from the restful bosom of Abraham by a great chasm or river. Again, this indicates a joining together of the righteous (Daniel 12: 1-3), on the basis of faith, to the one with whom the joining was originally acted out.

This joining here is also part of why I have discussed the meaning of the gospel in a specifically Jewish context rather than in terms defined by a fragmented, “objective”, and analytical intellectual system that tends, like a modern man, to divorce itself from the embodied and acted out narrative of the covenant.

The cube of Revelation, then, corresponds with the idea of the members of the body of God arising and living on the Promised Land as the final fulfillment of the covenant. These members of the chosen body living on earth, as in the beginning - even though they were “created in the image of God” - are men, living in their rightful place as men, rather than as gods living in their rightful place in heaven. I mean this as a statement in affirmation of who we are as human beings, which was part of the question discussed in the opening posts of this series. Part of the meaning of the Hebrew term for heaven means heaven is here, in a sense, and although Jesus Christ brings heaven here in the Incarnation and through the Holy Spirit, we are still men. And, we don’t belong in outer space.

When Paul says “set your minds on things above” in Colossians 3: 2, then, he isn’t talking about “somewhere else” as we would now think of it. He gives meaning to “things above” in verses 12-15 when he tells us to “clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” along with love, peace, and thankfulness. Therefore, when, in verse 3, he gives the REASON for setting our minds on things above as “for ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God,” he is not referring to our going and being with Jesus “up there in heaven.” He is referring to living as we were intended to live from the beginning HERE ON EARTH! As humans in whom the “image of God,” reflected from above, has been restored! The implication of our life being hid with Christ in God, since that life is HERE, is that heaven – where Christ sits at the right hand of God the Father - is here!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The History of Heaven and Earth 14: The Coming Appearance

[Paul] is saying, as he says extensively in Romans 8, that the whole creation is longing for its exodus, and that when God is all in all even the division between heaven and earth, God’s space and human space, will be done away with (as we see also in Revelation 21). Paul’s message to the pagan world is the fulfilled-Israel message: the one creator God is, through the fulfillment of his covenant with Israel, reconciling the world to himself. This involves, it seems, a triple exodus. Israel is redeemed, in the person of Jesus, for the sake of the world. Humankind is redeemed, through Jesus, so that the image of God may be restored. Thus creation itself is redeemed, and the creator God will be all in all. – N.T. Wright, p. 91 of What St. Paul Really Said

The Greek word used in the New Testament for the Second Coming is parousia. In Greek, it means presence, arrival, or official visit. The main use of the term in classical Greek is in reference to the physical presence of a person. Less commonly, a secondary meaning of the term is in reference to a person’s substance, property, or inheritance. The meaning of the Greek term parousia and its scriptural uses are related to the words that have been handed down to us as “epiphany” and “apocalypse.”

Epiphany in Greek means “manifestation, striking appearance,” and is rooted in a word that means “I appear, display.” The roots are “epi”, which means “upon”, and “phaino”, which means “I shine, appear.” The term epiphany, giving context to the meaning of the Second Coming of the Lord of all that exists, then, means something like, “a shining upon an appearing.” Thus, it harkens back to the idea of Christ, the Messiah, the King - the Annointed One. David didn’t have the sign of the cross traced on his forehead with holy oil. He was covered in it; to be anointed is to shine. The idea of epiphany was mentioned previously in this blog series HERE, in a discussion on a Greek god associated with how things appear in sensible reality and in reference to the idea of “the god who comes.” Christ’s anointing became apparent in both the Transubstantiation and when he was covered in a jar of oil that costs a year’s wages by a beloved prophetess.

The term apocalypse is from the Greek apocálypsis. “Apo” is from the Greek root meaning “un”, and “calypsis” is from the Greek root meaning “to cover.” Apocalypse, then, is an uncovering, an opening up of something previously closed to us. It is the Greek word handed down to us as “Revelation,” the title of the book that tells us about the finish line of the race we are running. This use of the term Apocalypse as Revelation, meaning the lifting of a veil - as in the veil of a bride when she sees the bridegroom – came to common usage in the 1300s. To recall from our history, that was when we started to be concerned with accurate visual representation of reality as perceived by the eye, so the new translation of the time fits. Also, like epiphany, the term gives context to the meaning of the term parousia in reference to the Second Coming.

I mention paruousia, because one verse used by Moses to support his idea that heaven both is and will be “there” (rather than here) is where Jesus says, “Where I am, there you will be also.”

First of all, why does Jesus say “Where I am,” rather than “Where I will be, there you will be also?” The answer might be obvious, but let’s not take for granted that the basic idea of the answer is found in the last post of this series. “Divine power and essence, which is the universal cause of all things, is infinite: consequently God through His power touches all things, and is not merely present in some places, but is everywhere.” This harkens back to God’s answer to the original Moses in Exodus 3 when God told Moses the name by which he could refer to Him to his fellow Israelites. To have said “I will be” is to risk the implication that He IS not somewhere at some given time, which is impossible. In fact, to say it is impossible for him not to be somewhere at a given time is really a mere shadow indicating His eternal Being.

To quote the context more fully, from John 14: 1-10:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; trust in God, trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?

That I can think of, the only meaning of “a place for you” to which Jesus here refers that would make sense in the context of scripture itself – and not in the context of modern history’s photographs of the earth from outer space and pagan history’s beliefs in the immortal soul and the underworld – is Revelation 21: 10. That says: “And he [an angel] carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like…” I included “her brilliance” from verse 11, because it refers to the idea of the lifting of a veil, at the heart of the meaning of Revelation in the first place.

11th Century Greek Orthodox Icon of the Resurrection of the Dead:

Anyway, the point I’m making is that John 14: 1-10 is, partially, in reference to the idea of and events surrounding the Second Coming. Thus, he is talking about an APPEARANCE. This is why “from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” fits perfectly in the context of and helps complete the meaning of Christ’s saying “Where I am, there you will be also.” That Christ’s eschatology is ultimately about the renewal of creation (Revelation 21: 10), rather than the disappearance into an elsewhere, is why the Greek word for “dwelling places” in John 14: 2, which is often translated as “rooms” or “mansions”, is the Greek word monai. Monai, in Greek, actually means “wayside inn.” In other words, according to N.T. Wright, when Jesus referred to his “Father’s house” as heaven, he was referring to a temporary abode for man until the ultimate resurrection and appearance of new life that is promised by the covenant narrative. N.T. Wright discusses the original Greek of that term monai and it’s relationship to Christian eschatology HERE.

Besides the Greek term monai, another point of discussion in that youtube video of N.T. Wright’s discussion of life after death (which is based on a book of his) is a shift that occurred “around 1200 A.D.” (Wright’s words) in how we tend to imagine life after death. In the early and middle stages of medieval times, like the icon shown above of the resurrection of the dead (from the 11th century), we saw images of humans, having been given flesh and life, rising from the earth in defeat of death. Suddenly, with Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” (1580’s), we see that a huge shift in emphasis had occurred. After 1200, A.D., which, remember from previous posts, was when the number zero entered western culture and man became much lighter, the emphasis is largely on who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. In Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, you still see souls rising from the dead, but it is a very different image from the 11th century icon shown above. Now, however, our imagination has abandoned the part about what appears in the Last Judgment as souls rising from the dead and in medieval icons as bones rising from the earth, receiving flesh and gaining victory over death.

This is because, as discussed previously, we no longer identify with our bodies. You see that change in self-identification as you trace the change from the 11th century to Michelangelo's time to the recent "Left Behind" series, which pretty much ignores the resurrection, because we become what we behold.

The true meaning of the paruousia (partially informed by the meaning of the Greek term monai), then, is why it makes sense that the place to which Christ referred when he mentioned “a place I am preparing for you” ultimately ends up here rather than there, and in body and flesh. The end “opening up” to human sense isn’t a revelation of a disappearance into what can’t be sensed. And, considering that there was NO SUCH THING as “outer space”, but that man’s sense of reality was constrained by the sensible limits of the dome of heaven, the place from which “she” (the bride of Christ) appeared would not have been “out there” in the first place.

He says, “I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” He does NOT say, “I will come again, receive you to Myself, and we will ascend again together, so that you may disappear with me into the spiritual realm.” In effect, however, that is precisely what the Gnostic apocrypha – discussed HERE previously in this blog series - say. In terms of the relation between sense and nonsense, it is also what happens when we talk on the telephone, watch TV, listen to the radio - all previously discussed HERE - or even look into a microscope. We become what we behold.

Also note that “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” fits with and was one of the sources of Aquinas’ idea of physical reality being CONTAINED BY the “bigger” spiritual reality of angels or of God, mentioned above in this post and discussed in the last post as well.

Above, I mentioned that John 14: 1-10 is only partially in reference to the idea of and events surrounding the Second Coming. One might also ask why the following, also from John 14: 1-10, fits into the context of a discussion of “where Jesus went": And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. That is in reference to the passion of Christ, his path and journey to the Cross. Once he got there, he was THEAtrically “raised on a pole” for all to see. This means that when Thomas asked Jesus where he was going, Jesus used it as an opportunity to teach his disciples about their own rough and difficult path ahead if they “endure” and remain faithful to him. The whole context of “Where I am, there you will be also” is in reference to his coming, his mission in doing so, and our mission afterwards.

John records the words of Jesus two chapters previous, in Ch. 12, verses 24-28, of which John 14: 1-10 becomes an echo and an affirmation:

The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone – a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who despise their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. All those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And if they follow me, the Father will honor them. Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from what lies ahead’? But that is the very reason why I came! Father, bring glory to your name.’”

In other words, when Jesus referred to “where he is going” and our “being there with him,” he was referring to the cross (by which a number of the apostles would later become dying kernels of wheat). This places John 14: 1-10 in the context of the covenant, which I will discuss in the next post.

“All in all”, then to, quote N.T. Wright from the beginning of this post, where we thought we were talking about where Jesus went was actually a conversation about His coming appearance, both “raised on a pole” and in the Second Coming, the parousia. “Humankind is redeemed, through Jesus, so that the image of God may be restored.” Look again at the 11th century Greek Orthodox icon of the general resurrection of the dead, shown above, and make note of what is seen. In the center of the image is an image of Christ. With powerfully bent and muscularised legs and feet, he is depicted as the image of strength, and clothed in white and gold, with the wounds of his passion still visible, he is imaged as the symbol of victory. With that strength, he straddles the grave and plunges the cross into it, forcefully breaking the chains and locks of death, shown falling meekly into the darkness below. Our having received flesh and the breath of life promised in Ezekiel 37: 4-6, on the right side of the audience’s view of the icon, you and I are shown being raised from death by and with Jesus. Some of those earlier medieval icons even show the bones of the grave that are to receive ligaments and flesh. Finally, on the left of the image is shown the believing saints, already victorious over death, praising and worshipping God for it! Hence their being clothed with splendor in crowns and fine garments. The basic idea of a redeemed humanity as the restored image of God is difficult for us to imagine or live out from our individual seat in heaven given to us by the course of our history.

