The Bible speaks of several paradoxes that are difficult if not impossible for us to fully understand within our limited human context. Primary among these is the teaching that God is a Triune Being. God is both a single unity and a triune being at the same time. Needless to say, the Trinity is a concept that has led to misunderstanding and even ridicule from followers of other faiths. So, how are we to explain the concept that "God the Father", "God the Son" and "God the Holy Spirit" are not three separate gods, but only "one God"?
Likewise, we have the related mystery of the God-man, Jesus Christ, who the Bible portrays as both fully human and fully divine. Or how about the seemingly contradictory teachings that God has created us with "free will", and yet he has also "predestined" us. How is it possible that both could be true? There is, of course, an element of mystery in each of these that is beyond our ability to understand with our limited minds. After all, how can finite minds fully comprehend the infinite? Nevertheless, we can achieve a partial understanding of these mysteries, and I believe that the concept of "extra dimensions" will help us to do just that.
We live in a 4-dimensional world — the 3 dimensions of space and the 1 dimension of time. The Bible tells us that "in the beginning" God created every aspect of this universe we experience out of absolutely nothing. It tells us that time itself had a beginning and is not something that is self-existent. This is exactly what science now tells us as well. At "T=0", all of the matter and energy of the universe, along with the dimensions of space and time that they exist in, popped into existence from out of nothing, in what is referred to as the "Big Bang Creation Event." This points to what is called the "Cosmological Argument," which is perhaps the most powerful argument for the existence of God. If the universe had a beginning, then it had to have a Beginner.
Since God created the 4 dimensions that we exist in, that means that God must have existed in "dimensions" beyond these four. How many "extra dimensions" God has available, we cannot know, and in fact, there is no way we can even conceive of what they might be. We can only visualize things that we can experience, and since as limited human beings we can only experience the 4 dimensions of this universe, we have no way of visualizing extra dimensions. We can, however, use a variety of illustrations within the dimensions we do experience to help us get a handle on these difficult concepts. So let's look at an illustration that helps us understand both the concept of the Trinity as well as the "Incarnation", that is, the act of the Creator God of the Universe limiting himself to our dimensions and becoming a human being.
I have here two paper dolls that we will imagine to be living in a world of only 2 dimensions of space — that is, on a plane. Their world consists of only that plane and they cannot experience in any way the third dimension above or below that plane. I think you can recognize them, as they appear on many doors here in Japan — doors that lead into a very important place in buildings we frequently have to make use of. We'll call the blue one Mr. Flat and the pink one Mrs. Flat.
As I hold these two in my hands, I can move them around in 3-D space, but let's pretend that they are limited to just two dimensions, such as the top of this lectern. Of course, if you want to get technical, they do have the thickness of the paper itself, which is in the third dimension, but let's say that they are limited in that third dimension to just the thickness of the paper they are made of and can only move around within that paper thin slice within their essentially 2-dimensinal world. They can never overlap each other and can only experience each other from the edge. Of course, that does raise the mystifying issue of how they reproduce themselves, but we won't get into that here!
Since they cannot look down from above, when it comes to looking at each other, all they can see is the edge, which to them appears to be only a line. Thus, in order for Mr. Flat to get an idea of what his wife looks like, he will have to go around her measuring both the length of the line he sees together with the distance to each point on the line, and then with his 2-dimensional mind, he could theoretically calculate the outline of her shape. But since he cannot experience the vertical dimension, he still can't really visualize what she would look like from outside of their plane of existence. His power to visualize her would be limited to their 2 dimensions, and thus she would forever appear to be only a line.
I, however, have a one-dimensional advantage over him, and thus I can look down at her and instantly see everything about her. Not only can I see her outline, but also her insides, as it were. Likewise, I can approach them both very closely, but unless I actually penetrate into their plane of existence, they will have no way to know that I even exist. This is very similar to our situation with respect to God. But in this analogy, I have only a one-dimensional advantage over them. God has who-knows-how-many dimensions of advantage over us, and so in this respect, the difference between we humans and God is far greater than between these 2-dimensional beings that I have created and myself, as their "creator."
