Living on a Star

If we once realize all this earth as it is, we should find ourselves in a land of miracles: we shall discover a new planet at the moment that we discover our own. Among all the strange things that men have forgotten, the most universal and catastrophic lapse of memory is that by which they have forgotten that they are living on a star.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant

Behold! A new heavens, and a new earth. One of the beauties of the ‘already, not yet’ aspect of the Kingdom of God, in Christ, is that the new birth really does introduce us to new heavens and a new earth. They have not yet been consummated, not yet finally recreated, but we ourselves have; and so we relate to them in a new way. When you get new eyes, everything begins to look different.

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Creation as Story: A Narrative Wrench in Mechanistic Gears

The Whimsical Christian, by Dorothy Sayers, is an intriguing book to say the least. I have written about a couple of her books, The Mind of the Maker and Creed or Chaos?, in the past. My posts on The Mind of the Maker (HERE, HERE, and HERE) still rank among the most read on this blog.

Creed or Chaos? was a bit of a let down, but for good reason. The Mind of the Maker is hands-down one of the best books I have ever read. I read the book almost by sheer accident, having found it in a thrift store and knowing nothing about it other than the fact that I had come across the name of Dorothy Sayers in relation to C.S. Lewis.

The book was tough sledding. I felt as though I slogged through it. There were times when I just wanted to stop reading it, but I just never stopped. And the end result was life-changing. Sayers’ analogy of God and the creative mind of man is a game changer. I will not get into specifics at the moment, but I use things I learned from that book almost every week in one way or another.

There have been two game changers in The Whimsical Christian: the essays Toward a Christian Esthetic and Creative Mind. I will deal with both in due time, but for now I want to record one particular line of thought from Creative Mind.

In my defense of God as creator, I have often pointed out that the biblical record is that God created man and woman, along with the earliest plants and animals, along with every rock and grain of sand, in mature form. We do not know precisely what that ‘mature form’ looked like, but we know that the earliest apple tree did not spring from a seed; rather, it sprung, in maturity, wholly from the creative decree of God. If you looked at Adam, you might have said, ‘He’s probably 20 or 30 or 180 years old, who knows?’I do not have a strict opinion on the age of the universe, but I have sometimes joked that God may have just created the world the way he did to mess with our scientists. Again, that’s a joke. But Sayers actually gives winsome teeth to a similar idea – if the world is younger than it appears, it is simply a part of his craft as an artist:

It was scarcely possible to suppose any longer that God had created each species – to quote the test of Paradise Lost – ‘perfect forms, limb’d, and full grown,’ except on what seemed the extravagant assumption that, when creating the universe, he had at the same time provided it with evidence of a  purely imaginary past that had never had any actual existence. Now, the first thing to be said about this famous quarrel is that the churchmen need never have been perturbed at all about the method of creation, if they had remembered that the Book of Genesis was a book of poetical truth, and not intended as a scientific handbook of geology. They got into their difficulty, to a large extent, through having unwittingly slipped into accepting the scientist’s concept of the use of language, and supposing that a thing could not be true unless it was amenable to quantitative methods of proof. Eventually, and with many slips by the way, they contrived to clamber out of this false position; and today no reasonable theologian is at all perturbed by the idea  that created was effected by evolutionary methods. But, if the theologians had not lost touch with the nature of language; if they had not insensibly fallen into the eighteenth-century conception of the universe as a mechanism and God as the great engineer; if, instead they had chosen to think of God as a great, imaginative artist – then they might have offered a quite different kind of interpretation of the facts, with rather entertaining consequences. They might, in fact have seriously put forward the explanation I mentioned just now: that God had at some moment or other created the universe complete with all the vestiges of an imaginary past.

I have said that this seemed an extravagant assumption; so it does, if one thinks of God as a mechanician. But if one thinks of him as working in the same sort of way as a creative artist, then it no longer seems extravagant, but the most natural thing in the world. It is the way every novel in the world is written.

