Posts tagged ‘creation’

January 13, 2018

every blade of grass, every rock crystal, acorn, and ovum has its “messenger” (angelos)

Selections from Naming the Powers by Walter Wink (see my own thoughts here):

The language of power pervades the whole New Testament. No New Testament book is without the language of power. The phrase archai kai exousiai (“principalities and powers”) is but one of many paired expressions for power and should not be singled out as of unique significance. Other such pairs are:

  • Rulers (archontes) and great men (Matt. 20:25)
  • Those who supposedly rule (hoi dokountes archein) and great men (Mark 10:42)
  • Kings (basileis) and those in authority (hoi exousiazontes) (Luke 22:25)
  • Chief priests (archiereis) and rulers (archontes) (Luke 24:20)
  • Authorities (archonten) and Pharisees (John 7:48)
  • Rulers (archontes) and elders (Acts 4:8)
  • Kings and rulers (archontes) (Acts 4:26)
  • Angels and principalities (archai) (Rom. 8:38)
  • Power (dynamei) and name (onomati) (Acts 4:7)
  • Power (dynamin) and wisdom (sophian) (1 Cor. 1:24)
  • Power (dynamin) and authority (exousian) (Luke 9:1; Rev. 17:13)
  • Authority (exousias) and commission (epitropes) (Acts 26:12)
  • Authority (exousia) and power (dynamei) (Luke 4:36)

Half of these (7) are found in the Gospels, 4 in Acts, and only 2 in Paul.

…Not only do expressions for power tend to be paired, they also attract each other into series or strings, as if power were so diffuse and impalpable a phenomenon that words must be heaped up in clusters in order to catch a sense of its complexity. One need only scan this list of phrases to get a sense of their variety and frequency:

  • Chief priests, captains, elders (Luke 22:52)
  • Chief priests, rulers (archontas), people (Luke 23:13)
  • Rulers (archontas), elders, scribes (Acts 4:5)
  • Synagogues, rulers (archas), and authorities (exousias) (Luke 12:11)
  • Death, life, angels, principalities (archai), present, future, powers (dynameis), height, depth, any other creature (Rom. 8:38)
  • Rule (arches), authority (exousias), power (dynamebs), dominion (kyriotetos), iotetos), name (onomatos) (Eph. 1:21)
  • Principalities (archas), powers (exousias), (dynamebs), dominion (kyriotetos), iotetos), name (onomatos) (Eph. 1:21)
  • Principalities (archas), powers (exousias), world rulers (kosmokratoras), kratoras), spirits of wickedness (pneumatika tes ponerias) (Eph. 6:12)
  • Thrones (thronoi), dominions (kyriotetes), principalities (archai), authorities thorities (exousial) (Col. 1:16)
  • Angels, authorities (exousion), powers (dynameon) (1 Pet. 3:22)
  • Power (dynamin), throne (thronon), authority (exousian) (Rev. 13:2)
  • Salvation, power (dynamis), kingdom, authority (exousia) (Rev. 12:10)
  • Glory, majesty, dominion (kratos), authority (exousia) (Jude 25)

Of these strings, the first four decidedly consist of human agents, the last two run more to attributes of one who has power. The remainder appear to be at least heavenly, perhaps also earthly, powers; for now that question, which will remain one of the chief preoccupations of this study, must remain open.

…Chapter 2 headings: The Powers:

  • Arch and Archon
  • Exousia
  • Dynamis
  • Thronos
  • Kyriotes
  • Onoma
  • Angels
  • Fallen Angels, Evil Spirits, Demons

[In “The Disputed Passages” of chapter 3 (“The New Testament Evidence”), the author also includes careful treatment of “the seven references to the stoicheia (‘elements’) in the New Testament.” Appendix 4 includes a survey of stoicheia (‘elements’) within the writings of the early church fathers.]

…For the ancients, heaven and earth were a seamless robe, a single interacting and continuous reality. To read the literature on the subject, one would never have suspected that the spiritual Powers comprised only 15 percent of the uses of the term. We are fascinated with the supranatural forces the ancients described; they seem to have taken them for granted and to have been much more preoccupied with that more amorphous, intangible, indefinable something that makes it possible for a king to command subjects to voluntary death in war or for a priest to utter words that send a king to his knees. Perhaps they lacked the systematic precision of modem sociological analyses of power, but that does not mean they lacked experience of what our modem analyses describe or a vocabulary for designating it. And they may have been in touch with dimensions of power which our more materialistic point of view scarcely glimpses.

…The plurality of thrones around a central throne suggests the “sons of God” (bone elohim) of the heavenly council, but no further reference is made to them. No surviving documents allude to these thrones again prior to the New Testament. Those that have been cited by some scholars are all late.” But some kind of speculative ferment must have existed almost from the publication of Daniel, for what crops up in the Book of Revelation is a full-blown and mature picture of God’s throne surrounded by twenty-four thrones, on which were seated twenty-four elders with golden crowns (Rev. 4:4 [twice]; so also 4:2; 11:16; 20:4). We are given little data for deciphering the identity of these heavenly “elders”; by analogy they are “advice-givers” and possibly represent the heavenly council. But in this book they give no advice, only praise.

…This connection between the angels or “princes” of the nations and the “sons of God” is also reflected by Isaiah 41-46 and 48, where Yahweh, in a “divine lawsuit” (rib) before the heavenly council, addresses the pagan nations, calling them to hear his case. The real suit, however, is not with the nations as such but with their idol-gods. Since Israelite tradition had already long since identified the “sons of God” or “sons of gods” with the heavenly council, and the heavenly council with angels, it was perfectly natural and inevitable that early on these gods of the pagan nations would be understood as the guardian angels appointed over them. What we find in Daniel 10, the Jerusalem Targum, and the Dead Sea Scrolls had thus already had a long prehistory.

The notion of angels appointed over each nation, devoted to that nation’s well-being and responsible for its fate, represents a kind of systems-view of international politics under the aspect of God’s final sovereignty.

…We must not regard these angels of the nations as necessarily evil; they merely represent the interests of their own people, which would not evidently be served by Israel’s ascendancy over them.

…It may be that an awareness of the relation between the good will of the angel and the responsiveness of a people to preaching is what later led Father Peter Faber, a colleague of Ignatius Loyola, to pray to the angel of a region before entering it.’6

Origen interpreted Acts 16:9 in a similar way. When Paul saw in a vision a “man of Macedonia” beseeching him, “Come over and help us,” Origen understood this to be the angel of Macedonia appealing to Paul for help in bringing the people under its care into alignment with the purposes of God.’

…”The heavenlies,” in short, is that dimension of reality of which the believer becomes aware as a result of being “raised up” by God with Christ. It is a heightened awareness, the consciousness of a noumenal realm in which the final contest for the lordship of all reality is being waged. The “sons of disobedience” are “dead” to this reality.”‘ It is known only by It is a gift that cannot be achieved,”‘ a mystery that cannot be plumbed apart from divine illumination,”‘ a knowledge that cannot simply be added to existing knowledge but that requires an altogether new mind, indeed, a new humanity. 115

But it is not simply a state of rapture. It is an actual, new, epistemic standpoint which surpasses gnosis (Eph. 3:19), and the believer’s comprehension pertains not just to the things of God, but also to the reality, deceptions, and delusionary snares of evil. Against this they must be armed (6:10-20); thus armed, they are able to “expose” the “unfruitful works of darkness” (5:11) and make them become “visible” (5:13).

This is of utmost importance. The true dimensions of evil, according to the writer, are known only through revelation, however bad life may have seemed before. And the consequence of revelation, conversely, is not to rescue the believers from a world of evil but to open their eyes, to bring them “light” (Eph. 5:14), and thereby to enlist them in the struggle for liberation. Just as peasants liberated from the control of a military dictatorship are not freed from conflict but freed for conflict, the Christian is recruited into the ranks of God in the grace-ful struggle to bring the world to the truth (1:13) that the crucified and risen Christ is its principle of harmony and power (1:20-23). “The heavenlies” where the believer has already been established is thus a kind of “liberated zone,” in John Pairman Brown’s phrase,120 although with this caveat: those who are in this “liberated zone” are not at all free from the possibility of collusion with the old Powers or even of apostasy. But they are provided a space of relative freedom from determination by the Powers. Ta epourania is thus very similar to the phrase “the kingdom of God” as used in the Gospels, and subject to the same ambiguities.

