Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Interlocking Worlds of Heaven and Earth

We pray, in the Lord's Prayer, the words:  "Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done on earth as in heaven."  What do we mean by these words?  How is heaven influencing earth?  

I mentioned yesterday, in preparation for observing Ascension, that N.T. Wright speaks of Heaven being the "Control Room of earth."  That is, how might we imagine the heavenly realm influencing the earthly realm?    Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope, wants to challenge two unhelpful ideas that pervade much Christian thinking -- on one hand a belief in evolutionary optimism (everything gets better over time) and what he calls "souls in transit."  In this second pole, the belief is that things are bad here, but we're just visiting, souls on our way to freedom from the shackles of this physical realm.  This is a Gnostic view, that has Platonic roots, that has become quite prominent in our time. 

The doctrine of the Ascension is one that we often pass over, jumping from Easter to Pentecost, from Resurrection to Church.  Ascension, Wright believes is an important concept, because it reminds us that although Christ is present, Christ is also absent.  He points to the danger of simply equating the church with Christ, making them one.  I myself am perhaps guilty of this, leaving the impression that this is all there really is about Christ -- us.  Now, Paul does speak of the church as the Body of Christ, and we need to hear that, but I think it is a good warning to not too closely equate the two.

Wright speaks of the mystery of the Ascension dealing with the interrelationship of heaven and earth.  He writes:

The mystery of the ascension is of course just that, a mystery.  It demands that we think what is, to many today, almost unthinkable:  that when the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it isnot talking about two localities related to each other within the same space-time continnum or a nonphysical world contrasted with a physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also quite possibly (though this does not necessarily follow from the other two) two different kinds of what we call time.  (Surprised by Hope, p. 115).

What he is proposing is intersecting, interlocking worlds, that are made to relate with each other.  He points to Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia as an example of this, but suggests we find a more adult way of thinking about the connection.  So, in what ways does Heaven influence Earth?  In what way is God's will to be done on earth as in heaven?

4 comments:

John said...

I think Wright's analysis of interlocking universes risks pushing us to think too rationalistically, too scientifically at what is a metaphysical reality. For example I found myself thinking: well that could be accomplished by just creating two different kinds of "time" we operate in one time and God in another. I stopped myself though when I realized that I was doing science and not theology.

I also agree with his dismissal of the notion of optimistic evolutionism. If I understand this concept, it would hold that the universe and all within it is evolving toward greater complexity, and ultimately and irrepressible toward improvement on virtually all levels.

This sounds awfully close to the Marxist idea of the dialectic of history - i.e., there is no God, instead there is an inexorable movement of the forces of history toward the "good life" where all will work as they will, receive what they want, and generally experience life as productive, fulfilling, happy, and conflict free.

My understanding of evolution is that it basically the adaptation of life forms to their environment over generations. As environments change, adaptations adjust. When environments become less nurturing and more hostile, adaptations become more regressive.

John

David Mc said...

Natural selection has nothing to do with "adapting". Adaption takes intelligence. Random changes in form may or may not be "naturally" and passively selected based on the environment and available suitable living space/ food at any time. Otherwise, it's time to go extinct.

http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/pew-poll-americans-may-be-warming-up-to-socialism/19472978

John said...

David,

By adaptation I didn't mean that a creature adapts to its environment but that those members of the species whose genetic structure renders them best suited to the changing environment tend to reproduce more successfully, and thus their genes begin to dominate the gene pool. In that way the species as a whole adapts to the environment.

John

David Mc said...

It's more of a filtering process.

"species as a whole". That's a good point, at this point in time, on Earth. At least one species has gone from from evolving to self manipulating to adapt.