Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
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God and space

Jon Kennedy
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The most mind-blowing new thought to reach me in a long time was a declaration about God in an early essay by Jonathan Edwards that I recently read. Most people may have heard of Edwards but few seem to know much about him. He was the pastor of the Northampton Massachusetts church where the First Great Awakening in American history broke out in 1733-35. For more than a century one of his sermons, entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," was included in the most widely used reading textbook in American public schools.

But more important than his role in the Great Awakening (a revival of religious fervor which many historians believe changed the course of the United States when it was becoming a nation) and his place among the nation's best known writers because of that sermon, is that Edwards is, in the words of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "widely acknowledged to be America's most important and original philosophical theologian." He entered Yale College (now University) at age 12 and there is still a center there dedicated to the study of his thinking.

Considered a Puritan within the broader Protestant Calvinist stream of theology, much of what I've read by Edwards, like his emphasis on the anger of God (over against His love and mercy) and his insistence that mankind has no free will, leaves me mystified and cold. (And since the mainstream media almost always misrepresents it, it bears saying here that Puritianism had everything to do with purity of theological doctrine as they understood it, and hardly even touched on sexual purity.) Edwards, beyond his Puritanism, was a product of the rationalist movement of the 18th century, and his writing strikes me, and I suspect it would strike most who would try to read him in our time, as too logical: too much mind and not enough heart; he "overthought" everything and doesn't seem to "feel" enough.

But his arguments for the logical proofs for the existence of God and God's attributes are so well crafted and tight that I find his explanations fascinating and often compelling. It's from this part of his writing that my thinking was recently given a good shaking, and I expect it's this part of his output that keeps him in high regard in academic circles as one of America's best philosophers ever.

So with this introduction, here's the passage from a short treatise (entitled "Of Being") that Edwards wrote when he may have been as young as 13, that recently "blew my mind":

. . . it is indeed clear to me that all the space there is, not proper to body, all the space there is without the bounds of the creation, all the space there was before the creation, is God Himself.

In other words, God is space. Space is God. Considering the careful qualifications Edwards put on that declaration, though it may seem at first it couldn't possibly be, when we think through the greater implications, how could it possibly not be?

What do we know of God? Theologians of all Christian schools say He is eternal, with no beginning and no end. He is infinite. He is all-knowing. He is everywhere at all times. He is all-powerful, the Creator of every material thing and every spiritual thing not himself (the angels). He is personal (a person) because all angelic and human beings are His creations. From the Bible, we also learn that God is love, He is light, He is a consuming fire, He is immutable (unchanging), as well as other things.

And what do we know of space? At least of the space described by Edwards, "that space that existed before the creation," we are driven to deduce that it is everywhere in all times or, more accurately and theologically, it is infinite and eternal. To have existed before creation means this space has to have always been; has no beginning and no end. In two senses, this space is invisible: First, space is not material, though it plays host to all of the matter ever created, the planets, their inhabitants and their artifacts, the planets' atmospheres and moons, the stars, comets, meteors, meteorites, space dust, dark matter, and all other heavenly matter; notwithstanding all of this content, it in itself has no substance to be seen. Second, since everything else that exists is within space, it is invisible to all the creatures that occupy it for the same reason that a dog is invisible to its fleas (if you'll pardon my flawed analogy). As the home of all creation—and as we know of God from Acts 17:28—in this space we live and move and have our being. In other words, God is His own space; everything that God has created takes up space, but God is space.

Why is this such a radical new thought? One of my early reactions was, "how could it be that if someone as influential as Jonathan Edwards could have uttered such a theologically revolutionary idea (which he never retracted, nor has he been called a heretic because of it) and not all the Christians since him not know it (whether they 'buy' it or not)?" It seems to me on the same level as Martin Luther's declaration that the Roman Catholic church had become apostate...everyone who knows anything about Luther knows that; whether or not you "buy" it, it has had historic consequences that began with the birth of Protestantism and came to a climax in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1963-68) and the reforms in Catholicism that have continued since then.

Today is the first day of advent, the 40-day fast in preparation of Christmas, the feast of the Nativity. I hope we can discuss this topic and any others coming from it for these next six weeks (I expect this will lead to discussion of the logical proofs for God in short order). Next time I'll go into some of the other reasons I consider this "mind-blowing." Meanwhile, please consider some questions it raises:

If God is space, what about Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth"? What is the difference between space and "the heaven"? What is the universe in terms of space? Do you buy Edwards' proposition? Why or why not?

What other questions does it raise to you? Please feel free to ask anything about this topic or my blogs in general. And if you're interested in a home town blog of your own, let me know.

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy