When Life Tumbles In

In 1927 the wife of Scottish preacher Arthur Gossip died suddenly. When he returned to the pulpit he preached a sermon titled “When Life Tumbles In, What Then?” In that sermon Gossip compared life to watching  a plane pass through the sky during wartime. There you are, lying on your back watching a plane fly gracefully across a brilliant sunlit blue sky when all of a sudden it is blown apart by gunfire and falls to earth a tumbling, tangled mess of metal. Only on this occasion the gunfire was the tragically unexpected death of his beloved wife.

Gossip went on to explain that he didn’t understand this life, but what he did know was that during this darkest period of his life he needed his faith more than ever. “You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else.” Without his faith there was no hope.

Source: Reported in Hans, God on the Witness Stand (Baker 1987). Hans sourced the sermon from Arthur Gossip, The Hero in Thy Soul (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930)

The Parable of the Flatlanders

Christians believe many astonishing things about God, for example, that God is triune, that Christ was fully God and fully human, that God is close, but cannot be seen, and so on. To help us come to grips with such mysteries a nineteenth century schoolmaster named Edwin Abbott wrote a story entitled Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. He concept is very helpful in recognising the limitation sin our knowledge of God. Imagine a group of people who live in a two-dimensional world. They have length and width but not height. Their world would be like strange creatures living on a sheet of paper. They have width and length but no height. They can move across the paper, and along it, but they can never move above it or below it, nor would they be able to see above it or below it. Now imagine you poked three fingers into their world. All they see is three separate circles. They would have no perception that these belonged to the one three dimensional hand. Or imagine if you put your face close to look at the flatlanders, perhaps just a half a centimetre above the surface of the page. You would be closer to the flatlanders than two of them standing a centimetre apart and yet they would have no way of knowing you are there. Or imagine the open end of a horseshoe being placed into their world. All they would see are two rectangles on the ground, separated by some distance. They would assume that these were two entirely separate objects. They would have no sense that these belonged to the same object nor any idea what the nature and purposes of the horseshoe are.

So it is with us and God. We exist in a three dimensional world, but God potentially exists in many more dimensions. Things that are obvious and natural to God appear as mysterious and unfathomable to us as we might to the Flatlanders.