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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Flatland

In his fanciful book Flatland, Edwin Abbott describes a two dimensional world inhabited by triangles, squares and pentagons, etc. For flatlanders, there is no such concept as “up”. They live in and only know two dimensions. The sphere invades their two dimensional world, attempting to convince them of the gospel of the third dimension. Of course, being in their flat plane, all they see is the appearance of a point which expands into ever larger concentric circles until it recedes again to a point and disappears. Unable to convince the pentagon of the third dimension, the sphere finally shows him Lineland which has no width. The inhabitants of Lineland merely travel back and forth on their narrow line. The pentagon futilely attempts to convince the Linelander that there is width, to no avail. He is then shown Pointland, whose inhabitants bask in their pointdom, unable to comprehend either length or width. After finally being convinced of the existence of the third dimension, the pentagon is imprisoned for his heretical views. The sphere visits him in prison to comfort him. The pentagon says to him, “You showed me Pointland and Lineland. Although I knew there was both length and breadth, I couldn’t make them understand. Through this you convinced me of the third dimension. But what about the fourth and fifth dimensions?” To which the sphere replies “Nonsense!”

As humorous as this story is, it has a point. We have great difficulty comprehending things outside of our experience. In the rational world in which we live, we have difficulty understanding that we also live in a world which also has a spiritual dimension. The story of Elisha and his servant at Dothan (II Kings 6:15-17) illustrates the difficulty we face. When his servant fears for his life, Elisha prays for his eyes to be opened. He then sees horses and chariots surrounding Elisha, protecting them. It is easy for us to rationalize this story, saying that things like this occurred in Bible times, but don’t today. But they still do. A priest with whom I am acquainted was telling of an experience which happened to him. He was working among gangs. He was cornered by a gang of young men who were going to force him to take drugs. Suddenly the gang surrounding him melted away. At a later time he caught up with them and asked them why they left so suddenly. One of the gang members told him that there was a big guy up in the air above them, and he definitely was not happy. God had sent an angel to protect him from harm.

Like the pentagon in Flatland, we live in a world that contains more dimensions than we think. As St. Paul says, we are surrounded by heavenly principalities and powers. Just as Flatland was invaded by the sphere, preaching the gospel of the third dimension to the Flatlanders, so also our world was once invaded by one preaching the gospel of the spiritual dimension. Jesus came down to this world to show us who God is and bring us back into relationship with him. Just as the pentagon was persecuted for his views on the third dimension, so also are the followers of Jesus persecuted for their view of spiritual matters. Just as the majority of flatlanders had no concept of up, so most of the inhabitants of our world have little or no concept of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged. Are you content to live in our three dimensional world, or do you see yourself living in the midst of a spiritual world?

1 comment:

  1. I don't think of myself as a "spiritual" person but I definitely acknowledge the existence of a spiritual world. Trouble is, that knowledge puts you on a fine line between those that totally deny the spiritual ("I won't believe in it unless I can see it, touch it, etc.") and those with an unhealthy interest in it ("Let's have a seance!!") The Bible expresses that line in its injunctions not to mess with spirits but also its clear statements that there ARE spirits. That's a really tough one to get through to people without sounding like a nutcase. I bet your priest friend has only told his story to a select few.

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