There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
Psalm 46: 4-5
To understand the foundation of the city of God, that dwelling place that flows with waters of life originating from beyond the breaking of the dawn of time we must plumb the abyssal mystery of the beginning of all things. By the beginning, we must start by setting aside the conventions of chronology that traces time back to the primordial cosmic bang, or even Eden and the slow unwinding of history that followed the formation of our first parents. In order to peer into the perplexity of existing in time, we must take an excursion that momentarily escapes the linear plotting of time that starts with an inception and moves ever onward toward consummation in order to view it, as it were, from the outside looking in. Of course, this might mean suspending disbelief, and even the rigors of logic for a more intuitive, even imaginative process saturated with sympathy for the nature of things that might lead us beyond the surface of things down into their depths – in other words, what is in order is nothing less than a leap of faith that does not abandon rationality but has the audacity to apprehend what lies properly beyond knowledge. Lest we think that this is merely an imaginative process, science itself forces us to concede that if you probe down into the most minute quanta of reality time itself evaporates; while some in the sciences cannot escape their materialism, we must go further than acknowledging the existence of a mere timeless void and have the courage to envision an eternal plenitude that cradles the whole of reality as we know it. As important as the sequence of time may be to our experience – the fixity of the past that shapes the ever living present that then glides on into the future that somehow contains every preceding moment – this durative procession is not the proper beginning that first orders time and the ever unfolding history of the city of God that, by its transcendent, immanent, and ever present reality gives structure and meaning to the totality of creation. No, the the founding of eternal Zion begins elsewhere, the beginning that shapes history originates beyond time; exists instantaneously along every proceeding moment within time and interpenetrates the whole of time in incomprehensible transcendence.
The city of God, with its circumscribing grasp on all things, its limitless claim upon us to find it as our true abode and the whole of creation begins and ends upon the cross. Jesus the Anointed One, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world with outstretched arms embraces all. From the limitless overflow of his Being, begotten of the Father, he pours himself without reservation, without exhausting the stores of Divine grace from his abundant Act of self-giving which is the most fundamental revelation of ceaseless abundance of beneficent gratuity to the works of his hands. The One who is Fullness inexhaustibly empties himself for creation as its beginning and in so doing imparts to us the very principle of the self while at once connecting every individual into a cohesive constellation that comprises a unified whole. The cosmos, with all of the contingencies of its history can only find its founding at Calvary where Life gives itself to life as the first principle that frames all existence. The Advent of Christ in time is the still point, the cruciform Axis Mundi, around which all things move; in his self-disclosure we are drawn into an orbit encircling the dynamic force around Whom we all dance in radiant revelry of Divine grace. The cross upon which the dying Lord shows himself to be both the immortal God and the quintessential human, is the unveiling of being as an unbounded gift from the Father through the Son disclosed by the enlightening grace of the Holy Spirit.
Only from Golgotha can we comprehend the beginning in which the Divine society of the redeemed enter into and inhabit the City of God prepared for them beyond the ages. Or, to say it in another way, only from the revelation of the Son of God who both died and was then raised by the Father’s power does the beginning come into focus and can we behold its irruption into the vicissitudes of time. What follows is a resplendent vision of the unfolding of Zion, which blossoms ceaselessly as an ever-blooming rose, being planted upon the terra firma of our lives piercing into the linear story of time as we enter the theater of the Divine where the plot proceeds. From this beginning spoken by the Word who was with God and who is God, after this winding ellipsis outside time, do we return to the explosion of the cosmic singularity that flows onward to our first garden, from the fragile beatitude of Eden. From here we trace our fall from blessing and banishment eastward into the slow, painful school of righteousness where we must learn humility while history draws us inevitably to the cross where it is at last found. We can even peer all the way to the inception of the eschatological ages that even in their ever-hopeful futurity will forever be shaped by their reversion to and procession from the descent of Jesus and his journey to the cross that molds their motions by his ascent to the Father and his enthronement above all things.
