Transcendence and Imminence

In this and related blogs (here and here), I indulge in some speculations concerning the nature and purpose of the created world and of God and humanity. These thoughts are based on the orthodox Christian narrative of fall, incarnation, atonement and resurrection, and I hope, take the scriptural revelation seriously. They nonetheless have a distinctly scientific and technical flavour that some might find rather cold and off putting. I would simply hope that what I write can complement the more traditional understanding of God and his love for his world and his people. Readers are of course completely free to choose whether or not the give my thoughts any credence at all!

In Christian thought God is both transcendent – outside the creation – and imminent – working within the creation, specifically in the incarnation of Jesus, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit within the church. There is something of a logical contradiction here of course, that one might simply accept as a “mystery” that cannot be penetrated with our limited understanding. But in the Revelation narrative of the new heaven and the new earth that I discussed in an earlier post, that God’s dwelling place will be with men, there is a further implication – that heaven and earth, the spiritual and the physical creations will at some point come together.

So, what are we to make of this – is there some way that this can be resolved? In this post I suggest that there might be using the insights of modern science. The currently accepted standard model of cosmology brilliantly brings together many disparate theories of physics into a coherent whole in a way that can describe the observed nature of the physical world in a coherent and, some would say, quite beautiful way. But it has its limitations – the primary one being that it can only account for about 15% of the mass of the Universe and recourse has to be made  to concepts such as dark matter or dark energy (matter and energy being directly related) which have not been experimentally observed. This leaves something of a hole in the theory to say the least.  The phrase “god of the gaps” has often been used in a derogatory way to describe the shrinking space that the developments of modern physics allegedly leave for the existence of God. I would suggest an 85% shortfall in predicted mass means it would be rather better to talk about “god of the chasm”!

 I thus postulate that we can consider the physical creation as that described by modern cosmological theory and which can be experimentally observed) whereas God exists, within the overall universe in some of that part which cannot, at the moment, be experimentally observed. I will refer to these different aspects of the universe in what follows as A and Z, (I did intend to use alpha and omega, which has a pleasantly theological feel, but Word Press blogs don’t allow different fonts, so I had to compromise!).  A and Z are intertwined spatially, and largely do not interact. As it stands this is purely a metaphorical description, but perhaps there might be some reality behind it – time will tell. If we allow the entity that we call God to inhabit the full spatial extent of Z we can to some degree reconcile the concepts of transcendence an imminence, with God in Z being distinct from A, and thus outside the physical creation and transcending it; and as the A and Z intermingle, God can also be said to be imminent.

But this does imply that God is within the bounds of the Universe and thus either entered at the creation event (the big bang in popular parlance) or was already there. Within the early stages of the creation, we can consider God taming and ordering the primal chaos or randomness, including the formation of A and Z. Chaos was thus constrained, but the principal of chaos, expressed in the first instance in terms of statistical uncertainty, was still to play a role in the formation of the universe as the essential component of the complex and diverse nature of the physical, biological and social creations I discussed in an earlier post. Indeed, one might consider there is an ongoing interaction between the forces of order and chaos, a continual and ongoing creative act.

Understanding God in this way does however have another implication. If God is within the universe, even a distinct part of it, then he is likely to be constrained by the laws that hold it together – primarily that there is a limit in communication and travel imposed by the speed of light. Thus, if God were present in Z throughout the universe, there would need to be some concentration in specific spatial locations – with very long-distance communication over many millennia between these locations. One such would of course by the immediate area around the earth or solar system, or the field of Arbol as Lewis perceptively called it. Thus, God as we understand him is the localisation in near earth space of a universal entity. This localisation would have been made more intense in the incarnation of Jesus to which I will return in a future post.

It is pertinent to ask at this point what such a model says about the nature of God – what sort of entity is he (and here as elsewhere I use the masculine pronoun simply because it is a usage I am comfortable with). On the universal scale we can perhaps see God as encoded as information flows within the material that constitutes Z – rather than having a precise form. The concept that the essence of an individual can be captured in stored information (in physical terms as a DNA code) is one of the most powerful ideas of modern science, and applied here, does not of course preclude the notion of “personality” within the divine.  Within the localisations of God, the same might apply, but here there might be some specific form constructed from the material within Z.

Using this model, the biological creation, including humanity, would thus exist in A. However, there are numerous scriptural indications that this is not its ultimate state, where its existence in both A and Z is indicated, with some sort of coming together of these.  In the next post we turn our attention from God in Z towards the physical, biological and social creations in A, considering the theological concepts of fall, incarnation and atonement.

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