One other use of parousia in scripture, which is not directly in reference to the Second Coming, is 2 Peter 3: 12. Here, parousia is in reference to the coming of the “Day of the Lord.” But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. In terms of the overall Christian idea of what is “to come”, this “Day of the Lord” and the “Second Coming”, however, are in reference to the same event. If we are focusing on a “coming appearance,” then we have to ask what these references to disappearance mean. Again, this points to the bigger context of the covenant narrative, the topic of my next post.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The History of Heaven and Earth 13: Visits from Angels

Yet I am the necessary angel of earth,
Since, in my sight, you see the earth again..

Rise liquidly in liguid lingerings,
Like watery words awash; like meanings said

By repititions of half-meaning. Am I not,
Myself, only half a figure of a sort,

A figure half seen for a moment, a man
Of the mind, an apparition appareled in

Apparrels of such lightest look that a turn
Of my shoulder and quickly, too quickly, I am gone?

- from The Necessary Angel, by Wallace Stevens

Two of the scriptures that spurred the conversation that initiated this series of blog posts along are about angels. They are Job 1: 6-7, and Daniel 1: 6-7. They were quoted in the introductory post of this series, HERE. In Job, Satan had come from earth to “present himself before the Lord.” In Daniel 1, the angel “came to” Daniel. The questions that arose from them were discussed in that blog post, but to summarize briefly: what does this traveling by angels mean, exactly? The scriptures indicate that the angels came from somewhere, but does that mean they came from a different geographically locatable place? Did the angel cross a measurable distance to reach their destination?

The problem with this reading of the text is that we are projecting our human, bodily, sensed perception of space and time (when we aren’t on the telephone or watching TV, lol) onto angels. As Thomas Aquinas says it in his treatise on angels in Summa Theologica – mentioned previously in this series HERE - “Angelic substances…are above our intellect; and hence our intellect cannot attain to apprehend them, as they are in themselves, but by its own mode…and in this way also it [our intellect] apprehends God.”

Angels are spiritual, intellectual beings. As Thomas Aquinas says it, their substance is intellectual. They do not have bodies. It is bodies that exist in a geographical location and can be measured quantitatively and dimensionally (including sound waves). This would obviously imply that angels are not in a place in the same way as us humans.
A figure half seen for a moment, a man
Of the mind, an apparition appareled in

An angel, however, can be said to be located where a body is or in a physical location. When the angel is located in relationship to a body, it can be said to appear. The act of locating the angel, however, doesn’t define the existence of the angel’s being in the way that it would define that of a body. The appearing body by which we might be said to sense the presence of the angel does not define the angel, if we were to come into the presence of one who appeared to us in bodily form. This is because, by definition, an angel is a spiritual or incorporeal being.

Aquinas expounds more clearly on this idea by saying that “an angel is said to be in a place which is corporeal, not as the thing contained, but as somehow containing it.”
Yet I am the necessary angel of earth,
Since, in my sight, you see the earth again…

By repititions of half-meaning. Am I not,
Myself, only half a figure of a sort,

Aquinas also more clearly expresses the relationship between a physical, dimensionally measurable and locatable place by describing the contact of an angel with a place as virtual. The definition of “virtual” to which he is referring is: “Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name.”

In other words, if you were to come into contact with an angel who appears as a body, you come into contact with its essence and are effected by it, but you would not be coming into contact with the angel in the same way that you come into contact with a human and his or her body when you have a conversation with them in person. This is because the body contains the person, whereas the angel contains the body. This also means that I misspoke when I referred above to the bodily form of an angel. Where the body of a tree simply appears in a new form as a wooden table, the substance of the angel does not simply change forms when it effects or comes into contact with physical reality. This is precisely because the substance of the angel is not contained or circumscribed by the measurements of the table, or whatever body by which it appears to our senses.

All of this obviously means that when the angel came to visit Daniel, he did not travel from one geographically locatable place to another in a measurable period of time. It was already here when it got here.

In terms of the relationship between angels and bodies, the basic idea of everything stated here so far applies to God, as well. The difference is an angel has the hierarchically ordered power to have an effect on one thing in one place at a time. God has no such limit. Aquinas stated it in the following way: “An angel's power and nature are finite, whereas the Divine power and essence, which is the universal cause of all things, is infinite: consequently God through His power touches all things, and is not merely present in some places, but is everywhere.”

From this it would follow that Satan didn’t need to travel a measurable distance to a particular dimensionally locatable place to meet with God. This is both because Satan, an angel, isn’t contained by a place where he may potentially appear, and because God is everywhere anyway.

These conclusions only contradict scripture if we take it very literally, as though scripture were a Wagnerian program that determines the story of a play or as Wagner’s operatic sheet music corresponds literally to the actions and moods of the characters in one to one fashion (discussed previously in this series HERE).

The correspondence between scripture and the conclusions of this blog post serve as a case study of the relationship between the literal, the abstract, and the concrete. On the other hand, this blog post’s demonstration of the overly literal nature of our habitual reading in the above discussed scriptures in Job and Daniel exposes the forgetting of concrete reality - in this case the concrete reality of angels - that occurs when the teachings of the Enlightenment reign, which is when literacy predominates. By concrete, I mean something that is actually here, as opposed to a conceptually significant, abstract referent to something that is actually here.

