“What Sort of World” (part 1 of 3)

riverOne of the central triads of the Christian faith is that God is omnipotent (all-powerful, or “Almighty”), omniscient (All-knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere present). This last of the triad, omnipresence, is best understood to be that God is “everywhere present and filling all things.” This phrase is foundational to a particular way of understanding the world—i.e. a sacramental way. A sacramental understanding insists that things are not merely what they appear to be. Things are not just “things.” They are something more. Things are more than they appear because God is everywhere present. In contrast, someone who believes in Literalism or Materialism as an explanation of the world believes that a river is literally a river—and nothing more. But Literalism gives an incomplete and non-biblical view of the world.

Fr Stephen Freeman in his book, Everywhere Present, links the ideas of God being “everywhere present” with the fact that all things are more than they appear to be. He explains:

“What is the Jordan River? It is similar to the question, “Where is God?” On a literal level, the Jordan River cannot be made more the Jordan River than it already is. If God is everywhere present, then on a literal level He cannot be made more present than He already is.

“This is the failure of literalism. It is certainly possible to walk beside the Jordan River and have no idea of where you are. As rivers go, it is just one more stream of water. Angels do not sing as you approach, nor do the waters automatically part when you seek to cross it. The presence of God everywhere is not accompanied by trumpets or Hollywood’s special effects, the lack of such unusual qualities often lead modern men and women to see nothing more than the obvious. It is possible to tour the Sistine Chapel and describe Michelangelo’s ceiling as “a collection of colors.” Such a description, however, could easily evoke the response, “Then you never visited the Sistine Chapel.” [Italics mine]

Is the materialist position correct? Are things only what they appear to be: a river, bread and wine, a person? Is a river merely a quantity of water flowing downhill over rocks and through forests to the sea? Is bread only a mix of yeast and flour and water? Is wine only crushed grapes and yeast? Maybe a person is only a large collection of fantastically complex biochemicals or—perhaps—just a thinking “machine.”

The historic Christian answer is: “No, of course not.”

C. S.Lewis, in his book Voyage of the Dawn Treader, writes of this exchange:

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

Unfortunately, the materialist view has crept into much modern Christian thinking. Yet, our spirits feel a dis-ease with this truncated view of the world. This world seems so much more. Why? Because it is!

So what sort of world is this, anyway?