Sunday, February 17, 2013

Before Methuselah

Some places seem interchangeable with other places. Unless you already knew, you couldn’t tell where you were–or even when. But other settings have a sense of time and place. Christopher Hitchens once wrote about driving through the New England countryside. The landscape reminded him of parts of England. Yet, he said, its English counterparts felt far older.

I think one reason some people find it difficult to believe Bible history isn’t just the distance in time, but the distance in space. The world that most of us inhabit looks very different from the world of the Bible. Our world feels modern. It doesn’t look like the kind of world where these things would happen. A different ambience. We read about one world, but live in another. We don’t easily relate to the physical world of the Bible.

Even though there’s a sense in which every part of the world is just as old as every other part, some parts of the world seem older than others. Years ago I was in Cappadocia. That felt far more ancient than any other place I’ve been in. Weighted with a sense of the yawning, forsaken, forgotten past. Like stepping into a different millennium. If you bumped into Abraham, just around the corner, it wouldn’t be out of character. If you happened upon a voice from a burning bush, it wouldn’t seem out of place.

I remember hiking along a bluff, overlooking a dry riverbed below, in a shadowy gorge. There were deserted, rock-hewn churches clinging to the treacherous edge of the bluff. Due to erosion, they were turning back into the rock formations from which they were originally hewn. Weatherworn, they blended into the austere landscape. A palpable sense of silence, stillness, emptiness, antiquity, and aloneness. Abandoned by time–like a misshelven book.


  1. This is completely unrelated to the post...are you aware of material dealing with Christ's ascension and cosmology and the related issue of Christ being present at the right hand of the Father?

    1. I'm not Steve, of course, so please feel free to ignore my question. But I thought it might be helpful to ask for clarification's sake. Do you mean material about how Christ could have ascended to "the right hand of the Father" in light of modern cosmology and physics?

    2. Not necessarily in light of modern cosmology and physics. I'm thinking more generally than that; at the ascension Christ went somewhere, Christ is spatially present somewhere. And the NT speaks, for example, about Him being present at the 'right hand of the Father'.

    3. To be at the right hand of God is an anthropomorphic representation of a heavenly court, with God depicted as a seated king. This is picture-language.

      The cosmological objection to the Ascension is that it allegedly presupposes a tripartite universe, where heaven is up in the sky.

      However, as various commentators point out, the “cloud” in Acts 1 is probably the Shekinah. Therefore, the scene doesn’t envision Jesus passing through the clouds to reach heaven. Rather, he levitates to a certain height, then the Shekinah envelops him.

    4. Yes, Jesus is somewhere. That doesn't mean the Father is somewhere. To depict the compresence of Christ with a discarnate spirit (the Father), it's necessary to give them a common setting. That doesn't mean the Father literally occupies the same space as Jesus. Strictly speaking, the Father is illocal.

    5. This is helpful. Thanks, Steve.