On Earth As It Is In Heaven

On Earth As It Is In Heaven August 18, 2008

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the cosmos, and it was good. At a specific point in time, elements of creation turned against God, corrupting themselves and the rest of creation with them. There were successive waves of revolt, with the two most important ones (from the human standpoint) being the fall of Satan and the fall of Adam. Each revolt was a turning away from God, and the persons involved became closed, individuated selves, that is, individuated egos.

Creation was made holistically; what affects one part of creation affects the rest. Revolt against God, sin, mars creation. Sin, because it leads away from God, is self-destructive; it is corrosive, and eats away at all those touched by its presence. It destroys what is pure in nature, tearing apart the fabric of existence, making as it were, cracks in the cosmos.  Once formed, these structures spread by their own power, perpetuating themselves, both on individual and social levels, seeking to turn creation into the kingdom of hell. Because of this, one cannot deal with sin in an individual without dealing with sin in society; they are interdependent, the structures in one help shape the structures in the other. If you try to root out sin in the individual without rooting out sin in society, the individual, as it opens itself up to the community, will be affected and influenced by that community’s habits, by its sins. On the other hand, if you try to remove sin from society without caring about what happens in the individual, then sin will fester and grow in the individual, until at last, it is no longer contained in the individual but returns even stronger in society. “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, `I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first” (Luke 11:24 – 26).

We must make what has been said above clear: creation, by its nature, is good. Sin is the destruction of creation, making what was natural sub-natural. The relationship between creation and itself fallen mode of existence is like a tire is to a flat tire. That is, the world we live in is like car driven in winter, with icy roads and a slight fog; unknown to the driver, he has driven over a small tack in the road, puncturing one of the tires; the tire continues to work, but slowly deflates. The more it is driven upon, the more the wheel is damaged, and the hole becomes greater, until at last, the tire is all out of air. The driver, not realizing what has happened, because of the ice on the road, continues to drive until the tire is ripped into shreds. Once this happens, the car itself is out of control, until at last, the car ends up in an accident, hitting another car; but because of the icy conditions, those behind him cannot stop, and they drive into him, one after another, making for a long line of accidents. Obviously, as with all analogies, there are many ways the analogy can be said to fall short. The key difference between a tire and sin is that we can, by our own efforts fix the hole in the tire, but only by cooperation with the grace of God can sin be healed. Nonetheless, while it must always be admitted that it cannot be done without God’s grace, that grace must be acted upon, and used to heal both individual and communal sin.[1]

Because of the goodness of creation, a goodness which has not been lost to it even if sin tries to destroy it, creation must be seen as a good which cannot be rejected; it is not something for the Christian to ascend beyond, but rather, it is something for the Christian to tend to and work with. When we do so, we will come to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, `Lo, here it is!’ or `There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20b-21). The kingdom of God is the whole of creation as it exists in reality. To see paradise is to see the world as it is without the contamination of sin.[2]  To see hell, to experience hell, is to see sin, and nothing but sin, to be clouded by the structures of sin, and closed off to oneself by those structures until it is all one has for oneself. The world is heaven for the saint, while for the sinner, the world is the world of illusion, where unnatural sin is mistaken for what is real, and what is real is unable to be seen:

It is all mere representation of consciousness,
Because there is the appearance of non-existent objects;
Just as a man with a cataract
Sees hairs, moons, etc.
Which do not exist in reality
.[3]

The first man and woman came into existence in a world where the fall of Satan had already taken place. Yet, because they were without sin, they were able to experience the world in innocence, without the cataracts of sin, and saw it as the paradise of God. They saw all things, including themselves, in this innocence. “And Adam and Eve (for this is the name of the woman) were naked and were not ashamed, for their thoughts were innocent and childlike, and they had no conception or imagination of the sort that is engendered in the soul by evil, through concupiscence, and by lust. For they were then in their integrity, preserving their natural state, for what had been breathed into their frame was the spirit of life; no, so long as the spirit still remains in proper order and vigour, it is without imagination or conception of what is shameful.[4] They were in a state of joy, of spiritual pleasure, as their vision of creation was not obscured and they walked with God: they experienced God’s constant presence in their life. “When God created human nature, he did not create sensible pleasure and plain along with it; rather, he furnished it with a certain spiritual capacity for pleasure, a pleasure whereby human beings would be able to enjoy God ineffably.”[5] But Satan tempted them away from God, to find pleasure in and through themselves. When they looked only upon themselves for what is good, they turned away from the real blessings of paradise, and joined themselves to the illusionary pleasures of sin, a pleasure which is as addictive as it is fleeting. Once that pleasure is gone, and one does not have it anymore, the addict suffers; they can either work to overcome the addiction, through ascetic labors, until the addiction is removed, or they can act to try to get it again, to follow their immediate desire, and sin again and again, looking again and again for that fleeting pleasure, receiving it in less and less a bounty as they do so. The second way, the way of life as experienced by the sinner, is a cycle of pleasure mixed with pain; life for the sinner is a constant search for fleeting pleasures that only end in suffering. “After the transgression pleasure naturally preconditioned the births of all human beings, and no one at all was by nature free from birth subject to the passion associated with this pleasure; rather, everyone was requited with sufferings, and subsequent death, as the natural punishment.”[6] Because the search for pleasure leads to more suffering, and suffering leads to the search for more pleasure, fallen existence is a self-perpetuating cycle of unnatural experiences which can truly be said to be permeated with suffering (samsara). Yet because this cycle is a cycle of sin imposed upon the world, and is unnatural, this does not discount the fact that the world is itself paradise, nirvana, making what Nārgārjuna says to be correct: 

19. There is not the slightest difference
Between cyclical existence and nirvāņa.
There is not the slightest difference
Between nirvāņa and cyclic existence.

