Cosmic geography or cosmography is a fascinating area. What is the landscape of the cosmos? Modern cosmography as fascinating as it is is detached and alien to us. NASA with its telescopes and various other sensory and observational equipment takes images of stunning and bewildering beauty. The Word of God also has stunning images of the cosmos but taken from an entirely different perspective.
In my other post I argued for a biblical geocentric worldview based on primitive pre-scientific observations and teleological reasons. They described the world as they saw it with the tools they had without making any appeals to modern science. Also the Bible is a teleological document. That means it is very much interested in the purpose of things. The Bible contains a different metanarrative but I argue that there is more than one way to describe things. They can be equally valid but for different reasons. However, the Bible’s picture of the cosmos is far more important than the scientific impression because it answers the question of our purpose in the grand scheme of things.
Creation in the Bible is primarily in functional and spatial categories, and secondly in materialistic terms. This kind of ontology is concerned with what things do (not necessarily how they work), where they are and is less interested about what they are made of. The people in the ancient world were more interested in things that clearly impacted their existence. For instance knowing what the sun does and its position in the sky is good for telling the time and predicting weather which is hugely important for agriculture. (We all got to eat!) Knowing the physical composition of the sun or determining the spectra of light it emits is fascinating but it has no great bearing on life.
The scientific model of the universe often results in a reductionist, mechanistic view of the universe. The biblical narrative stands in stark contrast. The cosmos is the palatial precinct of the holy and sovereign YHWH. To work in this narrative you have to think in terms of different categories as opposed to our modern ones. Descriptions like this, which we have relegated to the realm of myth and children’s stories, are capable of conveying powerful truths about the meaning and purpose of life. In the words of C.S. Lewis what the Bible talks about are true-myths.
A palace is the home of a monarch. Instead of a largely empty universe interspersed with matter (or dark matter) here and there we have created space, a place for creatures with their creator to dwell. Seeing the world as a home is not hard to imagine and it has important applications and implications. It’s quite interesting when you look at modern environmentalist movements. They seem to think it is only recently through modern science that we have realised that this earth is our only home so we better take care of it. In the Bible this has always been the case and for better reasons. It is not a question of our survival but our cosmic mission and purpose as stewards of our earthly habitat.
Created space is one single, unified reality. In the Bible nature consists of things both seen and unseen. The idea of a spiritual realm distinct from natural or physical realm is incorrect. All things fall under the dominion of God. Such modern categories are useful for limiting the scope of scientific study among other disciplines but are of little use in telling the grand story of the Bible. Similarly, the idea of the supernatural is flawed and I critique this in another post. The only truly supernatural phenomenon is God himself because he is fully transcendent. Miracles are not acts of divine intervention against the “laws” of nature. Nature is subservient to God who is involved in upholding it always. In the incarnation God participated in the creation as a part of it.
In the Bible things that are intangible, like angels, in certain circumstances are tangible. Jacob after having a dream about a heavenly portal said,
“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” – Genesis 28:16 ESV
Instead of a spiritual realm we have a spiritual dimension where things proceed undetected but are in every sense as meaningful and impactful. The Bible operates in a different and wider perceptual framework. Just because you do not see something does not make it less real or important.
A unified natural reality is by no means unidimensional. Created space is multifaceted. To appreciate this we need think in ancient categories. The progressivism of Western Enlightenment thinking suggests that we know better than in the past and because of that we are inexorably heading to a utopian future. Just because something is ancient does not mean it is outdated and irrelevant. Biblical cosmography helps us answer questions like what is the meaning of life, what is life after death, and unique to the biblical worldview what is life after life after death?
The Bible uses language that is descriptive of an edifice to picture the cosmos. It talks about the pillars of heaven, foundation of the world, the windows of heaven, and the fountains of the deep. God is described as a builder who measures the heavens with a span, and the sea in the hollow of his palm (Isaiah 40:12.) He stretches the heavens like a tent and inscribes the circle of the earth. The cosmos on a large scale is envisioned like a house and God is its great architect and builder. Since God is King the house is not just a home but a palace from which he rules the various realms of his kingdom. Heaven is his throne and earth is his footstool.
The creation is made up of binary compliments which help us navigate the grand cosmic palace of God. The first and most important is the heavens and the earth. All of created space is summed up in this pair. Humans rule in the terrestrial realm whilst God rules from the celestial realm. Heaven is like the multivalent upper floors of the palace whilst the earth is the ground floor.
Another important binary in the earth are the terranean and subterranean realms. They are the things under the sun and the things which do not see the light of day. Sheol, the subterranean realm of the dead, is pictured as a dark shadowy place. Sheol can be seen as the basement level and the underground dungeon of the palace. Biblical cosmography is far more elaborate than what I have presented and has a more liberal form. However, the three tier hierarchy of God’s dominion forms the basic structure of created space (Philippians 2:9-11.)
There is an important relationship in the Bible between location and purpose among the inhabitants of created space. For instance when you want to sleep at night in your home you got to the bedroom. When you want to cook a meal you go to the kitchen. If you want to bath you got to the bathroom. Creation is likewise ergonomically arranged.
Human purpose is directly linked to the earth. We don’t live on other planets because we are made for the earth. In the Bible, when people die, they go to Sheol (the grave) because they cannot participate in the land of the living. When Adam and Eve rejected their God given purpose in Eden they were expelled and they could not fulfil the same purpose outside of paradise. The death pronouncement was effected by being removed from the literal realm of their purpose.
The purpose of creation is worship. Worship in the Bible, for example, goes on in the confines of sacred space. Abraham was therefore called from Mesopotamia to Canaan. Worship, as it is explained in the New Testament, does not go on in an ethereal realm but within the temples of our bodies. In the Book of Revelation when God finally destroys death he just does not destroy the entity known as death. God uproots Hades (Greek equivalent of Sheol, the realm of the dead) from its place and dumps it along with death in the lake of fire.
(I would like to add that directions as well do not have a merely Cartesian function. Ascending to heaven for instance does not mean travelling into outer space but entering God’s dimension of reality called heaven. Eden being in the East and Sheol being below are very important locations in the landscape of God’s purpose. Furthermore numbers in the Bible do not only have numerical value but a numerological one as well, the divine number seven for example.)
Where we are in this world is intrinsic to our God given purpose. Biblical cosmography is not a wild fanciful myth but conveys important truths about why we are at the place we find ourselves and our relationship with other things in creation.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. – Acts 17:26-27 ESV