What Is Beneath the Universe?

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. John 1:1-3


Throw a blanket over a chair. In all likelihood, you would recognize immediately that there is a chair beneath the contours of the fabric. The blanket is not the chair, but the chair gives shape to the blanket. This is a possible image for thinking about a certain aspect of creation – the shape it is given by the Logos. For the Christian, the shape of the universe, and everything in it, points towards something beneath, within, and throughout it. The universe is not just a lot of things; the things make “sense.” And, not surprisingly, “sense” would be one of many possible translations for the Greek word, Logos.

In our world of secular materialism, we would not tend to think that “sense” is anything other than something our thoughts do. But this begs the question: why do our thoughts make “sense” of things. Where did their “sense” come from?

The Logos does not belong to the categories of “things.” It is not a mathematical principle, nor a law of physics. But both the principles of mathematics and the laws of physics point towards something else. In Christian theology, both are just blankets covering a chair.

The witness of St. John’s gospel, and the faith of the Church, is that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnate Logos of God, eternally begotten of the Father. Though St. John begins his gospel with this affirmation, it is not the place where our Christian faith, or theology begin. That place where what is hidden (like the chair) is revealed is in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, His Pascha. The proclamation, “Christ is risen,” is the affirmation of the mystery hidden from before the ages. It is the revealing of God’s good will and the definitive manifestation of His good will towards us.

When we turn from Christ’s resurrection towards creation in efforts to discern the Logos, it is Christ’s Pascha being manifest in all things that is the proper point of our attention. The Logos is not some inert principle, or property of physics, and we do wrong to examine things from that angle. If we were to pull back the blanket to see what is beneath, we would see only the risen Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

This “shape” of the universe, or the dynamic of its shape, is called the Providence of God in Christian theology. If we look more carefully at the tradition, we will see that Providence is understood to be the Divine Energies, the “doings” of God. When human beings act, we think of ourselves as one thing and our actions as another. Indeed, sometimes we act in a way that seems to contradict our identity. We wonder, “Why did I do that?” With God it is different.

It is the teaching of the Church that God’s Essence and His Energies are one. The God who makes Himself known in His energies, is the God who is beyond knowing in His very being (essence). The manner of knowing God in His energies (actions) is one of discernment. I can discern the shape of a chair, though I do not see the chair.

Now, it is also possible for others to suggest that what we see is not a chair at all. Perhaps it is a set of boxes stacked in a chair-like manner. Perhaps it is an evil robot that is sort of shaped like a chair. Perhaps the blanket has simply landed in a manner that suggests (accidentally) the shape of a chair. All of these would represent competing narratives. Some of the suggestions are more plausible than others. The narrative of modernity would likely favor the accidental blanket account.

What is clear, however, is that debating the narratives, based on the observation of shape alone, is a no-win exercise. We see the blanket. What’s beneath it can be argued any number of ways. We do well, then, to remember that we do not start with the Prologue of John’s gospel. Had Christ traveled around Israel proclaiming, “I am the Logos through whom all things were created!” He would likely have been ignored (or worse). He does say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” but that remains a rather opaque statement until after the resurrection. Indeed, apart from Christ’s Pascha, everything about God is opaque.

That the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is also the eternal Logos, is a matter of revelation. It is not a result of a logical process of deduction. It is an assertion, a declaration of the nature of God and the nature of all that He has created. I often think of it as the most outrageous proclamation of the gospel possible. It flies in the face of all absurdity and meaninglessness. The Christian argument is simple: “Christ is risen.” To every objection that can be raised, we respond, “Yes, but Christ is risen.”

We do not live our lives gazing out at the universe. We are tiny things, less aware of the blanket and more aware of tiny fibers. Many times we cannot even discern the weave. We argue about the material. It is little wonder that many cannot fathom the reality of the Logos, or even grasp that shape of things. That they deny the Christian narrative is not an example of perversity: it reflects their experience. I think that many have only ever encountered arguments about blankets and chairs. Christ seems just as abstract. This is a failure in our Christian proclamation.

Our life, and our proclamation need to mirror that of the Apostles. They bore witness to Christ’s Pascha. They not only bore witness to it as an event, but accepted His way of life as the consequence of that event. We love our enemies because Christ is risen from the dead. We forgive everyone for everything because Christ is risen from the dead. We share what we have with others because Christ is risen from the dead. If, in our leisure, we ponder the shape of the universe, we do so that we might know the risen Christ. That is the end of all things.

It is rare that I reprint an article in the same year that it was written. This one (February 2019), however, came up in conversation with my beloved wife. We’ve been on vacation this week, mostly driving as we dodge an impending hurricane. Time with her is my favorite time. I’m reprinting this article because it a conversation I want to have (with readers as well).



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