When we live in the world of signs (literary referents), and when the Enlightenment confuses what is present and absent by making our identity a mental one (“I think, therefore I am”) and by projecting to empirically (by the senses) know everything, including what is not apparently here, then we tend to get lost in a literary world of abstract, significant referents that can easily forget their relationship to what they signify (actual reality). A literal interpretation will, then, obviously predominate, and the relationship between metaphors and analogies, on the one hand, and the concrete reality to which they point, will tend to be forgotten.

An example of this problem is when my nursing text books offer lists of “clinical manifestations” of certain conditions or diseases, and I often can’t figure out whether they are referring to symptoms caused by the condition, to a “manifestation” that would appear and would itself cause the condition or disease in question, or to a statistical oddity. My book (a literary piece, I might add) then leaves me with no actual picture of the concrete reality of what is going on with the disease or condition. After the Enlightenment, our only understanding of the relationship between sign and signified is modeled after the mechanical operation of a copying machine. Back to my example found often in my nursing textbooks, a simple, mechanically generated list of “clinical manifestations” of a condition or disease, then, is supposed to provide a complete picture or representation, to my dissatisfaction and extreme annoyance.

Other examples of our modern forgetting of concrete reality for the reasons discussed above, more pertinent to the topic at hand in this blog series and significantly less personally annoying for me, is our tendency to totally miss the actual concrete reality of what is going on in Leviticus 16: 20-22 and Leviticus 4: 13-21. Both of these examples were discussed previously in the third post of this blog series HERE. The Leviticus 16: 20-22 example even explicitly states the actual, concrete reality of what is happening, which was assumed to be understood to the original audience and therefore not commonly laid out in the open like that in the Torah’s explanations of sacrificial rituals. These examples from Leviticus differ from the mechanically generated lists in my nursing textbooks, however, in that the ancient rituals are examples of our misinterpretation of the concrete reality represented by ancient pieces of literature based on our modern abstraction of the self, whereas my nursing textbooks are generated by an abstracted self and leave a very incomplete picture of concrete reality.

We read that the priest “lays the sins of the people on the head of the goat” and that the goat “will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land”, and, yet, we still tend to think that the goat, in ACTUAL, concrete reality, did not receive the sins of the people and carry them out into the wilderness.

It is possible that - just as Jesus’ clearing of the Temple symbolically pointed to his identity as the sacrificial lamb (by curiously stopping all temple animal sacrifices for a couple of hours) and his identity as the authoritative King of Israel (by showing who had the authority to stop the sacrifices and why he would do so) - the Levitical rites symbolically pointed to the saving character and action of God. If the Levitical rites were only or merely symbolic pointers, then the concrete reality of the sins of the people being mediated by the Priest (the role of the ancient priest was as Israel's mediator to God) and extended to the head of the goat is minimized. I think it should be remembered, though, that, like the action and/or essence of an angel, the character and action of God is still an actual, concrete reality rather than merely an absent abstraction. In any case, caught up in our world of literacy, we tend to interpret systems of signs with minimal to no reference to actual, concrete reality. And, ultimately, the saving acts of the King of the universe on the Cross and in his resurrection, as actual concrete events, are the said concrete events to which the Levitical rites would have been pointing. My point is, there is a concrete reality involved, not to be lost in the fraccas of abstract, literary signs in our book as we read it. We should not misinterpretat the concrete reality represented by ancient pieces of literature based on our modern abstraction of the self.

On the other hand, we mechanically generate a relatively meaningless list of “manifestations” of a disease or condition that leaves no possible interpretation or picture of an ACTUAL concrete reality that was absent to begin with, obviously leaving no room for a concrete reality to be synthesized in the mind of the reader of the abstract list found in the literary work of my nursing textbook. The list is merely a mechanically generated copy of what we observe when someone presents with what is presumed to be the disease or condition in question.

The point I am driving at is that, when we read the Bible (which is a literary work), we tend to look back on a time of oral tradition when humans were much more connected to actual, concrete reality, and we tend to misinterpret what we are reading based on, well, the fact that we are reading! On the other hand, my nursing textbook was generated by people whose identity was already wrapped up in a complex and presupposedly completed system of literary signs, and so we read it as such.

With my nursing textbook as a good example, then, we generally expect sign and signified to be perfect, mechanically generated copies of each other. The copy machine is the model for our generally held literal interpretation. Metaphors and analogies don’t “work” that way. They are not mechanical copies but, instead, assume an approximated relationship between sign and signified, in which the sign does not contain the whole of the signified (there is not a 1 to 1 relationship), but in which the sign points to and paints a picture of the concrete reality that must be grasped separately and probably not fully or in its entirety using the signs alone.

For that reason, along with thinking that these scriptures about the “comings” of angels being good case studies on the literary, abstract, and the concrete, I also think that these scriptures, especially the one from Job that doesn’t describe a scene witnessed by a human, are giving words to a truth that either has no words or very much pushes hard against the boundaries of our language. Because angels aren’t defined by bodily measurements or understood on their own terms by human intellect, the words about them in scripture do not tell us the story of the angels in their own terms, but, instead, give us a framework by which we can make reference to them in our language. This defies a mechanically projecting copy machine model for the relationship between sign and signified by which our habitual and usual literal interpretations work (in which a one to one relationship between reality and representation is expected).

The reign of the literalist, mechanical, copy machine model with a one to one relationship between reality and representation – exposed as problematic by the interpretation it lends to the examples of angels “coming” in Job and Daniel - is exemplified by the Fundamentalist belief that God, like the old wizard behind the curtain with the film projector in “The Wizard of Oz,” literally dictated the scriptures to its human authors. The Fundamentalists constructed that proposition in order to affirm the inerrancy of the scriptures, which itself was constructed as a zealous defense against modern liberal “Christians” who zealously rejected the basic tenets of historical Christianity, reduced the bible to a human, historical document, and attempted to “free” Christianity from superstitious belief in the supernatural.

