Did I succeed in convincing you that when things move, their movements are actually somewhat jumpy and jerky, much like a moving scene illuminated by stroboscopic flashes?
You probably responded with thoughts to this effect: Well, maybe things do move discontinuously, but somewhere in every movement there’s got to be some lurking continuity. If anything that moves is actually a different thing at every moment, how is it that we keep on calling it by the same name?
Many years ago my parents registered the name of a baby that had just been born to them. That baby was me. I’m still called by the same name and I’m still the same person. I admit that my appearance has changed a good deal through the years, but I am still me. I have vivid memories of my childhood—my school days and adventures, the jobs I’ve had and the places I’ve lived. Other people also remember episodes in which I figured, and they tell about my former escapades. Through all those years every beat of my heart was a separate beat. Every breath I drew was a separate breath. But those beats and breaths were all somehow connected like beads on a string called life. They were all mine. Even though much about me is discontinuous, whatever I am is somehow continuous.
Despite the innumerable miniscule jumps and jitters that make up all movements—as indicated by Planck’s constant—the identity of what moves is somehow prolonged beyond a mere moment. Both continuity and discontinuity are definitely involved in cosmic creation time.
Things that appear to be entirely separate from each other may nevertheless be closely related to each other. A single soldier is clearly a separate individual, self-moving and self-directed when off duty. But soldiers under orders can be positioned in various formations. A military column, for example, is composed of discrete individuals, but nevertheless it can move off as though it were a supraindividual unit, moving forward, backward or sideways, or turning comers at slow or quick march until it finally comes to an abrupt halt and is dismissed. The social bonding that transforms individuals into a larger marching unicity may be invisible but it is nonetheless effective.
As an illustration of how continuity can exist in the midst of indubitable discreteness, nothing can serve much better than a coat of mail. This ingenious flexible armor protected well-to-do medieval warriors against sword slashes. It was fabricated from interlocking metal rings. If you examine it closely, you will see that each ring is interlinked with six other rings: to one on each side in the same course, to two in the course below and to another two in the course above.
Each of these rings is definitely a discrete entity, for each is circular. None of the circles however is perfect. Each has its own peculiar set of wobbles and dints. On any particular occasion the plane of each circle in the fabric will adopt a distinctive tilt which reflects both its own structure and the lay of adjacent rings. Thus each ring, though discrete, makes an identifiable contribution to the lay of all the others either by contacting adjoining rings, or by leaving them free to move under other influences.
The six rings which immediately surround any given ring in chain mail are themselves linked together as a closed-circle chain. Each ring in one of these six-ring circular chains is linked to the ring before it and to the one after it. Through the ring in the center, each has a double linkage to the other rings in that chain. Moreover, each ring in that chain is linked also to three rings of a larger circular chain that completely surrounds the smaller, six-ringed one. Thus around each link, concentric circles of linkages spread wider and wider, intersecting with other circles with centers elsewhere.
This remarkable organization of the discrete components of chain mail establishes possible connections between each individual ring and every other throughout the entire fabric. Through the many possible pathways of mutually restraining rings, information about strains or relaxations in any one part of the coat of mail can be communicated uninterruptedly to any other part. Through intermediate connecting links, communicational continuity thus can be established between units that are actually distant and discrete.
Pass it on
The temporal process clearly consists of series of discrete “energy transactions.” If time is actually disjoined stepwise, the temporal process should be utterly devoid of continuity. But not so. Continuity in the process is easy to observe. The shape of the world as we know it today seems to depend largely upon events that took place yesterday and the days before that. What we shall be able to do tomorrow will depend largely upon the preparations we make today. How shall we then account for this linkage between successive Now-states of the universe?
The total amount of energy involved in any one of the momentary states of the universe is presumably the same as the amount in any other. Change is therefore not purely a matter of the total energy flow, but rather one of differentiation and differences within the flow. The “where?” and “in what directions?”—questions associated with the forms of things—must not be neglected. As time goes on, the forms of things do change both locally and across the face of the whole universe. The new forms are usually variations of forms that existed just previously. The continuity which is embodied in the timedependent development of the universe is clearly a matter of the forward transfer of information from past states of the world to each newest state.
But if the past states have all ceased to exist by the time the latest one takes over, how is the gap between past and present ever bridged to produce some continuity between them? How is information about what has already passed away nevertheless preserved and brought forward in time? People who take it for granted that time moves in a continuous flow seldom ask searching questions about something so commonplace as “change.” But if time actually does proceed by separate steps we have to take a closer look at change. To say that something has changed means that its form at some previous time is still somehow knowable, that that past form has been compared with the thing’s present form, and that the two forms have been adjudged to be noticeably different from each other. The notion of perceived change thus involves observation, recording and recollecting, as well as a comparing and a final assessment which declares: “unchanged” or “changed.” None of these activities throws any light on how information could cross the gulf between a past-and-gone state of something to participate in its present—though altered—state. Yet all of these functions depend on the accomplishment of that very feat.
The root meaning of the Latin word transcendere was “to climb across.” Historically, however, “transcendent” has been used to signify the source out of which our world derives its existence—a realm altogether independent, prior and incommensurable. Since God’s kind of being has been considered to be “above” or “beyond” all ordinary categories and possible experiences, God the Creator has commonly been designated “transcendent.”
I think that the time has come to restore the original meaning of “transcendent” with respect to God. He is the one—the only one— whose being “climbs across” all the abysses that separate the successive Now-states of cosmic creation time. He has been creating this universe throughout the inconceivable ages from the beginning until now. The Creator must possess an underived, unbroken “metaduration” which runs “parallel to” the space-time of the universe, always pervading it, but always beyond it.
The only direct connection between one Now-state and the next runs through the continuity of the everlasting God. By him and through him the information which he possesses about everything that ever was can be forwarded over the otherwise uncrossable chasms of nothingness that gape between the successive pulses of the creation process.
The quantic events in a particular Now-state cannot impart information directly to the quantic events which make up the Now-state immediately following. Since the swiftest signals that convey information always require time to travel from one place or time to another, all communication between existing events and distant or later events must pass through God as he creates time.
In the uninterrupted duration of the Creator lies the secret of the world’s evident continuity through time. Here too is the explanation of the continuing influence of past events upon future developments.
God’s function as the mediating linkage between the universe’s discrete but successive Now-states bears a certain analogy to the way intermediate linkage makes communication possible between distant regions of chain mail.
The routing of all communication through God must not be construed so as to remove from each quantic event its inalienable freedom to assume its own particular individuality. Not only does each quantic event have its own special place in its Now-state—God gives it an appropriate task. He presents to it a roster of information from past quantic events, and to this it is expected to react, ft must adopt some attitude, direct its attention, evince some inclination. Any information can be read in several ways, depending on which features are selected to be given predominance. The information which God presents to a quantic event may be very local and limited, but it nevertheless leaves room for decision. The information a new quantic event has inherited from those past may place constraints upon it, but within the prescribed range it can still choose freely, adopting its own interpretation, expressing its preference, reacting both selectively and creatively to take up its stance.
Before the information which a quantic event inherits from its predecessors is passed on to its successors, a great deal can happen to it. Although it can be preserved intact as received, it can also be transformed in many ways: distorted, fused, divided, augmented, diminished, destroyed or ignored. Exactly what information will emerge from such a quantic reworking will depend entirely upon the particular situation, state, tendencies and affinities of the events involved. Particle physicists are baffled when they try to make sense of the unpredictable behavior of particles it deep levels. They appear to be free to explore any pathways for motion which are open to them.
Once a choice of stance has been made, it will be reflected in the informational constraints which will in the future be laid upon certain quantic events of the next generation—the next Now-state. The character of each quantic response holds a potential for enormously differing consequences.
As snowflakes fall on mountain slopes, their weight exerts pressure on flakes already fallen. Eventually some flake’s fragile structure may collapse, throwing additional strain upon adjacent flakes which in turn may also break down. Such small events can turn a mass of snow poised over a valley into a devastating avalanche. A tiny spark can set off an enormous explosion. One infinitesimal quantic alteration may upset some delicate balance. An obscure quantic shudder may touch off a whole new course of development for the whole system.
When all of the quantic events in a given Now-state have had their chance to deal with the information which they have inherited, the resulting information with all its mini-microchanges is picked up once more by God. It must be recorded, as well as selectively edited in accordance with God’s own character and purposes, before it is passed on to the quantic events in the next Now-state. That momentary presentation in that Now-state will bring forth a fresh crop of locally revised information, which then will be taken by God for reprocessing as before, prior to retransmission.
The whole sequence reminds me a little of what happens in a city with an underground railway. From the street you notice that pedestrians sporadically disappear through a certain en trance way. From that portal from time to time a stream of people also pours out. Individuals head off in different directions, changing the mix of the district’s population and its tempo of business. Blocks farther along the street at a somewhat similar doorway a similar outpouring of people periodically occurs and the scene there also changes accordingly. This unpredictable kind of change experienced at that level is a bit of a mystery. What you can’t see from the street is the subway train and the way the passenger population in its cars changes at every stop. If you knew exactly what is happening on the underground level, you would be better able to understand the local changes at street level.
