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Old Worlds & New

The Heavens Closed Off

by Mark Horne

copyright © 2000

Genesis 1.4-8:And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. And God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

Why do we have to go through trials and tribulations in this world? Why do we often find ourselves unsatisfied? Why do we often feel so alone – isolated from both God and other people? Is this world really the best God could make? Could not the world be improved on?

Typically preachers save these questions for chapter 3. The reason we go through trials and tribulations is sin, we are told. Sin is unquestionably part of every trial and tribulation in this world. It makes the world worse than it should be. And we don’t deal with sin in this record until we reach the third chapter of Genesis. So far, there is no evil; all is good.

Or is it?

As I pointed out last week. God created the world dark and empty and formless. Then God began to address that situation. He said, Let there be light. And then he evaluated the light, seeing that it was good.

Well, if the light was good, what about the dark, formless, empty earth beforehand? Was that evil? Nothing God makes is evil, so that can’t be true. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Everything created by God is good.” There was nothing intrinsically evil about darkness or emptiness or chaos, but light was better. Structuring and filling will make the world even better, as we will see as we continue through the chapter.

And if light is better than darkness, then it is possible to say that darkness was “not good” in comparison to light. Think about what we read in Genesis chapter 2: God declared that it was “not good” for the man to be alone. Well, whose fault was that? It was God who created Adam by himself. By his own evalutation Adam’s state was less than what it could have been.

That doesn’t mean that Adam was evil or sinful. What we find is that it simply means that God created Adam at an immature state of existence and then allowed him to mature by making him a wife. At that point, Adam’s situation was complete in that respect. Instead of being solitary he was now part of a family. Creation moves from an imcomplete stage to a more complete stage. We see this with the move from Adam alone to Adam and Eve. We see it in the move from darkness to light. Indeed, we see it throughout the six days as there is a movement from chaos to order, emptiness to fulfillment.

Look at what we read about the first day. First there is darkness. Then God creates light and puts the light into a new relationship with the darkness in order to use them to make yet another new thing: a day. Notice the text does not say that this is the first day but rather that this is one day. It is establishing a definition. The light is called day, but then darkness and light in a pattern is also called day. This is not only about what was created on the first day but it is about the creation of day itself. After God created one day he could go on to bring about more days, the second, the third and so on. But while God could have simply created light and darkness together as a day, instead he decided to create the parts of a day and then assemble it – just like he could have created Adam and Eve together as a family but instead decided to create Adam first and then Even and then form them into a family.

What is going on? Apparantly God glories in watching creation grow and mature. Indeed, he loves transfiguring it from glory to glory. So even though there is nothing wrong or evil about the original creation, nevertheless God has made it with greater potential in mind. It is not complete. It is not yet what it is meant to be.

And that means, by the way, that the human condition is not supposed to be one of static happiness. Yes, apart from sin we would all know God and enjoy him. But even apart from sin we would be waiting for something better – waiting for God to say let there be light.

We see this in the life of Jesus. According to Luke, even though Jesus was sinless and in that sense perfect, he “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” And the author of Hebrews tells us

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.

And the author of Hebrews invokes the example and the perfecting of Jesus in order to exhort his listeners to be patient and faithful and trusting in the midst of sufferings themselves. Despite the huge ethical gap between Jesus and ourselves – Jesus being ethically perfect and we being ethically perverse – he does not hesitate to assume that there is common ground between us and Jesus. We must be changed over time, just as he was changed.

So it may be that some of the disatisfaction you feel, some of the angst, some of the yearning in your heart, is not entirely a result of sin or evil. It is a result of God’s purpose in your life. God has made a good world but he has made you for a better world – not necessarily an immaterial world but rather simply a future world, a more glorious world, a new creation that God has designed this world to become. The issue then is trust God to bring about this glorious future at the proper time. We know that the Christian life is lived by faith – by trust in God. This is not only true for salvation from sin, it is true because that is how God works in creation as well as redemption.

To put all this another way. We commonly think of the Christian worldview depending on certain distinctions or even antitheses – polar opposites. For example, the distinction between creator and creature is such a necessary foundation stone for Christianity. God is not to be identified with the world. He is the transcendant creator. Another such distinction is the antithesis between good and evil. One is either in love with God, or one is opposed to him; one either trusts God or disbelieves him, one either obeys God or rebels against him.

Now I’m saying that the Bible teaches another fundamental distinction as central to reality. Indeed this is the most fundamental created distinction that there is: the distinction between before and after. God is actively involved in history. He loves changing things through time.

Philosophers speculate as to whether God has made the most perfect world. But of course it is rather difficult to figure out what sort of world God could make in which it would be impossible to imagine a better one. The fact is that God has made a world that he intends to always be making better. After all, if the world was absolutely perfect then it would be impossible to improve it. All change would be bad. A perfect world would be static and immutable. Obviously, only God is that perfect. He is infinite and unchangeable.

That means that we can always be made more like God. God created the world reflecting his majesty and graciousness. But he continued to work to make the world even more like himself. And the fact is that, because God is infinite, finite creation can always become more like God without ever being identical to God. History is not an accident in God’s creation; history is essential. The theological term for it is eschatology. The distinction between before and after is fundamental to creation.

And there is another distinction which is quite closely related to the difference between before and after: The separation between heaven and earth. On the second day God made a barrier between them.

Before I go any farther I should discuss exactly what this dome, or expanse, or firmament, or vault is.

