"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

The Eternal Yes and Yes of God – Very Rough Notes!

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These are my very rough initial thoughts about the sermon for June 17, based very much around my present study of Scots theologian Thomas F Torrance. That man’s work is completely blowing me away, as a number of the ideas I’ve been developing, particularly relating to science and theology, but also the natural marriage of faith and the scientific method and the impact of relativity (a la Einstein) on our concept of God, are fleshed out in wonderful forms in his writing. This is great confirmation for me, and I can see a springboard here into deeper understanding of the Almighty that engages even more fundamentally my own formation as an engineer.

In any event, the final form will not be 9 pages long (which would take about 45 minutes to present) but will have a couple demonstrations if I can get things to work. I’m posting it in advance (I usually don’t post my roughed in thoughts because they’re often a bit of stream-of-consciousness in format) just so I can easily move it from my daughter’s netbook. I often write in that stream mode because it fits well with my prophetic spiritual gifting – read the minor prophets and you’ll see that they often seem to operate in that mode (Jeremiah too).

Pray. We just starting out on our sermon series through Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth. Last week Sara spoke about the paradox of strength and weakness that lies at the heart of our faith, and we’ve heard Don speak about the call of the Christian to share in suffering…indeed the way of Christ is the way of suffering. We hear Paul as he engages a Christian community that is faced with a cultural context that was more of Greek philosophy than of God.

I always wonder how it is we can relate a 2,000 year old text to we modern (or post-modern) types sitting here secure in our certainty that no generation has ever been as knowledgeable or as wise as we are. I mean, look at this smart phone! Einstein didn’t have one of these.

The reality is that we are culturally far closer to the situation of Corinth than we might like to think, and particularly in the modes of mistaken thought that we have all been inculturated into and saturated with. Paul’s correction to the Christians of Corinth has great relevance for us today. What has changed, and not for the better, is that our communications era means that we can be exposed to far more information which carries with it those cultural assumptions, than Corinthians would have faced. For example, in the course of an evening on Google you can review a vast swath of thought, whereas the Corinth Christian probably only needed to worry about the public talk at the temple of Demeter that evening. So, we’ll talk about Paul’s words and how that thought continues to have a corrective influence on us today, by looking at those destructive thought patterns.

Our reading today is a snip of Paul’s introductory material, where he describes his travel plans. There seems to have been a change in plans for Paul that resulted in a cancelled visit, and Paul’s adversaries in Corinth are making hay with that cancellation. We can only infer what is going on, but in the text today Paul sounds like he is defending himself against a charge of being, well, flakey. He begins by explaining his past travel plans and states that he is not making decisions in the way of the world, the way of the flesh, but rather in the way of God. I’ll repeat the critical part (put up verses 17-20): “Was I flip-flopping when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say, “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”

This snip is dramatic and powerful…and surprisingly the topic of very few sermons at least that I was able to find. This is curious, since in that text Paul affirms a core reality of God’s being – the eternal Yes. More on that in a bit.

First, just look at Paul’s opening line in that snip, and consider how relevant this is to our post-modern time. This era specializes in being able to hold diametrically opposed thoughts, at the same instant, and holding them both to be equally true. In an article in Touchstone I often reference, a student named Samantha asserts that she has the right to deny what science says is real. You don’t have to look far to find those contradictory thoughts all around us, and in post-modernism we are truly in an age of irrationality, and this includes within the church. You can eat whatever you want, and still look like a super model. You can do whatever you need to self-actualize, and that is your right. You can adopt the dogma of junk science as your creed and condemn anyone who does not believe as you do as a heretic…and at the same time claim rationality as your sure defence.

Now note what Paul states is not his thought at verse 17…ready to say yes, yes and no, no at the same time! Sounds like Paul was encountering some post-modern like thought himself. In fact he is encountering this Greek philosophy which has some definite links to our era of irrationality. If you heard me about a month ago talk about the resurrection body – the soma pneumatikon versus the soma psychikos – I was talking about this thought problem. The basic error comes through a world view that understands there are two differing realities: a mechanical world that falls within rigid rules of science, is ultimately predictable and the domain of reason and reality; and a second, spiritual world that follows no rules, and is the domain of the un-reason. This splitting of the world into two independent parts has some huge problems, and it is this errant thought that Paul is engaging throughout.

Now how often do you hear, particularly in the endless shouting from the new atheist movement of Dawkins and Hitchens that a position of faith of any sort is completely contrary to reason? Do you see what is the basis for that “new” atheism (which in fact is just the same, old, tired thought which was dispensed with centuries ago repackaged and spread widely by our communications era), it is in fact a split mode of thought, a bifurcation of reality into a world of reason – the domain of the scientist like Dawkins (being generous with that term) and a world of un-reason which is the domain of the religious types.

This splitting of the creation into two worlds creates huge problems, for at its root it is irrational and, and this is perhaps the most shocking point you can make with your secular friends who are fans of Dawkins and Hitchens and their ilk, it is not supportable by science, and has not been supported by serious scientific thought since about 1902 (when Einstein published his first paper on general relativity). This is a crucial point, for the advantage we modern people have is about 100 years of thought surrounding the idea of a relativistic understanding of the creation – and that world view, one soundly grounded in hard science, makes the new atheism an intellectually irrational worldview. What is really wild about this is I’m making this statement as a scientist, and not as a priest. That is, I don’t even need to engage theology to argue my point as the hard sciences have already made their own conclusions on the question, and that split world view had been soundly rejected. Just as a footnote here, I’ll note that some of the post-modern discussion that suggests Einstein supports their view of there being no objective truth is absolutely contrary to what Einstein’s work demonstrated, which was objective reality. You can’t use objective science to demonstrate that the universe is fundamentally irrational, well, unless you’re a post-modernist who doesn’t understand what you’re talking about, that is.
The problem with the split world view comes into sharper focus when you consider the person of Jesus Christ, which is where we’ll go next as we look at this idea of God’s eternal yes and yes.

So now I’ll talk theology – but as we’ll cover off, Einstein’s overhaul of our understanding of the creation has brought the hard sciences back into a quite close union with theology. In fact, we speak the same language on a conceptual level, even while we sometimes use different methodologies to arrive at that conceptual understanding.

If you are a Christian, and you have a view of the creation being split into two realms, reason and un-reason, what on earth do you do with the incarnation, the coming of God Almighty in human flesh? Lets look at that for a moment…and lest you tune in just now and tune out again in 30 seconds, let me clearly state that this is incorrect thought I’m about to mention! If you avoid making the Scriptures into only metaphor, analog, or pure symbolic fiction which takes only meaning in the heart of the reader (which is one way of dealing with the problem of Jesus), you’re left trying to split God apart in some form. Jesus is fully human only when he is in Dawkin’s creation, but when he ascended he became God again. Jesus exists as the only touchpoint between the two realities, the only place where the reality of reason and the un-reality of un-reason touch. Perhaps he is split right down the middle, God on the right and Dawkins on the left? You see quite quickly, that if you take the Scriptures seriously, a dualist or split world view leaves you with no choice but to engage in some mental gymnastics in order to encompass the incarnation…not to mention that such a worldview also requires that we re-write the creation narratives of Genesis to reflect some sort of split reality. There’s a reason why I state quite boldly that all forms of Christian heresy can be traced back to some attempt to split apart the human and divine, the Jesus from the Christ, God from man, and all that heresy ultimately traces back to this sort of split view of the creation.
This is also present in the world view that places the dogma of Darwin as the true reality – I don’t think there is any doubt that evolution as a force of nature is taking place in the creation. It is another think to suddenly attribute every single thing in that creation as the result of natural selection. If you want to engage some really whacky thought, take a look at what is coming out of social Darwinism – that which attributes behaviour to the result of evolutionary forces. If that doesn’t sound a bit shocking, let me say that one that caught my eye was the idea that rape, which is quite common relatively thinking, must be a beneficial behaviour or it would have been selected out long ago. Maybe as a funny example of that thought – my daughter’s reaction when a car with one of the Darwin fish stickers on the back made a rather foolish and quite dangerous move in rush hour traffic the other day. If you want to accept Darwin as your saint, you can do that, but when you die a firey death due to stupid driving, don’t be surprised when your friends all shake their heads sadly and comment, “well, he obviously wasn’t the fittest.” It is a tragic view of reality.

This split world view remains enduring, partly preserved by the social sciences, but also because it makes such good common sense to us – there is a world of direct causation that we live within. If I swing a hammer and hit my thumb, it will hurt me. I can write equations to exactly describe the speed of the hammer, the arc it follows in space, and the precise energy imparted to my thumb. I could even predict with some precision what damage would be done to my thumb when the hammer hits. This seems very safe. There’s also a realm of mystery which doesn’t follow any of those safe rules, and into that realm I push everything else. This is why you can say that technology that is sufficiently advanced will always appear as magic – if you can’t explain it in a realm of pure reason, with the tools you have it can only be magic (and it interests me to no end that the ancient Hebrews have very little of that type of thought coming to us in the OT). This dual world view finds a good home in us because it seems to make sense to us, even though it is wrong. If you contrast this with the relativistic understanding from Einstein, which makes no sense to our common sense minds, you can understand why we didn’t adopt that thought outright.

Here’s a perfect illustration. If you’re driving in a car at 50 kph, and fire a bullet out the front window at 500 kph, what’s the speed of the bullet (negating air resistance, gravity, etc)? The intuitive answer is 550 kph, and in that case our intuition is correct. Now drive in that same car and instead of a bullet, shine a beam of light out the front window (light travelling at speed c). How fast is the light travelling? Intuition would say c + 50 kph, but this is an impossibility as nothing can travel faster than c. Our intuitive understanding of how things move and interact breaks down. Even more wild, what happens if the car is travelling very near the speed of light, say 0.8c, and you shine that light out the front window. How fast is the light travelling? The answer is still c. Even more perplexing, if you did that, and you measured the speed of light from within the car, while a friend measured the speed from outside the car, you would both measure the speed of light as c, independent of how you were in motion.

The problem is our intuition breaks down when we start to get into realms where our understanding of the physical world no longer applies…that is the very fast or the very small. This is an interesting common ground with theology, for you can say the same things about our understanding of God – it breaks down when we try to measure that great I AM using human projection. More on that in a minute.

Now, contrast this split view of reality with Paul’s assertion, backed up by the entire body of Scripture, that in Jesus Christ we see the realization of God’s eternal Yes, and all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus. This Christian worldview, which dovetails nicely with the relativity developed by Einstein, says that there is only one true constant in the creation, one underlying reality that serves to define the totality of creation, and that is God. That unwavering, invariant, eternal I AM, the constant Yes, yes of God, is the ultimate source of order and an absolute reference. Thou shalt have no other God but me, for I am a jealous God – a perspective that undoes all of the other deities for the reality is other deities are excluded when faced with the eternal I AM. The only reason that we have an orderly, predictable creation that is open to allow us to plumb its depths through science is because of this absolute source of constancy that underlies and infuses the entire creation. This is what Paul is talking about.

We can see an illustration in this eternal yes of God if we talk for a minute about the physical properties of light. Light, or electromagnetic radiation, is the source of all intelligence within our creation. It is the means by which we see and by which we communicate. It is also a great illustration of how our understanding of the slow, medium sized world we interact with fails to scale nicely into the realm of either relativity or theology.

Physical light infuses all creation. It falls on all aspects of the creation, and shows no favouritism. It shines on the just and the unjust. Murderer Russell Williams wakes to the same sun shining down that we see each morning. Like the rain, which falls on the believer and unbeliever – on the Darwinist and on the Creationist… is there a pattern forming here? I’m using the same language we hear in Scripture about God’s grace because there is a strong parallel in this aspect of the physical creation. Light behaves equitably throughout the creation, and does not capriciously change its behaviour between one moment and the next. Light is, in fact, a reflection of that great constancy and dependability I mentioned earlier. The ultimate reflection of that is in the speed of light which is constant, everywhere and in everytime. If this constancy of light within our experience is a part of our reality, what might it tell us about the constancy of its creator? This tells us something about that eternal Yes and yes of God. You can hang your hat on it.

One difference is that the light of the physical creation, to carry information, requires some translation. Even simple morse code requires someone to look at the light pulses to decode what is being sent to and translate that code into letters and numbers. The light of God, that is Jesus the Christ, needs no such translation as he comes to us, so to speak, in our native language of flesh and bone.

Now for a post-modernist who might refute the constancy of reality, it is interesting to think for a moment about a reality where there is no constancy. Such a reality could not arise from anything other than a chaotic process, and would not be predictable in any real, useful way. Literally, such a creation, with no objective reality, would be one where the speed of light would vary randomly, where gravity would switch on and off, and even reverse unexpectedly. It would be a creation that would not support the development of any science whatsoever, as if there is nothing to observe, because everything is changing constantly, there would be no place for the scientific method to grab hold of. This is one of the greatest arguments against post-modern thought, that as a philosophy it is so absolutely opposed to the observable and repeatable reality of the creation.

Physical light gives us an image of the light of God. It is effectively invisible when a beam of light traverses a room unless there is enough material in the air to reflect some portion of the beam, and the beam only appears when it illuminates something. That is, until there is something in its path, the light is hard to see.

Now, consider the person of Jesus from the opening passage of John’s gospel: “The Word was with God and the Word was God…the true light, which gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus is the Word of God, but also the Light of God come into the world in the flesh. The light of God, literally the light of God made visible in the flesh, comes into humanity and literally illuminates all of the creation by his presence. Are you getting a hint about the yes and yes of God?

It is dramatic to take a look at all the times God is described in light terms in Scripture – beyond the pillar of fire and smoke that led Israel, or the flaming bush of Moses. The psalmist tells us that in God’s light we see light (Ps 36:9) and that God covers himself with light as with a garment (Ps 104:2) and in 2 Cor 4:4 the light of the Gospel is the glory of Christ. This image of God as light is contained throughout the Bible. In fact, the invisibility of God has not to do with a lack of reflection, or of God being in darkness, but with an excess of divine light, so that He can not be seen. This is the promise from Revelation of the New Jerusalem, that this light of God will infuse the new city such that there will be no need for the sun or the moon or the stars. That light of God, like the physical light of creation, is invariably equal and impartial in shining on both the believer and non-believer.

This is the ultimate manifestation of the yes and yes of God to us, giving us his light in the form of His Son, holding nothing of himself back for love of His very good creation. God’s eternal and everlasting yes and yes, the Amen of God, manifest in the flesh.
Now, we get this wrong because we’re caught up in a distorted view of the reality because we’re stuck in this physical understanding that doesn’t scale to cars travelling at the speed of light, or to understanding the Son of God in the way Newton understood an apple dropping on his head. What we understand all too well is our essential humanness, caught within a fallen creation, and so we live in a dual-view of the reality that places God in a place separate from us, and worse, we take our too-human understanding of ourselves and project that image onto the creator. And so, all too often in bible scholarship, you find people writing lengthy articles not about what God actually said in the Bible, but why God didn’t actually say what he really meant in the Bible. This is a projection of our own thought onto God, and it’s wrong. We get this wrong with God, just like the Corinth Christians got Paul wrong, because they were working in a world of yes and no, a place where you can say one thing and do another, while Paul was working in a place of God, where there is only the eternal yes and yes.

We get Jesus wrong because he looks like us, and so we read that God’s eternal yes and yes is manifest in Jesus, and yet we insist on projecting our fallen human yes and no onto Jesus. This misplaced idea of the person of Jesus is at the root of just about all of our suffering, for to misplace understanding of the Christ is to shut ourselves off from much of the grace and healing available in Jesus. We are the people of yes and no, and so we project that back onto God through the one true human, the only one to ever fully realize humanity, who we will not see again until the general resurrection. And so, in our hearts, we reject the eternal yes and yes of God, and instead say that God is the eternal yes and no.

Now here’s the wrap up of these seemingly disparate ideas into one package (more or less). So much of what we understand is tied up in our experience within the creation, which in many ways is very limited – we see neither ultraviolet nor infrared, nor the vast majority of the electromagnetic spectrum. Our eyes cannot perceive things that are travelling very fast – even a bullet escapes our eyes most of the time, let alone a particle travelling near the speed of light. So our experience of the creation is limited, which is one of the reasons we can’t learn the objective reality of God through study of the natural world, our eyes are blinkered against perceiving so many aspects of the natural world.

Our natural understanding of our world does not scale into the very fast or very small, and it does not scale into our understanding of God. For example, if we look at a piece of furniture, it is possible to apprehend the furniture, as we can feel the length and breadth of the object with our hands. We can apprehend the object because we can encompass its totality within our hands we can grasp it. We cannot apprehend God because we cannot grasp him (do not hold on to me?), nor can we comprehend God because to comprehend infinity would require us to be infinite beings ourselves. (comprehend = to contain or hold within total scope of significance)

Because we are such creatures of experience, we apply the same idea to God, in that our experience of Him sets for us the understanding we have of God’s nature. Here’s my humorous example.

