Monday, July 19, 2010

The Gravity of the God-Man

One of the greatest discoveries of the modern age is that of the nature of gravity.  Of course, all human beings throughout history have been familiar with the effects of gravity since anyone could drop an object and observe that it fell to the ground.  However, it took Isaac Newton (building on the work of several others before him) to recognize that gravity didn't just apply to things on earth but to the earth itself and all the heavenly bodies.  He discovered that there was a mathematical relationship that existed in the movements of the planets which was directly related to the mass of each body; the more mass an object had, the more attractional force or pull it exerted on other bodies around it.  Einstein would later discover that this "pull" was actually a curvature of space; that is, that extremely massive objects like the sun actually curved the space around them in such a way that it caused smaller objects (the planets) to "fall" towards it.  This curving of space created by the sun's enormous mass is what keeps the planets in their orderly orbit instead of shooting off into space.  Or to put it another way, we might say (in a scientifically imprecise way) that it is the "weight" of the sun which holds our solar system in place.

The final verse of Ezekiel 1 includes this summary statement: "Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord."  The entire first chapter of Ezekiel is a description of Ezekiel's vision of God.  Ezekiel begins by describing a storm cloud filled with fire.  In the cloud, Ezekiel sees four strange but magnificent creatures.  These creatures are somehow connected to wheels which turn out to be the chariot for God's throne.  All of the strangeness of this vision is meant to convey "the glory of the Lord".

Glory is one of those words we see in our English Bibles so often that we forget what it means.  How do you define glory?  The Hebrew word here is kabod.  It is most often translated glory but it also carries the connotation of being large or weighty.  That is, God's glory is his weightiness, his massiveness, his gravity.  This not unlike how we might use these words in English.  We might say that a politician carries great political weight or we might talk about how very charismatic leaders have a certain gravity about them in that they seem to have the ability to draw people into their sphere of influence.

Ezekiel 1 is a reminder of the gravity of God.  It is a reminder that this God who rides on his mighty chariot is a force to be reckoned with; a force so powerful that every other body in the universe is influenced by his movement.  Indeed, were it not for the glory and power of this God, the universe would fall apart and cease to be.  Even the king of Babylon, whose powerful armies have brought God's people into exile, is subject to the glorious gravity of this God.

But in the midst of all this massive, mighty, and weighty transcendence and glory we find something surprisingly inglorious.  Ezekiel's vision has been building to a crescendo.  First, we saw the mighty beasts and then the chariot they escort and then the throne of God on the chariot.  Now we have come to the part of the vision where we expect to see God himself.  Surely, with such mighty creatures to escort his chariot, God will be depicted as something greater still; some ten headed warrior creature that is unfathomable and indescribable.  Instead, Ezekiel sees "a figure with the appearance of a man".  To be sure, it is no ordinary man.  This man has the appearance of fire and glowing metal.  But a man nevertheless.

This is a reminder that for all God's glory and transcendence, for all God's wholly-otherness from us, this God is still for us, connected to us, inseparably like us in some way because God created us to be that way.  "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."  Not only did God create us in his image but God took on our flesh to redeem us.  While I don't imagine that Ezekiel had Jesus in mind when he saw this "figure with the appearance of a man", it is nearly impossible for us as Christians today not to thnk of Jesus when we here Ezekiel's depiction of God.  And we should, for this God in his mighty chariot is the man who was nailed to a cross.  The God whose gravity holds the unverse in place is the man whose death curves the space of our spiritual reality so that we would be drawn to God and no longer sinfully bent in on ourselves.  The gravity of God is most perfectly revealed in the humility and weakness of Jesus Christ. 

No comments: