Lately my wife and I have been discussing the depth and mystery of space. The majority of the universe (95%) is composed of matter/energy that we cannot place in a test tube; that we cannot touch, taste, see, smell, or hear. We can see its effects on objects around it, but we cannot examine it. It’s not even made of atoms.
This “stuff” is called dark matter; not because it is dark in color, but because our understanding of it is in the dark. It exists even here on earth and is currently moving through your body, yet scientists have no way of reaching out to grasp it.
I am reminded of the mandorla around Christ in some icons (“mandorla” is Greek for almond). It starts as a light blue color, but as it moves closer to its Center (Christ) the blue becomes darker. Through color, this teaches us that the further we dive into Christ, the darker our understanding becomes of Him.
We realize the only knowledge we posses of Christ is what has been revealed to us, which in the grand scale of things is like a grain of sand compared to the universe.
Scripture says that God is light and in Him there is no darkness. The Church Fathers do not contradict that. Instead, we must understand that it is our understanding that is dark. It is always so, but the deeper we dive into communion with God and know Him, the more we realize our lack of knowing. There is a reason Moses met God in a dark cloud.
Words begin to fail, and we are stuck using terms like “apophatic,” which means “unspeakable.”
GOD AND HEAVEN
Many of us like to think of heaven as a wonderful place where the streets are made of gold and there are pretty things all over the place. We are rightly inspired by the beauty around us: gorgeous sunsets, majestic mountains, mysterious dark matter, plants, and animals.
Sometimes we are tempted to think that heaven will be these things, but better versions.
But it seems to me, from the writings of St Maximos the Confessor, that heaven is something beyond that.
God has revealed qualities of Himself through the beauty, majesty, and mystery of nature. But all of these things, brilliant though they be, are mere shadows of the true reality. They are created entities, and not the Uncreated One, who far surpasses all creation.
In the ageless age to come, we will contemplate the Uncreated, which will be far more mysterious than the dark matter at the core of every galaxy, more beautiful than the most colorful sunset, more majestic than the Rocky Mountains or the redwood forests. Everything will not suddenly be made known to us; rather we will explore the depths of the mystery and beauty of God Himself. We will move from glory to glory as we surpass all ages, times, and places.
A BIT TOO LOFTY?
For those of us who have not experienced God in this way, all of this may sound like pious hogwash or perhaps plain boring. But that is because we have not yet glimpsed the beauty and majesty to come. Our minds have not been lifted above that which is created to the Creator Himself
The psalmist writes,
“Be to me a God who is a defender and a fortified place of my salvation.” (Ps 71:3 LXX)
God is the place which we call heaven. He is our place of salvation; He is our consummation of the ages; He is the fulfillment of all things. Our uniting to Him starts here. We don’t have to wait to “go to heaven,” but rather we are given the opportunity to meet God in the mysteries of the Church and every moment of every day and night.
St Maximos states,
The whole world, limited as it is by its own inner principles, is called both the place and age of those dwelling in it. There are modes of contemplation natural to it which are able to engender in created beings a partial understanding of the wisdom of God that governs all things. So long as they make use of these modes to gain understanding, they cannot have more than a mediate and partial apprehension.
But when what is perfect appears, what is partial is superseded: all mirrors and indistinct images pass away when truth is encountered face to face. When he who is saved is perfected in God, he will transcend all worlds, ages and places in which hitherto he has been trained as a child. (First Century on Theology, #70)