See-Through?

Michael Metzger

What is the difference between sight and blepo?

In one sense, there is no difference. Both words mean the same thing. However, most readers see through “sight” but only to “blepo.” C.S. Lewis believed the Christian faith is meaningful not only because of what we see in scripture but through scripture. This is why he would suggest that the modern idea of “going deep” actually limits faith.

C.S. Lewis’ faith was based on Christianity’s capacity to explain reality. It was a widescreen faith. “I believe Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”1 This isn’t novel, as Louise Cowan, University of Dallas Professor of English, also defines faith as “a widening of the imagination.”2 When Mary learned of her pregnancy, she asked the angel How can this be? Her faith in God shaken, Mary was asking the angel to widen her imagination.

Individuals don’t abandon the faith because of what the Bible says but because they cannot see how it explains reality. In the 19th century, a host of influential individuals left the faith, including Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Darwin, and John Muir. Most were familiar with the faith; several had theological degrees. In the case of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., he left the faith after witnessing the carnage of the Civil War. Scripture no longer made sense of what seemed senseless to Holmes. He could go deep into scripture but could not make sense of reality through scripture.

This is why C.S. Lewis might have had doubts about today’s call to “going deep.” He had a different take. Lewis first used the phrase “deep church” in a letter to The Times in 1952. He was urging the Catholic and Evangelical wings of the Church of England to make common cause against the pretensions of the Enlightenment—a movement viewing maturity as drilling deep for information. But Lewis, as well as Albert Einstein, believed imagination is more important than knowledge. Imagination comes from going wide, since Lewis understood the gospel as a four-chapter story of creation-fall-redemption-restoration. It is meaningful when it routinely explains the expanse of reality, or as Lewis put, when this story is “a part of the habitual furniture of our minds.”3 When businesspeople see through the Bible to business, faith becomes meaningful. But Lewis believed this deep knowledge comes from reading across the span of scripture and the four-chapter story, not simply by “going deep.”

This is why Lewis wrote fantasy literature, such as his space trilogy. The first volume, Out of the Silent Planet, takes place on Mars, where a young man named Ransom learns that Planet Earth fell long ago. The second volume, Perelandra, takes place on Venus, (called Perelandra). Ransom is brought there by the powers he met on Mars. He finds himself in a re-telling of the story of the Garden of Eden. Humanity had not fallen yet, but here again the Beast (a physicist not a snake) tries to tempt Eve (the Green Lady) into breaking the only taboo set by God. The taboo here is not avoiding a certain fruit but rather never staying after sundown on the only solid island on the planet.

If this sounds wild, try widening the faith. In the story of creation-fall-redemption-restoration, the last chapter is restoration of “all things” (Col.1:20) in the “new heavens and new earth” (II Pet.3:13). Going deep, many believers miss “heavens,” a plural noun. Scripture says there are many, perhaps countless, heavens. The “first heaven” is here on earth, the atmosphere or air that surrounds your body, writes Dallas Willard.4 This is another way of saying the “first universe” or the environment most immediate to you. We know Paul was “taken up to the third heaven” (I Cor.12:2), so a second and third heaven must exist. There might be countless heavens.

The most immediate environment, the “first heaven,” includes the cities where we live and do business. Cities are part of what constitutes “the heavens,” meaning cities are in the second, third, and perhaps even countless heavens. Since reality can only be arranged in a finite number of configurations, cities operate in an identical, parallel way—creation-fall-redemption-restoration. In other words, scripture suggests that creation is being played out in cities in countless, identical universes.

This is not as wild as it seems. Jesus promised to put his faithful followers in charge of many cities in eternity (Luke 19:17-9). Many believers imagine these cities only being planted on Planet Earth. What if they are also spread throughout the new heavens? What if his followers rule these cities because creation is being played out there?

In Perelandra, Lewis imagines the possibility of identical, parallel universes. He recasts why the human race fell. Many read Genesis and imagine Eve as being deceived in about 15 minutes. She’s easily duped by a silly seduction. But in Perelandra, Lucifer works slowly and slyly; over days, weeks, and months, much as Proverbs 25 describes how a man’s estate falls into disrepair. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest.” Perelandra widens the imagination, yielding a see-through faith explaining how seduction works. In Eve’s case, it might have required 15 years.

By reading fantasy literature as well as the Bible, faith is widened and explains the ideas put forth by Brian Greene in his new book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. Greene is Professor of Mathematics and Physics at Columbia University. He suggests that there may be countless universes in existence, some looking identical to our solar system. Greene imagines particle matter as a deck of cards. “Just as a deck of cards can be arranged in only a finite number of orders, matter can only arrange itself in a finite number of configurations. If you shuffle the deck infinitely many times, the card orderings must necessarily repeat.”

