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May 09 2012

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On God’s art and the Last Day

We say we are “in the image of God.” What does that mean? By this notion we have differentiated ourselves for millennia from the rest of Creation—yet we all are Creation, the pope and the sparrow. So what does it mean? Certainly not that we look like He does, for we look different from each other. Certainly not that we rule like He does, for we rule often badly.

Could it mean our capacity for creation?

God created the world, and its wondrous splendor reflects and contains some of His wonder and splendor, some of His very nature, of which it is an expression. Yet it is simpler and less perfect than its Creator. This is familiar to us in every making and performance of art—a drive in humans as old as humanity itself, since the first foot hit the ground to the beat of the first stick against a stone, since the first elaborate branch was broken off just so to look like an animal and passed around for the approval of the clan.

We are artists, we humans—creators by nature. Technology, music, or architecture, we cannot ever fully explain why we are doing it. We do because we must, because something inside must be expressed, put out of ourselves into a distinct thing that will never be completely separate from us for we care for our creations as we do for our children. We create lesser versions of bits of our own natures, in countless ways, and care for each. In that, we are like God.

God is eternal. What does that mean? Atemporal? Omnitemporal? Paratemporal? Or, more likely, not linearly temporal in some way of which we are no more capable of conceiving than a sculpted runner of motion or a clay bird of flight? The art we create, as intricate and powerful as it may be, even as we learn to create continuous and interactive pieces, is lesser than we are on the temporal scale, simpler than we are, less perfect—as we (and the universe) are simpler than our Creator on the temporal scale. The most amazing art is fixed, circumscribed, has an end, and begins to deteriorate from the moment of creation. This is why it can never fully contain the life and soul of its creator—if we made a thing that, like we, would grow and blossom and develop through time, unfixed in the future or unknown, becoming fulfilled in its potential, we would not call it “art.” We would call it “birth.”

Does it not seem that the same principle would hold true on the higher level, where God is Creator, and the universe, His art?

Why did God create the world? Who can say? Who needs to say? Creator creates, does He not? Separates a bit of His own inner nature into a thing—a world—and gives it life. And it is lesser than He is, but it sparkles with His glory.

Our universe is temporal. What does that mean? It has a beginning and an end. Time began to flow at the moment God spoke His Word and created the world, the world with its laws and its course. But the Word is eternal, too—and so, perhaps, creation is continuous, begun at the first moment of time, flowing, crawling, blossoming, climbing, growing, changing, coming into being all this time—through these billions of years—to become on the Last Day that which it was intended to be by its Creator. And then time will end, the existence of this work of art—which, in its separateness from God, in order to come into being, had to become temporal and thus lesser and imperfect—its existence will be both over, in that time will be no more in the co-eternal reality of God, and complete, in that it will have become fully the expression of God’s nature and thus again one with Him, no longer separate. No longer art. It will cease to be, and it will finally be. It will become the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is difficult for a temporal creature to imagine any other existence, impossible to describe a life and consciousness that is timeless but not static, incomprehensible how it could reach into our temporal world and comprehend and stir it, baffling that each of us may be intimately a part of that eternal reality through that which we call “soul,” which we intuitively know exists but cannot locate, for we’ve been looking for something we “have” instead of something we “are.” Yet we cannot ignore the knowledge, the feeling, the strange certainties we do have about the grand order of things—intuitive, confused, revealed in ways indescribable and far too awesome for any creature to grasp.

And so we have for millennia tried to use familiar terms and imagery to explain the unexplainable—the terms and imagery of our languages, our places, our times. Our mythology and eschatology are full of thrones, eye-covered wheels, dragons, and fiery lakes. Bodies rising out of graves. Pale riders. White stones. Rivers. Trees. We must use metaphor, or we won’t be able to speak of God or the end of time at all. But we must realize, of course, that it won’t be like that. That God doesn’t sit on a fiery throne. That hell is not a burning lake. That particulate matter of the universe, having been used and reused trillions of times in different elements in creatures and objects in every corner of space, through metamorphoses of matter and energy and multiple dimensions, will not coalesce back into our bodies at some unknown stage of aging for a Judgment Day akin to ancient human courts. When time comes to an end, it will have to be more awesome than that. Indescribably awesome. And we don’t know how.

What, then, do we know? What do the scriptures, whose metaphors are contextual to the minds of their human recorders but whose deeper truths we feel somehow in the pit of our stomachs, tell us about the end of the world? That nothing will be lost. That nothing passes into nothingness. That nothing ever disappears without a trace, becomes the past without the future, dies and is done with. At that inconceivable convergence of time and non-time when temporality comes to an end and becomes eternity—the moment we call the Last Day—this whole creation, from its inception to the last second, with every life, thing, breath, move, and soul in between, will gather together like the layers of a mind-boggling onion to coalesce into the complete-now Creation and pass into the atemporal reality of God. With God. In God. To become perfect and unchanging. To will have been created. On the Last Day, every soul that’s lived will not live again but live together again. Lose its changeable quality of a temporal world and come into its rightful eternity.

It’s a while away. I don’t think we’re anywhere near ready. Do you?

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