…The most puzzling aspect of Eph. 3:10, however, is why-and how-the church is to preach to the Powers in the heavenlies. The image is similar to Revelation 1-3, where the one like a son of man commands John to tell the angels of the churches what needs to be done in their churches. We are not told why this communication is not made directly by Christ to the angels. Apparently humans are necessary as intermediaries to the angels: angels’ angels! But how this message is to be communicated to the Powers is not said, nor do any commentators remark on it.127 Rev. 12:11 speaks of Satan being conquered by the faith and testimony of the martyrs, but not of their addressing Satan. The same is true of the passage in Ignatius which speaks of “the powers (dynameis) of Satan” being destroyed by the frequent gatherings of the church to give thanks and glory to God; “his mischief is brought to nothing, by the concord of your faith. There is nothing better than peace, by which every war in heaven and on earth is abolished” (Eph. 13). In both cases the Powers are affected by what the church does on earth, but in neither case does the church address them.

Chapter 4. Toward an Interpretation

1. The language of power pervades the whole New Testament. Surveying all the data covered, it is amazing that this has been so consistently overlooked. On every page of the New Testament one fords the terminology of power. those incumbents, offices, structures, roles, institutions, ideologies, rituals, rules, agents, and spiritual influences by which power is established and exercised. The language and reality of power pervade the New Testament because power is one of the primary ways the world is organized and run. No human activity can be described without recourse to this language. Earlier scholarly preoccupation with personified aspects of power has diverted attention from the pervasiveness of this use of the language of power. Since the Book of Revelation fails to use the stereotypical phrases of the Pauline and Paulinist literature, some scholars have declared that it lacks interest in such matters altogether-a staggering claim, since no other writing in the New Testament burns with such intense political fury. When we broaden the issue to the language of power generally, however, quite a different picture of Revelation emerges. John the Seer uses thronos 45 times, onoma 36 times, exousia 20 times, dynamic 2 times, and archon I time, a veritable thesaurus of power terms. But with the sole exception of the latter (used of Christ in 1:5), John uses these terms not as names of spiritual powers (for which he prefers more surrealistic images, such as Dragon, Beast, frogs, locusts, etc.), but as names of political rulership (2:26; 17:12-13), the dominion of angels (14:18), delegated authority (9:3; 13:4, 5, 7, 12), and so forth. The fact is that no book in the whole Bible is so thoroughly preoccupied with evil powers and their defeat.

Another surprising finding of our study is that the synoptic Gospels use the terminology of power almost as frequently as does Paul, whose name is most often associated with the Powers. This fact has been overlooked looked simply because the Gospels tend to use the language of power of human or structural, rather than spiritual, entities. Paul for his part developed a quite unique manner of dealing with the determinants of human existence, substituting such quasi-hypostatized words as sin, law, flesh, and death for the terms more frequently encountered in Jewish apocalyptic: Satan, Azazel, Beliar, evil spirits, demons. In short, when we attend not merely to the terminology but the meaning field which is being denoted, Paul’s letters, like the rest of the New Testament, can be described as a theology of power.’

2. The language of power in the New Testament is extremely imprecise, precise, liquid, interchangeable, and unsystematic, yet

3. Despite all this imprecision and interchangeability, certain clear patterns of usage emerge. We found ourselves to be dealing not with analytically precise categories used consistently from one passage to another other but with terms that cluster and swarm around the reality they describe, scribe, as if by heaping up synonymous phrases and parallel constructions an intuitive sense of the reality described might emerge. So we discovered series, strings, and pairs of terms used with a kind of consistent indiscriminateness, and within this field of language, a genuine power-reality that comes to expression. However, this very promiscuity of language meant that

4. Because these terms are to a degree interchangeable, one or a pair or a series can be made to represent them all. Furthermore, an initial sifting of data suggested that

5. These Powers are both heavenly and earthly, divine and human, spiritual and political, invisible and structural, and that

6. These Powers are also both good and evil. Evidence for these two observations should have by now proven cumulatively overwhelming and needs no further elaboration.

7. Unless the context further specifies, we are to take the terms for power in their most comprehensive sense, understanding them to mean both heavenly and earthly, divine and human, good and evil powers (see beginning of Part Two, p. 39).

…These categories are mythic. Consequently, our approach to interpretation must avoid all attempts to “modernize” insofar as this means ignoring the mythic dimension of the text and transferring it in an unmediated mediated way into modern (mythic) categories. It may be that the principalities and powers have been neglected as much as they have since the Enlightenment precisely because they were not easily reducible to modem themes.

Chapter 5. Interpreting the Myth

…Eph. 3:10 spoke of the church’s task as proclaiming now the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. We were unable to find anything in the first-century background capable of making that intelligible within the limits of the modem worldview. But perhaps that point of unintelligibility was reached for some readers even earlier, when, for example, Christ was declared to have already put the Powers under his feet, or when God was said to have led them captive in Christ’s triumphal procession, or when the Powers were affirmed as having been created in and through and for Christ. For the mythic dimension—the atemporal, cosmic, supernatural aspect of the story—was not inserted in the final text we dealt with, as if we had held back the worst for last. It has accompanied us from the outset, permeating every statement made about the Powers. We found, in short, that the mythic is not the residue left over and discardable after precisely that which we may have lost sight of and need to recover.

…What I propose is viewing the spiritual Powers not as separate heavenly or ethereal entities but as the inner aspect of material or tangible manifestations of power. I suggest that the “angels of nature” are the patterning of physical things-rocks, trees, plants, the whole God-glorifying, dancing, visible universe; that the “principalities and powers” are the inner or spiritual essence, or gestalt, of an institution or state or system; that the “demons” are the psychic or spiritual power emanated by organizations or individuals or subaspects of individuals whose energies are bent on overpowering others; that “gods” are the very real archetypal or ideological structures that determine or govern reality and its mirror, the human brain; that the mysterious “elements of the universe” (stoicheia cheia tou kosmou) are the invariances (formerly called “laws”) which, though often idolized by humans, conserve the self-consistency of each level of reality in its harmonious interrelationship with every other level and the Whole; and that “Satan” is the actual power that congeals around collective idolatry, injustice, or inhumanity, a power that increases or decreases according to the degree of collective refusal to choose higher values.

…These “Powers” do not, then, on this hypothesis, have a separate, spiritual existence. We encounter them primarily in reference to the material or “earthly” reality of which they are the innermost essence. The spiritual aspect of the Powers is not simply a “personification” of institutional qualities that would exist whether they were personified or not. On the contrary, the spirituality of an institution exists as a real aspect of the institution even when it is not perceived as such.

…The very demons themselves, so long regarded as baleful spirits in the air, are pictured by the Gospels as abhorring decorporealization. When Jesus orders the “Legion” of demons out of the Gerasene demoniac, they plead to be allowed to possess a nearby herd of swine (Mark 5:12). The historicity of the conception is guaranteed regardless of the historicity of the event. The unclean spirit can find no rest without a physical body in which to reside (Luke 11:24-26). The sense is clear: demons can become manifest only through concretion in material reality. They are, in short, the name given that real but invisible spirit of destructiveness and fragmentation that rends persons, communities, and nations.

…Even to say, as Cullman did, that the Powers are both earthly and heavenly is, on this reading, still too imprecise. “Both” suggests two different sets of agents, some human or institutional, others divine or demonic. What we are arguing is that the Powers are simultaneously the outer and inner aspects of one and the same indivisible concretion of power. “Spiritual” here means the inner dimension of the material, the “within” of things, the subjectivity of objective entities in the world.2 Instead of the old dualism of matter and spirit, we can now regard matter and spirit as united in one indivisible reality, distinguishable in two discrete but interrelated manifestations.’ Nothing less than insistence on this unity makes sense of the unexplained ambiguity in the usage of the New Testament language of power. Nothing less can account for the authors’ apparent expectation that readers will understand exactly what is meant despite the great fluidity and imprecision of usage.

…It is the tendency to deify the mechanism and reduce human agents to mere things that creates the peculiar demonism of modern capitalist economics.

…We must learn to break the habit of taking a merely visible part for the whole. No one, comments Hinkelammert, has ever seen a company, a school, a state, or a system of ownership. What they have seen are the physical elements of such institutions, that is to say, the building in which the school or business functions, or the people who are its operatives. The institution, however, is the totality of its activities and as such is a mostly invisible object.’ When we confuse what the eye beholds with the totality, we commit the same reductionist fallacy as those Colossians who mistook the basic elements (stoicheia) of things for the ultimate reality (Col. 2:8, 20). The consequence of such confusion is always slavery to the unseen power behind the visible elements: the spirituality of the institution or state or stone.

…The early church understood this quite clearly. When the Roman archons (magistrates) ordered the early Christians to worship the imperial spirit or genius, they refused, kneeling instead and offering prayers on the emperor’s behalf to God. This seemingly innocuous act was far more exasperating and revolutionary than outright rebellion would have been. Rebellion simply acknowledges the absoluteness and ultimacy of the emperor’s power, and attempts to seize it. Prayer denies that ultimacy altogether by acknowledging a higher power. Rebellion would have focused solely on the physical institution and its current incumbents and attempted to displace them by an act of superior force. But prayer challenged the very spirituality of the empire itself and called the empire’s “angel,” as it were, before the judgment seat of God.