In this story of Mr. and Mrs. Flat, they can become aware of my presence only if I penetrate into their plane of existence in some way, but even then, they can only know a small part of me. If their plane of existence is the top of this lectern, for instance, then that means that as I stand here, they would perceive the two-dimensional cross-section of my three-dimensional body, which, of course, they would only see as a fairly long line. And by going around me, they could then calculate that it is a fairly large circle — one that unfortunately has been getting a bit bigger over the years!
For the sake of this illustration, however, let's say that I am totally outside of their 2 dimensions of existence, above them in the 3rd dimension that they cannot experience. Now, if I were to poke my finger into their plane of existence next to Mrs. Flat, for example, she would only see a small line that, by going around, she could then determine to be a small circle. And because to them I am like God, we can imagine her going off to tell her friends, "God is a single circle." But suppose, at some other time, I were to poke three fingers into their plane in the presence of Mr. Flat. He would, of course, conclude that I consist of three circles, and he would then go around telling everyone, "God is three circles." We can then imagine the debate raging on, with Mrs. Flat going off to found the "Church of the One Circle" while Mr. Flat establishes the "Church of the Three Circles."
This, of course, is a parable of the human experience of God, isn't it! If only Mr. and Mrs. Flat could see into that third dimension, they would see that both the one circle and the three circles were really the same, just being part of the one "me". In a similar way, when God enters into our four dimensions of space and time, he reveals himself as three entities, but if we could only see into those extra dimensions that make up his realm, we would see that God is one and only one. In theory, of course, the plurality of God could be even more than three, just like I have more than 3 fingers that I can poke into their plane. If God were "4 in 1", I suppose we could coin a new term — "Quadrinity", or something like that, but God has revealed to us that he is three and only three beings in one essence. That, then, is the essence of the Trinity.
Actually, when you think about it, the universe God has created is "trinitarian" in so many ways. We ourselves are a kind of "trinity" of body, mind and spirit, and we exist in a "trinity" of space dimensions. Even our time dimension is a "trinity" of past, present and future. Triuneness is even an integral part of the subatomic world. Atoms, for instance, are composed of three components — protons, neutrons and electrons — held together by three forces — the electromagnetic, the strong nuclear and weak nuclear forces. A further breakdown of these into their components likewise reveals a trinitarian structure. Neutrons and protons are each made up of three quarks. In fact, for the most part, subatomic particles and their characteristics are grouped in threes or in three pairs. It just seems that God reflects his Triune nature in the way he constructed the natural world, and so numerous illustrations from the natural world help us to picture the Trinity. Of course, I should add that when it comes to any analogy you use to illustrate the Trinity, it only illustrates it in a limited way, and so if you push any such analogy too far, it ends up distorting what the Bible teaches concerning the Triune nature of God. In fact, many of the commonly used illustrations — such as water existing in 3 states (namely, vapor, liquid and ice) — end up illustrating a heresy rather than the true nature of the Triune God. And so we must always keep this limitation in mind.
Nevertheless, some analogies work quite well, as long as this limitation is acknowledged. For instance, what is light? Light is, of course, still a mystery in many ways, with some experiments showing that it is behaves as though it were made up of little "particles," while other experiments show that it is a wave. In many ways, light defies rational explanation. Particles and waves seem to be mutually exclusive, and yet somehow, light is both. This fact in itself illustrates such paradoxical truths as the simultaneous divinity and humanity of Jesus as well as the enigma of predestination and freewill.
Whatever light actually is, however, its very existence depends on the mutual interaction of three entities -- namely, an electrical field, a magnetic field and energy. A moving magnetic field produces electricity and the flow of electricity produces magnetism. Light is thus called "electromagnetic radiation", and the amount of energy a photon of light carries determines whether it is visible light or something else, ranging from radio waves to gamma rays. Without energy to carry, there is no light, and so the three aspects of light need each other for light to exist at all. Thus, this too illustrates God's tri-unity. And remember, the Bible says, "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." (I John 1:5)
While we're speaking about light, it's likewise interesting to note that the light we see with our eyes is made up of three primary colors. For instance, in order to make color film that can capture all of the various shades of color our eyes can see, they use 3 emulsions to capture the essence of the colors present. So, here again we see this same pattern of three in one.
