Sep 16, 2011

Beyond Flatland

There is a wonderful story called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions that has had a profound impact on my worldview and my faith. The premise is that there exists a world with only two spatial dimensions called Flatland. This world is made of two-dimensional objects and two-dimensional people (polygons). They only know what is in front, behind, above, and below. There is no concept of a third dimension. There is no to the right or to the left. When a person approaches another, it looks like a line directly ahead growing in length; when a person moves away from another, the line shrinks. Only the edge of a polygon person can be seen as he approaches. The people of this world know government, art, education, politics, etc. It is a civilization in two dimensions.

One day, the protagonist of the story, the Square, has a dream about visiting a one-dimensional world, Lineland. He imagines one-dimensional beings, points, moving forward and backward along the line of their universe. Later on in the story, the Square is visited by an other-worldly being, the Sphere, who opens his eyes to the idea of his three-dimensional world, Spaceland. To the Square, the Sphere is supernatural. As the Sphere enters the Square’s two-dimensional world, he looks to the Square like a line that appears out of nothing. The Square’s view of the universe is expanded as his mind attempts to wrap around the concept of a third dimension.

In imagining how the Square would perceive the Sphere in his two-dimensional space and how the Sphere could perform seeming miracles (appearing and disappearing, and causing two-dimensional objects to do the same), my own views of creation and the Creator have expanded. Theoretical physicists postulate the existence of many more dimensions than we are aware of... some are curled up, some have superstrings wound about them, and all are every bit as real and as present as what you see in front of you.  There is profound meaning in this idea that reality is much more than what we can measure or perceive.

A Creator of a universe is by definition other, outside of that universe. I believe that the Creator of our universe (and perhaps countless other universes), as a loving Father, is always reaching into our existence, like the Sphere into Flatland. He is always creating and expanding and influencing and interacting, because, as wild as it sounds, our Creator cares for us and deeply desires that we know him. What does it look like to our dimensionally-limited perception when a Being outside of space and time reaches into our multi-dimensional universe? It can be overwhelming or imperceptible or uninterpretable or confusing, just as it is for the Square interacting with the Sphere. I draw comfort, gratitude, and awe from the truth that, as a created being, I cannot fathom my Creator or the ways in which he moves. Isaiah articulates this compellingly:

          “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
                    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
          For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
                    so my ways are higher than your ways
                    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

And yet, my Creator must be so gentle, so tender, to engage with his creation in tolerable, much less loving, ways. Gulliver had to take special care not to crush the Lilliputians inadvertently. How much more care must the Creator take with the created? David sings:

          But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy,
                    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
          Look down and have mercy on me.
                    Give your strength to your servant;
                    save me, the son of your servant.

My prayer is that I will grow in knowledge of both God’s otherness and his gentleness… and that I will continue to be awed and humbled by the expansiveness of his creation.

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