Such sedition could not go unpunished. With rebels the solution was simple. No one challenged the state’s right to execute rebels. They had bought into the power-game on the empire’s terms and lost, and the rules of the game required their liquidation. The rebels themselves knew this before they started. But what happens when a state executes those who are praying for it? When Christians knelt in the Colosseum to pray as lions bore down on them, something sullied the audience’s thirst for revenge. Even in death these Christians were not only challenging the ultimacy of the emperor and the “spirit” of empire but also demonstrating the emperor’s powerlessness to impose his will even by death. The final sanction had been publicly robbed of its power. Even as the lions lapped the blood of the saints, Caesar was stripped of his arms and led captive in Christ’s triumphal procession. His authority was shown to be only penultimate after all. And even those who wished most to deny such a thing were forced, by the very punishment they chose to inflict, to behold its truth. It was a contest of all the brute force of Rome against a small sect that merely prayed. Who could have predicted that the tiny sect would win?

…The gnostics were the earliest psychologists, comments Victor White. They explored the inner world by the indirect means of the language of myth, projecting their interior phantasms out on the screen of the heavens and dressing them out in a pretentious allegorizing philosophy. Their radical introspection led them to reject the material world and to be caught finally in the abyss of the archetypes of the collective unconscious.’ The gifts they might have brought to the world at large were vitiated by their understandable inability to make this unconscious process conscious. But they were not even drawn to do so, because their ideology had already rejected the structure of this world for a pseudoreality in the beyond.10

The orthodox church, for its part, rigidly cleaved to materiality but soon found itself the darling of Constantine. Called on to legitimate the empire, the church abandoned much of its social critique. The Powers were soon divorced from political affairs and made airy spirits who preyed only on individuals. The state was thus freed of one of the most powerful brakes against idolatry, although prophetic voices never ceased to be raised now and again anyway.

…What is the mythic point common to all these texts, with their insistence that Christ was previously unknown to the angels? How is it possible for them to be ignorant of their very own principle of systemicity (Col. 1:17, synestiken, the etymological root of our word “system”), the one in whom all things “hold together,” “cohere,” “find their harmonious unity”? How is it that they are ignorant of that in and through and for which they exist (Col. 1:16)? We must lay aside all systematic and logical objections and simply let the myth speak for itself. What it seems to claim is that the universe itself is blind to its own principle of cohesion. It operates cohesively, but without the parts perceiving that fact. Put in a more modern mode, the universe is late in arriving at awareness of itself as a unity, and this awareness has come into the world for the first time with humanity. We can actually date the moment of its dawning in the axiological period of the great prophets of Israel, the philosophers of Greece, and Buddha and Lao-tzu in the East.” It was then that the historically unprecedented sense of the unity of all things first was effectively articulated, although it was probably intuitively sensed far earlier. On the strength of that apprehension, both Israel’s conception of Yahweh’s universal sovereignty and Greek science and philosophy became possible.

With Christ Jesus a new dimension was added, however. The just man is killed. The embodiment of God’s will is executed by God’s servants. The incarnation of the orderly principles of the universe is crucified by the guardians of order. The very nucleus of spiritual power in the universe is destroyed by the spiritual powers. The parts do not or cannot know the effect of their acts on the whole, and some, less innocently, by their worship of their own selfish short-term interests, have become detrimental to the good of the whole. The angels did not know the Lord of glory, nor did the captains and jailers and chief priests and governors. The cosmic process of reconciliation could not begin until they “saw” him.

…The Powers did not know, but they know now. Even many modern secular states bear a legacy of titles that remind them, against even their own dominant ideologies, Whose they are, and why. These states continue to name the various branches of government the civil service, the military service, the ministry of justice, the ministry of education, revealing in these very titles the tacit recognition that they exist only on behalf of the Human revealed as the criterion and basis of all governmental action. When such agencies make themselves ends in themselves, or subject human needs to departmental efficiency or budgetary convenience, they do so, consciously or not, in violation of their vocation. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). Did not Paul himself say that the person who is in authority “is God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4)?

…Evil, as always, is parasitic of the good and must masquerade as good in order to remain in office.

The church’s task, then, in making known the manifold wisdom of God now to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, does not involve the arduous and hopeless effort of bringing the Powers to a place they have never been, or to a recognition they have never shared. It involves simply reminding the Powers Whose they are, a knowledge already encoded in their charters, titles, traditions, insignia, and money.

…Popular culture has tended to regard heaven (if it has any regard for it at all) as a transcendent, otherworldly sphere qualitatively distinct from human life, to which the dead go if they have been good. What if we were instead to conceive of it as the realm of “withinness,” the metaphorical “place” in which the spirituality of everything is “located,” as it were. “Heaven,” in religions all around the world, is precisely that the place in which the spirituality of everything is “located,” as it were. “Heaven,” in religions all around the world, is precisely that the habitat of angels, spirits, cherubim, and seraphim, but also of demons and the devil and all the Powers “in the heavenly places.” Heaven is simply where they “reside.”

But heaven is a great deal more as well. It is where God is enthroned and thus is the source of the transformative possibilities that God presents to every actual entity. In the language of process theology, God envisions all possibilities and is forever presenting every created thing with the particular relevant possibilities that can maximize the total situation in which it exists, both for itself and for the larger unity of which it is a part. To paraphrase Whitehead, “Heaven” is the “home of the possibles,” not simply in the abstract sense that our potentialities have been planted in us like seeds and that it is up to us to make them sprout. Quite the contrary, our own given potentiality, like that of the acorn, is always merely to repeat the past, to go on being and doing what we have always been and done before. The heavenly possibilities are presented to us as a lure challenging us to go beyond our conditioning and habits, our collusion in oppressing or being oppressed, our inertia, fear, and neuroses. God offers the heavenly possibilities for creative novelty, and we can accept wholly, or accept in part, or reject completely and simply go on repeating our past.

When we do realize a transfonnative possibility, we quite rightly speak of the experience of ecstasy that accompanies that realization as “heavenly.” We have a sense of enhanced realness, of becoming more than we knew we could become. There is a rightness about it that resonates throughout the universe and unites us with the larger purposes of God. Thus when Jesus healed or cast out demons or preached to the poor, he could declare that in that instant the “Reign of heaven” had come on them. When justice is done, we experience a sense of heaven. When a person’s individual interests coincide with the interest of the Whole, there Is an epiphany of heaven. When we die to our egocentricity and abandon ourselves to God, what opens to receive us is heaven. “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6).

…”Heaven” here cannot be conceived of as “up there” in such a way that it is out of relationship with the earth, for believers are already, while alive, established in it. It was precisely this problem that created the impasse in the interpretation of Eph. 3:10. If the church now must make known God’s manifold wisdom to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies, the heavenlies must somehow be accessible to the church. Insofar as “heaven” encompasses the entire universe, it is certainly not limited to the earth, but it interpenetrates all things, is present in all things, bearing the secret of the potential and inwardness and unfolding of all things.” Thus, according to the Gospel of Thomas, when Jesus’ disciples ask him when the kingdom will come, he responds, “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘Here it is’ or ‘Then it is.’ Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it” (NHL, sec. 113). It was said just as well by a seventh-grader in a recent confirmation class: “Heaven is wherever God is acknowledged.”

The ancients sought to express the ubiquitous quality of heaven by piling up numbers in astronomical proportions to indicate the infinity of the hosts of angels (Rev. 5:11, 13; 19:1, 6). Yahweh was the Lord of the universe, but even more often and specifically, “Lord of hosts,” “Lord of Spirits,” “Lord of the Powers,” as if the real test of lordship is the capacity to control the transcendent realm of determining forces that exercise the real day-to-day governance of every aspect of life on earth. The ancients perceived that there was an angel for everything, down to the last blade of grass. This notion, laughed to scorn for the past few centuries, now appears to have been, symbolically, precisely correct: every blade of grass, every rock crystal, acorn, and ovum has its “messenger” (angelos) from God to instruct it in its growth, however we name it (DNA, the “laws” of crystalline formation, etc.).

Such a view of heaven finds it to be “nearer than breathing, closer than hand or foot,” yet still transcendent. But its transcendence is not a transcendence of matter; that is the bias of the old worldview, infected by Neoplatonic aversion to the material universe. “Heaven” in our hypothesis has a transcendence of an altogether different kind; it is the transcendence of the “worldly” way of viewing reality, of the alienated order of existence, of egocentric ways of living, of idolatry of the part in defiance of the Whole, of the unrealized present by the consummation to come. It is transcendent by virtue of inwardness, invisibility, and futurity, not by remoteness and distance. One must, in traditional terms, be “saved” in order to perceive it, not just be better informed. It cannot just be known about; it must be known.