One other good illustration along this same line is the sun itself. It exists as a hot ball of gas, but we perceive it by the light and heat it sends us, and we experience it through the workings of the energy it gives us. Many aspects of the physical sun are analogous to God. Just as we cannot fly our spaceship up and land on the sun, neither can we nonchalantly approach a holy God on our own merits. Either way, we would be consumed in the process. Thus, in this aspect, the physical sun is analogous to God the Father and his holiness. Now, without the energy the sun provides, there could be no life. In the spiritual realm, the same is true. We only can know about the sun through the light it sheds on our world, and similarly, God reveals himself to us through his Son, Jesus Christ, who referred to himself as "the light of the world." And just as it is the electromagnetic radiation coming from the sun that powers all of life, so it is in the spiritual realm, as God works in his Spirit in us and through us to bring about and to nourish spiritual life.
Let's return now to our friends Mr. and Mrs. Flat in their 2-dimensional world, and think about what it means for the divine Creator of the universe to become a human being — that great event we celebrate each Christmas. Now, in this analogy, I am the 3-dimensional creator of Mr. and Mrs. Flat and their world. So, in order for me to become their Savior, I would have to somehow enter their world and become one of them. In order to do that, I would have to give up one of my three spatial dimensions and through a kind of incarnation limit myself to their two dimensions of space. So, here I am in my "incarnated" state as a paper doll. While I am in their 2-dimensional world, I would be limited just like they are. I could tell them about that world of 3 dimensions that is so far beyond them, but they could only vaguely understand it -- just like we have so much trouble trying to understand the totality of God in his many dimensions.
You can see how all of this is analogous to what the eternal Christ did for us by temporarily divesting himself of all of the many extra dimensions he had from before the beginning of time and limiting himself to our 4 dimensions of existence. In becoming a human being, he was limited to being in just one place at one time. He could only carry on one conversation at a time, and he also required sleep and rest. In his human existence, he was physically limited in every way that we are.
In his spirit, of course, he could still plug into his supernatural powers and perform his healing and other miracles. And after the Resurrection, Jesus took up again his full range of powers and dimensions. As we read in Paul's words to the Philippians, the name of the resurrected Jesus "is above every name, and at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Likewise, because Jesus is no longer limited by our space and time dimensions, he can be right here among us at the same time he is everywhere else "two or three are gathered in his name."
The extra dimensions that are available to Jesus in his resurrected state also help us get an inkling of the things that are reported to have happened after his resurrection. For instance, his disciples could touch him and he ate a meal with them. And yet he could suddenly appear in a locked room — somewhat like the "beam-me-up-Scotty" fantasy of "Star Trek." How is that possible? We have no definite answers, of course, but if take into account the fact that God has extra dimensions available to him, then we can at least speculate as to how it might be possible.
In our human existence, we have only 3 dimensions of space available to us, and we know from experience that we can't pass through something solid, as the resurrected Jesus was able to do. But if, for instance, Jesus has 3 extra dimensions of space available to him, all he would have to do is to "rotate" dimensions 1, 2 and 3 into dimensions 4, 5 and 6, and then he could pass right through a solid wall, since they are in different dimensions. And once in the room, he would simply need to reverse the process so that he would physically appear before them. In dimensions 1, 2 and 3, he would be a physical being his disciples could touch, and he could eat a cooked fish in their presence. Whether that is the way it actually works, of course, I don't know, but at least it helps us see what extra dimensions under the control of the God who created them make possible.
I want to now briefly address this issue about free will and predestination. If God already knows the future, how then can we truly have free will? It is a paradox that has baffled Christian thinkers for centuries. And while there is much about this that will forever be beyond our limited minds, the concept of extra dimensions also helps us get a handle on this issue as well. In this case, however, it is not extra space dimensions, but extra time dimensions that make it possible.
In order to visualize time, however, we have to utilize space dimensions. In fact, in ordinary conversation, we do this all the time. We talk about a "point in time" and a "timeline." That is all the further we can go with only one time dimension. But this time dimension that we live in is something that God created at the beginning of the universe, which means that God has to have at least one extra time dimension available to him. So, again, using space dimensions to help us visualize things, that would mean that God operates in a "plane of time" — and maybe even in 3-dimensional time or greater, for all we know. So what would that allow him to do?