Notably, this modern liberal Christian movement against which the Fundamentalists were reacting was spearheaded by the Deists (previously mentioned in the 10th post of this series HERE), who believed that God created the universe, gave it laws by which it was to work, and then stepped away and watched it operate mechanically like clockwork (and Moses noted in conversation that he could accept a version of the creation story much like this one, but not the evolutionist version that leaves the origin of life to pure chance). In reacting to an overly mechanical model of reality, we ended up with a very similar, overly mechanical model of interpreting it. The moderns held up a naturalist mirror, and the Fundamentalist Evangelicals reaction to it generated a supernaturalist response that, by losing itself in a literary machine that forgets actual, concrete reality, ended up looking all too similar to that against which it was reacting.

Rise liquidly in liguid lingerings,
Like watery words awash; like meanings said…

Apparrels of such lightest look that a turn
Of my shoulder and quickly, too quickly, I am gone?

Along similar lines about the role of language in general being to give us a framework by which we can make reference to a given reality rather than to mechanically copy it, N.T. Wright, in What St. Paul Really Said (p. 90), in talking about Paul’s reaction to seeing the resurrected Jesus, says:
"[I]t should be clear that Paul’s gospel to the pagans was not a philosophy of life. Nor was it, even, a doctrine about how to get saved. It was a list of facts; not uninterpreted facts of course, since no such things exist, but a list of events set within a framework which makes their import clear."

“Objective” and uninterpreted facts are a figment of the Enlightenment imagination. Paul was not being “objective.” Paul was framing the resurrection of Jesus, which occurred in an unexpected way, within the specific context of the covenant narrative of Israel. In other words, Paul was doing what more contemporary Jewish Christians have said they do:

“In 2001 the Pontifical Biblical Commission addressed this issue expressly in The Jewish People and Their Scriptures in the Christian Bible (#21). That document says the Christian community believes that Jesus fulfills the Jewish Scriptures, but ‘it does not understand this fulfillment as a literal one.’ In addition, ‘fulfillment is brought about in a manner unforeseen....It would be wrong to consider the prophecies of the Old Testament as some kind of photographic anticipations of future events.’” – from an online article on the Cross’ fulfillment of Psalm 22, referenced HERE

All of that is to say, Job 1: 6-7, and Daniel 1: 6-7 do not say nor support the idea that heaven is “somewhere else,” unless “somewhere else” is not taken to mean a geographically locatable or measurable “somewhere else” but, instead, simply some “place” that is not apparent to human sense. I guess one could say that this other place from which the angel came when he visited Daniel, conceivably heaven, can’t be known by or spoken about adequately by humans, as discussed above.

To couple that statement with the position that heaven, which is the home of angels and the throne of God, is not here, however, would be to divorce sensible from insensible reality, as accomplished in the modern project between Descartes and Compte, and historically onward after that. It would also seem to imply that God is not here. Let us not forget that, in the model for reality by which ancient man, and thus, scripture, spoke of heaven and earth, there was NO SUCH THING as the “somewhere else” that we now think of as somewhere else based on our model of reality borrowed partially from photographs of the earth taken from outer space.

Much of the above was also to explore how we got to our generally held literal interpretation of the scriptures in question in Job and Daniel, and how those interpretations relate to our habit of thinking of heaven as “somewhere else.” As discussed in detail above, our evangelical interpretations of scripture (evangelical being nearly synonymous with Fundamentalist) tend to vacate actual, concrete reality and replace it with a literalist system of abstract referents. In such a case, heaven would obviously be thought of as elsewhere and as divorced from what appears to us. Seeing as how the topic of our idea of the location of heaven is related to our eschatology, this leads us to our next topic, which is the second coming, or the second appearance, of Christ.

The History of Heaven and Earth 12: History’s Conclusion

It's like living on another planet. I was raised in a culture where the stress is not on the individual but on the community, on tradition, on fidelity to past models, on respect for parents and elders, on rote memorization of knowledge, on scarce material resources offset by a wealth of social capital. We had limited access to the modern world, but lavish access to family and clan achievement and honor. We had close proximity to the natural world without the demand to subdue and exploit it. One could go on. – Lammin Saneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity and professor of history at Yale Divinity School.

Tower of Babel, Hendrich III van Cleve (1525-1589)
Our study of the history of man has essentially come to its end. To review, the basic driving points of the series are: a) we generally wear an interpretive lens of the world, which tends to stay on when we arrive at scripture b) that lens lends itself to our thinking of heaven as “somewhere else”, and c) heaven is here. In summation and conclusion of history, I would like to recap how the course of history makes or begins to make these three points. I will then move onto some specific theological and scriptural questions and issues regarding these points.

Generally speaking, the less we know our history, the more likely we are to wear the lens it gives us by default. So, I think, through the course of studying history, seeing how different the man of today is from the man of yesterday makes it fairly clear that we have a lens. Part of what makes this obvious might be the difficulty we have in even understanding our history in the first place – indicating how different our currently taught interpretation of reality is from ages past (ages of our very own people). Also generally speaking, we tend to have a bias for “progress.”

Progress isn’t necessarily bad, in and of itself, but the point here is that a bias to it can blind us to its cost. Its cost, which I think I made clear in my study of history in the previous posts, is very much part of our lens. The cost of progress can’t be separated from its benefits. This is especially true considering the fact that the primary cost is the change in our very identity, in who we are. It is that change that leads us to think of heaven as “somewhere else”, somewhere “up there.” Its change in our identity is also part of the reason for our bias; to let go of our progress would be to lose ourselves.

