“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

God Is Always Doing a New Thing

...With these things in mind, let's start digging into Lewis' treasure-filled mine of words, images, and ideas. He begins with this:

“Never did He make two things the same; never did He utter one word twice. After earths, not better earths but beasts; after beasts, not better beasts, but spirits. After a falling, not a recovery but a new creation. Out of the new creation, not a third but the mode of change itself is changed forever. Blessed is He!”
The idea I see here is that God is always doing new things. He is always taking things that are already there and bringing out of them something completely new - something groundbreaking and unprecedented. And each new turn in God's story, each new event in his creation, is brought about by a change that is itself unlike anything that has come before. This imaginative newness saturates creation, and it all comes from the Creator, who is an infinite and ever-overflowing fountain of creativity.

Lewis has already given some examples of this pattern. After earths come beasts, and after beasts, spirits. Each time something wholly new happens. Creation begins with earths - that is, with the physical world, the universe in which we find ourselves, a world of space and time, fields and particles, which is a stage for greater things to come.* Out of this physical substance, conscious minds emerge. The consciousness of God's "beasts," the animals that fill his world, is a completely new thing. No matter how hard you look in the particles and fields that make up the world, no matter how closely you examine the fundamental constituents of the physical world, you won't find consciousness. It is an emergent phenomenon, astonishingly unprecedented.

Beasts, says Lewis, are followed by "spirits," and in particular, humans, whom Lewis describes elsewhere as "hybrid" creatures, beasts that are also spirits. The new thing here is, I think, the creature's ability to perceive its Maker. Humans can taste and see the majesty of the heavens, the depth of moral truth, the sublime beauty of music, the love and joy of knowing another in relationship. These things do not simply follow from consciousness. The conscious squirrel does not see God in the stars above or in the moral law within. Once more we find a totally new thing. First life from matter, then a new kind of life, something different and higher growing from the first life - the image of God, a living creature taken into the life of God.

It is important here to realize that even if one can describe the growth in our understanding of beauty and morality in terms of evolution and biology, the beauty we see in the world and the moral truth we perceive is no less a mystery in itself. That is, giving a partial account of our perception does not account for the object of our perception, which is a new and unexplained miracle. Another example: even if one knows all the math and physics that describes the motion of water and light, the beauty of the sea and the stars is an entirely new thing and a new wonder. The full beauty and depth of this world cannot be found in its mathematical description or physical laws. The whole cannot be found in its parts, and for this the Maker is to be praised.

*One could argue that the physical world is itself a "new thing" that has been built on the foundation of something more basic: mathematics. The language of the physical universe is mathematics - everything we encounter follows some mathematical pattern. The whole world seems to rely on the foundation of mathematics just as a body is built on a skeleton, or a building on a foundation. But the world is something more than mathematics - the equations of physics that describe the universe are made real and tangible because the space and time and particles they describe are real things - real things that are built on the mathematical foundation, but are different and new - unforeseeable in the mathematics itself.

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