ENTRY 1202 | NOVEMBER
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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 creationand
as we know of God from Acts 17:28in 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.
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
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:
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?
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