That change in who we are is generally not simply a conscious occurrence on the basis of opinions and knowledge about the truth of the gospel (or of anything else) and how it pertains to our world. That change is all pervasive, and its effects are evident in every detail of our lives. Its pattern can be traced everywhere and in everything (I left a lot out of the story of our history). Whatever our doctrine is on creation and its relationship to the scientific story of evolution, we still talk on the telephone, listen to the radio, and watch TV (among other things). Our entire history – both its theory and its practice - is contained in and leads up to those activities. Those activities, in and of themselves – much like the new technology of telephones endowed with internet, photograph and video capability – change who we are. As Moses said, “I think it changes how your brain works.” The teaching by which we receive our lens is not only from the front of a classroom.

I think it can safely be said, then, that, generally speaking, we have a lens. I think the history also makes clear how its teaching, its molding of our being and identity, tends toward our thinking of heaven as “somewhere else.” To grasp this truth, we have to have a grasp both of a time when there was NO SUCH THING as “somewhere else” (in the way that we now think of “somewhere else”), and to see how the cumulative effects of later history would cause us to change our minds. I think I showed both of those through the course of history in the previous posts of this series.

I showed that history raised man from his foot to his mind. History went from the wheel, an extension of the foot, to the computer, an extension of the central nervous system. In the process, the unseen parts of our being (soul, spirit, mind) were divorced from our bodies. By the same token, history obliterated ancient man’s truth about the relationship between heaven and earth. So, by the end of the story, we have a man with no sense (no body and no world), having disappeared into either the heavenly or the earthly parts of himself, depending on his sympathies. We also have a man whose idea of time is that of a sequential projection into infinity modeled after cinema, rather than that of cyclical cosmic patterns modeled after the turning of the heavens.

To read scriptures now is to try to look back on an ancient text in which man hadn’t experienced such a divorce between mind and body, heaven and earth. Through scripture, we must now try to look back to a time when man still considered his home to be under the dome of heaven and himself to be the crown of creation, where heaven and earth meet. We now take our linear and cinematic projection into infinity with us to a set of scriptures whose eschatology is about a cyclic return to the beginning. Our reading scripture now is like a clash of oil and water.

The British Victorian poet Matthew Arnold – who was of the same generation as Richard Wagner and August Compte - in his poem “Dover Beach”, drew from the scriptural analogy of the bride of Christ and said it like this:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Eighty years before the nuclear bomb, in a haunting foreshadowing of the great World Wars that shattered our illusions of progress, Matthew Arnold says the “sea of faith” that once formed the contours of our world has retreated to the “naked shingles of the world.” A sure jab at Wagner’s having modeled the very structure of his operas after sex after we had lost our relationship to our body. Arnold’s reference to the “shingles of the world” is to say that modern man’s Babylonian dreams of progress had, with Wagner and Compte, already risen above the world’s cloudy roof, so to speak, where you look down and can no longer make sense of where home is. As N.T. Wright says, in The Challenge of Jesus (p. 172), “What should we be doing in our world now that every dream of progress is stamped with the word Babel?”

Speaking of making sense of home, as an obvious caveat here is, when we say that heaven is “somewhere else” or “here”, we must ask: what do we mean, exactly? When we say somewhere else, are we referring to a spiritual realm that is simply not apparent to our senses, or to a geographically or spatially locatable place that may or may not have dimensions or boundaries? Or, rather, are the two meanings one and the same? Is heaven in a geographically locatable space (with or without dimensions or boundaries) and not apparent to our senses, possibly because of its great distance from here? The answer(s) are effected by our basic model of reality. Once we know our history, we are more free to choose that model. I will try to posit my model later.

This question of the geography of heaven leads me directly into the beginning of my foray into more directly theological and scriptural questions.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The History of Heaven and Earth 11: One Giant Leap for Mankind

What people don’t understand about electronic media is, when you are on the phone or on the air, you have no body. – Marshall McLuhan

Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) ridiculous operas reveal the man of Compte’s time and empirically completed the idea of man literally becoming a social machine. Rather than a ritual, a religious sacrifice, as in ancient theater, both Greek and Jewish, literacy is what sets the scene of modern opera. Similar to the picture painted by the lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem that opened the previous post of this series, the picture of it is that of a modern doctor standing over a horizontally laying patient on an OPERAting room table, reading from a book.

Actors in ancient Greece wore huge, exaggerated masks intended to display their character and project their voice. Approximation of reality and the perception of the ear were the rule. Actors in Wagner’s operas, however, wore realistic costumes. Strange, high pitched dings, or low, sad drones produced by the orchestra were meant to literally signify the sound of some animal or sad young woman in the action. The literal programming of the action under the rule of the script was due to man’s affinity for perception through the eye, dating back to the printing press and the invention of perspective. Precise programming by the script of the empirical reality of the action of the play is the rule.

Appropriate to this upside down figure of modern man, writing is top-down. Modern musical instruments – guitars, pianos - are horizontal, as a dead man. The vertically-standing harp is relegated over to the corner of the stage of the opera as the trace of a former lost time and a former lost relationship to the body. In compensation for this loss, the structure of modern opera is modeled after sex; it builds up to a great climax and quickly finds its peace and reconciliation with itself. The entire operas, in fact, strived to be grand, sweeping gestures, for which much machinery is required.