The unfurling plotline of history, then is chiastic where the beginning and the end are summed up, recapitulated and defined by the apex, the crescendo, the linchpin, the great hinge of history that opens and closes upon Calvary. God, as we probe the limits of language, exists in the boundless and imminent instantanaety that enfolds the history of the cosmos and the entirety of life therein. He is making himself known and upholding all things by his Word which is spoken supremely in and through the crucified Lord of glory who we can know solely by the self-emptying plenitude of his Passion. Here we find God as love, God as just, God as good, and God for us. His coming is the stone cast upon the waters whose concentric waves radiate around the whole of history.
In his descent to Hades, as St. Peter says in his first epistle, Christ proclaims the good news in the realm of the dead. In so doing he shows himself to be the redeemer of history. He is the reconciler of all things, which is inclusive of both past and future. The civilizations that first emerged in Mesopotamia and Egypt and the Indus Valley, from Pharaohs and kings and priests; all occupy the same level ground beneath the shadow of the cross with farmers, herdsmen, and the destitute beggar on the streets of the the first city. To the worshiper entangled in the half-truths and outright lies of their mythologies and cultic liturgies, he shows himself the true Way and the only stairway to the stars. He presses Sodom through burning sulphur only to show in the flames that redemption is made possible by the fire which has been, in a poor manner of speaking, mingled with his blood which was not only shed for the condemnation of sin in all of its ghastly monstrosities, but also for the very life of the world that has been afflicted by the cancerous illness of evil. He redeems the misguided passions that lead kings and peasants to war and transfigures them according to another pattern, showing them to be living symbols perfected in death – death being the most precious gift any mortal can give back to God. Whatever can be said of our deaths for good or ill, we must not forget that for all who pass through the gates of Hades, in our very deaths we become martyrs bearing witness to the miracle of Calvary. Sinner and saint alike find in the grave the resurrection power that shatters the sepulcher stone and are lead inexorably from the abode of Sheol into the living embrace of the City of God.
We could go on to see how he redeems the men who forged the great empires along with those who suffered under them. In contemplating Christ’s harrowing of Hell, we can see how the Living Lord makes himself known to all who have suffered under genocides and holocausts as the one who holds both the power of resurrection and the effective will to make all things well, bringing restitution for every wrong and wiping away every tear shed in anguish. We can peer into the passing of this present age and all of the cataclysms that this portends and know that the One who has descended here below has also ascended to the empyrean throne of God and in so doing has shown himself to be victorious over every catastrophe contained in our history; manifesting himself at last as the one who will sum up all things in himself, from whom proceeds the fire and the fullers soap that will purge time of its evils in the economy of his ever-outpouring grace. This, yes this Christ, has already made all things new by his triumph on the cross, and what is left for us is the patient longing for its final revelation.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was spoken upon a cursed tree whereupon the Son of God held the totality of creation, broken as it was, in his outstretched arms and he proclaimed the end, here at the beginning, at the apocalypse of Calvary when he said, “It is finished.” So now, when we stand aghast at the slaughter bench of history and shudder at every tolling bell, groping for a glimmer of hope in the absurdities of time, we are called by faith to holy Zion which began beyond time through the creative power of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the cosmos and here we see time conquered and renewed. There is no vain suffering, we suffer with him in his Passion and therefore share in the power of his resurrection as well as his deifying glory. He is the ever-open gate of the heavenly Jerusalem, come down here and now for us, and hereafter all the nations will flock to the tree of life therein for their healing – and time’s final wounds will find their uttermost end once each and every one of us has at last entered and found life in the fructifying power of the cross. Thereafter, is the endless outstretching into the grace of Calvary where we will live into the depths of its profundity and revel in the infinite gift that it truly is. Here, we will ceaselessly live and find a life ever growing into the boundless gratuity of the God who has loved all things into being.