…It is precisely the Jews’ insistence on the inseparability of soul and body that led them to affirm the resurrection of the whole person, spirit, soul, and body. Popular Christianity long since abandoned that for belief in the immortality of the soul, that is, of a bodiless continuation in the pure realm of spirit. Against this view Paul had already coined the notion of a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:35-57). Just what this paradoxical formulation means is not nearly so important as that it is asserted. We cannot conceive it, but it serves to hold the myth open into eternity and prevents its collapsing into a dualism of spirit versus matter. However incomprehensible it is in literal terms, it is the necessary symbolic affirmation that life is always life in a body, that spirit cannot exist apart from its concretion in form, that the victory of life over death includes the transformed vehicle by means of which, and solely by means of which, we have known what it means to be alive. All the rest is trust.

…If the theology of the future must win its right to speak by being a continual reflection on praxis, on the actual struggle of humanity for authentic being, then we must be careful to keep the ring of that voice clear in our ears.

At the same time, however, one still must ask how the neighbor became oppressed and is kept that way. How has she internalized that spirit of oppression and granted legitimacy to the very Powers that oppress her? How can all the “flaming darts of the evil one” that have carried their poisonous secretions into her very bloodstream be pulled out, one by one, and the toxins filtered out? How can she be freed to authentic struggle, unless the very ideas and images that have been planted in her are torn out by the very roots, through the vision of a counterreality capable of improving her lot?

…The issue, then, is not social struggle versus inner change, but their orchestration together so that both occur simultaneously. The transformation of society and persons can begin at either end. The early church began from the pole of steadfastness in prayer and the refusal of idolatry, manifesting that hypomoni which the Book of Revelation regards as the highest Christian virtue. It is usually somewhat limply rendered “patient endurance,” but it is in fact closer to “absolute intransigence,” “unbending bending determination,” “an iron will,” “the capacity to endure persecution, torture, and death without yielding one’s faith.” It is one of the fundamental attributes of nonviolent resistance.

…Social involvement of that kind can do wonders for the soul-if the leadership understands the essential unity of body and spirit and addresses them both.

This unity must be kept paramount in addressing the Powers. It is easy enough to set oneself against the visible evil of a Power. But we never have control over that inner dimension of reality which we are calling the spiritual dimension of power.

…Change is possible, but only if the spirit as well as the forms of Power are touched. And that spirit can only be spiritually discerned and spiritually encountered. This is what made Martin Luther King, Jr., a figure of world-historic proportions. With only the powerless at his side, he formulated actions that would provoke and make visible the institutional violence of racism. By absorbing that violence in their own bodies, they exposed the legalized system as immoral, stripped it of legitimacy, and forced unprecedented numbers of people to choose between their racism and their Christianity. He resolutely refused to treat racism as a political issue only; he insisted that it be seen also as a moral and spiritual sickness. He did not attack the soul of America, but appealed to its most profound depths. His confrontational tactics were attempts to address that soul. He called a nation to repent, and significant numbers did. In the process the spirit of the nation itself began to change. His assassination, and the abandonment of the moral basis of the struggle for one of black power versus white power, allowed the worst elements of the ugly racist spirit to reassert themselves, this time with blacks no longer the vanguard of reconciliation and conversion, but openly espousing a counterracism of their own. Those who continued to insist on loving the enemy and working interracially were buried under the flood of poisons now unleashed from both sides. Blacks and whites not only ceased to work together, but even stopped speaking. The adoption of the methods of the oppressor had finally turned all parties into oppressors, and it was now only a matter of finding someone weak enough to oppress.

…Impatient patient with the pace of a struggle that sought not only legal equality but the conversion of the very heart of the nation from racism, black power attempted the quick fix of structural change by a frontal assault on white power. Its epitaph can be formulated as an axiom: the direct use of power against a Power will inevitably be to the advantage of The Powers That Be.

…That is why we must not engage the Powers without rigorous examination nation of our own inner evil, which we often project on our opponents. We must ask how we are like the very Power we oppose, and attempt to open these parts of ourselves to divine transformation. We must attempt to stop the spiral of violence both within ourselves and in our tactics vis-i-vis the Powers. We must discern the spirituality that we oppose and be careful not to grant it victory within ourselves. And we must settle it within ourselves, once and for all and then over and over again, that we will not celebrate any victory feast that does not include a setting for our enemy.

In short, we must develop a fine-tuned sensitivity to what the ancients called “the war in heaven.”2′ It is the unseen clash of values and ideologies, of the spirituality of institutions and the will of God, of demonic factionalism and heavenly possibilities.

…I am referring to the macrocosm/microcosm view of reality-the notion that whatever happens on earth (the “microcosm,” or small world) is a mirror image of the activities of Powers in heaven (the “macrocosm,” or large world). The idea was already hoary with age when it was chiseled on the buildings erected by the Sidonian kings Bodastart and Esmunazar in the fifth century B.C.E., where the earthly Sidon is depicted as a copy of its heavenly prototype.” The idea of heaven as the origination and prototype of all that is can be traced back among the Greeks as early as Pythagoras and finds its most famous advocate in Plato, with his realm of the Ideas or archetypes. Greek Orphism made the unity of heaven and earth the goal of the mystical initiation, in which the quester sought to recapture this deepest and lost unity that characterizes divinization.21

Israel, too, held this macrocosm/microcosm view from earliest times,’ but hedged it carefully to prevent its being used to legitimate tyranny. The prophets especially were on their guard against the divine-kingship ideology, through which the most gross injustices were perpetrated in the name of heaven. The Jews were able to appropriate the notion of evil spirits, fallen angels, and Satan precisely because they could subsume these Powers within a secure henotheistic 27 framework in which Yahweh was ultimately sovereign.

…It is far from the case, then, that human beings create their gods. The “spirits” of things emerge with the things themselves and are only subsequently divined as their inner essence. The gods, spirits, and demons are not mere personifications or hypostatizations. That is the language of reductionism; it means that these entitites are not regarded as real, but only as poetic fictions or shorthand for speaking about realities the historian knows how to describe more precisely with his analytical tools. Personification means illusion. The Powers we are speaking about, on the contrary, are real. They work on us whether we acknowledge them or not. They do not depend on our belief for their efficacy. Humans cannot even lay claim to creating these Powers indirectly, by virtue of creating the structures, for studies of primates show that most of the hierarchical features that characterized Babylonian society had already been developed in primate societies.’ To be sure, we do establish new structures and modify old ones. Insofar as we share in the creative process and bring new consciousness to it, we help create the spirituality of things. There is a reciprocity, so we could argue that it is as true to say that the gods create us as to say that we create the gods.

…In the New Testament the idea of heavenly/earthly correspondence is a part of the background belief of the age and is alluded to in a fashion that assumes the hearer’s thorough familiarity with it. When the disciples return from the Lukan mission of the seventy, having successfully cast out demons on earth, Jesus exclaims, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Casting out demons on earth casts Satan out of heaven! Or again, Paul’s irritation with women who have uncovered heads at worship is prompted by his fear that the angels, also present when the church worships, will be incited to lust (1 Cor. 11:10; see Gen. 6:1-4). And in the Epistle to the Hebrews the believer already participates in heavenly life on earth: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” (12:22).”

The Book of Revelation is thoroughly acquainted with this motif. Not only is John permitted access to the divine liturgy through vision (chaps. 4-5), but the prayers of the saints on earth actually constitute an important section of the angelic liturgy in heaven. Rev. 8:1-5 recounts how an angel gathers the prayers that ascend to God and mingles them with incense at the altar before the throne; then when God has, as it were, inhaled them, the angel mixes the prayers with fire from the altar and hurls them on the earth, setting off a chain of physical and historical repercussions in the world. This not only illustrates the unity of heavenly and earthly events but also indicates how the fatefulness of that connection can be altered. Left to themselves, the course of things runs to havoc in a world with an infinity of self-worshiping centers, but when any of that number turn from themselves to the Center of the whole, history itself can be changed. “Peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (v. 5) throw the river of events out of its bed. The unexpected becomes suddenly possible, because humans on earth have evoked heaven, the home of the possibles, and have been heard.

…The soul or self is the active awareness of the entire living body itself. And yet this “withinness” is experienced as more than simply the sum of its parts, since our bodily parts continually change or can even to a degree be lost without impairing the sense of our selves. In an odd way, we seem to experience our selves as “outside” or “above” or “transcendent” to our bodies, even though the self is clearly the interiority of all that flesh. But this is one of the ways interiority is known. We can discover the self by introspection, reflection, revelation, but some aspects we can find only by projecting that aspect out on other people or things or events and recognizing it “out there” as parts of ourselves. We discover our body as “temple” by going to a temple.