In the infinite expanse of space, Greene says it works the same way. Particle configurations have a finite number of possibilities. They must necessarily repeat. “If the particles in a given region of space the size of ours are arranged identically to how they are arranged here, then reality in that region will be identical to reality here.” A see-through faith would agree, since scripture also imagines identical, parallel universes.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is described as “seeing—blepo—what the father is doing” (Mt. 6:4, 6, 18). There is no difference between the two words. It’s just that most readers see through “sight” and make sense of the sentence. Scripture is supposed to be see-through. So is faith. Making sense of the Bible requires reading beyond the Bible and including fantasy literature, since faith is a widening of the imagination.

____________________
1 C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1980), p. 140.
2 Louise Cowan, “How Classics Address Our Imaginations” Mars Hill Audio Journal, 1998. Vol. 34.
3 C. S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1966), p. 34.
4 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1998), pp. 67-68.

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8 Comments

  1. “In the infinite expanse of space…particle configurations have a finite number of possibilities. They must necessarily repeat. “…A see-through faith would agree, since scripture also imagines identical, parallel universes.
    Huh?
    I loved the space trilogy, but it never made me think what you’re thinking. An identical parallel universe to this one? When I am 50 and I am who I am, or I might be otherwise? You have me confused. Isn’t it contradictory to say space is infinite with a finite number of configuration possibilities? The Holmes comment was the best comment to understand. Beyond that, I don’t get where you’re going.

  2. I would disagree with Greene in his belief that the expanse of space is infinite. Rather space is something that was created by the only one who is infinite. This has been made plain in the first chapter of reality, the story of creation. If space is not infinite then can there be an infinite rearranging of the particles? I don’t think so. Nor do I think there are parallel universes.

  3. I can’t say I quite grasp the first sentence, so the rest of the article is difficult to understand. Therefore this question may be way off:

    Greene’s quote:
    “If the particles in a given region of space the size of ours are arranged identically to how they are arranged here, then reality in that region will be identical to reality here.”

    really only holds if you assume particles are the only thing that exist, right?

  4. Dwight: Not necessarily. The statement does not exclude the possibility of a creator, for example.

    As I read the replies, let’s not get our balls lost in the weeds. The central point is a possible correspondence exists between scripture and Greene’s suggestion. From my limited perspective, few in the faith community see it, since their faith is somewhat limited to seeing to scripture. I rarely meet believers who see through scripture to such things as the possibility of, in Greene’s case, identical, parallel universes.

  5. But couldn’t you theoretically have identical particle arrangements but different emotions or soul-states?

    Anyway, today’s CS Lewis quote of the day seems like it might be relevant to the central point (as I think it is solidifying in my mind): “What we want is not more books about Christianity, but more books by Christians on other subjects”

  6. I don’t want to detract from Mike’s main point about faith and imagination, but I would like to add some thoughts about the new multi-universe hypothesis. I am not a scientist, but after reading numerous books about the history of science and the present science/faith debate, it seems that Brian Greene and many others today have elaborated the “multi-universe” hypothesis as a means of explaining away the fact (established by lots of peer-reviewed science) that our universe is finite, that it had a beginning and did not always exist. That our universe had a beginning indicates that there was a creator. Einstein knew this and struggled with the implications. Genesis 1 had it right all along, that there was indeed a beginning. As physicists discovered abundant evidence for the Big Bang–the birth of a previously non-existent universe–the world had to reckon with the possibility of a creator. I see many scientists today who cringe at that possibility and so look for alternate possibilities in order to not let a divine foot in the door. Hawking recently altered his position and announced that God was not necessary because millions of other universes could exist and that one of these could have given birth to ours. I don’t want to impugn Greene or any of these men with false motives, but there seems to be an underlying desire to rule out the plausibility of a creator. What’s interesting to me is that if other universes do exist, it would seem impossible to ever find scientific evidence of their existence. Yet those who believe in God are often criticized for having faith in God when his existence can’t be proven scientifically.

  7. “What’s interesting to me is that if other universes do exist, it would seem impossible to ever find scientific evidence of their existence. Yet those who believe in God are often criticized for having faith in God when his existence can’t be proven scientifically.”

    That: I get. Mike M., are you okay with that, or were you concerned about something else? Alan Guth, who coined the inflationary model of the universe, stood and told the collection of Harvard & MIT faculty I was with that he has data that suggests that an unknown kind of exotic matter increases instead of breaks-down, allowing him to posit that the universe will never go away. Another colleague in the audience pointed out that Guth’s original paper states “he was disatisfied” with present theories because he didn’t like the implications. If imagination is what really matters…

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