Every serious novelist starts with some or all of his characters ‘in perfect form and fully grown,’ complete with their pasts. Their present is conditioned by a past that exists, not fully on paper, but fully or partially in the creator’s imagination…

-Dorothy Sayers, Creative Mind, from The Whimsical Christian, pp. 106-107

The argument is simple: Every novel contains a story. Every story exists as a complete ‘creation’ within itself. Nothing outside of that creation can be said to truly exist within the story. Yet for every story there is a back story: it could be the exposition, or it could simply be things the author is presupposing in order to create the story. The bottom line is that the novel often begins with a fully mature character who appears in complete maturity. This maturity may include many warts and flaws, but those warts and flaws are purely a result of the imagination of the author and their cause may or may not be part of the narrative. They may exist purely in the mind of the author and therefore never enter into the actual ‘revelation’ or into the ‘creation’ itself.

Notice also that Sayers uses a ‘poetical’ reading of Genesis to actually argue against the scientists. When folks today attempt to postulate Genesis 1-3 as poetic, it is usually for the opposite reason. Interesting.

Sayers says that applying this type of thinking to our ideas about creation could be entertaining. Indeed.

She pins down most of our problems as ‘creationists’ to our assimilation of modern scientific categories. We, like so much secular Scientism, tend to view the creation as mechanistic. We have taken the watchmaker argument and reasoned that God actually made a watch. Instead, we should be more concerned with the fact that God has made an artistic story. We should consider the words of the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, whom she quotes: “God created the world by imagination.” He imagines and speaks; and things imagined become reality. “…Even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17).

In this framework, of God as Creator in the sense of God as Artist, doctrines like predestination and divine providence are no longer abstract philosophical notions, but essential elements of his art. Of course an author predestines his characters; of course he causes circumstances to develop in a certain way in order to accomplish certain preordained ends. Of course he allows the drama of evil to enter the story, how else could there be a story? And of course he creates mature worlds with the appearance of age. That’s what artists do. He just gets to do it with real dirt, whereas we can only put ink on paper that comes from the real trees he has created.

Throw a narrative wrench into the mechanistic gears. The results could be entertaining.

On Meteor Showers

I read about the meteor shower expected to be visible (in the southern United States) starting at about the time this post is published. I just walked outside. It’s overcast, so it’s a no go. But it leads me to story time:

I have only seen one meteor shower in my life, but it was a memorable one. Tonight I decided to do some research via Google and discovered that it was likely the Geminid Meteor Shower of 1998. I narrowed it down to this time frame, because I know that I was still in high school and that it was during December or January. This seems to be the only date that fits. The timeline I found puts the shower on the morning of December 14th of that year.

In the early hours of that morning, between 4 and 5am, I boarded a john boat along with two of my friends for a morning of duck hunting in the muddy Mississippi River Bottoms of Northeast Arkansas. It was still quite dark; and, as always, we used a spotlight to guide our journey through our normal ditch (as we call such bodies of water back home).

It was very cold; according to another site I found, it was certainly below Freezing. Because it was cold, I followed my normal practice of lying down in the bottom of the boat in order to shield myself from the wind. And as I lay there, I looked up to behold the marvelous sight of fireballs shooting across the sky. At the time I thought they were shooting stars (I had never seen a meteor shower. In fact, I didn’t know what a meteor shower was). There were dozens of them during our half hour boat ride. We hardly said a word about them afterward. I think we said a few things like, ‘Boy, there sure were a lot of shooting stars this morning.’ That was about it.

At that time I was not a Christian. I knew nothing about God. I had hardly darkened the door of a church, and the times I had done so had been when I was a very small child (I couldn’t remember them). But that morning, though I said little about it to my friends, I experienced true awe for the first time. That meteor shower has stayed with me through the years. I can still see it in my mind. Every time, like today, I hear of an impending meteor shower, I begin to long for the experience anew. But, alas, like tonight, I find an overcast sky.

When I first read Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis, this was the first experience that came to mind as Lewis recounted his own experiences of Joy. A forgotten (for many) or non-experienced (for most) meteor shower in December of 1998 opened up to me the world of awe and wonder. This post is my way of giving a late ‘Thank You’ (almost 16 years late) to the One who stretched the shining dust across the sky and put me in place to see it fly.

I pray that someone else has an experience like that this morning.

___________________________________________________________________

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).

