Confronting Our Categories – Day 20
Now let’s specifically explore what God created in the first week: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We understand what the earth is because we are familiar with it. The earth is what is most visible to us, our home. It is made up of dirt, trees, flowers, rivers and oceans. But what are “the heavens”? This is more elusive. Is the author speaking about the sky, the universe or the invisible spiritual realm? What exactly are “the heavens”?
The heavens are simply that which is beyond and superior to the earth. The Bible defines the heavens in numerous ways, but the underpinning idea is that “the heavens” are beyond the earth and largely unknowable by human power. It is that which is elusive, superior and beyond our ken.
Notice how the heavens (the realm “above”) are mentioned first. In Genesis 1:1 the Holy Spirit places the heavens before the earth. Without the heavens the earth could not exist. How could the earth live without the heat and light of the sun? How can the earth function without the moon and stars? Surely the heavens can function without the earth, but the earth is totally dependent on this greater external and exterior reality. The earth only lives because of this realm that is beyond its comprehension.
In the same way, heaven, the place where God dwells, must be first if the earth is truly going to thrive. Jesus taught, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). When the order is reversed—when the earth places itself above the heavens—then “all these things” will be taken from us. All is lost when we change God’s order. The result is nothing but destruction.
God created “the heavens and the earth” to be married together, to be one. He made them to be in harmony. In Jesus Christ we see the ultimate fulfilment of this. Jesus is completely of heaven, and simultaneously one hundred percent of earth. There is nothing sinful about the earth—it is God’s creation. Jesus’ very presence in physical flesh restored the dignity of God’s original creation. It is only as the earth exalted itself above the heavens that it lost its glory. But Jesus himself is the true witness that this original glory can be restored. Moreover, he taught us to pray for its destiny to be restored when he said, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Just as our creative works reflect what is in our heart, so God’s creation expresses who he is. He is creator of “the heavens and the earth.” He is the maker of these two paradoxical realities. We will never understand him unless we understand his paradoxical nature.
I remember when I first began my walk with the Lord. In the beginning I struggled to understand the Bible, it seemed to contradict itself. How can God be both loving and wrathful? I wrestled with this and many other questions. Then the Holy Spirit spoke a word into my spirit that gave me the key to understanding God’s Word: paradox. A paradox is a seeming contradiction, but it is actually no contradiction at all. It only seems that the two truths war against each other because of our natural minds. When we are in the Spirit all things become clear to us.
Westerners especially have difficultly understanding the Bible because we are fond of putting things into categories. For example, we say, “It is either this or that: either God is a God of love or he is a God of anger. He cannot be loving and be angry with us at the same time.” Or we may say, “God is either one or three, but he cannot be both one and three at the same time.” But who are we to put limits and categories on God? Who are we to systematise his glory? To be true theologians (students of God) we must be at home with the paradox of God.
Our God is heavenly, and at the same time, concerned about the earth. The Father is both transcendent and immanent. At one and the same time, he is far away and closer than our skin. And the person who is in Christ will be like him—heavenly as well as down to earth. The one who is heavenly minded is concerned for the earth and the person who is concerned for the earth knows they must live for heaven. The statement, “You are so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good,” is totally wrong. How amazing is our God: the Lion and the Lamb, the First and the Last; he dwells in unapproachable light, yet cloaks himself in darkness. Nothing reveals God like his creation and yet nothing conceals him like that same creation.
The greatest demonstration of God’s glory—the cross—was the greatest denial of the glory he deserves. Again, at the heart of God is paradox.
Prayer: God, you confront our categories. In our human nature we gravitate to one category or another. We try to be heavenly while neglecting the earth or we get worldly and forget the primacy of heaven. Father, we are sinful by nature and we project our thoughts onto you. Bust our categories. Show us that you are greater than our boxes––that you are the God of the heavens and the earth.