God is somewhat like one of those plants whose extending underground stems every so often send up a new shoot into the light of day. Each new shoot flourishes as if it were an independent plant grown from a separate seed. Above the ground no connection is visible between any two of them. Below the surface, however, they are actually connected and largely fed by the underground stem from which they sprang. Similarly it is through God that individual Now-states of the universe are connected in orderly succession.
Out of the uninterrupted duration, memory, purpose and creative power of God the world’s obvious continuity appears, attended at each moment by emerging novelty and change. The receding past and the ever-new present are connected by the Creator as he brings forward information processed by past generations to be transformed by the quantic inhabitants of the newest Now.
With the understanding that has just been outlined, the ancient continuity/discontinuity paradox can be resolved. Discontinuity arises in the world because of the intermittency of God’s separate acts of creation. Its continuity lies not only in the Creator’s uninterrupted duration but also in his gracious preservation and subsequent use of the information provided by his previous quantic creatures.
Because he wants to
Everybody wants to have a better future. Purposefully we make our plans, laying out what we intend to do with our days to come. But do we know for certain that there will be any future? So far there has always been a new day. Age after age, when a state of affairs then present departed into the past a new state immediately took its place. Nevertheless that historical record cannot prove that forever and ever a new Now must inevitably appear when the present moment makes its exit.
Because no one can demonstrate convincingly that time must forever march on and on, from time immemorial most people have believed that the world’s continued existence depends entirely upon the temporary good pleasure and will of God.
The principal concepts of Newtonian physics, however, gradually convinced more and more people that this solid world could never come to an end. Throughout all action, “mass” was believed to be conserved. Motion would never cease because the mysterious “momentum” in each moving body never disappears. It simply passes over to whatever interferes with that body’s motion. Although interference can change the “direction” in which something is moving, if the momentum and direction of two interacting bodies is known, the outcome will always be entirely predictable.
Thus the cardinal principles of “mechanical causality” seemed capable of guaranteeing that a specific future is sure to come to pass. Moreover they were held to explain why all states of the world had been what they were. “Nature” could now be understood without any reference or deference to spirits, gods or humans. The “laws” of this new faith were accepted with a serene sense of certainty comparable to that traditional confidence which has been associated with the “eternal truths” of mathematics. Today’s physicists see a world which seems radically different from the worldview which was in vogue during the last century. The solidity of matter has now dissolved into whirls and flips, jiggles and tendencies in a great Void. The world’s endowment of energy apparently came from an unexplainable, unknowable “Big Bang.” Even if that energy is conserved, it seems doomed to disperse into a final state of frigid impotence. Then there will be no tomorrow.
The old majestic continuous flow of energy is now understood to consist of a tumble of tiny packets of action. The authority of mechanical causality apparently does not extend to the realm of subatomic particles. Momentum may change suddenly without apparent cause. Though any difference between the conditions of two subatomic interactions may be quite indiscernible, their outcomes may be quite different. Energy is radiated from excited particles at unpredictable times. Pairs of particles may appear without observable antecedents and disappear with a flash. Even between “regular” developments, the connections must be spoken of somewhat loosely in terms of statistical probability. The uncertainty of a probable future feels like a poor wobbly echo of that absolute certainty people had when they believed in the omnipotence of rigorous causal necessity.
Newtonian physics was credible only when “mind” was excluded from its field. The ability of mechanical causality to predict the future ceases at the inscrutable castle door of the human mind. Within its impregnable fortress the mind—whatever that is—is free to imagine, to select and configure data according to fancy. The mysteries of self-initiated activity, selective attention, creative interpretation and preferential decision are beyond the explanatory capabilities of mechanical causality. Today’s physicists know that it is impossible for physics to succeed without taking physicist observers into account. Some are even speculating about the existence and influence of inorganic initiatives and freedoms.
Particle physics has revealed an underworld of small-scale random collisions and haphazard deflections. It is difficult to explain how this chaotic scene could function satisfactorily as a base upon which to mount a rational explanation of all the regularities which we see in the large-scale world. It is a circular “cop-out” to explain these regularities by means of “natural laws” which scientists devised in the first place to merely describe them. What ultimate authority is it that imparts authority to “natural laws” or mathematical equations?
