Monday, January 12, 2009

peeling the layers of reality

asking why and always trying to go a layer back can lead to some really deep thinking, and some unusual answers. i can’t pinpoint when this started for me, but this past year several friends of mine have encouraged this process of thinking in me like steroids. the idea is that almost any statement you make, especially when dealing with the deeper things of the universe (i.e. not small talk), can be taken a level or a layer backward in meaning, generally by simply asking “why?”. eventually there is a stopping point, because at some point there is a foundation of axioms or universal truths by which everything else is defined. here are a few building blocks, or some of the deepest answers, that i have found, specifically from a Christian worldview.

ultimately, when taken back to its absolute deepest, the basis of all things is God. the Bible is clear that God is the only uncreated thing, that there was never a time that He was not, and nothing ever defined Him, but He defines everything. in my understanding, He did not choose to be who He is, nor did something else choose for Him: He simply is who He is, as He has always been and ever will be. therefore, being the ultimate reality, all else is defined by God: who He is; what He’s like; His characteristics and attributes.

taking one of these attributes, namely, that God is good, leads to some interesting thoughts. all that we would call good are reflections of God’s character. whatever we enjoy that is good is enjoyable because we see God in it and we were made to worship God by enjoying Him.

also, taking a step back, we see that because God is the only uncreated thing, all that is is defined by Him, either positively or negatively. goodness, faithfulness, love, joy, truth, fellowship, power, beauty, peace, justice, righteousness, unity, authority, every good thing is defined by the part of God’s character that we define by these words. sin, perversion, deception, treachery, discord, weakness, every evil thing is defined by looking at God in negative: what He is not, how He did not make the world to be, etc. thus, when we speak of love, we should start by defining it in relation to God, rather than defining it by ourselves and holding God accountable to that definition. often our definitions are thus flawed, because we do not by nature treasure God. however, this does not mean that our definitions are meaningless, because it is also true that God has written His law and the story of eternity both generally, throughout His creation, and specifically, on our hearts.

if this is so, then it seems our understanding of God is best served by first knowing who He has revealed Himself to be (most specifically through the Bible), and then both adjusting our intuitive definitions of goodness, justice, etc., by how we find Him revealed there, and also trying to reconcile the various attributes and ways of God we find with our working knowledge of these ideals.

another clear Biblical idea is that God does all things for His glory.* in my understanding, glory is synonymous with weightiness, awesomeness, or renown. thus, God does all things to display His greatness for the fame of His name. now, if my earlier bit about God defining all things is true, then His glory or greatness is Him being Himself, as odd as that sounds. in that case, God does all things to display His character, so that He would be praised in all the earth.

it is often argued that God did not sacrifice His Son because something in us was worthy of His great love, but that He did so for the sake of His glory, that He would have a people to worship Him for all eternity, and so sent Christ to die in our place for our sins that we might praise Him forever. and this is true, but i think it’s stopping a bit short. if God’s glory is displaying who He is, then His death on the cross is not for some abstract thing called “glory”, but that we might see what true love is, because God is love – He defines it. and yes, He doesn’t love us because of us, He loves us because of His own eternal character. but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it was for love that He endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, that He might enjoy us reveling in His great love forever.

that is what makes God’s desire that we worship Him not tyrannical. it’s not begrudging praise or obligated obedience that He wants, but rather that we would find our truest and most satisfying joy in Him, which is the essence of what it is to glorify Him. we enjoy Him because He is good, and we were made to enjoy that. now some would say that a skilled dictator may convince his people to enjoy him and what he does, despite the fact that it is not truly what is good for them or what is most enjoyable. the problem with this – and one of the main reasons i started thinking more along these lines in the first place – is that this cannot apply to God, because there is no higher truth to appeal to for what is good and true and enjoyable. those who would claim that God is that sort of tyrant must believe in some higher power, some more ultimate reality, by which they could judge Him. and if there was such a power or reality, then God would cease to be God, and this higher being would be God.

hopefully that gives you some insight, either into who God is, or what truth is and how it is defined, or how i think, or simply something more to mull over. in any case, i hope you are well, that God is blessing you richly, and that you are finding more and more joy in Him, to the praise of His glorious grace.

*i know some of you at this point are probably thinking that that makes God the biggest narcissist ever. allow me to pose you a question to mull over: if God commands us to worship Him alone, which means centering ours lives around Him alone, and yet He is not God-centered, then would not God be an idolater?

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