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


Is it possible to seek God? Calvinists teach that none seek God. They believe God selects all who will be saved, making it an impossibility to seek HIM. Man-made doctrines are always contrary to Scripture. God's word is always, the last word.

Acts 15:15-17 With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 After theses things I will return, And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will restore it, 17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,

Prophets of God agree that all mankind may seek the Lord; a sharp contrast to Calvinistic teaching.

Psalm 10:4 The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, "There is no God."

The wicked can seek God, however, they choose not to. Pride destroys the desire to seek God.

Acts 17:26-27 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

Mankind is to seek God. He is there for whoever is willing to find Him.

Psalm 53:1-2 The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God.".....2 God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, Who seeks God,

If God selects men to be saved against their will, He would not have to look down to see who seeks Him.

Proverbs 8:17 "I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me.

God says diligently seek Him. Calvinists proclaim that no man can seek God. Who do you believe?

2 Chronicles 19:3 But there is some good in you, for you have removed the Asheroth from the land and you have set your heart to seek God."

Men need to prepare their hearts to seek God.

Psalm 9:10 And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.

The writer of the Psalms says God will not forsake those who seek God. Those who preach, the John Calvin view of predestination, strongly disagree.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first His kingdom......

Jesus says seek God's kingdom. John Calvin says men cannot seek God.

Hebrews 11:6 ....for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

God rewards those who seek Him.


(All Scripture quotes from:NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

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