So far no “properly scientific” explanation of why we should be given more time in the future has ever been successful. Nor have we yet heard a satisfactory explanation of why there has been so much continuity between the world’s past and its present states.
Artists sometimes paint one picture after another in no planned sequence or predictable order. If you ask why a particular painting was done right after a certain other one had been completed, the answer could be “because the artist wanted to do that one next.” Such an answer yields a satisfactory finality. All of us—even the scientists—are familiar with intentional and habitual ways of doing things. Where else can an honest explanation for this universe be ultimately grounded, if not in the personal will of its Creator?
As Creator, God could have called into being a series of momentary worlds, each one entirely irrelevant and unrelated to any of the others. The momentary worlds which do come to pass, however, are definitely linked to each other in a certain sequential order, each one related to those which came before it. In the absence of some more compelling explanation of this phenomenon of the world’s continuity, I am satisfied to say that the Creator chose to do it this way for his own reasons.
Until some other overwhelmingly convincing explanation comes along, I am prepared to assert that the continuity-producing connections between the quantic events in one Now-state and those that appear in the next, all run through the Creator. Were it not for the mediation of the Creator, no mode of informational continuity running through time—whether called “efficient causality,” intentional effort, life, soul, growth or communication—could take place. I am reminded of several biblical sayings. “In Him we live and move and exist.”1 “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.”2 “You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given to you from above.”3 “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”4
This latter well-known utterance of Jesus clearly suggests that the creative process which sustains a person’s continued existence can be conceived as a series of words spoken by the Creator. This richly suggestive analogy between spoken communications and cosmic creation time should be explored.
The transmission of information has generally been conceived as a causal process.. Someone perturbs the state of affairs in his/her own vicinity, and those local differences initiate effects that travel outward through a medium to reach an intended receiver. It’s a matter of setting off a sequence of pushes, pulls or oscillations that propagates through some medium. What happens in the medium at any point on the way to the receiver is fairly predictable—if nothing interferes to produce “noise.”
When the transmission of information is conceived as communication, however, several differences appear. The particular signals which are sent have likely been selected in accordance with a code of meanings understood by a personal receiver, so as to fulfill a sender’s personal purpose in transmitting the message.
A causal transmission is complete when the signal vibrates its receiver. In communication, however, the reception is not complete until the person Deceiving the message possesses an understanding of it which is very similar to that intended by the sender. Messages can be ignored, garbled, misinterpreted or falsified by selective editing. The message which is extracted from a certain communication may turn out to convey a meaning which is the very opposite of what the sender intended. How often the press has taken literally what a speaker uttered ironically;
A transmission conceived as a purely causal process would be almost meaningless. In such a transmission the arrival of a signal or sequence of signals could mean nothing more than that. Random radio noises from outer space have no known meanings. In communication, however, understood meanings are associated with the signals. These meanings have their currency in a mentacosmic realm which is very different from that of traveling physical signals. The sequential ordering of the signals is largely dictated by both the intended message and by the rules which govern the language chosen for the transmission. The rules may allow a similar meaning to be conveyed by any one of several sequences of signals. The same thing can be said in a number of different ways.
Because of these differences, a message-bearing communication is a better model of cosmic creation time than is a purely causal transmission of signals. Mechanical causation has always been conceived as a direct, obvious and completely determined connection between successive events. The connections between Now-states of the universe, like those between a message as sent and a message as actually received, lack that simple directness and the “mustness”—the compelling necessity—which is associated with causality.
The ordering of the intentional signals which are sent has an aura of arbitrariness that is dependent on a number of unpredictable choices. The coding associations between signal patterns and meanings arc also arbitrary and changeable. The reception and interpretation of a message is not always as accurate as might be desired. If the development of the universe is like the development of a message which is being sent, it is no wonder that unexpected novelty is always turning up in historical processes. The next states of what is not small, not isolated and not simple are seldom entirely predictable. Pity the weather forecaster and any others who aspire toward accurately predicting any aspect of the future of this large, complex world of perpetually interacting systems.
The reason for this uncertainty is not simply that our knowledge of the present actual situation is so limited. It is also because so many sources of initiative are at work within the process of creating the world’s story. On every level creatures can introduce something unexpected into the process. Everything and everybody has a unique angle or perspective on what happened and on what should happen.
The Creator also retains the freedom to add his own special constraining cast to each course of events. He alone is in touch with what is going on everywhere. He alone can see any single event in the context of all the other events presently in progress throughout the rest of the universe. Events which appear to us to be singularities and sports, fluctuations, random and meaningless, may actually be integrated into the Creator’s inscrutable plan for the world. He alone can recall everything that previously happened during the ages. He alone understands all the languages of subatomic particles, of the grass of the fields and all of the wild creatures. He who is universally present is backstage behind overt human actions as well as public utterances, able to discern the meanings of the thoughts and intents of people’s hearts. He hears all the prayers of all his creatures, uttered or unexpressed. He takes them all into account when he, as the only direct linkage between the inhabitants of one Now-state and the next, selectively carries forward the information which they embodied into his next phase of creation.
The meaning of the whole worldwide process of information transmission thus steadily develops and complexifies as each new crop of creature-generated decisions, modulated by the Creator’s vast experience and ultimate aim, is worked into God’s next creative thrusts. Each moment across the universe is a step in the formation of a vast indecipherable message which is being sent on for further shaping by the response of future quantic generations.
Each quantic event chips in with its own peculiar contribution toward the total production of its own Now-state. The details of the choices and momentary stances of each miniscule component are read off by God, who coordinates all that information into the various levels of all the systems. As each Now-state’s message is readied, God receives it, processes it, and incorporates it into the set of optional alternatives which he will offer to the next crop of quantic events.
God is faithful to the choices which his creatures have made. He creates the next Now-state as closely as possible to the way they wanted it to be. Thus the “prayers” of all things are worked into the history of the universe which, as a whole, also reflects the Creator’s own continuing prayer to his creatures.
Time—the cosmic creation process—may be conceived as the gradual composition by the universe of a message to God and to posterity. Perhaps the long-run meaning of history will even reach everything that once was part of the time-long process.
The Word will serve
We need a capacious word, one voluminous enough to encompass all aspects of this vast communicational enterprise in which the whole universe is engaged. I can’t think of a word more useful for this purpose than the “Word.” In using this brief expression, the “Word,” I intend to refer to communication between past and present, between this and that, between here and there, including the interaction between the components of systems.
If, as I have asserted above, the whole world’s communication proceeds through, by and within the Creator of time, I must ascribe to him not only the name of Creator, but also the title of “God the Word.” This is because God is not only the source of the momentarily existing Now-states with their coexisting constituents; he is also the means by which all of the Now-states relate to each other.
At mis point how can I refrain from quoting the Prologue to the Gospel of John? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things came into being through Him; and apart from Him nothing that came into being has come into being. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men… the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.”5
The Apostle Paul was on the same theme when he wrote: “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”6 So was the writer to the Hebrews: “We understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”7
Communication is basically the sending and the receiving of a message. A source gives out materials, energy or information to whoever or whatever receives. A system component gives to the other components and to the system as a whole. The other components and the system as a whole take what is given. In the Me of a system give and take are essential.
We have seen that at each moment the Creator offers to each constituent of a Now-state a limited set of alternative options for an expression of preference. When one course of action or attitude has been chosen, the other possibilities must be sacrificed. At any given time everything that could be said about a certain matter is not sayable all at once. The message which the constituents of a Now-state jointly formulate is given to God. Having accomplished its purpose, that Now-state vanishes. But the information from that message remains with God and is carried over and incorporated by him into the format of the next Now-state. Thus one Now-state gives up its existence that a newer Now-state may live.
No message is ever sent without a certain price being paid. If you engage in a conversation with someone, your attention must be devoted to that other person. For the duration of the dialogue, other important interests must be laid aside. To keep the interchange going, both of you must expend personal energy.
Whoever receives a message gains something, but a gain anywhere implies that a loss has been suffered elsewhere. In order to continue our lives we eat. But our eating terminates the life of everything that we eat. The growth of children takes place largely at the expense of parents. One generation pays for the rise of the next. Many a promising young life has been offered in dangerous service to secure the peace and well-being of a nation.
Sacrifice is necessary for salvation. Where anything exists or thrives, if you look nearby you will uncover loss, suffering or death.
The duration and well-being of a system depends heavily upon what is contributed by its components. Self-sacrifice is therefore inevitably and essentially involved in the life-history of every working system. The world system is one vast network of sacrificial service.
Because God the Word is the mediator of all communication, he participates in all this giving and receiving. Nothing is given to anything or anyone unless it passes through him. God the Word gives his own life for the furtherance of his creation. Were it not for his self-dedication, the world’s systems would not be organized or coordinated on a continuing basis. Through his sacrificial service all losing and gaining take place. He has always been and is now the “suffering servant” of all, and he suffers with all those who suffer.