8 thoughts on “On the Beginning of the City of God”
Reblogged this on Eclectic Orthodoxy.
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Jedidiah – thank you for this. Nearly every sentence lifts me into the transcendent “Cloud of Unknowing” – your words carry my mind and heart toward the ineffable Goodness and Glory of our God. Yet every thought is grounded in the manifest hiddenness of the immanent Being of Christ the Logos – with a profound focus on the (perhaps) greatest mystery of all: the Cross.
At this stage of my (so far) 65 years of life – I am currently observing/listening with interest to “secular” voices that are addressing the “meaning crisis” – and I wonder if you are familiar with John Vervaeke? There is fundamentally a return to a kind of Neo-Platonism (which played no small part in the reflections of [Pseudo] Dionysius) – and a recurring appeal to Logos (while still stumbling at the greatest offense to “reason”: “and the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us”).
I would love to hear your thoughts on this (to me) amazing conversation:
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Reblogged this on Sovereign Love and commented:
Read slowly and deliberately – This post will lift you into the cosmic and mystical reality of the Cross – within and outside of “time” as we know and experience it… And in doing so you will worship!
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Wayne, thank you for your kind words. It is deeply encouraging when I get feedback on the things I write, and with regard to this particular post I had no idea it would provoke the kind of response you have given. I wrote this because I needed some way to grapple with the kind of issues I have been studying over the past couple years; namely, Christian neoplatonism because it has had such a profound impact on the ways in which I view God. Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysus, and Maximus the Confessor have provoked so many thoughts that I needed to try to organize them in some way. Generally I am a creative writer, and I want to weave these themes in some of the pieces I am hoping to write in the next year or so and getting some kind of starting point was why I wrote. That this is worship inducing for anyone at all brings me great joy and I am humbled by your response. I will definitely check out the discussion you linked to in the coming days and let you know what I think.
Thanks for responding to my comments, Jedidiah – It sounds like we are on very similar paths in our journeys.
And thanks for subscribing to my blog – but be forewarned it’s hardly as polished and eloquent as is your won. I sporadically post things time and again – usually with a focus on Christian Universalism or Calvinism. A brief sketch of my background will explain why: born (1955) and raised in the family of a Southern Baptist pastor – then finding myself attracted to the conservative yet intellectually oriented Presbyterians (PCA) in my college days. After graduating (the University of Alabama) I went on to Reformed Theological Seminary, attaining my M.Div. – then I pastored full time for 10 years. But for the last 20+ years I have made my “living” as a computer programmer. Probably before I left full-time ministry I began to seriously question the mere justice of the traditional view of hell (ETC as it’s called). About the time that Rob Bell wrote “Love Wins” I had already come to hold firmly to a “hopeful universalism”. Since then Robin Parry and D.B. Hart have made me less shy of embracing this perspective as something far more than just glimmers of hope and possibilities – but, instead, a view that, apart from which, it seems to me (now) the entire understanding of God’s overarching plan and purpose would make no sense at all. And – along with this spiritual evolution – of course my Calvinism inevitably came into question so much so that I can hardly believe that I ever held to the “5 points”. I am amazed that I did not “see” what is (now) so plain to me (e.g. from Romans 9-11). In regard to the latter – let me recommend an older book which you may not have heard of: The One Purpose of God – by Jan Bonda (Eerdmans). He was (before his passing) a Dutch Reformed pastor – who eventually came to embrace Christian Universalism.
Looking forward to more of your posts – and catching up with some older ones I have missed!
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Great depths to explore. There is a richness that comes from the study of God’s word and character. What we do know about God’s City and the promises to come will only deepen as we move from time and eternity.
On Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 8:20 PM ST. JUDE’S TAVERN wrote:
> jedidiahpaschall posted: “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make > glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. > God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and > that right early. Psalm 46: 4-5 To understand the foun” >
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Wow! I really liked this!
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Ps 46 has figured into my own journey in a big way too. Love it. Thanks for sharing this!