…Once again, the meaning of an ambiguous statement is precisely its ambiguity. The Reign of God cannot just be inner or outer; it must be both or it is neither.

This being the case, the goal of personal individuation becomes inseparable separable from the goal of cosmic reconciliation: “Jesus said to them, `When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and female one and the same … then will you enter [the kingdom].’ “49

…The marriage of heaven and earth, which the author of Ephesians describes under the image of the marriage of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:21-33) and which the Book of Revelation depicts as a descent of Heavenly Jerusalem to the earth from God (Revelation 21-22), captures the sense of earth’s real possibilities and of ours with it. Paul describes the same longing in Rom. 8:18-25, when he speaks of the whole creation as groaning in speaks of the whole creation as groaning in travail together for the revealing of the children of God. It is nothing less than the desire for what Dorothee Soelle calls “the indivisible divisible salvation of the whole world.”-10 When God’s children will be revealed, and the groaning over, and every tear wiped from their eyes, is not for us to know. What we do know is that we have been handed the task of making known the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places—now.

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January 9, 2018

St John saw the true temple restored, and this is the earliest picture we have of Christian worship

The fact that we call Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, which means the Anointed One, shows that Christians live and think in a world where the lost anointing oil and everything it stood for has been been restored. The perfumed anointing oil was fundamental to the original temple world. Tradition remembered that it represented oil from the tree of life,9 and the tree of life was the ancient symbol of the Holy Wisdom. One of the wise teachers of Israel had said: ‘Wisdom is a tree of life for those who hold on to her.’10

9 E.g. Clementine Recognitions 1.46.

…In the Church all this was restored. The name ‘Christians’, first used in Antioch14 meant more than just ‘followers of the Christ, the anointed one.’ Since Christians were also anointed at their baptism, the name means something like ‘little anointed ones’, and so we are all little Melchizedeks, little royal high priests. This is what St Peter said to those Christians in Asia Minor: ‘You are a royal priesthood’.15

…There is a lovely story in a 3rd century CE Syriac text which tells how Adam took three things with him when he left Eden: gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were the symbols of the original temple. These were buried with him in a cave when he died, and when the magi came seeking the infant Jesus, they took those same treasures from the cave to offer to the new Adam.17

17 Testament of Adam 3.6; there is a similar story in Syriac Book of the Cave of Treasures.

…When the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, or maybe a short while before their invasion, the oil, the ark and the cherubim disappeared from the temple; but in the time of the Messiah and the true temple, it was said, they would return, along with the seven branched lampstand, the Spirit and the fire. The Spirit and the fire returned at Pentecost, and, if you read the Book of Revelation with temple-trained eyes, [opened eyes] you will find all the other missing items restored too. St John saw the true temple restored, and this is the earliest picture we have of Christian worship. This vision shaped even the simplest worship on earth, because the Christians were a part of it.

…The outer part of the temple was called the holy place; the inner part was called the holy of holies, sometimes translated ‘the most holy place’. Now ‘most holy’ in temple-talk meant more than ‘very holy’. It meant actively holy, infectiously holy. Anything ‘most holy’ conferred holiness, but only the anointing oil – kept in the holy of holies – could confer ‘most holiness’ on a person or on a sacred object. The LORD told Moses how to blend the perfumed oil, and then he told him to anoint the furnishings and the high priests of the tabernacle ‘that they may be most holy, and whatever touches them will become holy’.22 Anyone entering the holy of holies became holy, a holy one, and that meant an angel. The holy of holies was the visible sign of the Source of holiness at the centre.

…In the outer part of the temple was the golden table for bread, wine and incense.27 The table is mentioned in the tabernacle at Sinai28 and in Solomon’s temple,29 but nowhere in the Old Testament is there any detail about what the table and its offerings represented. Twelve huge loaves were set out with frankincense, and the Greek text says there was salt.30 The high priests [and by the time of Jesus, the other priests too] had to put fresh loaves into the temple each Sabbath, and then eat the ones they brought out. This was described as their ‘most holy’ food, which means it imparted holiness, and it was also an eternal covenant.31 The bread of the presence – ‘shewbread’ in some older Bibles – did not mean ‘set out in the presence’. It meant that the bread was, in some way, a presence. But whose presence did the high priests consume to nourish their holiness? The meaning of the temple furnishings and rituals was known only to the high priests, but some of them, such as Josephus, revealed enough to enable us to detect allusions elsewhere.

…I have deliberately not mentioned the first day of creation, because there is no ‘first day’ of creation in the text of Genesis. Both the Hebrew and the Greek say ‘Day One’, not ‘the first day’. The origin of creation was not within time but was outside time. It was not a case of first, then second, then third and so on. The origin of creation was outside time, and the text marked this by saying Day One, instead of ‘first day’.

Day One was represented by the holy of holies, the golden cube that housed the cherub throne of God. Whatever was within the veil was outside time and outside matter, since the outer area represented the world of time and matter. Within the veil, a state beyond time and matter, there could be no division, and so Day One was said to represent the divine Unity underlying all creation and from which all creation proceeds. It was also the state of the light before creation, the light of the divine presence. In temple-talk, this was the Kingdom. Some temple mystics were enabled to see through the veil to the light and unity beyond. The Transfiguration is the best-known account of such an experience. St John said that seeing and entering the Kingdom was for those who had been born from above. 37

On the sixth day of erecting the tabernacle, Moses purified the high priests to serve in the tabernacle, and on the sixth day in Genesis, Adam was created. The comparison shows that Adam was created to be the high priest of creation. He was created to be the presence of the LORD. When the high priest was anointed, the oil was put on his eyelids to open his eyes, but also on his forehead in the shape of a cross. This was the sign of the name of the LORD.38 The Christians also had this mark, given at baptism. In the Book of Revelation, St John tells how he saw a multitude whom the angel would mark on their foreheads, and then he saw them standing before the throne in heaven, which means they were in the holy of holies. They all had the name, that is, the cross, on their foreheads 39, and so they were all high priests.

…Now let us see how this understanding of high-priesthood can illuminate the Genesis story of Adam. He was created as the Image. He was set in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. That is the usual English translation 42, but the writer of Genesis chose his words carefully and did not in fact describe Adam as a gardener. Jewish interpreters in the time of Jesus did not think of Adam as a gardener. The Hebrew word translated ‘to till’ also means ‘to serve a liturgy’, and the Hebrew word translated ‘to keep’ means to preserve the teachings. The role of high-priestly role of Adam and of every human being was to lead the worship of creation and to preserve right teachings about how we should live in the world.

…Nobody knows for certain the origin of this Slavonic text, the Book of the Secrets of Enoch. The oldest known copy was made in the 14th century AD. It could have been translated from much older materials, or it could have been composed at any time before that. Either way, it shows how Psalm 110 (109) was understood by someone at that time in old Russia. Enoch entered heaven and stood before the throne. There the LORD commanded the archangel Michael to remove Enoch’s earthly clothing, to anoint him with perfumed oil, and to vest him in the clothes of the LORD’s glory. In temple reality, this was the garment of fine white linen worn in the holy of holies. This was the equivalent of Jesus’s shining white garment that the disciples saw at the Transfiguration. Enoch described the oil as like sweet dew, perfumed with myrrh.52 This was the temple oil, the dew of Psalm 110 (109). Then, said Enoch, ‘I looked at myself and I had become like one of his glorious ones’. Enoch had become an angel. He was an angel high priest, wearing the robes of divine glory.

“OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST: THE CHURCH AS THE NEW TEMPLE” by Margaret Barker. Fr Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture. St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, New York, 28 January 2012.

December 17, 2017

everything entered and lived in me

A wondrous change had passed upon the world—or was it not rather that a change more marvellous had taken place in us? Without light enough in the sky or the air to reveal anything, every heather-bush, every small shrub, every blade of grass was perfectly visible—either by light that went out from it, as fire from the bush Moses saw in the desert, or by light that went out of our eyes. Nothing cast a shadow; all things interchanged a little light. Every growing thing showed me, by its shape and colour, its indwelling idea—the informing thought, that is, which was its being, and sent it out. My bare feet seemed to love every plant they trod upon. The world and my being, its life and mine, were one. The microcosm and macrocosm were at length atoned, at length in harmony! I lived in everything; everything entered and lived in me. To be aware of a thing, was to know its life at once and mine, to know whence we came, and where we were at home—was to know that we are all what we are, because Another is what he is! Sense after sense, hitherto asleep, awoke in me—sense after sense indescribable, because no correspondent words, no likenesses or imaginations exist, wherewithal to describe them. Full indeed—yet ever expanding, ever making room to receive—was the conscious being where things kept entering by so many open doors! When a little breeze brushing a bush of heather set its purple bells a ringing, I was myself in the joy of the bells, myself in the joy of the breeze to which responded their sweet TIN-TINNING, myself in the joy of the sense, and of the soul that received all the joys together. To everything glad I lent the hall of my being wherein to revel. I was a peaceful ocean upon which the ground-swell of a living joy was continually lifting new waves; yet was the joy ever the same joy, the eternal joy, with tens of thousands of changing forms. Life was a cosmic holiday.