Medicine Men and Telekinetic Power

Chestertonian gold:

I count no man large-minded or imaginative who has not sometimes felt like a medicine-man.

– G.K. Chesterton, On Man: Heir of All Ages, from In Defense of Sanity, p. 244.

I make my living in a pharmacy. We cycle through a crop of teenage part-time workers every couple of years. I like to ask them whether they consider the pharmacy to be in the business of magic. Think about it: you give people pills as they either get better or they get high; their lives are saved or their lives are ruined. Either the pill does its job or they have an allergic reaction and break out in red dots. If you put that into a fairy tale you’ve got magic. We have been so desensitized to the wonders of daily life that we don’t even see the wonder. When everything is filled with wonder then nothing is wonderful.

I have watched my children go from stationary, to scooting, to crawling, to walking, to running, to roller-skating; I’ve seen them go from gagagoogoo to busting out logical sentences. I remember when they didn’t know what an ‘A’ was, and now my oldest is reading novels. I didn’t say abracadabra, but apparently every word I said was a magic word.

Sometimes, without even thinking, my body just starts doing things – things like typing.

My daughter asks me, How do you type so fast? I just do it.

I learned to do it and now I do it.

But how do you know where are the letters are? They’re out of order.

I don’t know, I don’t think, I just do it.

So simple really. I use a mind that I can’t even locate to invisibly communicate to the ‘memory’ of my fingers (is there actually such a thing as muscle memory? Where can you find it? Do your fingers really even have muscles?) and I just start typing away, 80wpm.Is it telekinetic? If not, then what is it?

If there is anyone with telekinetic power in the audience, please raise my hand; or raise your own.

Perhaps I feel like a medicine man because I am one. But I think I would feel like one even if I wasn’t. You name it, and I’ll tell you there’s something magical about it. Now grow up and be a kid again. Go to a science museum, go to Chuck E. Cheese, to to Toys R Us, go on a nature hike; I don’t care, just do it. Do not come back until you have walked into a pharmacy and sensed the sheer ludicrousness of it all.

Let Any Man Make a World…

From Spurgeon’s Treasury of David on Psalm 33:6:

Let any make a world, and he shall be a God, saith Augustine…

Perhaps that’s why everyone is always trying (miserably) to make their own worlds.

  • By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth (Ps. 33:6).

Jonathan Edwards’ Fountain Analogy of Creation

Thus it is fit, since there is an infinite fountain of light and knowledge, that this light should shine forth in beams of communicated knowledge and understanding; and, as there is an infinite fountain of holiness, moral excellence, and beauty, that so it should flow out in communicated holiness. And that, as there is an infinite fulness of joy and happiness, so these should have emanation, and become a fountain flowing out in abundant streams, as beams from the sun…
…The diffusive disposition that excited God to give creatures existence, was rather a communicative disposition in general, or a disposition in the fulness of the divinity to flow out and diffuse itself…
Therefore, to speak strictly according to truth, we may suppose, that a disposition in God, as an original property of his nature, to an emanation of his own infinite fulness, was what excited him to create the world; and so, that the emanation itself was aimed at by him as a last end of the creation.

A Dissertation Concerning the End for which God Created the World, from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Banner of Truth), p. 100 (Read it for free HERE).

Summary: God’s glory relates to his fullness (in Hebrew it denotes weight). By way of analogy, God is brimming with beauty (holiness), love, and joy; and this love, beauty and joy, as it were, overflows into the act and substance of creation.

The danger here is Pantheism. If God is like a fountain, and creation is the overflow of that fountain, then creation itself is God (as though God were extending his being into creation). This is where the analogy fails. The point to make here is that God’s way of overflowing is through speech.

  • Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

Jesus says that it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Mat. 12:34, Luke 6:45). In Greek, the word abundance here indicates an overflowing. The abundance of the heart overflows into the speech of the mouth. Whatever the heart is full of tends to come out in words. Using Edwards’ analogy, and relating it to Jesus’ words, the true analogy becomes clear. Out of God’s abundance he speaks creation into being. It is the overflow of his heart (who he is in himself) coming out of his (metaphorical) mouth.

