Bearers of God's Vision

From the November 5, 1982 issue
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In the Beginning God created the Heaven and the earth.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

 

IN THE BEGINNING was the Word, with God, and the Spirit was in the beginning, all three aspects of our Trinitarian God.

The same Word was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.

So you, and I, all of us, are made by God; we do not make ourselves. We are creatures, created. And yet the marvelous thing which comes to me as I read and reread Scripture is that we are meant to be co-creators with God-bearers of God's vision.

If we are to bear God's vision we also bear a wound, for no one can be touched by God and ever be the same again. As dawn came, after Jacob had wrestled with the angel all night, the angel smote him on the thigh, and forever after he limped, and could be recognized by his limp. If we are, even in the smallest way, to bear God's vision, we must be wounded, and be recognized by our wound. For the very early Christians the wound was Love; it was said, How those Christians love one another! They could be recognized by their love. Perhaps that needs to be said of us once more: it cannot be said that we can be recognized by our love as long as any one denomination thinks it has more of the truth, is more blessed by God, or bears more of his vision. And perhaps this is the most important way we can be co-creators with God, the most important way we can bear his vision-being recognized by our love for each other, through him, despite all our radical and sometimes hilarious divergences of opinion. And thank God for these! We do not want to be a bunch of pallid Christians, blowing neither hot nor cold, and all thinking exactly the same way. Creation is not placid, it is active and joyous, and we should hope to be recognized, too, by that joy.

So here I am, fragmented, broken, hoping to be made whole by the power of the Spirit, never by my own power. And I think once again of that marvelous beginning of Creation of God's vision.

God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And the light shines in the darkness.
And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light day, and the darkness he called night, and the evening and the morning were the first day.

In the beginning the light and the dark danced together; they comprehended each other, they  knew each other; they  bore God's vision, and it was good; it was very good.

God created. God made.

Night. And day. Water. Galaxies and suns and planets and moons.

Water. Fish and sea animals and sea birds.

And God made land, and land animals, every kind of living creature, ants and auks and aardvarks, dromedaries and dragons and dinosaurs.

And God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let us make man in our image.

Our image, said the Trinitarian God, the Creator, the Maker. Let us make man in our image.’

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created him, male and female.

Male and female to make the image of God—not a singleton, not an independent entity, not one—how could one be our image? Our image, said God, not my image, our image, male and female.

God made man in his own image, male and female, to be co-creators with him, to be free. But freedom and independence are not, as we have so often assumed, the same thing.

"God promised to make you free," said Dean Inge of St. Paul's. "He never promised to make you independent."

So we are free, and interdependent, one upon the other, in order to be our own small part in the image of God, to be co-creators, vision bearers.

In the beginning, night and day (female and male in Greek mythology) still understood each other. And male and female still understood each other. It takes two to make the image of God, to make love, to make friends, to make community—community, which was the foretaste of what was, in the beginning, and what will be, in the end, after the eschaton, when night and day and all of us will know each other again in the coming of the kingdom.

 

FROM NOTHINGNESS, without form and void, God created. How wonderful that there should be something and not nothing! How marvelous that there is, rather than that there is not.

It is sometimes hard for us to remember that before the beginning, there was nothing, and this means that there was no time. Time was created with all the rest of it; time is one of God's creatures, and like all God's creatures, time had a beginning and time will have an end. That eternity which we are promised, and the vision which we are called to share, is not a time concept at all. Since we are born in time and will die in time, it is almost impossible for us to conceive of something which has nothing to do with time. Astrophysicists see time very differently than they did only a few decades ago. Time is not a never ending stream, as the old hymn has it; like everything created, it will have an end, in that great ending which we call the Second Coming, which will usher in a new beginning which is far beyond our finite comprehension.

We live in chronology. Chronological time is variable. How long is a toothache? How long is a wonderful time? And time, chronological time on this particular planet, does not work out neatly; we try to manage with leap years, but even that does not work out mathematically satisfactorily, because the movement of the earth around the sun does not divide out evenly, so every few thousand years all of the astrophycisists everywhere have to reset all their clocks.

We must, while we are in time, learn to live with it, to collaborate with it, to co-create with it in hoping to bear God's vision. One of Shakespeare's saddest lines comes when Richard II says, "I wasted time, and now does time waste me.'' Lewis Carroll's Alice refers to time as it, and is chided by the Mad Hatter, "If you knew time as well as I do, you wouldn't say it; it's him; I quarreled with him last March, and ever since then he won't do anything I ask him to do."

This is theologically very sound. I think we all have days when we all work well with time, and a great deal is accomplished. There are other days when we are equally diligent, and nothing seems to get done at all.

The Greeks, as usual, had two words for our one: chronos, ordinary, daily time, clock time; and kairos, God's time, which partakes of eternity, and of which we are given occasional glimpses during our life's journey—just enough to understand that part of the vision is beyond time and space.

 

IF WE ARE to bear God's vision we must not be afraid. We must not be afraid to ask questions, to examine new evidence, to be willing to change our minds when that seems to be what God is calling us to do. Abraham and Sarah did not want to leave home and go out in the wilderness, long past retirement and childbearing age.  Moses, too, was a reluctant prophet, middle-aged, and with a stutter. The amazing thing is that God does not call qualified people to be bearers of his vision. In a sense we are all unqualified; but if we examine Scripture carefully, it seems that God has always taken great pains to choose the most unqualified. And of course there's a message in this: if we think we're qualified, and we manage to do something good, we might be inclined to think we did it ourselves, and to take credit for it. If we know we are unqualified, then we know that whatever it was-building an ark, crossing the Red Sea-we have not done it by ourselves; we have accomplished God's purpose only hand in hand with him, never by ourselves, by our own moral virtue and superior powers alone. Whatever is good, is always God's. Our role is to witness, to co-create, to worship, to cry Alleluia.