Now I knew that life and truth were one; that life mere and pure is in itself bliss; that where being is not bliss, it is not life, but life-in-death. Every inspiration of the dark wind that blew where it listed, went out a sigh of thanksgiving. At last I was! I lived, and nothing could touch my life!

…The master-minister of the human tabernacle is at hand! Heaping before his prow a huge ripple-fretted wave of crimson and gold, he rushes aloft, as if new launched from the urging hand of his maker into the upper sea—pauses, and looks down on the world. White-raving storm of molten metals, he is but a coal from the altar of the Father’s never-ending sacrifice to his children. See every little flower straighten its stalk, lift up its neck, and with outstretched head stand expectant: something more than the sun, greater than the light, is coming, is coming—none the less surely coming that it is long upon the road! What matters to-day, or to-morrow, or ten thousand years to Life himself, to Love himself!

…I walked on the new earth, under the new heaven, and found them the same as the old, save that now they opened their minds to me, and I saw into them. Now, the soul of everything I met came out to greet me and make friends with me, telling me we came from the same, and meant the same. I was going to him, they said, with whom they always were, and whom they always meant; they were, they said, lightnings that took shape as they flashed from him to his. The dark rocks drank like sponges the rays that showered upon them; the great world soaked up the light, and sent out the living. Two joy-fires were Lona and I. Earth breathed heavenward her sweet-savoured smoke; we breathed homeward our longing desires. For thanksgiving, our very consciousness was that.

…[T]hese were living stones—such in which I saw, not the intent alone, but the intender too; not the idea alone, but the imbodier present, the operant outsender: nothing in this kingdom was dead; nothing was mere; nothing only a thing.

…Novalis says, “Our life is no dream, but it should and will perhaps become one.”

George MacDonald (Lilith)

October 26, 2017

the end of the world was long ago

For the end of the world was long ago,
And all we dwell to-day
As children of some second birth,
Like a strange people left on earth
After a judgment day.

From “The Ballad of the White Horse” by
G.K. Chesterton.

November 7, 2015

as if all creatures constituted a host of worshipers in the cosmic temple

Key passages from The Liberating Image by J Richard Middleton:

First of all, the interpretation of the imago Dei among systematic theologians almost universally excludes the body from the image (whether explicitly or by omission), thus entrenching a dualistic reading of the human condition. …Any Old Testament scholar worth her salt will acknowledge that the semantic range of selem—the Hebrew word for image in Genesis 1—includes idol. Although its semantic range is broader than this single meaning, we need to account for selem in many contexts clearly referring to a cult image, which in the common theology of the ancient Near East is precisely a localized, visible, corporeal representation of the divine. A basic word study would thus lead to the preliminary observation that visibility and bodiliness may well be important for understanding the imago Dei and that this dimension of its meaning should not be summarily excluded from consideration. [24-25]

It is more than plausible that in Genesis 1 (like Isaiah 6) God shares with angelic courtiers the decision to commission the human agent for a significant earthly task. …Beyond suggesting that God consulted with angels to create humanity (“let us make”), Genesis 1 may include the notion that humans are created in the likeness of angels. “Image of ‘elohim” in 1:27 would thus appropriately reflect God’s decision to create humanity (“in our image, according to our likeness”) in 1:26. It is fascinating that even the Genesis 2-3 paradise/fall story seems to understand a certain similarity between humans and angels. The latter text uses the very same verb to describe the purpose of both. While adam is placed in the garden to till/work and “keep” (samar) it (2:15), the cherubim are placed east of the garden to “guard” (samar) the way to the tree of life (3:24). In this case, however, it may not be humans imaging angels, since the cherubim seem to take over the human vocation that was forfeited through sin. Thus when adam is expelled from the garden, all that is left to do is to “till” or “work” the ground (3:23). The task of keeping or guarding the garden has been passed on to others. [57-59]

Like the Egyptian god Ptah bringing creatures into being by speaking first in his heart and then with his tongue (in the Memphite Theology) or the Mesopotamian god Marduk first creating and then destroying a constellation by his mere word (in Enuma Elish), creatio per verbum clearly portrays God as supreme in power and authority. [66]

Creation, followed by temple building and then divine rest, is a central theme in Mesopotamian, and perhaps Ugaritic, mythology (both Marduk and Baal have temples built for them after their conquest of the chaos monster). …The notion of Cosmos as temple in Genesis 1 is suggested more specifically by the prominence of sevens in the creation story. …The heptadic structure of Genesis 1 thus seems to have cultic, liturgical significance and may well be associated in some way with the Jerusalem temple. …This association of the number seven with temples extends beyond the Old Testament to other ancient Near Eastern cultures. …But more important than these … associations are the significant structural and thematic parallels between the creation account in Genesis 1 and the account of the construction of the tabernacle … in Exodus. [81-84]

Beyond the association of word and breath, however, the presence of the ruah elohim in Genesis 1 might even suggest that the newly completed cosmic sanctuary would then be indwelt by this divine presence (as the glory of YHWH filled the tabernacle when it was completed in Exodus 40:34). [86]

If the cosmos can be understood as indwelt by the creator, then the language of Psalm 119:91 (“all thoughts are your servants”) might well refer not only to the obedience of creatures to their cosmic ruler, but also to liturgical service in the cosmic sanctuary. This is consistent with Psalm 148, which exhorts all creatures—humans, angels, animals, even the sun, moon, mountains, and trees—to praise the creator, as if all creatures constituted a host of worshipers in the cosmic temple, over which God is exalted as king. This picture of creation as a cosmic temple also suggest the appropriateness of humanity as God’s image in the symbolic world of Genesis 1. For just as no pagan temple in the ancient Near East could be complete without the installation of the cult image of the deity to whom the temple was dedicated, so creation in Genesis 1 is not complete (or “very good”) until God creates humanity on the sixth day as imago Dei, in order to represent and mediate the divine presence on earth. [87]

Bezalel’s discerning artistry in tabernacle-building images God’s own construction of the cosmos. Bezalel’s Spirit-filled craftsmanship, which imitates God’s primordial wise design and construction of the cosmos, is functionally equivalent to the imago Dei. [87]

The human task of exercising power over the earth is nevertheless modeled on God’s creative activity, which, in Genesis 1, is clearly developmental and formative, involving the process of transformation the tohu wabohu into an ordered, harmonious cosmos. By implication, then, the human calling as imago Dei is itself developmental and transformative and may be helpfully understood as equivalent to the labor or work of forming culture or developing civilization. Besides the definitive human task represented in 2:15 by the agricultural metaphor (to “till” and “keep” the garden), which is a paradigmatic form of organizing and transforming the environment into a habitable world for humans, we may note the pervasive interest throughout the primeval history in human cultural achievements and technological innovations such as city-building; and nomadic livestock-herding, music, and metallurgy. The human task thus reflects in significant ways the divine artisan portrayed in Genesis 1 as artfully constructing a world. [89]

The imago Dei also includes a priestly or cultic dimension. In the cosmic sanctuary of God’s world, humans have pride of place and supreme responsibility …as priests of creation, actively mediating divine blessing to the nonhuman world and—in a postfall situation—interceding on behalf of a groaning creation until that day when heaven and earth are redemptively transformed to fulfill God’s purposes for justice and shalom. The human vocation as imago Dei in God’s world this corresponds in important respects to Israel’s vocation as a “royal priesthood” among the nations (Exodus 19:6). [89-90]

Given the widely agreed upon Mesopotamian background of the primeval history, I will assume … that the author of Genesis 1 (whenever he lived) was acquainted (in either oral or written form) with the Mesopotamian notion of the king as image of a god (as a particular crystallization of royal ideology) and that he intentionally challenged this notion with the claim that all humanity was made in God’s image. [145]

In John Walton’s summary, “the cuneiform literature everywhere agrees that people were created to do the work the gods were tired of doing and to provide for the gods’ needs.” [166]

The Mesopotamian deity remained aloof—yet its partaking of the ceremonial repast gave religious sanction, political status, and economic stability to the entire temple organism, which circulated products from fields and pastures across the sacrificial table to those who were either, so to speak, shareholders of the institution or received rations from it. At any rate, the image is the heart and hub of the entire system. His attendance worshipers lived from the god’s table, but they did not sit down with him. [169, extended quotation from A. Leo Oppenheim]

The mythology of Enuma Elish proclaimed in no uncertain terms the servitude (even bondage) of humanity, “created out of evil substance,” as cheap slave labor to do the “dirty work” of the lower gods. [176]