First of all, this barrier seems to be the equivalent of the entire area of space around the planet earth. We find this on the fourth day when God makes stars and puts them in the dome. The ancients may not have known how huge the cosmos is, but they knew that there was a lot of empty space up there. They could see planets move past one another, and they knew that sometimes the moon passed in front of the son. So they knew that it couldn’t simply be a flat two-dimensional object.

However, the dome or firmament or expanse, is not simply space. It is also some sort of invisible veil or curtain which allows access into – to resort to analogies from modern science fiction – another dimension. We see this dome again. In Ezekiel chapter 1, it is described as crystal or ice. Because God comes down from heaven, this dome is seen just above his head. That is Ezekiel’s perspective from the earth, but in Revelation the Apostle John is brought up above the dome into God’s heavenly throne room. And, corresponding to the crystal/ice barrier Ezekiel saw above him, John sees a sea of glass below him.

This is the reason why the prophet Isaiah asked God to tear the heavens and descend. Rend the heavens and come down. There is a barrier between heaven and earth and it must be torn if God is to come down from his throne on high. This is also recognized in the Gospels.

Mark 1.10-11: And immediately coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: And a voice came out of the heavens, You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.

By the way, this barrier between God’s throne in heaven and the earth was symbolized later in the Bible by the veils in the Tabernacle and Temple which separated everyone from God’s presence. We actually see this in Mark’s Gospel. Near the beginning we are told of God’s voice declaring Jesus to be His Son and the sending of the Spirit. Near the ending we are told of Jesus’ spirit or breath departing with a loud voice and a pagan centurion declaring Jesus to be the Son of God.

Mark 15.37-39: And Jesus uttered a loud voice, and gave up the ghost [breathed his last]. And the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, who stood by over against him, saw that he so gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.

Now, those two passages both have something rent or torn using the same word to describe the action. In chapter 1 it is the Heavens; in chapter 15, the veil in the Temple. Acts reminds us of the same relationship. On the lid of the Ark of the Covenant within the inner veil were two golden Cherubim representing the guardians of God’s throne. In Acts chapter 1 when Jesus passes through the heavens to the Throne of God, the disciples are confronted with two men clothed in white. The Tabernacle and Temple represented heaven and the veils represented the barrier between heaven and earth which was created on the second day.

And notice what is peculiar on the second day. There is no declaration that the barrier is good. Just like the original darkness, emptiness, and formlessness of the earth, and just like the lonliness of Adam, the barrier is made in order to be broken. Sin aggravated the barrier, but the barrier was made originally without reference to sin. Eschatology is already part of God’s plan. He decided to allow earth to develop by itself and then bring about a union between heaven and earth at some point in the future.

This is one feature in Jesus’ job description. According to Ephesians:

In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.

In the fulness of time God planned for the barrier to be broken, the dome to be cracked open, and in Jesus that has already taken place. Jesus is the union between heaven and earth. We still wait for heaven and earth to be brought together at the Last Day, but because Jesus our king has passed through the heavens we can be assured that this is already taking place. It has already begun.

The earth is a wonderful place. It is quite suitable for us. But there is something more. We are made for something else. We’re not ready for it yet. But it is still our purpose as human beings. It is what we will always long for until God translates us into glory, just as he brought light to a darkened earth.

But I’m leaving out something. What’s the deal with all this water?

What we have here is the first ascension into heaven. God takes up a quantity of water into his throneroom. My hunch right now, would be that the water froze up there and is responsible for the appearance of the sea of glass and the ice crystal barrier. But that’s pretty speculative. What I can tell you for sure is that this is not about a “vapor canopy” like the creation scientists often propose. There may have been a vapor canopy at one time. I have no idea. But that is not what this is referring to. The water is taken above the dome, outside this level of reality. This isn’t talking about clouds. It is talking about Heaven.

Paul refers to the crossing of the Red Sea as a baptism. There are other such baptisms: Joshua crosses the Jordan. In Numbers we read of the crossing of certain rivers. The meaning of such events goes back to this passage. Passing through water becomes a symbol for going up into heaven. Thus, the application of water to this day represents the transference from earth to the kingdom of heaven.

But the more important theme begun here which culminates in Christ is the principle of salvation from what has ascended into heaven. This water that was taken up was used will be used later to save Noah and his family. The water ascends and then it is poured out on all flesh. Ultimately, this typifies Jesus who was taken up into heaven and who pours fourth His Spirit on all flesh. God raised up water into heaven and poured it out at the flood to judge the earth. God raised up Jesus into heaven and poured the Spirit out at Pentecost to save the earth. Whether in creation or redemption our help comes from heaven.

Remember, when we speak of heaven, we may be speaking of something that is presently intangible to us, but not something that is ultimately immaterial. We are not longing for escape from physical creation, but for the comprehensive glorification of the physical creation. All creation longs for this transformation. We experience this longing in a variety of ways – the pangs are immeasurably increased by the fact that we need to be liberated from sin as well as the first creation.

That longing tempts people into all sorts of sin and idolatry, as we’ll see in chapter 3 of Genesis. But we need to realize that God can be trusted to fulfill our longing at the proper time. We need to wait patiently. God has already cracked the dome by raising up Jesus. He will shatter it entirely when the time is right. Let’s pray that God gives us the faith and patience to wait upon the Lord.

copyright © 2000

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