In view of the close relationship between systems and sacrifice, I find it much easier to understand what the writer of the Apocalypse may have meant when he wrote of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”8
By the light which shines from Jesus’ teaching and his example of suffering service freely offered for others, Christians should be able to see the shadow of his cross upon every system.
Jesus’ followers have always taken his life of suffering service as a moral paradigm. He has truly been called “the man for others.” His very appearing in this world was regarded as the result of his “self-emptying.”9 Instead of living out his own life for himself and his relatives, Jesus gave up his work as a carpenter and dedicated his life to helping, teaching and healing the people he met. Although he became a celebrity, from the beginning of his ministry Jesus expressly rejected the temptation to ride roughshod to power. He never trampled down the people who stood in his way.
His country’s authorities did not share his convictions about the exercise of power. They saw Jesus as a threat to their jurisdiction and they took steps to secure his death. His followers, however, came to understand Jesus’ dying on a cross not entirely as an execution, but rather as the voluntary laying down of his life in self-sacrifice, to save others from endless death. They explicitly identified Jesus’ whole life and death of self-giving with the famous “suffering servant” passages of the prophecy of Isaiah, especially the fifty-third chapter.
Those who, in the name of Jesus, have sought to enable the powerless and the persecuted to overcome injustice perpetrated by people with power to harm, have always found themselves facing suffering, as did their master. Even within the so-called Christian countries of the West, the practice of Jesus’ life-style has never been popular. It has been honored more in words than in performance. Even in church life the goal of obtaining and maintaining personal power has never been conspicuously absent for long. In the aggressive thrust of European-dominated culture, it has always been difficult to maintain self-sacrificing service as an operational ideal. The courts of both church and state use law, logic and clout as instruments for putting down opposition.
Classical physics and Darwinian biology clearly manifest the marks of a culture shaped by force-dominated military conquest and ruthless commercial competition. For the early natural scientists, to be able to calculate the trajectories of cannonballs was a matter of high priority. (Today it’s ICBMs.) The terminology used to describe one billiard ball striking another emphasizes brute force and naked power. One ball hits the other and drives it off. The first one overpowers the second, compelling it to move off.
Few people with an interest in physics have ever noticed that in overpowering the second ball, the first ball exhausts its own energy. It is brought to a standstill and lies there on the table, immobile and exhausted. This fact is quite as much a matter for physical observation as the more dramatic blow which it recently delivered. To draw attention to this aspect of such a phenomenon, however, would not be “in the best interests” of military and commercial expansionists.
Since the total energy of the two-ball system is supposed to be the same after the collision as it was before it, and since after the collision only the second ball is moving, the whole incident could quite property be interpreted very differently from the conventional way. “The now-dead first ball gave up its energy to the second ball, enabling it to pursue its lively career towards a certain pocket. Thus construed, the two-ball encounter becomes a sample of sacrificial service rather than another “obvious” victory for self-asserting power.
The entire field of mechanical physics could be similarly reconceptualized in terms of sacrificial service. Few westerners, however, would accept such an interpretation with gladness. To them such an interpretation would seem utterly foreign, for they are accustomed to operating in a context of violent competition and aggressive power struggles.
If nothing much can be done about the cultural ties of Western physics at this time, perhaps at least the subject of communication could be reconceptualized in terms of self-sacrifice. Unfortunately, too many shelves have already been filled with “best-seller” books that tell us how to assert ourselves, how to win arguments and how to get what we want. But is human communication only the verbal and personal counterpart of physical aggression? When the boss assigns tasks to employees, when an army officer issues commands to lower-ranked soldiers, when a magistrate issues a summons—are these kinds of situations to be taken as the highest level of human communication? Orders may be obeyed reluctantly or disobeyed entirely if those on the receiving end have never had the opportunity to say anything but yes. Woe to the top-seated commander who never takes advantage of the wisdom of subordinates!
Many are the slogans reminding us that when we’re talking, we’re not learning anything. Communication involves a receiver as well as a sender, a listener as well as a speaker. The receiver and the listener are essential components of the communication system. Many are good at talking, issuing memos and commands, but fewer are good at listening.
Silence actually plays a large part in dialogue and conversation. The tendrils that run out from any matter under discussion actually extend to the entire universe. No one can ever say everything that might be said about any subject—although some speakers give it a good try. It’s not always wise to express all of our personal reactions to the person of a speaker or to what that speaker has said. Seldom is enough time available for dealing adequately with any given complex situation, for anyone who is speaking can utter only one word at a time. Besides, a speaker’s first words must die away into stillness before the air can be used for further words and messages. Periodic silence—holding one’s tongue—is thus seen to be an essential aspect of human communication.