For human sociopolitical life to achieve its best and highest form, society must replicate the divine pattern that the gods enacted in primordial time. Sociopolitical order is thus thought of as a microcosm of the larger world of the gods and their founding of the cosmos, with some central urban site typically conceived as the navel of the world or the bond of heaven and earth. [177]

Human beings as imago Dei are thus not only priests of the Most High, they are (if we may dare to say it) God’s living cult statues on earth. Indeed, humans are the only legitimate or authorized earthly representations of God. …The claim that humanity is created as imago Dei suggests a rationale for the prohibition of images beyond anything we find explicitly stated elsewhere in the Old Testament. [207]

God in Genesis 1 creates for the benefit of the creature, without explicitly asking for a return of any kind. And humans, in God’s image, I suggest, are expected to imitate this primal generosity in their own shared rule of the earth. [211]

It is thus of immense significance that the primeval history recounts the founding of the first city not by God but by a human being. …In the ancient myths … “the gods provide humanity with all the essentials of human civilization. By contrast, in the Bible, early humans develop their own culture. The human being, a creature created by God, is the initiator and creator of its own culture. …Perhaps most significant for purposes of comparison with Mesopotamia, the [Bible’s] primeval history portrays a world without the institution of monarchy. While this would be literally unthinkable in Mesopotamian civilizations (or indeed any of the high cultures of the ancient Near East), on this point Israel’s historical narrative is clear. …It is the king’s primary duty to study the Torah and not exalt himself above other Israelites by inordinately increasing his power or wealth. [217-219]

Thus it would seem, at first glance, that the tower of Babel text describes (and critiques) a particular cultic structure. Yet there is nothing even remotely cultic about the narrative portrayal of this tower in Genesis 11. …Cities may be said to have fortified walls reaching “up to the heavens.” …Prophetic oracles against Babylon, especially in Jeremiah 51 and Isaiah 14:3-23, do not single out cultic practices, but rather imperial hubris, military fortifications, and oppressive power, portraying this in terms of Babylon’s aspiration to reach up to the heavens (see especially Jeremiah 51:53; Isaiah 14:12-20). [223]

This intertextual association of various elements of the Babel story with oppressive military/imperial power coheres well with the suggestion of David Smith that the story does not portray an idyllic world unified with a single primal language, but reflects the Neo-Assyrian imperial practice of imposing the single language of the conqueror on subjugated people. …Thus we find that an extant Assyrian royal inscription declares that Ashurbanipal II “made the totality of all peoples speak one speech” and that “his sovereign approach made the unruly and ruthless kings speak one speech from the rising of the sun to its setting.” Likewise a cylinder inscription of Sargon II boasts: “Populations of the four world quarters with strange tongues and incompatible speech…whom I had taken as booty at the command of Ashur my lord and by the might of my scepter, I caused to accept a single voice,” which Stephanie Dalley interprets as part of the Neo-Assyrian policy of indoctrinating foreigners into their supposedly superior language and culture. [223-224]

God is not threatened by this Promethean act of human assertion. Rather, a careful reading of Genesis 11 in the context of the primeval history suggests that Babel represents imperial civilization par excellence and that this imposed, artificial unity is a danger to the human race. [225]

A canonical interpretation of the [the tower of Babel text] suggests that it ultimately protests the hidden, systemic violence beneath Babylonian/Mesopotamian civilization by stripping away its putative divine legitimization. Babel is thus disclosed as nothing more than a human construction, and a violent one at that. …The civilization that claimed to represent the epitome of order is unmasked as simply another form of chaos. [227]

This invitational character of God’s creative fiats is indicated by their not being imperatives at all, but Hebrew jussives (which have no exact counterpart in English). As Eugene Roop explains, the force of the Hebrew jussive can range “from very strong (almost a command) to very soft (almost a wish)” and “always possesses a voluntary element.” [265]

…The word tôb has in this context at least a twofold connotation, esthetic and ethical. The cosmos is good in two senses: it is both pleasing to God, as a beautiful, well-constructed world, and it is evaluated positively since it enacts God’s will (and is not recalcitrant or rebellious). [266]

Indeed, we need to confront the overwhelming violence that pervades the Bible—from the widespread patriarchal social structure and assumptions that underlie the biblical text (which certainly constitutes a form of systemic violence against women) through the holy wars of Israel against the Canaanites (at God’s command), to the plethora of violent incidents attributed to God’s people in the historical books or to God directly (including eschatological violence). [268]

The opening biblical creation account (which does not contain cosmogonic conflict) now serves as the overture to the entire BIble, dramatically relativizing the other cosmogonies. …Genesis 1 constitutes a normative framework by which we may judge all the violence that pervades the rest of the BIble (including, but not limited to, texts of cosmogonic conflict). [269]

Corresponding to days 1-3, we have days 4-6, on which God fills precisely the static spaces just created with mobile creatures that appropriately inhabit them. …Yet two anomalies are found in this pattern. …We have the interesting phenomenon of two sets of borderline creatures (vegetation and heavenly bodies) that blur the boundaries between the panels as commonly understood. [278-280]

[Genesis 1 depicts] the process of creation as God sharing power with creatures, inviting them to participate (as they are able) in the creative process itself. …Both governing (or ruling) and separating [as tasks assigned to the sun and moon] are paradigmatically divine acts not only in the ancient Near East (especially in the Sumerian and Akkadian creation accounts), but also in Genesis 1, where God’s sovereign creative activity on days 1-3 consists precisely in three acts of separation. …Likewise, the “expanse” or “firmament” that God created (on day 2) is granted the godlike function of separating the waters above from the waters below (1:6), in imitation of God own separation of light from darkness on day 1. …This implies that sun, moon, and firmament, like humans in God’s image, participate in (or imitate) God’s own creative actions. [287-288]

The earth is invited to produce first vegetation (1:11) and later land animals (1:24), [while] the waters are invited to teem with water creatures (1:20). They are invited, in other words, to exercise their God-given fertility and thus to imitate God’s own creative actions in filling the world with living things. Actually, God takes quite a risk in calling for the earth to produce vegetation [on day 3] since up to that point in the story God has not yet engaged in the act of filling (it is not until days 4-6 that God fills with mobile being the regions or spaces demarcated on days 1-3). Indeed, on the next day, it is God who imitates the earth’s prior creative action by filling the sky with heavenly bodies, which in the literary structure of Genesis 1 is a derivative actions. God is, rhetorically speaking, preempted by the earth and does not seem to be threatened by this. Attention to these rhetorical features points us to a God who does not hoard divine creative power, with some desperate need to control, but rather to a God who is generous with power, sharing it with creatures, that they might make their own contribution to the harmony and beauty of the world. [288-289]

When creation is complete and we would expect a final formula, “There was evening and there was morning, the seventh day,” there is none, which leaves the attentive reader hanging and suggests that the seventh day is open-ended or unfinished. In the literary structure of the book of Genesis, the seventh day has no conclusion since God continues to rest from creating, having entrusted care of the earth to human beings. [291]

In Brueggemann’s summary, the picture of God in Genesis 1 and of humanity as imago Dei foregrounds “the creative use of power which invites, evokes, and permits. There is nothing here of coercive or tyrannical power, either for God or for humankind.” …The imago Dei [grounds] an ethic characterized fundamentally by power with rather than power over. [297]

Summary thoughts after reading The Liberating Image by J Richard Middleton:

God created the world as a temple with humans representing Him within this sanctuary as living and breathing images (legitimate idols) of Himself. Our presence makes the temple of this world into a place where the Creator is known, recognized, worshiped, and enjoyed everywhere and in every detail. Humans are made to act like their Creator, representing Him as His stewards, servant-kings, and priests. We were commissioned to fill up this temple-creation, doing God’s work of protecting everything, crafting beautiful new things, inviting new life to flourish, and recognizing God’s good design within everything. We do this, first, by simply giving names to each new thing, because to name a thing is to recognize it, uniquely, as a gift from God. God’s great goal and desire for this creation is for humans to produce and develop cultures and communities spreading throughout the world that He made and filling it with His image-bearing children. Every detail of creation, living and inanimate, is made to communicate God’s goodness and blessing, and humans are made to recognize, receive, and proclaim God’s goodness as we find it in every corner of our temple-world.