When I was a kid, there was one toy I wanted more than any other, and I asked for it at every birthday and Christmas – and that was one of those 80 in 1 electrical experiment kits. I was fascinated with science, and did have one of the pre-safety-rule chemistry sets that could produce some spectacular reactions and more than a few fires, so safety wasn’t my parent’s rationale for not giving me one. Anyway, this was a topic of prayer for me…and it seems to me I even went so far one day to make a drink offering to God on my driveway…except I couldn’t open a wine bottle undetected so I think I used Vermouth. All that prayer and spilled liquor, and I still didn’t get what I desired so sincerely. Now what was I to conclude about God, except that he was both yes and no? I think now that the reason I ended up in electrical engineering was to compensate for that early life wounding…

As a more serious example, one of my dear co-workers died suddenly in late May at the young age of 68, a healthy and robust 68. I was praying intently for his healing and return to robust life, and instead I knew the exact moment that they had switched off his life support. God, if you’re going to gift me through your Spirit, why does it have to do with detecting death and not with miraculous healing? So you see again, when I rely on my experience and project myself back onto God’s being, my human conclusion is that God is very much yes and no, and seemingly no every time it is something of real importance to me.
Now this is a prime example of the trap of this dualist thinking, for it allows me to easily push my being back onto the nature of God, to effectively redefine God in my own image. This is present quite strongly in the church still, as much of the theology of the 1960-70-80 eras were tied up in this idea of knowing God through self-revelation. This is wrong thought, and completely misconstrues what Paul tells us is the eternal yes and yes of God – wrong thought that is more at home with the New Atheists in terms of worldview than it is in the Body of Christ. God’s eternal yes and yes stands in strong contrast to our understanding of the world, and of us as being people of yes and no. Christ is the fulfilment of that eternal yes and yes, God’s final and eternal Word made human to bring us that light of God in a way that we could understand it. This is the reason that the mystic St John of the Cross wrote that it was easier for a blind man to believe as he was not trapped in visual images to understand the reality.

“The very light of God could not be consistently Light, and certainly could not be known as such, if the Holy Christ in Jesus were not also Word of Word as well as Light of Light, and thus immutably, eternally God of God as both Light and Word.” (Rev John Francis Heard)

Our call, given the eternal yes and yes of God made manifest in Christ Jesus, is to answer with our own yes and yes – Amen and Amen, let it be as you have said. This is the reason Paul is hammering on this point, because what is at stake is a very understanding of God’s nature. If Paul instead opted to argue his point using Greek dialectic (that is, the dual-world view applied through human reason), what would this say about him as God’s agent? Instead Paul emphasizes the eternal yes and yes of God, and notes that he proclaims Jesus, the unequivocal solution to all of humanity’s searching for meaning. (R Clements)

In the conclusion of this passage Paul used three legal expressions, from contract law, to make his point of his certain conviction in his testimony. He is truthful because the God he serves is ultimately truth itself. We stand firm in Christ is an expression which means to make legally binding, he has set his seal upon us, a legal expression to certify the authenticity of a document, and God’s guarantee of what is to come. What we’re hearing Paul say is something rather dramatic. Not only did Jesus come into the world as living Word and living Light, eternally yes and yes, but Paul, in Christ, becomes a living example of God’s trustworthiness. It is this reason he is reacting so strongly to the charges from Corinth, for these questions about him are a challenge to the Word of God himself.

We share in that mission, as members of the body of Christ, perhaps not apostles all of us, but we share in that role of being the living witness to the one we serve. This is why living a life that has a soundly God-centred world view is so important, and why the rejection of the split view of the world is so key to who we are. We stand, with Paul, as witnesses to the Light of God, and to God’s eternal yes and yes.

There is nothing more central to our lives in Christ than understanding how God stands as that eternal Amen and Amen to and through all of creation, in contrast to our creaturely aspects, shining his light on all of that creation, Jew and Greek, free and slave, believer and non-believer, and pouring His grace over all. Let us, with Paul, accept God’s anointing so that we too may be witnesses to the eternal Amen. Amen.


Written by sameo416

June 14, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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