People have frequently said to me with considerable surprise, "You seem to feel no conflict between science and religion."

How could there be conflict?

Anything science can discover can only show us more of the glory of the nature of creation and thereby of the Creator. Fred Hoyle in Science and Society in Modern Times, writes, "I know of no deep breakthrough in understanding of physical laws that has sprung from a technological need. Deep breakthroughs spring from the religious motive of investigating the world in which  we are so astoundingly living.''

Galileo's discoveries did nothing whatsoever to alter the nature of God; they altered only what the church establishment of that time had decided was the nature of God.

In a more ticklish area, Darwin and all the radical changes implied by his theory of evolution did nothing whatsoever to change the nature of God. They changed only what the nineteenth century had decided was the nature of God.

But we're at it again, hammer and tongs, creationism vs. evolution; and the problem is that we are arguing about the wrong thing. In a world which is becoming increasingly more and more secular, isn't it a bit absurd to be so bitter about how God created? Isn't the important thing the amazing fact that God created? That the Universe was born of Love, rather than having come into existence through a random accident? That is worth arguing about. I stake my life on God's being the Creator, the loving creator who cares about every atom of creation. How he did it is far less important. As far as science can tell now, evolution seems the likeliest way, nor is it in any way in contradiction to Scripture; but if new studies should prove that evolution is not how it all happened, that won't do anything to change the nature of God, either. He creates as he chooses, not as we choose. When Moses asks God his name, and he replies, "I am that I am," a more accurate translation would be, "I will be what I will be."

Creation still continues, lavishly, and we are part of it, co-creators; that is the vision we are to share. And if it does not fill us with radiance, nothing we say or teach is going to make the slightest difference. People—children, especially—hear who we are, rather than what we say, and if we do not bear God's wound of love, are not aflame with his light, they are going to know it, no matter how pious our words.

 

FOR ME, one of the extraordinary things about those first passages in the Book of Genesis is that Creation is in the order of what science calls evolution. What matter if, in the language of great poetry, a few billennia are the first day, and a few more the second? The amazing thing, the glorious thing, is that there was nothing, there was darkness, without form and void, and the spirit brooding, brooding, and then there was something. God created—and here we are!

Here we are, and God does not expect us to understand him, but he does expect us to enjoy him and glorify him forever and not to be afraid to ask questions. Surely my high school Sunday-school classes have led me to far many more questions than answers, and yet these questions have been creative ones, opening for me more of the glory of creation and the Creator.

When our youngest child was seven- or eight-years-old we were sitting in the kitchen drinking tea, and he and his father got into a heated argument about ice hockey. Bion said in an exasperated tone of voice, "But Daddy, you just don't understand." And his father replied calmly and rationally, "It isn't that I don't understand, Bion, I just don't agree with you." To which Bion replied heatedly, "If you don't agree with me, you don't understand me." How often we all feel that way—but it takes a child to admit it.

As Bertrand Russell once said, "Zeal is a bad mark for a cause. Nobody has any zeal  about arithmetic. It is not the vaccinationists but the anti-vaccinationists who generate zeal. People are zealous for a cause when they are not quite positive it is true." (How zealous the medical establishment was when Semmelweis suggested that doctors leaving the dissection of a cadaver to go deliver a woman in labor should first of all wash their hands. Far fewer women might have died of septicemia after childbirth if Semmelweis had been listened to, rather than his zealous opponents.)

I have learned that when I am most defensive about something, arguing most passionately that I am right, it is time for me to step back and examine whatever it is I am trying to prove. When I am refusing to listen to anyone else, defending some position of other, then I am incapable of being a co­creator with God.

I am grateful to my high school Sunday-school students, to my children, and now to my grandchildren, for never allowing me to rest smugly on an answer, but to push me on to creative questioning. It is a difficult voyage, this mortal journey, but never dull. Our night doorman once remarked, as he let me into the building, "It's a short walk from the womb to the tomb.'' True. But during that short walk we are given glimpses of eternity, and eternity was, before time began, and will be, after time ends.

Not long ago I took the dogs out on a clear night and watched them romp over the snowy field, chasing last summer's butterflies. And as I looked up at the incredible daisy-filled skyfull of stars, I saw the nearest star, which is three light years away, and stars which are thirty light years away, and three hundred, and three thousand, and three million and…there standing in one lovely part of God's space, I saw the furthest reaches of time.

We need to take more seriously our collaboration with time. If we waste time, we will be trapped in chronology, and if we are to be fully human, for ourselves, for each other, for those we teach, we must live in eternity as well as time, and about that we must have great enthusiasm. For enthusiasm is very different from zeal. Zeal puts us in charge. Enthusiasm means, literally, filled with God—en-theo—and that is how we are if we are willing to live fully in chronology, while touching kairos , that incomprehensible glory which was, before Creation, and will be at the coming of the kingdom.

Scripture helps us by constantly breaking through chronos into kairos. All those hundreds of years before Christ, Job cried out of the intensity of his pain and grief an incredible affirmation; I know that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the last day, and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself, and whom my eyes shall behold.

That is what matters, that affirmation. Anything else is really a matter of indifference. It is indeed presumptuous to argue about how God creates, or even why he has created us recalcitrant, quarrelsome creatures. The joy is that he has; we are; we are part of God's isness, and this is what we must show forth. God's time is always now, and in this eternal now our redeemer lives, and with him we are called upon, with enthusiasm, to be co-creators, and thus, bearers of God's vision.

MADELEINE L'ENGLE, author, lecturer, and recipient of numerous literary awards, has published over two dozen books including A Wrinkle in Time, A Ring of Endless Light, and, most recently, The Sphinx at Dawn (Seabury).

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