“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

Monday, June 7, 2010

"Not as when stones lie side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch, such is His order."

...In paradoxes, then, we see a brilliant example of how the dynamic relationship between two things can give rise to a new thing, how two (or more) parts can give rise to a greater whole when they are seen in light of one another, in much the same way as the examples given here. Now is a good point to dig into Lewis' next paragraph:

“It is loaded with justice as a tree bows down with fruit. All is righteousness and there is no equality. Not as when stones lie side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch, such is His order; rule and obedience, begetting and bearing, heat glancing down, life growing up. Blessed be He!”
God designs and orders creation so that it is not like stones lying side by side, but like stones supporting one another in an arch. It is a truly beautiful image. Every stone in the arch exerts a force on every other stone, and every force is mediated by and connected to the other stones. It is "the very idiom of reality," writes Lewis in Miracles: "everything is indebted to everything else, sacrificed to everything else, dependent on everything else" (ch. 14).

Creation is not just a set of things, not just stones lying side by side. That is, it’s not just space and time and minds and matter and other things all assembled together in a universe. It’s a reality where those things interact in unique ways, where new things emerge or proceed from this interrelatedness (see above for some examples). Everything is connected to everything in God's creation (see "The Theme of Love in The Brothers Karamazov: Alyosha's Moment"). Like a complex web of many woven strands, creation is interconnected and interrelated, and the connections give rise to a beautiful pattern, a coherent whole greater than the sum of its parts. Each part, each strand, each piece in the puzzle, shines brighter because of what it is in light of all else and in light of each other thing. Each stone finds its place in the arch and becomes truly itself only when it takes its unique place in relation to the whole arch and to every other stone. The uniqueness of each element is not compromised but magnified by the interconnectedness and interdependence. The whole is one and united, yet at the same time richly diverse, and its unity is strengthened by the perfectly balanced diversity of its parts, just as the arch is stronger because of the perfectly unique role played by each stone.

Consider the phenomenon of cause and effect as an example. Every event occurs only because countless causes work together in exactly the right way to bring it about, and every event begins an explosive chain of events which can affect the whole world. How limitless in his brilliance must God be to foresee and set in motion all future events in the moment of the creation of the universe! Each event must have been foreseen in light of each and all of the countless events that contributed to it, and in light of the particular initial conditions with which God made the world. Those conditions themselves could be said to be effected by all future events, because God designed them, in a self-consistent way, for the purpose of bringing about those events. The web of cause and effect is then made even more complex and interconnected when seen in light of God's foreknowledge and sovereign power. There is no particular starting point for this great design, unless it is the whole of the web itself, the glory of creation in all its perfect fullness, for which its individual strands of cause and effect were finely set.

An example from God's Word and Story: the Church is described by the apostle Paul as being like a body which functions (ideally) with a sort of symbiotic interdependence (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12:5). Just as each part of the human body is necessary for the proper functioning of the whole, each person in the church plays a unique and essential part, different than that of any other member, and each person finds their own identity in light of their place in the whole body. The whole depends on its parts, and since the whole is made up of its parts, each part depends on all the other parts. The image is strikingly similar to Lewis' "stones support and are supported in an arch," and elsewhere in Scripture, Christ, who is the "head" of the Church, is described as the "cornerstone" of an arch.

Perhaps the best example of this interdependence or "vicariousness" as Lewis calls it is our total dependence on Christ. Through the cross our sins are atoned for and we are declared righteous. Our freedom from guilt is not our own, but Christ's - his sinlessness and righteousness become ours because of the beautiful exchange that happened on the cross (see "The Paradoxical Riches of the Gospel"). Even our growth in love and humility as we become more like Christ is not the result of our own moral efforts, but another outgrowth of Christ's work. In short, none of the good things about us are our own - they are all gifts from God. Christ's death and resurrection becomes ours, and our lives are to be lived "in Christ."

One more example: in gender we glimpse a very deep mystery. Why should there be exactly two kinds of people, male and female, and more broadly, two different sexes for most living things? The whole biological planet lives and breathes this great theme of male-female duality, and it is the means by which all things grow. Whatever God's reason for making life in this way may be, it illustrates the pattern of uniqueness and interconnectedness in all things. Male and female are very different, so the relationship is asymmetric and "there is no equality." Yet they were made for one another and need one another; they fit together and balance one another perfectly in relationship, and from the union of these two comes new living things. The pattern is very similar to what we saw in paradoxes.

As we have seen, all this beautiful interaction and interrelatedness is the means by which new things are brought into being. It is in the dynamic connections between the parts that the greater whole emerges. The Order of Creation is not as when stones lie side by side, but like an arch of many stones and a growing tower of many arches. Always a new creation grows from the beautiful dynamic interaction, and for this great pattern the Designer is to be praised.

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