Thus we avoid pantheism. The fact that creation is the overflow of God does not mean that it is God. Rather, creation belongs to God in the same way that our own speech belongs to us. Our words reflect who we are and our words belong to us. God’s words, which make the worlds, reflect his fullness (glory) and they belong to him.

The Incarnation: The Whole City is Honored

You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored…

– from Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God

…Like the presence of the Olympics honors a country.

In one sense, this is what the incarnation of Jesus Christ means for the world. In one moment, humanity is both affirmed and indicted. Indicted, because God took on flesh for man’s sin. But affirmed for the same reason – God took on flesh for man’s sin. He ‘took on flesh’ and ‘tabernacled among us’ (John 1:14).

In that great act, while not overlooking the ugliness of sin and its curse, God affirms that he has a purpose for his creation. He honors it by dwelling in its midst as a man. There is no higher theology, and there is no higher honor for this world than this: ‘

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see!
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as Man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel!’

We dishonor the incarnation by downplaying the honor of God’s creation – the world and all that dwells therein, for God Himself dwelled therein. And we dishonor the incarnation by overlooking sin, for sin necessitated it.

Light Before Sun, Idea Before Incarnation

In an essay on Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton picks up an interesting line of thought. He notes the fact that the Book of Genesis records the creation of light occurring before the creation of the sun (Gen. 1:3-19).

To many modern people it would sound like saying that foliage existed before the first leaf; it would sound like saying that childhood existed before a baby was born. The idea is, as I have said, alien to most modern thought, and like so many other ideas which are alien to most modern thought, it is a very subtle and very sound idea.

Chesterton then delivers this sound meditation on the creation narrative:

Whatever be the meaning of the passage in the actual primeval poem, there is a very real metaphysical meaning in the idea that light existed before the sun and stars. It is not barbaric; it is rather Platonic. The idea existed before any of the machinery which made manifest the idea. Justice existed when there was no need of judges, and mercy existed before any man was oppressed.

Like Dorothy Sayers in The Mind of the Maker, he relates the idea to literature:

The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists, as a mother can love the unborn child. In creative art the essence of a book exists before the book or before even the details or main features of the book; the author enjoys it and lives in it with a kind of prophetic rapture. He wishes to write a comic story before he has thought of a single comic incident. He desires to write a sad story before he has thought of anything sad. He knows the atmosphere before he knows anything. There is a low priggish maxim sometimes uttered by men so frivolous as to take humour seriously – a maxim that a man should not laugh at his own jokes. But the great artist not only laughs at his own jokes; he laughs at his own jokes before he has made them.

He continues,

The last page comes before the first; before his romance has begun, he knows that it has ended well. He sees the wedding before the wooing; he sees the death before the dual. But most of all he sees the colour and character of the whole story prior to any possible events in it.

(G.K. Chesterton on The Pickwick Papers, from In Defense of Sanity, pp. 127-128)

I do not know if there is a better illustration for the foreknowledge of God than the mind of the writer, the mind of the maker. I saw an interview with J.K. Rowling a while back in which she discussed how she first created the Harry Potter character. As she rode in a train, he essentially just appeared in her imagination, and she knew his destiny right away. C.S. Lewis wrote of his recurring vision of a fawn with an umbrella carrying parcels in the snow. They knew their own characters before they ever set pen to paper. God did too.

  • For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…(Rom. 8:29).

Or as one translation puts it:

  • For those on whom he set his heart beforehand, he did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.

Say ‘No’ to Mother Nature

Mistaken for our mother, she is terrifying and even abominable. But if she is only our sister – if she and we have a common Creator – if she is our sparring partner – then the situation is quite tolerable. Perhaps we are not here as prisoners but as colonists: only consider what we have done already to the dog, the horse, or the daffodil. She is indeed a rough playfellow. There are elements of evil in her. To explain that would carry us far back: I should have to speak of Powers and Principalities and all that would seem to a modern reader most mythological. This is not the place, nor do these questions come first. It is enough to say here that Nature, like us but in her different way, is much alienated from her Creator, though in her, as in us, gleams of the old beauty remain…She has nothing to teach us. It is our business to live by our own law not by hers: to follow, in private or in public life, the law of love and temperance even when they seem to be suicidal, and not the law of competition and grab, even when they seem to be necessary to our survival. For it is part of our spiritual law never to put survival first: not even the survival of our species. We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture or class, is not worth having unless it can be had by honourable and merciful means.

