Book: The Shape of the Universe

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…

So where was God before that? I can tell you where he wasn’t. He was not in heaven.

According to bumper sticker theologians, the matter of beginnings, sometimes called “the big bang,” is settled: “God said it and, Bang! The universe!” Cute. But, if we’re not careful we will run right past the beginning without giving any thought to what came before. That there was a beginning is only part of the story in the first five words of the Bible.It comes clearer if we stop at the fourth word: In the beginning, God… More than just establishing that creation had a beginning, the first four words establish what was there at the start-even before the beginning.

It was God. Period. An infinite, eternal, conscious personality. God and nothing else.
God was there and then he made the universe. We sometimes envision God being in heaven, when in fact, he existed before heaven. He didn’t have to make a place for himself to be, he already was. He was around before he made anything. The ancient writings say, “Far below him are the heavens and the earth. He stoops to look…” We would like to be able to understand this, but I am afraid we’re sitting on the wrong side of eternity. The best we can do is rely on the Hebrew poet when he says God is “enthroned on high.” Where that is we don’t know, but logically, at least in Genesis 1, it wasn’t in heaven.

In the Bible the word, heaven gets translated several different ways. One refers to the sky closest to us where the birds fly and snowballs are thrown. Wind blows through this heaven, and clouds. We could call this, “the first heaven” or “heaven #1.” So, is there a second heaven? Some scholars suggest that the King James word “firmament” may describe the sky that is out of our reach where hang the sun, moon and stars (higher than you can throw a snowball). They suggest that this could amount to a “second heaven” in the ancient writer’s thinking. That would explain the Apostle Paul talking about being caught up to a “third heaven” in his letter to the church in Corinth. It is clear from his writing that he expects the Corinthians to understand that being in the “third heaven” meant he had seen into an eternal realm and not the world we live in, namely the sense-world with sights, sounds, smells and touch. When Paul spoke of the third heaven he was talking about another dimension. In the Old Testament the term “highest heaven” is used to describe that same thing.

This brings us back to Genesis one. God created “the heavens” and “the earth.” The latter was a dimension of time and space, but at least one of the former, one of the heavens, was something different. That means that the universe is made in at least two dimensions: one wrapped up in time and the other infinite and eternal. This is consistent with all those tales of unseen worlds and the supernatural. It is also very important because the whole narrative of Judeo-Christian thought hinges on this reality. If we get tangled up in the hands of the clock and burdened by the weight of the tangible world we will miss the destiny of creation. Paul, in a different letter written to the Christ-followers in the city of Ephesus, explained what God intended for his creation. He put it this way-the important part is in italics: “At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ-everything in heaven and on earth.”

Here both dimensions are mentioned. God’s plan is to somehow bring them together. That shouldn’t be a big surprise; after all, the Bible frequently speaks of God’s authority in heaven and earth making it clear that he has a stake in both. Even so, we don’t think about heaven very often except as an ultimate destination, as though it will be important one day, but right now it isn’t of much use. I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves about that. Unlike Paul, we haven’t had much experience with that other dimension. Still, if God intends to bring everything in heaven and earth together, then the eternal dimension must be relevant to us-and not just in some far off future.

Here’s why: we are not alone-as a race, I mean. Jump ahead in Genesis to the second chapter and that becomes clear. I’ve been using the New Living Translation, but here I’ll use the New American Standard, not just because it’s my favorite, but also because it captures the meaning of the verse better. Here’s what it says: Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. I have italicized the last part because it tells us something very important. The word “hosts” usually means people or armies so the verse says that there are not just people on earth, but also people in heaven, not time-and-space people like us, but created beings nonetheless, each with a mind, will, even emotions. There, in the eternal dimension, is a race of “eternal ones.” From our perspective we call them “supernatural beings.” The Bible calls them angels, holy ones, mighty ones, morning stars, elohim, and sons of God. They live, as it were, in a parallel universe.

It probably needs to be said that there are some who aren’t convinced that the word “hosts” is talking about angels. They suggest that it could be referring to a host of stars and observable heavenly phenomena. I suppose that could be, but in context it is hard to imagine that in heaven we have stars-the word literally means “armies” remember-and only on earth do we have people. That is unless the whole subject of angels just makes us nervous, which would be what’s called an a priori assumption: letting our biases determine our conclusions. Such a conclusion seems unnecessary when you consider how many times the Bible mentions heaven having inhabitants or uses stars as an analogy for angels.

Consider Psalm 29:1. “Give honor to the Lord, you angels; give honor to the Lord for his glory and strength.” Or Psalm 89:7 where it says, “The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God. He is far more awesome than those who stand around his throne.” There are other passages, too, but the bottom line is that there are eternal beings in the eternal dimension. Creatures who are indigenous to eternity, with peculiar qualities suited to that environment.

Now, here’s the question: So what? Do they have anything to do with us? I wouldn’t be surprised.




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