Genesis 1 and 2 teach these things in beautiful, careful language. They also intentionally and specifically oppose a set of creation myths from the surrounding cultures (where Israel was enslaved in Egypt and exiled in Babylon):

  • Humanity is not made to carry out tasks that the gods do not wish to do or to provide for the needs of the gods. Instead, humanity is made to enjoy God’s blessing and to imitate God’s own free work (of calling forth and crafting good and beautiful things that share God’s own life-giving qualities).
  • Humanity is not made from some inferior substance (such as the blood of an evil sub-deity who was vanquished by the higher gods). Instead, humanity is crafted from clay and the Creator’s own breath to carry the Creator’s own image and likeness.
  • The divine image and vocation does not belong only to the priests and kings of great civilizations. All humanity (male and female from every tribe, nation, and tongue) are God’s image within the created worldequally, collectively, and individually.
  • Human culture and civilizationin all its growth, power, noise, and diversityis never a threat to God. Unlike the pagan gods who must control and often limit aspects of human life and culture in order to ensure that humanity serves their divine purposes, God’s intention for human culture is always that it would flourish freely, spreading and diversifying of its own accord throughout the Creator’s world.
  • God does not create the world through violence, by defeating and dismembering the monsters of chaos and deep darkness to create a temple for Himself. God invites with a voice of authority but also a voice that always leaves space for a voluntary and participatory response. God hovers (like a brooding mother bird) and invites with his voice and crafts with his hands rather than attacking, cutting, or tearing like a warrior.
  • After the fall and rebellion of humanity, God does show Himself to be a warrior against the violence that humanity unleashes upon itself (and upon the creation that humanity was designed to protect and prosper). Violence and coercion immediately begins to plague and characterize every aspect of human life, culture, and civilization. As victims and perpetrators of violence, humans become agents of chaos and darkness instead of life and light. The most sophisticated city-empires are only a complex cover for extreme internal and structural violence against free, flourishing, and diverse human communities. In the tower of Babel text, an empire arises that forces many nations to speak one language and to serve the power of one kingly and priestly class (who alone represent the will of the gods), and God fights against this empire for the sake of preserving and promoting free and flourishing human culture throughout the world. This theme (of God fighting for free and flourishing human culture against empires of violence, coercion, and chaos) is central to the entire biblical story: the Great Flood, the tower of Babel, Abram called out of Ur, Joseph sold into Egypt, Moses fleeing Pharaoh, Samuel/David versus Saul/Philistines, Daniel versus Nebuchadnezzar/Darius, Christ versus Herod/Caesar/Satan, and the church versus the Whore of Babylon. Scripture is full of calls for God’s people to defend the powerless against the powerful (within a fallen world that is so given to violence). This is essential to the biblical idea of justice: defending the most powerless in a violent world because every human is God’s image (created to make God present within His good creation).
September 7, 2015

honoring your mother might be the last in the sequence relating to right worship

But to return to the matter of honoring your mother. I think it is significant that the Fifth Commandment falls between those that have to do with proper worship of God and those that have to do with right conduct toward other people. I have always wondered if the Commandments should be read as occurring in order of importance. If that is correct, honoring your mother is more important than not committing murder. That seems remarkable, though I am open to the idea.

Or they may be thought of as different kinds of law, not comparable in terms of their importance, and honoring your mother might be the last in the sequence relating to right worship rather than the first in the sequence relating to right conduct. I believe this is a very defensible view.

…It seems to me almost a retelling of Creation—First there is the Lord, then the Word, then the Day, then the Man and Women—and after that Cain and Able—Thou shalt not kill—and all the sins recorded in those prohibitions, just as crimes are recorded in the laws against them. So perhaps the tablets differ as addressing the eternal and the temporal.

What the reading yields is the idea of father and mother as the Universal Father and Mother, the Lord’s dear Adam and His beloved Eve; that is, essential humankind as it came from His hand. There’s a pattern in these Commandments of setting things apart so that their holiness will be precieved. Every day is holy, but the Sabbath is set apart so that the holiness of time can be experienced. Every human being is worthy of honor, but the conscious discipline of honor is learned from this setting apart of the mother and father, who usually labor and are heavy-laden, and may be cranky or stinky or ignorant or overbearing. …At the root of real honor is always the sense of the sacredness of the person who is its object. In the particular instance of your mother, I know if you are attentive to her in this way, you will find a very great loveliness in her. When you love someone to that degree that you love her, you see her as God sees her, and that is an instruction in the nature of God and humankind and of Being itself. That is why the Fifth Commandmemt belongs on the first tablet. I have persuaded myself of it.

From Gilead my Marilynne Robinson.

July 17, 2015

a creation every moment

For Preservation is a Creation; and more, it is a continued Creation, and a creation every moment.

From The Country Parson by George Herbert (1652 ed., chap. XXXIV) quoted in Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (111). Here are two other references to this theme by Robinson shortly afterward:

There’s a mystery in the thought of the re-creation of an old man as an old man, with all the defects and injuries of what is called long life faithfully preserved in him, and all their claims and all their tendencies honored, too, as in the steady progress of arthritis in my left knee. I have thought sometimes that the Lord must hold the whole of our lives in memory, so to speak. Of course He does. And “memory” is the wrong word, no doubt. But the finger I broke sliding into second base when I was twenty two years old is crookeder than ever, and I can interpret that fact as an intimate attention, taking Herbert’s view. [115]

…I always imagine divine mercy giving us back to ourselves and letting us laugh at what we became, laugh at the preposterous disguises of crouch and squint and limp and lour we all do put on. [117-118]

February 8, 2015

the world was created for my sake

“Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe.” (From the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5.) The entire surrounding passage is noteworthy:

How are witnesses inspired with awe in capital cases? They are brought in and admonished as follows: In case you may want to offer testimony that is only conjecture or hearsay or secondhand evidence, even from a person you consider trustworthy; or in the event you do not know that we shall test you by cross-examination and inquiry, then know that capital cases are not like monetary cases. In monetary cases, a man can make monetary restitution and be forgiven, but in capital cases both the blood of the man put to death and the blood of his [potential] descendants are on the witness’s head until the end of time. For thus we find in the case of Cain, who killed his brother, that it is written: ‘The bloods of your brother cry unto Me’ (Genesis 4:10) — that is, his blood and the blood of his potential descendants…. Therefore was the first man, Adam, created alone, to teach us that whoever destroys a single life, the Bible considers it as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a single life, the Bible considers it as if he saved an entire world. Furthermore, only one man, Adam, was created for the sake of peace among men, so that no one should say to his fellow, ‘My father was greater than yours…. Also, man [was created singly] to show the greatness of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for if a man strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, made each man in the image of Adam, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obligated to say, ‘The world was created for my sake.’

And a second translation for comparison:

How were the witnesses awestruck in criminal cases? They were brought in and warned: Perhaps your testimony is based only on a supposition, or on hearsay, or on that of another witness, or you have had it from a trustworthy man; or perhaps you are not aware that finally we will investigate the matter by examination and cross-examination. You may also be aware of the fact that there is no similarity between civil and criminal cases. In civil cases one may repay the money damage and he is atoned; but in criminal cases the blood of the person executed, and of his descendants to the end of all generations, clings to the originator of his execution. So do we find in the case of Cain, who slew his brother. It reads [Gen. iv. 10]: “The voice of the ‘bloods’ of thy brother are crying unto me from the ground.” It does not read “blood,” but “bloods,” which means his blood and the blood of his descendants. Therefore the man was created singly, to teach that he who destroys one soul of a human being, the Scripture considers him as if he should destroy a whole world, and him who saves one soul of Israel, the Scripture considers him as if he should save a whole world. And also because of peace among creatures, so that one should not say: My grandfather was greater than yours; and also that the heretic shall not say: There are many creators in heaven; and also to proclaim the glory of the Holy One, blessed be He. For a human being stamps many coins with one stamp, and all of them are alike; but the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, has stamped every man with the stamp of Adam the First, and nevertheless not one of them is like the other. Therefore every man may say: The world was created for my sake.

October 19, 2014

born in God’s thoughts

From George MacDonald’s book David Elginbrod. In chapter XIX, Lady Emily muses: “I wish I were you, Margaret.” Margaret answers:

“If I were you, my lady, I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of. For to have been thought about—born in God’s thoughts—and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest, most precious thing in all thinking.”

Note: some concepts and language from George MacDonald here are comparable to what C.S. Lewis has to say in “The Weight of Glory” (see this passage for example).

October 9, 2013

engaged with existence in its fullness

If we reflect that prayer is the highest human activity—the defining purpose of human existence and the goal of human destiny—we should say that Jesus’ prayer reveals more about him as a human being than anything else he did.

…In prayer a human being is engaged with existence in its fullness. First, when a person prays, he represents the whole created order, of which he is the conscious, self-reflective part. It is in the prayer of human beings that creation becomes conscious of its relationship to God. Man is the thinking part of the cosmos. In the entire material world, the only being that even thinks to pray is man. Human thought is the only place where the cosmos is self-reflective. Second, when someone prays, he represents history, which has bequeathed to him the very language he uses to speak and to think. To pray is to take an heir’s possession—by language—of all that has transpired during man’s existence in this world. We are no more able to separate ourselves from the time of human history than from the space of the created order.

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

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