So, let's illustrate this with this diagram of the time line of the universe. It begins at the point that the universe begins and continues through our present time into the future. Our existence is confined to this one time line that we can experience only one point at a time — namely, the present. In this illustration, however, God can utilize a "plane of time", which means that he is not confined to our time line, and can intersect it at any point along that line. We can visualize this as dropping a line down to intersect our time line in the past, present or future. This means that God can have complete knowledge about our time line, including the future.
From our human perspective, within the confines of the point in time that we occupy, we have the freedom to choose whatever we want within the constraints imposed upon us by the laws of nature and the circumstances of our lives. But from God's perspective, he already knows and even predetermines the future. We clearly see evidence of this in biblical prophecies that can be proven to have been written well before the fact and to have been perfectly fulfilled. There is, of course, the question of what level of detail God predestines things. Clearly God is in control of the future and directs it for his predetermined objectives. But whether he determines minor details as well — and if he doesn't, just where the line is between the two — is an open question.
My personal opinion is that while I believe that God controls all aspects of the history of the universe that have any significant bearing on the outcome, he probably leaves the minor details that don't make any difference in the outcome up to the natural workings of the laws he created. Thus, I doubt that God would direct such things as which specific water molecule goes into which particular raindrop or similar such things. Likewise, whether I had cereal or eggs for breakfast this morning would probably make no difference of any significance, and so I have trouble envisioning God micromanaging on that level -- though, obviously, as an infinite being, he could. But higher up the scale of importance, I believe that God is more actively directing things. Clearly, however God is doing it, he is working out his eternal purposes.
Time is a mystery we will never really understand. But we know that God is the Lord of time. He is the Lord of our past, our present and our future. The Apostle Paul gives us another kind of "trinity" of qualities we are to strive for — namely, "faith, hope and love." Each of these applies to these three aspects of time in a special way. Faith applies to our past. For when we make Christ the Lord of our past, we have the faith to accept his forgiveness and renewal from whatever is in our past. And when we turn over our futures to him by making him Lord of our future, we are given a deep and abiding hope that isn't swayed by circumstances. Paul says, however, that the greatest of these three is love, and it is that that applies to our present. By making Christ the Lord of our present, we allow him to fill us with his love and reach out to a hurting world.
Well, I've touched on a number of paradoxes of the Christian faith that can be at least partially illuminated by considering what the extra dimensions God has available to him makes possible. These are certainly not the final answers to these paradoxes, and so we will have to content ourselves with only a partial understanding — at least this side of eternity, anyway. I want to close with a final thought about God's great plan of salvation.
When we think of the incarnation of Christ, where the eternal God temporarily limited himself to the dimensions of the world he had created for us, it is a mystery indeed. While we can come to a basic understanding of what this means — that is, the "what" of the incarnation — what about the "why" of incarnation? It seems to me that an understanding the "what" of the incarnation is perhaps a bit easier than understanding the "why". I think I can understand the necessity of having someone who is perfect stand in the gap between sinful humanity and the Holy God and provide a way to bridge that gap through the giving of his life. But why would God go through all of the trouble, along with all of the pain and suffering it would cause him? The only answer is again a mystery — the mystery of God's perfect love. The Bible tells us that God wanted to create intelligent and moral beings who were free to either choose to relate to him or to reject him and go their own way. Humanity, of course, did just that very thing. "All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way." God knew before hand that we would, since he can totally foresee the future, and so he devised his great salvation plan — incarnating himself as Jesus Christ to lead a perfect life and sacrifice himself for us on the Cross. And when the time is right, he will again act conclusively to bring about the "New Heaven and New Earth" he has planned for us. Though I certainly don't understand all of that, it will be his way of totally conquering once and for all the problem of evil while at the same time leaving intact human free will.
The mystery of the incarnation is the central mystery of the Gospel — that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life." It is a mystery to be sure. We realize that a full understanding is far beyond our capacity as mere human beings, but nevertheless, it strengthens our faith to attempt to get an overall picture of what it's all about. May God help us to simply stop our busyness and pause to take it all in. Let us pray.
Our Father, as we think about what you did for humanity through your Son, Jesus Christ, help us to realize the enormity of it all. Help us to take it all in and to simply accept it for what it is — your unmerited love for us, these finite beings you created in your infinite image. We thank you and praise you for what you did then and for what you are doing in this world today and in the future when you bring it all to a climax. For it's in Christ's name that we pray.