Archive for July, 2017

The Solar Eclipse & the Christian Understanding of God
July 31, 2017

solar-eclipse-20160_a8e16b41-5056-a36a-0a2448e42aa45d83

For the Lord God is a sun.
—Psalm 84:11

On Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America will be treated to an eclipse of the sun. Anyone within the path of totality can see one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights—a total solar eclipse. This path, where the moon will completely cover the sun, will stretch from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.

But as exciting as it will be to observe this impressive natural event, even more awesome will be the chance to experience a revelation about the greatest of eternal mysteries. The total eclipse of the sun will reveal to us what Christians believe to be the very nature of God himself.

One God

Generally we think of the sun as a single thing. It is the bright daytime object in the sky at the center of our solar system. Earth does not have two suns; it revolves around one, solitary star. There may be many stars out there, but for us there is and has always been only one sun. Now think of how God declares himself to Israel: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). Through Isaiah God is more specific: I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God (Isaiah 45:5). And in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul reiterates what is the witness of the entire body of Scripture: There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live (1 Corinthians 8:6). In the same way that there is but one single sun in our sky, there is only one true God over the universe.

The Son

Corona.SunThe most exciting thing about the eclipse is that when the moon fully obscures the sun’s central disk, we will see something we can see at no other time. We will see the ring of fire known as the corona. A corona (Latin for crown) is an aura of plasma that surrounds the sun and other stars. The Sun’s corona extends millions of miles into space but is nearly impossible to see except during a total solar eclipse when it blazes into prominence. Now here’s the interesting thing: the corona is a distinct aspect of the sun. It is neither the vast body of the sun nor its surface but rather its flaming atmosphere. The spherical body of the sun and the corona are not the same thing. The corona is the incandescence of the body’s separate, energetic reactions. The corona exists not on its own but because of those reactions, and so it is reasonable to say that the source of the corona is “greater” or more fundamental than the corona itself. And yet the corona is every bit as much the sun as the body is. The sun’s corona has alway coexisted with the body; there has never been a time when the sun did not have a corona. More significant from our perspective is that the corona is the only thing we actually see of the sun. But when the moon covers the sun’s disk, we discover that it is also a distinct aspect of that very same sun which it essentially is.

All this can help us approach some of the most enigmatic verses of the Bible. At the very beginning of his gospel, John, in speaking of Jesus Christ as the divine Word, writes: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (1:1). The verse’s conceptual paradox, that the Word is both with God and is God, seems now less of a paradox. So, too, we recognize the essential coherence of Jesus as he says both “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Even more arresting is the claim found in Hebrews: The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3). And perhaps now we can entertain Paul’s logic-obliterating claim in Colossians: The Son is the image of the invisible God (1:15). What are we to make of all of this other than that Jesus is the living “corona” of God! Crown him with many crowns!

The Spirit

hot-sun-copyOn August 21, something else will happen when the moon passes in front of the sun. Not only will it get preternaturally dark, folks will notice a brief but decided drop in temperature. That’s because the moon will block the sun’s radiant energy that we experience as heat. We don’t “see” the sun’s heat, but we feel it (or its absence). This heat proceeds forth from the sun and its corona—it’s the sun that we feel—but it is neither the body of the sun nor its corona, both of which are some 93 million miles distant. Yet that distant sun is literally present with us in the form of light and heat. Even our ability to see the corona is the result of the light that actually strikes our retinas here on earth, and the warmth we love and depend on is the local manifestation of the sun’s mighty power. If it weren’t for this manifest extension of the distant sun, we would not be able to perceive it at all. (We’d also be dead.) So the sun’s body and corona are made known to us by this vital emanation that is not the body or corona of the sun but is their visceral presence.

Think now of what Scripture tells us of the Spirit of God. Jesus tells his disciples, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” (John 15:26). Note that the Spirit proceeds forth from the Father. Jesus presents the Spirit as distinct from his Father and himself, but he also equates the Spirit with his own presence, telling his disciples that both he and his Father “will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23). For the New Testament writers the Spirit of God is the very presence of the Father and Son. Paul makes this identification complete when he writes, Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). The Spirit is the realized presence of the Father and Son whose emanation he is.

The Christian God

I have purposefully avoided the word Trinity in this discussion because I don’t like it at all. The word was invented by theologians who were trying to articulate the nature of God as it unfolds in the Bible. It simply means “three-one” and in itself is harmless enough, I suppose. The big issue with it is that it forces us to ask “Three what?” and herein lies the problem. Answering this question leads to all kinds of really esoteric and, if I may be so bold, stupid speculations. First of all, there is no “three-ness” to God at all. Both the Father and Son categorically affirm that God is one just like there is only one sun in our sky no matter what we say about it. And yet the Scriptures are head-bangingly clear that Jesus and the Spirit are also that one and the same God.

So just what will the eclipse reveal about the nature of God? I think Saint Augustine gets it right:

There is one God.
The Father is God.
The Son is God.
The Spirit is God.
The Father is not the Son.
The Son is not the Spirit.
The Spirit is not the Father.

So if you’re one of the privileged folks (like me) who will be along the path of totality, get yourself a pair of safety glasses and on August 21 look up. Experience first hand the revery of the Psalmist who 3000 years ago cried out in ecstasy:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
—Psalm 19:1

hunger-thirst

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