Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the World XIV

Seeing GodAugustine concludes his massive City of God with a discussion of those wonderful biblical promises that we will see God: 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.' Although our knowledge of God is presently like looking through a dim mirror,* in the resurrection it will have the clarity and certainty of knowing 'face to face'. But how can we see God? God is invisible. Could it be that we will 'see' God in the same way that we can 'see' that two and two are four? Perhaps, but Augustine doesn't think this is adequate, especially since last time God showed himself, he looked more like a Galilean peasant than a mathematical equation.
*First century mirrors were polished metal, and thus only gave a dim and somewhat hazy image.

That God raised Jesus from the dead means that God thinks bodies are important. He made a good world, and Jesus resurrection is the firstfruits of its redemption. It is not simply a disembodied soul that God is interested in, but our full corporeal and corporate life. Indeed, Augustine links these two - having a body means being part of a body. When the physical body of Christ rose, it was also a sign that the community known as the body of Christ is also to be redeemed. Salvation is personal, but not individualistic. We are saved into and for a community. Our destiny is social.

What does this have to do with seeing God? Here's how Augustine links them:

It may well be, then – indeed, this is entirely credible – that, in the world to come, we shall see the bodily forms of the new heaven and the new earth in such a way as to perceive God with total clarity and distinctness, everywhere present and governing all things, both material and spiritual. In this life, we understand the invisible things of God by the things which are made, and we see Him darkly and in part, as in a glass, and by faith rather than by perceiving corporeal appearance with our bodily eyes. In the life to come, however, it may be that we shall see Him by means of the bodies which we shall then wear, and wherever we shall turn our eyes. In this life, after all, as soon as we become aware of the men among whom we live, we do not merely believe that they are alive and displaying vital motion: we see it, beyond any doubt, by means of our bodies, though we are not able to see their life without their bodies. By the same token, in the world to come, wherever we shall look with the spiritual eyes of our bodies, we shall then, by means of our bodies, behold the incorporeal God ruling all things.

- Augustine, City of God 22.29.

Augustine thinks that as we look around ourselves, and particularly as we look at our redeemed community centred around the risen Christ, that through all and in all and over all we will truly see God.

Perhaps this is how we might understand Paul's comment in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says that after the resurrection, God will be all in all. I realise, as did Augustine, that this is a suggestion of how things might be, and not necessarily the only way of understanding these promises. However, to me, it draws together so many threads and makes good sense of the God who thought it was not good for the man to be alone, who speaks of his salvation as being like a city, and whose son died and rose in a body so that the body of Christ might live.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
Ten points for guessing the artist in the above pic.


David Entwistle said...

Hi Byron,

I've been following your blog for a while now and am thoroughly enjoying the series on 'heaven'. I also appreciate the hermenuetical position you defend on you blog. Very refreshing.

I thought I'd have a crack at the artist: Magritte?

byron smith said...

Thanks David (you have a cool surname, though I bet you get that all the time) - and ten points. It is indeed False Mirror by René Magritte (1928), hung in MoMA in NYC (which does allow photos, Annette!). I love Magritte's stuff.

Rachel said...

Hey Byron I don't have your email and this is unrelated to your post (so feel free to delete). Have you finished that brief on fair trade that you were working on? If not the latest (November) issue of New Internationalist has a brilliant article on fair trade and pretty much says similar things to what I said in my post a while back but a great deal more eloquently and factual. I don't think you can download the issue online yet but I am happy to lend the magazine to you (though there is a family que at present) if you want.

byron smith said...

Thanks Rach, I'd love to jump in line for the article. For future reference, you can get my email by going to my profile.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog about heaven just recently and I hope to return back to your previous posts. I will have to make time for it because i believe your insights about this is very relevant for new believers to learn in the church or in the mission field.

I'm glad that you emphasize that heaven is incomprehensible outside the context of community. And i agree.


byron smith said...

Thanks Joey, I do indeed think that our resurrection hope is communal, though as I've been saying earlier in the series, I'm not sure that I'd call the content of that hope 'heaven' (though I'm happy to use 'heaven' as a circumlocution for the agent of our hope, or the location from which our hope arrives). Hope you enjoy the rest of the series!

Annette said...

Saw an interesting 'Magritte' on the weekend: a girl eating a bird, with flesh & blood shown. other birds in the trees looking on.

byron smith said...

Where did you see it? I don't think I'm familiar with it.

Annette said...

well i think it was by Magritte, the style seemed to fit, and that was the name on the plaque, altho i can't remember 1st name. Was called "Pleasure" in K20, Düsseldorf.

byron smith said...

Yeah, here it is. Wow. Seems quite different to his other work.