As you can see in the cross sectional view of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which was Wagner’s opera house, the back of the house, which contained the machinery, took up half the building! The name for opera, in fact, is from Latin, and is a mechanical term in reference to the work of slaves, soldiers, or animals. All in all, then, it makes a lot of sense that Wagner was originally great friends with Friedrich Nietzsche (the "God is dead" guy).

As another similar example to the general axe-bearing force behind this time period, this was when architects began to no longer direct the work of construction of the building from the field in the midst of its actual edification, but, instead, used a more whole, accurate, and precise representation of the work in a set of drawings and writings to communicate the product to the builder.

Also in the world of Architecture and reflecting the analytic breaking apart of man that began with Descartes and ended with Compte, around this same time, purely theoretical and pragmatic architectures were independently developed by two separate architects. The pragmatic one has a strong affinity for the machine (as opposed to the ghost; remember Descartes' "ghost and the machine" as the picture of man), and, by this time, abandoned all reference to or concern for ratio, proportion, or cosmic order. His designs were also operatively conceived over a graphically laid out grid that theoretically extended to infinity and had no meaning or purpose beyond helping the designer compute mere information. If it wasn’t functional, it wasn’t important. The theoretical architect, on the other hand, was haunted by the ghost (as opposed to the machine). Notably, his work was very literal. Also as an example of such stories of distance between mind and body of this time period, the first painless surgery was performed in 1842 using ether.

(Historic S.E. breach of Fort Pulaski, near Savannah, GA)
The historic breach of Fort Pulaski in the American Civil War (1861-1865) served as a picture of this newly conceived modern “force.” Newly developed artillery that was devastatingly accurate surprisingly penetrated an earlier version of the Titanic (figuratively speaking), changing the order of warfare forever. It should also be noted that the large SCALE and disregard for the previous order of things of Sherman’s March to the Sea had a similar effect.

Such artillery as that used to breach Fort Pulaski - projectiles forced from a technology improved with modern analysis – forms a similar figure to that of modern cinema. With perspective, perception along the horizontal axis through the light of the eye became dominant. Bernini made it more literal and, paradoxically, divorced from the life of bodily sensation. Taking the breaking up and apart of modern analysis from beyond the dome of heaven a step further - around the time when the universe was programmed by opera (the mid 1800’s) - the development of modern cinema began when someone noticed that a quickly passing sequence of drawings gives the effect of a continuous sequence of motion. Thus, time came to be seen as a linear sequence of moments or events that projects from the present to infinity. This usurps the old order in which cyclically repeated cosmic patterns are observed.

The invention of celluloid photographic film led to the invention of motion picture cameras at the end of the 1880’s. The images were stored on a mechanically turning reel and able to be viewed through a projector. This is when the perspective’s light of the eye transformed into a cinematic projection from man himself. Like every other technology, the projector is an extension of man. We make it, and it, in turn, makes us. We become what we behold.

With the development of cinema, then, the dominance of the light of the eye becomes self evident, and the world becomes a sequence of photographic images dancing an operatic ballet. This dance is no longer on an actual stage with bodies on it, but on a screen of flickering light. This is the beginning of man’s virtualization. By the turn of the century, the flickering lights that constitute the disappearance of the body had begun to catch up with the body that had been being operated on (in opera), and several scenes were being put together to tell a story. 350 years after Descartes, the story of being analytically trapped between ghosts flickering on the screen and the mechanical reel containing the story of the world was not only still being told but being more and more concretely affirmed.

That story is told, again, by T.S. Eliot, in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas…

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet – and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,…

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say, ‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’ –…

It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while

In 1906, G.E. patented an efficient and effective method of making the light bulb. Thomas Edison achieved this major development in 1879, and it was associated with the development of the vacuum tube. Where cinema sees nerve impulses thrown in patterns on a screen, the light bulb takes the body’s disappearance into outer space a batting of Icarus’ wings higher up his Tower and makes Nothing appear. Man’s virtualization continues as he beholds Nothing through the glass of his light bulb. We become what we behold, and with the technological progress of light bulb, we become a vacuumous Nothing.

As McLuhan says it, “the medium is the message.” But, the whole point of light, unlike sound, is that there is no medium. This is precisely the message. On the light bulb, he says: "totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized... it eliminates time and space factors in human association exactly as do radio, telegraph, telephone, and TV, creating involvement in depth." He means depth there in terms of being in opposition to extension of the message through an actual bodily medium in which the message is conveyed in the actuality of space and time. He means it in reference to human association that occurs all at once, simultaneously, and from all directions and times.

McLuhan mentioned the radio there. His point is, when you are listening to the radio, no-body is speaking to you. And the person speaking is not on the earth but “on air.” The speaker has ascended. As with other electronic media mentioned in the above quote from McLuhan, such as telegraph, telephone, and TV, when you listen to the radio, you are hearing sounds spoken by someone not in your presence whose actual words were spoken from any place and at any time.

Similar to the timing of the major developments of cinema, the first commercially available radios became available at the turn of the century. Soon after that, analytic cubism appeared on the scene from 1909-1912, exemplified here in Picasso’s “Still Life With Bottle of Rum”, of 1911. The idea of analytic cubism is the presence of multiple points of view and multiple times in one crafted image. It is as if one piece of canvas contains the bigger reality of an angel. Consistent with the analytic geometry discussed in the previous post, the original figure is analytically broken up into pieces and transformed into abstractions apprehended by the mind at a distance from living reality of sensed appearance. What actually appears is what T.S. Eliot referred to as a Wasteland. The story of desolation of actuality continues.

