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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Fifth Dimension

I know one of the great scholars in the math world, a man who has spent his lief studying multi-dimensionality. One of his passions is the work of an Anglican priest from the turn of the last century, Edwin Abott Abott who wrote a book called Flatlands. I have written about this little book before, it is a short and simple book that asks the question what would happen if a sphere visited a world inhabited by squares, triangles and circles? The reason the book works is because we live in a three dimensional world (we can see a ball is circular but it is more than a circle, it is a sphere). We also can understand a two dimensional world because we draw on paper circles and squares. We can also have some idea of how difficult it would be to understand "depth" in the context of only "length" and "width."

Depth is not limited to shapes.

Last night in the car we were discussing the lyrics of a song.
"What does that mean?"
Sometimes the meaning appears straightforward. The writer tells us what s/he meant to convey. Other times, they just write words which 'fit' into the music. What is true of music is true of other art forms including narratives. However, whatever the writer intends, there is more to the words than that. A song's lyrics are open to interpretation. The words have 'depth' and the listener makes connections. The author does not always know what unconscious factors influenced the word choice. There are larger "laws" and "principles" at work in interpretation.Most people who create describe it as something which "happens through" them, to some extent. It appears...

I think that reality is not simple, at least not simple the way most people think. I believe that most of us can get to the next level, most of us can see that "there is more here than meets the eye." We understand the idea of a symbol or a metaphor---that an eagle can be a metaphor for the human soul or a nation. We know that the "plain meaning" is not always plain. But we fail to go deeper and recognize that there are things going on which would stretch our minds and exceed our capacities (unaided by grace). We live in a 3-D world, but we can get that there is more than the three dimensions, so we can imagine a fourth dimension, with effort and disciplined thinking. But if there is a 'fifth' dimension, it is a depth to things which is far beyond our ability to imagine imagining...

What I mean is something can be understood in a myriad of ways. A metaphor can be a metaphor for multiple things. Truth still matters, it is not "Anything and everything goes," but truth is more complex and richer and fuller than we realize. There are "layers upon layers." The story of Abraham is the story of a man back then. It is a story of a people condensed in one life. It is also metaphor for a nation (Israel). It is a framework for the journey of each soul. It is also a revelation of God. The story is both time and place limited (you need to understand the ancient context and language) and timeless (so we can read it in this time and place). God authored the story, but He did so through the minds, voice and writing of hundreds of people over a thousand years. And today He continues that work through text scholars, archaeologists, linguists and translators and, of course, publishers. He does not work at the table as one more guy sitting in a chair, but He is at work among us.

This is why we can say God is at work among us. He is, but not in the way that you and I are at work among us. It is hard to grasp, but it is something that has been known in the church as long as the church has been doing serious theology. Anything we say about God is analogous. The via negativa reminds us that whatever we say about God is not true, because God is beyond our knowing and understanding. Our definitions are too small. Our words are two dimensional, trying to describe a cube when we are only equipped to see squares. A box is not a square, it is six squares (on six plains at right angles). So with God. We try to explain the unexplainable, which means our explanation does not, can not, explain it all. We do not have the depth of understanding..

The problem isn't that we do not know this. The problem is that knowing it we continue on as if it were not the case. We say it is a mystery and proceed to deal with it as if a "plain reading" is sufficient.

And we cut ourselves off from the depth.
And we lead shallow lives.
which, of course, is why we need to be saved....

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