Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jesus, Ascension and the Connection of Heaven and Earth

This Sunday we will observe the Day of Ascension (the Day of Ascension -- 40 days after Easter-- is actually observed on Thursday this year).  What is Ascension and how does it function in our theologies?  We have enough trouble with Easter and Pentecost, what do we make of this event that suggests that Jesus disappeared into the clouds?

As I contemplate this question for sermon and such, I'm also participating/leading a study of N.T. Wright's Surprised By Hope.  In this book, he suggests that heaven and earth are actually close by  each other, essentially overlapping each other, with heaven serving as the "control room of earth."  So, where does Ascension fit into the picture?  Well to answer that question we have to come to an understanding of the relationship of heaven and earth.  

Wright offers a suggestion that resonates with my mind, as I've long thought that we should think in terms of different dimensions of reality rather than trying to fit heaven and earth into the same space/time continuum.  To understand Ascension, Wright suggests, we must take a "relational view."   So consider this statement:

Basically heaven and earth in biblical cosmology are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter.  They are two different dimensions of God's good creation.  And the point about heaven is twofold.   First, heaven relates to earth tangentially so that the one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth:  the ascension therefore means that Jeus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.  Second, heaven is, as it were, the control room for earth; it is the CEO's office, the place from which instructions are given.  "All authority is given to me," said Jesus at the end of Matthew's gospel, "in heaven and on earth."  (Surprised by Hope, p. 111).
I find this intriguing and suggestive.  It takes us beyond the hold of literalism or simple modernist skepticism, to consider another realm of understanding.  It also invites us to consider the way in which God is present and active in our own context through Jesus.   

6 comments:

John said...

I resist the notion of heaven as a control room or of God having God's hands on the controls.

My understanding of the relationship between God and God's creation and God's children is one of relative independence. God freely invites us to fall in love with God voluntarily, and in response to our deepening love, we freely adopt God's ways. Coerced love is not love at all but terror.

To suggest that God is micro-managing the world or humans within it defeats this notion and renders God in a more coercive role, a posture which neither the teachings of Jesus nor of nature support.

It also invites the terrible conclusion that all good and all evil happens at God's behest. It frees humanity from any responsibility and depicts God as a tyrant.

Not a happy metaphor at all.

John

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

John,

I think you misunderstood the metaphor. It is not that God is micromanaging earth, but that the heavenly reality -- God's reality influences for good the earthly reality.

The point is that God isn't far off, waiting for us to join him one day, but that God is present in the nearby, inviting us to share in a new and different way of living. That is, afterall, what we're praying in the Lord's Prayer.

John said...

Bob,

"Control" implies something more coercive than influence. "Control room" implies a relationship more than mere proximity. "Control room" includes not only the aspect of domination but the aspect of purpose. The whole reason for a control room is to manage "the controlled." Such an understanding flies in the face of everything I believe about God and God's creation.

Of course, I am just a creature, so what do I know.

That being said, my beliefs include the notion that God exercises unimaginable powers including the power to influence human behavior. They also include the understanding that God is not just close by, but that God is present within creation. I also embrace the miraculous reach of the powers of God and the belief that God exercises those powers within creation as God wills.

I believe that God created the universe in such a way that it is self sustaining, though still open to God's intervention.

The metaphors of God's "control" and of God's "control room" are just too coercive in tone to meaningfully describe the relationship between God and God's for creation as I understand it.

John

Pastor Joelle said...

I am also reflecting on Wright's understanding of the Ascension today. I think that chapter was probably the most helpful in the entire book. i like the idea of the Ascended Lord being available to us and unencumbered by space and time and I think that is what Jesus was talking about in John 1427-28

curtis said...

Bob,
I ran across your blog post on ascension Sunday and enjoyed it. I very much appreciate NT Wright's perspective on heaven, ascension, and many other ideas. NT Wright's theology has transformed my ministry and poured life into my faith.
I sincerely HOPE (despite what John writes) that God is in control! Otherwise, all is lost, quite literally.
I don't see God's control as a threat to humanity but as the hope of humanity.
In my digging around on this idea, I ran across an interesting, if somewhat confusing, link that also talks about heaven as God's control room. I haven't thought about it enough to decide if it all makes sense to me, but it's at least provokative. He brings in science in interesting ways. I don't know anything about the author, Larry Wood, but it can be found here: http://www.biblenews1.com/creation/control1.htm
I'll be checking out your other posts - thanks for sharing them.
Grace,
Curtis

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Curtis,

Thank you for stopping in and sharing. Although I do believe that God is engaged and committed to the "fate" of the universe, I also believe in free will, which to me requires an open future.

That doesn't mean that God doesn't have a good idea where things might be going, but that doesn't mean God is pulling all the strings!