20. Whatever is the limit of nirvāņa,
That is the limit of cyclic existence.
There is not even the slightest difference between them,
Or even the subtlest thing.
[7]

That is, the world as it exists, is truly the kingdom of heaven, nirvana, but it will only be experienced this way when the formations of sin (karmic formations) are removed, and the world is seen for what it truly is, and not as we experience it in our fallen mode of existence, which is where we see the world for what it is not. In the Our Father we pray for it to be on earth as it is in heaven because in the eschaton, it is revealed that is what the earth actually is; the earth is not other than the kingdom of God. The unnatural structure of sin, the structure of hell, prevents us from experiencing the kingdom of heaven, and as long as we allow them to remain, our experience of life will be one of suffering. Hell is what is left when the structures of sin have closed us off from all that is good and true. It is for this reason that Christians are called to fight against the structures of sin, both in their personal habits, but also in society; confronting sin and exposing it for what it is will help others, through the grace of God, break out of the bondage of sin and experience the supreme joy of the beatific vision.[8]

Footnotes 

[1] This, of course, explains the importance of liberation theology. Its prophetic value has been to reawaken this task in the minds of Christians. Not all theologies of liberation, to be sure, are valid. They explain different ways by which one could try to establish such liberation. Some of them are mistaken in their methodology, and following them will only create new structures of sin. Yet such mistakes should not be used as an excuse for Christians to ignore their task in the world, but rather, to show their need to understand that task better so they won’t fall for them as they go about their proper vocation.
[2]Brethren, do not consider the kingdom of heaven to be anything other than the true consideration of the things that are, which the Holy Scriptures call ‘blessedness,‘” Evagrius Ponticus, “Letter on the Faith,” pgs. 46 – 58 in Evagrius Ponticus. Trans. and ed. A.M. Casiday (London: Routledge, 2006), 57 (par 37).

[3] Vasubandhu, “A Treatise in Twenty Stanzas,” pgs. 164 – 196 in A Buddhist Doctrine of Experience. Trans. and commentary by Thomas A. Kochumuttom (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982), 196 (verses 1).
[4] Irenaeus. Proof of the Apostolic Teaching. Trans. Joseph P. Smith, S.J. (New York: Newman Press, 1952), 56.
[5] St Maximus the Confessor, “Ad Thalassium 61” pages 131 – 143 in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ. trans. Paul M. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 131
[6] ibid., 133.
[7] Nārgārjuna. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. Trans. Jay I. Garfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 75 (XXV: 19 – 20).
[8] Just as the world, when experienced as it truly is, is good, so are the things in the world, when used properly, good. But when used improperly, as is often the case, they become tools of sin and help perpetuate the powers of sin. There is possibly no greater example of this than the tool of human language. It is meant to help us communicate and unite, but as the story of Babel shows, it can be used to separate and divide us. As rhema without logos, language is a tool of division; as rhema with logos, it points beyond itself, to the heavenly kingdom, to the Logos, and is capable of being a tool of saints. In a fallen mode of existence, when the limits of language are not understood, it is used by the powers of sin to help imprison us and perpetuate the flight of humanity against itself and the rest of the world. It creates a superstructure for sin by creating a frame of mind in which some kind of sin or another is the answer to life’s questions. Thus, as the post-moderns tell us, the power of language to imprison us is great, and when it serves to reinforce the structure of sin, we must fight against it and reveal it for all it is. The one who knows the true power and also limits of language can use it, not as a tool to imprison others, but to free them from the limits of language; just as reason can be used to show the limits of human reason, so can language be used to show the power of language and to help people overcome the structures it forms on the human mind. To do so properly, of course, requires a true understanding of the world, that is, a mystical experience of the world which can be described but never defined by language. If this is not had, one’s attempts to help others get beyond the limits of language will be limited, and indeed, one will create new structures of thought which will end up imprisoning us in other, unforeseen fashions. Only the Logos is truly capable of freeing us from the dictates of rhema; only when we have died to the self will the power of rhema be overcome; for it is when we die to the self that rhema is destroyed, and our thoughts will no longer be encased by the closed-ended discourses of rhema, will language be free to experience the unending, open-ended discourse of the Logos.  And once that happens, even words spoken under the dictates of rhema will be opened up, and shown for what they are, for then rhema will itself be opened up and experienced as a relative presentation of the Logos and not as the absolute as it once was. This also explains why one who has transcended words (rhema) is capable of using them, and indeed, is the only one who is truly capable of doing so: because, to them, words become tools of freedom instead of the means of imprisonment. For the Christian, this should also tell us something about the relationship between nominalism and realism which has been neglected for so long: nominalism is the truth of the world as it is experienced in sin, where everything is divided by false, unnatural structures, whereas realism is about the truth of the world purified from sin and all its structures, where rhema fully dwells in Logos and is thereby capable of expressing the truth through that Logos.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!