C.S. Lewis, On Living in an Atomic Age, from Present Concerns, p. 79

I get the whole ‘Mother Nature’ thing. Even from a Christian perspective, we believe that we were formed from the ‘dust of the earth.’ But there are obviously major problems with the whole ‘Mother Nature’ idea.

Lewis nails the main issue – if Nature is our mother, then she is our teacher of morality. We sit on Nature’s lap and learn her wisdom. Yet such learning leads down the road of ‘natural selection’ and such. It leads to hunger games in which we are fighting to survive at the expense of others, and others are doing the same to us (that pretty much summarizes the various ‘enmities’ of Genesis 3).

The gospel of Jesus Christ does not call upon us to survive but to loving sacrifice. And while there are glimmers of such in Nature, we must remember that all of creation has fallen with us. We take our cues from elsewhere.

Nature and science are not teachers of morality.

C.S. Lewis: Summary of the Character of the Planets in Medieval Thought

Introduction: In the Middle-Ages the study of the cosmos and mythology were blended:

They are planets as well as gods. Not that the Christian poet believe in the god because he believed in the planet; but all three things – the visible planet, the source of influence, and the god – generally acted as a unity upon his mind. I have not found evidence hat theologians were at all disquieted by this state of affairs.

The Seven Planets and their Character

1. Saturn

In the earth his influence produces lead; in men, the melancholy complexion; in history disastrous events…Our traditional picture of Father Time with the scythe is derived from earlier pictures of Saturn…He is the most terrible of the seven and is sometimes called The Greater Infortune, Infortuna Major.

2. Jupiter

Jupiter, the King, produces in the earth, rather disappointingly, tin; this shining metal said different things to the imagination before the canning industry came in. The character he produces in men would now be very imperfectly expressed by the word ‘jovial’, and is not very easy to grasp; it is no longer, like the saturnine character, one of our archetypes. We may say it is Kingly; but we must think of a King at peace, enthroned, taking his leisure, serene. The Jovial character is cheerful, festive yet temperate, tranquil, magnanimous…He is the best planet, and is called The Greater Fortune, Fortuna Major.

3. Mars

Mars makes iron. He gives men the martial temperament, ‘sturdy hardiness’…But he is a bad planet, Infortuna Minor. He causes wars.

4. The Sun

Sol produces the noblest metal, gold, and is the eye and mind of the whole universe. He makes men wise and liberal and his sphere is the Heaven of theologians and philosophers…Sol produces fortunate events.

5. Venus

In beneficence Venus stands second only to Jupiter; she is Fortuna Minor. Her metal is copper…In mortal she produces beauty and amorousness; in history, fortunate events.

6. Mercury

Mercury produces quicksilver. Dante gives his sphere to beneficent men of action. Isodore, on the other hand, says this planet is called Mercurius because he is the patron of profit…Gower says that the man born under Mercury will be ‘studious’ and ‘in [writing] curious’…It is difficult to see the unity in all these characteristics. ‘Skilled eagerness’ or ‘bright alacrity’ is the best I can do. But it is better just to take some real mercury in a saucer and play with it for a few minutes. That is what ‘Mercurial’ means.

7. The Moon

At Luna we cross in our descent the great frontier…from aether to air, from ‘heaven’ to ‘nature’, from the realm of gods (or angels) to that of daemons, from the realm of necessity to that of contingence, from the incorruptible to the corruptible….Her metal is silver. In men she produces wandering, and that in two senses. She may make them travellers…But she may also produce ‘wandering’ of the wits, especially that periodical insanity which was first meant by the word lunacy

Conclusion:

It will be noticed that while we find no difficult in grasping the character of Saturn or Venus, Jove and Mercury almost evaded us. The truth which emerges from this is that the planetary characters need to be seized in an intuition rather than built up out of concepts; we need to know them, not to know about them…

– All quotes from C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, pp. 105-109