A is for Accessible
This is the first in a new series, “A Divine Alphabet,” that will run through 2020 if not continuously. Each letter will be given a divine attribute.
God is accessible—and that is amazing, even awesome. Why?
You’ve heard me say it before. List all the people Frodo Baggins might talk to: Gandalf, Sam, Elrond, Pippin, and so forth. Make the list as long as you want. One person who will never be on the list is J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of the book in which Frodo is a character.
Characters do not have access to their authors. But God, our author, when he created the universe in which we live, also created “heaven,” a “place” where he could be close to “earth.”
The Bible begins: In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.
The earth, it turns out, has no form and is “void” or empty. It is just water. God creates the sky which allows the waters to separate and for empty, non-water space, “air,” to appear below the sky (which is holding up part of the waters) and above the remaining waters (the sea). In terms of the text, the sky (traditionally, the “firmament”) is not the “heaven” of that first line; the sky is somehow part of the watery earth.
That is to say, after its first sentence, Genesis proceeds to speak about the various details in the creation of the “earth,” leaving hanging and unexplained the heaven that was first mentioned.
What then is “heaven”? It is, to repeat, a “place” that is created but not part of the rest of creation. It seems to be, as the late Robert Jenson would put it, God’s “pad” where he can hang out near to us. Jesus grasped this amazing and awesome truth when he taught us how to pray. We pray to our Father “in heaven.” We can pray because God is in heaven.
In the list of people you might talk to, there is God, your author. He is available.
Some Christians miss this point. They say that until Jesus was incarnate in the womb of Mary, born in Bethlehem, taught in Judea, crucified, dead, buried, risen and ascended to his Father—until all this happened in Jesus, God, some Christians say, was not accessible. They say, Jesus made God accessible.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking does not take the Old Testament seriously enough. Throughout the Old Testament it is clear that God desires to be with his people, to be near them; consequent to that desire, God speaks to people, he draws near in angels, he inhabits his temple. And this is not something that gradually develops through the Old Testament: it is there in the very first sentence. The first thing God does is he makes “heaven.” First of all, God wants to be available.
The incarnation of Jesus takes God’s desire to its logical conclusion. Not only is God someone accessible to us—an author that we, his characters, can talk to. But more: in the incarnation the author himself has become a character. God became someone people could shake hands with, someone whose feet they might kiss—or drive a nail into.
In the divine alphabet, A is for Accessible.
What Theologians Read. There’s a fascinating essay on The Way the Universe Really Is in the Times Literary Supplement, on some recent books on the mysteries of modern physics. I love this stuff, and I marvel how anyone could balk at theology being difficult compared to this!
Out & About. I am to preach at the contemporary services at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas, on Sunday, January 19: 9 and 11:15 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The Good Books & Good Talk seminar will discuss A Canticle for Liebowitz on Sunday, January 26, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Incarnation. Anyone who reads the book is welcome to the conversation.
My sermon, “‘Rejoice always.’ Really?” can be found here.