Holding one’s tongue can be a means of passive resistance, as when someone refuses to testify and withholds essential information. It can also be used to protect official secrets and conceal aggressive plans. But in the sense intended in the above paragraph, holding one’s tongue is a way of dying that others may live. That is the way of God the Word. The silence of God sets human beings free to be themselves. The silence of God the Word testifies eloquently to the respect he maintains for his creatures. Aggressive westerners, however, often criticize God for doing nothing when other people insist on doing things of which they strongly disapprove. However when God (and anyone else) refrains from interfering with what God’s critics themselves set out to do, they are obviously gratified.
Word and world
From time to time throughout the history of thought, attention was directed toward an exalted conception of the “Word”—the logos, in Greek. In Hellenic culture the logos was conceived as the basic principle out of which develop the order and connection of all things. Apart from knowledge of this Word, there can be no adequate understanding of the way things go in the world. Without the Word there can be no wisdom. An intuitive grasp of the generative power of the Word may be obtained, some said, through contemplative techniques or sensitive instruction.
The Prologue to the Gospel of John identified the divine Logos with Jesus of Nazareth. John and other early Christians said that “the Word was God” and that Jesus was “the Word made flesh.” They sensed that a profound connection existed between Jesus and all things that ever had been or ever shall be. He had lived among them as a flesh-and-blood biological system, and had been a factor inphysical, economic, political and social systems. For years he had made a living from woodworking technology. All the systems of this world had been turned against him and he was killed on a cross.
Yet despite the elaborate precautions taken by the authorities to prevent any tampering with Jesus’ grave, after three days his tomb was found to be open and empty. His reappearance from the realm of the past, the dead and the gone, had to be accounted for.
Obviously the initiating power behind Jesus was capable of overruling any previous earthly array of forces. On the sea a very large wave can bypass every small obstacle in its way. From time to time the prophets of Israel had written enigmatically about a special person who would come to their people, one who, though unaggressive, would overrule the world. Those past glimpses of the future seemed to have come to fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Having put death down behind and under him, some people expected Jesus to take over the role of national Messiah and work a great transformation in society. Others, like John, made the great leap from a merely national Messiah to a Son of Man who was the manifestation of the ever-active Word of God the Creator who is ever making all things new.
Jesus’ resurrection was interpreted by Jesus’ friends as an absolute vindication of everything that he had been, said and done. They believed that God, the Creator and upholder of the world, had resonated completely with the way Jesus had spoken, lived and died. In a unique way the Creator himself had clearly set his seal of thorough approval upon this one human being. Jesus’ life of sacrificial service had provided the fulfillment, the demonstration and the generating source of what God had always intended human life together to be. The quality of living which Jesus had achieved was obviously intimately related to what the whole enterprise of creating a universe was all about.
After a time, when the risen one was no longer a physical presence among them, his friends said that he had ascended “into heaven”—to a preeminent position from which he would be directing the world’s further development. Whatever else the ascension of Jesus meant for them, it certainly signified that his self-giving style of life, raised to the highest power, was now enthroned forever—i.e., recognized and acknowledged as the cardinal intention and the principal determinant of the cosmic creative process. For Christians, Jesus was the key to the primordial purpose of God. He was the very Word of God about God the Word.
The bodiliness of Jesus’ resurrection establishes his relevance to physical nature as well as to anything that lives. Its significance pertains both to ordinary practical matters and to human spiritual discipline. It has a bearing not only upon Christian people, but also upon all human beings. His resurrection has implications not just for this whole earthly scene, but for cosmic history and the destiny of the universe as well.
It therefore behooves present-day Christian thinkers to interpret the natural and human sciences in conformity with Jesus’ approach to life. The basic paradigms of physics, biology, et al, should be couched in terms of the self-giving which enhances other things and persons, rather than in terms of self-assertion, aggressive competition and forceful conquest.
In biology, for example, Christians should emphasize the high degree of cooperation and partnership that is found in nature. For too long, attention has been focused mainly on what has been called “the survival of the fittest.” In this view, life is understood to be a deadly struggle. Even instances of cooperation and self-giving are considered to be only means towards the fitness of species, rather than glimpses of the possibilities that open up for those who cooperate with each other. Individuals of every species survive only because they find a setting within a helpful environment. Insects and plants depend on each other. The colonies of “social insects” such as ants and bees are full of cooperation and self-sacrifice. All healthy cells serve the whole organism, just as the components of a working system serve each other and the whole system.
In countless variations the theme and motifs of Jesus’ story recur throughout the vast symphony of the universe. Christians will expect the same theme and motifs to characterize the world’s future systems more and more, for the world’s original Composer is still at work, keeping in mind the exemplary life of Jesus. His life revealed the criteria by which the contributions which people made to the world’s history will be evaluated as to their further usefulness.
In considering God the Word, the emphasis so far has been upon God the Giver, the God of grace. But it must be remembered that the divine Giver of all things is also God the Receiver of all things. He experiences not only the losses and sufferings of his creatures, but also their gains and achievements. The whole world is for him who will harvest its best history. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created,”11 “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”12
As the Mediator, the Servant of all, God the Word delights in all acts which willingly and gladly render service to others. Like an astute businessperson, he hopes for profits of this kind from the work of his servants.13 Like any hardworking fanner he expects a harvest.14 Like an eager connoisseur of precious gems he is always on the lookout for every pearl of great price.15 Someday he will make up his jewels.16 He himself inherits all things.17 The rulers of the earth will bring all their glories into his city.1S Followers of Christ should do their work heartily as if they were working for the Lord, knowing that as his servants they will receive from him an eternal inheritance.19
The nature of this world is not only one of a coming-to-be but also one of a passing away. This means that we can count on losing things and persons that have been very valuable and important to us. We say goodbye to some of them with deep regret, perhaps with terrible grief. It is wonderful to realize that God the Word is committed to carrying forward all the information which was contributed during the historical process by all we held dear. Those valuable qualities associated with persons we loved, all that was once so significant, will not be lost forever in the universal perishing.
God’s own experience, saved up in his memory storage, is the repository in which information from all that ever was is safely stored. Each detail of each Now-state made its own significant difference to the process of creation. When God records a symphony, he catches more than the sounds of the instruments. Each cough, thump and tiny tinkle are registered with high fidelity in his sensorium. The Creator saves from total destruction all the information which was generated in all the Now-states during their brief life spans. Any of it can be retrieved at any time for incorporation into a future. For God a resurrection from the dead is as simple as a first-time creation. Just as God the Word reaches into future presents, so he is in communication with the realm of the past, the dead and the gone. “If I make my bed in the nether world, behold, Thou art there.”20
Because he can thus reach into his memory vaults and retrieve whatever has been of value to him, God the Word is entitled to be called also God the Savior and God the Redeemer, even “the Resurrection and the Life.” How wonderful to realize that there is one who can redeem our life from destruction, and also reconstruct those persons and things that we value so much! “The eyes of the Lord preserve knowledge.”21 “Everything God does will remain forever… for God seeks what has passed by.”22
Is any enterprise much more hazardous than mountain climbing? Up there on the sheer face of a cliff, a cool head and a strong stomach are essential. Having a team of experienced climbers with you, all with the right equipment, is an absolute necessity. Below you, it’s a long, long way down. A free fall would end in… the end. Any one of the team might encounter unexpected trouble, losing handhold or footing. The strong rope that ties the climbers to each other and to a secure anchorage has saved many a climber. That wonderful, wonderful rope!
As we live them, our present moments keep slipping over a cliff-edge, as it were, and suddenly they’re gone. Gone! Is there any hope at all of bringing back any of those “dear dead days beyond recall”?
There is a rope which has always tied together our life’s times— those times which held the people and relationships that meant so much to us. That same rope of continuity could still retrieve our losses. As it brought other past significance into relevance for the days of our lives, that rope which is anchored beyond can still make possible the recovery of what was for us worthy and beloved.
The name of that wonderful life-giving and life-saving rope is none other than God the Word.
1. Acts 17:28.
2. John 3:27.
3. John 19:11.
4. Matthew 4:4.
5. John 1:3-4, 9-10
6. Colossians 1:17.
7. Hebrews 11:3.
8. Revelation 13:8 (AV).
9. Philippians 2:7.
10. Luke 3:22.
11. Revelation 4:11 (AV).
12. Matthew 25:40.
13. Matthew 25:27.
14. Matthew 22:34.
15. Matthew 13:45-46.
16. Malachi 3:17.
17. Hebrews 1:2.
18. Revelation 21:24.
19. Colossians 3:23-24.
20. Psalm 139:8.
21. Proverbs 22:12.
22. Ecclesiastes 3:14-15.