Scripture’s “heaven” and the god of the philosophers

Hypothesis: it becomes more difficult to divide the putative God of the philosophers from the God of faith after we unpack the scriptural metaphor of “heaven” as God’s dwelling place.

Arguably, the human authors of the scripture took “heaven” in a geographical sense. But all this means is that they were mistaken about the literal sense of what they wrote. What is now just atmosphere, ball-of-gas fusion reactions, and so much empty space contains phenomenological elements and parts of old theory that point to the truth of God. So what are they?

1.) The blending of the evident and the obscure. On the one hand, nothing is more universally manifest and obvious than the sun, moon or stars. The objects of the sky are the only objects that everyone on Earth sees – in fact they can’t be missed. On the other hand, we have absolutely no contact with them. By naked eye observation,  we can’t tell whether they are made of things we have experienced or of something utterly different, whether they are made anew everyday or not, or even whether they are bodies or open gates to a luminous world. In the same way, God is both known by the consensus gentium, and can be known by arguments that do not require specialized observations, and yet he still remains utterly distant and unknown.

2.) The cause of being, action, and safety. It’s hard to express to anyone who grows up with electric lights how dependent one’s energy and safety is on the light coming from the sky. Without electric lights, we can feel our energy flagging soon after sundown, and the world becomes a colder and more threatening place. The lights of the sky also govern the seasons and therefore the growth of food in an obvious way. Heaven in this sense is a metaphor for God being both the one who imparts being, gives it energy, and provides for it.

3.) Being timeless and unchangeable. The clock is always viewed as separate from the temporal system, and the master clock – one which we still use – is the motion of the heavens. Even the hyper-accurate motion of a quartz crystal or a cesium atom is counted so far as it measures some fraction of this movement. Beyond this, the heavenly bodies don’t change so far as naked-eye observation is concerned. They remain what they are while all else changes. Closer observation proves this false, but the naked-eye judgment is the one used in the metaphor.

And so if we unpack the metaphor of heaven or even above as specifying God’s “location”, we get a view of God that directly links up with the account of God given by classical theism.

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