What's happening?

In the last post, I made a list of entities which we Christians believe exist (I'll be referring to numbers from that list in this post, so you might want to pull it up in another tab).

However, the composition of the universe is not the same for all time.  Like modern Big Bang cosmology (and unlike many ancient cosmologies) the Christian worldview is not static.  It is a story (or, if you prefer, a process) in which things start out one way and end up quite differently.  The main character in this story is God, who not only starts the ball off by creating (1-4) out of nothing, but is guiding it to a specific future culmination.

God is always involved in his Creation, and therefore events which seem random can in fact be attributed to him (this is sometimes called "providence").  However, there are times when God interacts with us in a much more definitive way.  These interactions include the following:

(a) Prophecy, in which God's Spirit speaks to the spirit of a particular human being (2) to communicate a message which is of benefit to the whole of God's people.  Sometimes these messages are communicated via angels (4).  (In biblical languages, the word "angel" literally means messenger, and can also refer to human beings carrying messages).

(b) Miracles, in which God arranges for exceptions to the usual course of events.  Normally, things in the physical universe proceed according to certain regularities, or "laws of nature", and in a miracle God does something different from the usual pattern, which would normally be impossible or extremely unlikely.

The primary purpose of (a) and (b) is to prepare for, or else to reveal more clearly, the main event:

(c) The central miracle/message is the Incarnation, in which the divine Son (Α—Ω) came into our physical (1) and mental (2) universe as a specific complete human being, namely Jesus Christ, whose body and mind were like ours, except that he never "sinned" i.e. never did anything morally wrong.  "Jesus" means "God saves" and refers to the fact that he is the way that the Father (Α—Ω) has chosen to rescue us from our two biggest problems: sin and death.  "Christ" is a title which literally means "someone anointed with oil to consecrate him as a king or a priest", but is used here metaphorically to refer to the power of the Spirit (Α—Ω) working in him.

He was born of a virgin mother (that's a miracle), taught about the Father's love for all human beings, allowed himself to be crucified by humans in order to forgive them for their sins (the Atonement), came physically back to life again (the Resurrection, another miracle), moved his body from Earth (1) to Heaven (3) (the Ascension), where he is ruling over all Creation as God's chosen King and Priest.

The Incarnation didn't change God's divine nature (Α—Ω) in any way (remember that's eternal and can't change), instead it transformed ordinary matter (1) by taking it up into the divine life.  This was not an isolated event, rather it has continuing implications for the future:

(d) As a result of the Incarnation and Atonement, the relationship between God and human beings has changed. This is called the New Covenant (a "covenant" is a contract or an agreement).  In particular, God's Spirit now lives inside of all Christians in order to transform us into people who are more like Jesus.  The community of Christians is known as the Church, and is referred to as the "Body of Christ"; he is the Head who directs the parts of his Body to love one another and to serve the world, using whatever gifts he has given us by the pouring out of his Spirit on human flesh.

Those who are in Christ are, so to speak, anchored to him: we trust that since we are in Christ and Christ is in Heaven (3), we cannot be totally destroyed by physical death.  Our real identities are stored in him for safekeeping.  In my mind, this has more to do with what God did in (c) than it has to do with any inherent immortality of the "soul" (2).

(e) Sacraments are events which occur in the material universe (1) which God uses to express his grace towards us.  Grace refers to God's love and forgiveness, based on his mercy rather than anything which we have done to deserve it.  The most important sacrament is called Communion, the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper (depending on who you talk to).  It is based on the Passover dinner in which Jesus took bread and wine and said "This is my body, which is broken for you" and "This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins".  In accordance with Jesus' command, almost every Christian group repeats this ritual, but they do not all agree about how to interpret Jesus' words.

Note that (c), (d), and (e) all involve the repeating the same phrase "the body of Christ", but referring to three different things.  God is not invading in a haphazard way but according to a consistent pattern.  In his book on Miracles, St. Lewis compares God's activity in the world to a "fugue", which is a piece of music where the same theme is repeated by different instruments, which enter at different times.

God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see.  Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana. Every year God makes a little corn into much corn: the seed is sown and there is an increase, and men, according to the fashion of their age, say ‘It is Ceres, it is Adonis, it is the Corn-King,’ or else ‘It is the laws of Nature.’ The close-up, the translation, of this annual wonder is the feeding of the five thousand. Bread is not made there of nothing. Bread is not made of stones, as the Devil once suggested to Our Lord in vain. A little bread is made into much bread. The Son will do nothing but what He sees the Father do.  There is, so to speak, a family style.

These Signs do not take us away from reality; they recall us to it — recall us from our dream world of ‘ifs and ands’ to the stunning actuality of everything that is real. They are focal points at which more reality becomes visible than we ordinarily see at once. I have spoken of how He made miraculous bread and wine and of how, when the Virgin conceived, He had shown Himself the true Genius whom men had ignorantly worshipped  long before. It goes deeper than that. Bread and wine were to have an even more sacred significance for Christians and the act of generations was to to be the chosen symbol among all mystics for the union of the soul with God. These things are no accidents. With Him there are no accidents. When He created the vegetable world He knew already what dreams the annual death and resurrection of the corn would cause to stir in pious Pagan minds, He knew already that He Himself must so die and live again and in what sense, including and far transcending the old religion of the Corn King. He would say ‘This is my Body.’ Common bread, miraculous bread, sacramental bread — these three are distinct, but not to be separated. Divine reality is like a fugue. All His acts are different, but they all rhyme or echo to one another.  (hat tip, Of Shadows and Substance)

The climax of God's composition will come when everything is taken up into Christ, not just Christians but the whole inanimate universe, so that as St. Paul says, God will then be "all in all". According to God's promise, this will occur in the future when Christ comes back to Earth (1) again from Heaven (3).  All human beings who have ever lived will come back to life again to be judged by Christ, and the universe will be recreated.  There will thus be:

(f) The New Heavens and the New Earth.  (Here the meaning of "Heavens" might be more like the sky (1γ) or outer space (1δ), but perhaps it includes (3) as well.)  The point being that the entire physical cosmos (1) will be destroyed and recreated, just as Christ died and was resurrected.  Note that this is not the same as "going to Heaven (3) when you die".  That is presumably the case (see (d)), but this is something which happens after that, to everybody at once.  Obviously we will know more about what the New Earth will be like when we get there, but we know that there will be no more dying, no more sorrow, no more tears.  The whole universe—animal, vegetable, mineral, angel (1-4)—will be in harmony with God (Α—Ω).

Those who have refused the Lord's free pardon and have built their identities around deception and immorality will be excluded from God's Kingdom.  But all who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be there.  May you, dear reader, take care to be among the blessed on that day.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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