The details of the up-side down order of the telephone, to which the opening quote of this post refers, tell a very similar story. Rather than being “on air,” however, the speaker is “on the line.” As if a magic speaker threw nerves in patterns along a wire. The master patent for the telephone was obtained by Alexander Gram Bell in 1876, right around the time of the development of the light bulb.

One might argue that this magic talk is silly, and reason that, when you are talking on the telephone with someone, they are not here with you. My response to that is twofold:
1) Precisely! – with the caveat that their body is not here with you, and
2) But, how can you say they aren’t here with you if you are talking to them? I say that as an affirmation of the actuality of appearance. Also, if they are here having a conversation with you “over the phone”, then who are they (or, what form has their person or their voice taken in appearing to you)? And where are they (how can the form they have taken be sent to you; by what medium is the message conveyed)? “With telephone and TV it is not so much the message as the sender that is ‘sent’” (McLuhan). If they are here with you “on the phone”, but not in bodily form, then what does that mean, exactly? Also, if they are here with you “on the phone”, then you are with them in the same place. So where and who are both of you? In other words, being here “on the phone” has the same implications for both people in the conversation. “[W]hen you are on the phone or on the air, you have no body.”

Icons of the middle ages were believed to have similarly magic capabilities of speaking to their audience. Also similar to Cubism, icons often (like the one shown HERE in the second post of this series), conveyed different events of a story from different times all in one scene. That icon of the Transubstantiation also shows Christ and the three apostles who were with him ascending and descending the mountain. The difference between the icon painter and modern man, however, is that the icon painter’s perception of multiple things at once is a natural product of the primacy of the ear in his perception of bodies of sound. Remember that the ear, when considered alone, perceives from all directions at once in a boundless and horizonless space. Modern man’s being had been fragmented into distantly separated parts (the ghost and the machine), and his perception of multiple things at once from multiple places is not due to the compression of memories into a framed view but to the ELIMINATION of space and time in human association. Notably, this elimination of space and time is not in reference to the scientifically explicable motion of electric energy, but, rather to the actual human sensing of the association that occurs when two people are on the phone or "on air". Technically - and ANALYTICALLY speaking - according to the language of modern science, electrical energy does travel over the line or through the air in time. Again, however, the modern scientist does not know actually but analytically. Ancient icons are actual. Picasso's paintings are modern, and thus, analytic. Generally speaking, we don't actually sense the time between the sending and receiving of the message when we are on the phone or on air.

Soon after analytic cubism, World War I broke out in 1914. The coming of a war between everyone that terminated the existence, the DOMinion, of empires for good should have been obvious once man’s home became a globe, the whole universe was in every man’s head, and the king’s head came off. In fact, Europe was filled with fear and anticipation leading up to the breakout of it.

And would it have been worth it, after all,…

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,

Man was still not satisfied after the end of World War I, since the modern project still wasn’t empirically complete. So, the television became commercially available in the late 1920s. The origin of the word is from Greek, meaning “far”, and Latin, “visio”, meaning sight. As with a cubist painting and the radio, then, the television screen turns man into a being like unto an angel (“like unto”, meaning, appearing to us as, or in a similar way as). Hijacking Descartes’ separation of mind and body and Compte’s arrogant prediction of science’s ability to predict the behavior of masses of people, the TV was eventually to become the primary means by which Marketers become gods and make men their puppets. Like the man in the photograph at the beginning of this post, their Babylonian dreams came true.

Before TV reached it’s natural heights and progressed to such great potential (in the '50s), however, someone (Hitler), still looking up to heaven and thinking he could rule over earth, tried to start another empire. World War II broke out. Man then developed a weapon with the potential to destroy the entire world (the nuclear bomb), but, instead, used it to end another war between everyone. This was finally the beginning of the end of the modern project. This was when people who had previously placed their hopes in human progress through the power of scientific knowledge and technology began to question the global mythos (by "myth" I mean the story by which man lives his life) of the past 400 years. The coming years, however, from the 1950s on, was when TV reached its potential to make both puppets and angels of men.

Then, since two World Wars and man-made technology that can wipe out the whole face of the earth had finally made so empirically obvious the 400 year old truth that man no longer lived under the dome of heaven, the race to conquer space was the next major power struggle. You would think, after General Sherman and modern artillery started the end of face to face warfare, that the struggle to conquer outer space would not have been a theatrical event. Sputnik’s becoming the first man-made artifact to orbit around the earth in 1957, however, was a major global phenomenon. In the U.S., people all around the country used telescopes and binoculars to watch the satellite pass slowly overhead. The sound transmitted by Sputnik was recorded and broadcast on air for the whole nation to hear minutes after it headed Westward over New York.

Then, in 1966, an unmanned spacecraft looking for a safe place for Neil Armstrong to land took the first ever photograph of the whole earth, pictured above. Three years later, in 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Nicknamed the Eagle, the spacecraft off of which Amrstrong leapt for the moon symbolized freedom from normal human life and sense to which he had been reaching ever since Genesis 11 and the days of Nimrod, but especially for the immediate 400 years prior. What Galileo had a dusty gaze on with his powerful telescope, Neil Armstrong walked. Theoretically, the astronaut from the moon could then gaze back at Galileo. Ironically, the astronaut who walked on the moon with Armstrong described the view as “Magnificent desolation.”

The tale of the man’s modern up-side down ordering of things had had come to its completion and perfection. Apparent reality upon the earth and under the dome of heaven known to ancients such as the Greeks and Hebrews had officially ended. The modern project was complete. Some refer to this as the end of history.

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