The Reunification of Heaven and Earth: In Honour of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Birthday

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
12 August 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

In honour of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s birthday today, I give you a meaningful passage from the final volume in his Theo-Drama, The Last Act:

What is certain is that our earthly existence, though refined and transfigured in God’s fire, will enter into heaven; the new world will remain our world. In heaven, the life we have led on earth will be not only a memory but something like an abiding presence. How is this possible? We must again return to the reciprocity of heaven and earth: everything that is lived in a fragmentary and incomplete way on earth has always had its ultimate ground in heaven. No earthly moment can be fully exhausted (this is the problem with Goethe’s Faust); whatever eternal content it contains––and our temporal existence cannot bring it forth out of its depths––is “laid up” for us in heaven: in heaven we shall live the full and eternal content of what on earth was present only as a transcendent, unsatisfiable longing. This is at least one aspect of heavenly life. In heaven, therefore, our earthly existence––and we have only one existence––will be present in an unimaginable and unimaginably true manner.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Last Act, 413.


Heaven and Earth: The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
20 September 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I want to take a brief brake from my letters on C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy to bring to your attention two things I’ve seen today. The first is a video on the nature of heaven and earth I will share below. Please give it a watch (Hat Tip to Robin Parry at Theological Scribbles for posting this).

In this excellent little video we are reminded of two incredibly important things. The first is that at one time Heaven and Earth were united. At one time, perhaps, our world was not so unlike those depicted in either Malacandra or Perelandra. God and his angels, the whole order of being, was represented on Earth, were capable of being experienced by humanity in a more direct fashion. Then a split happens, Earth rejects heaven. The video then deftly points out that the temple will be come the primary locus on Heaven on Earth. However, what it fails to mention, probably due to lack of time, is that there seemed to be other pockets of Heaven on Earth, at least before the tabernacle and temple. Jacob in Bethel sees the ladder with the orders of angels ascending and descending; Moses finds himself by a bush that is burning but not consumed as is told that the ground beneath him is holy. In fact, the video fails to mention even in the divorce of Heaven and Earth, the divorce isn’t true, in a sense. The world cannot go on existing unless it participates in God. Nevertheless, the key here, is that the temple becomes the main sight where Heaven and Earth collide.

Then something new happens. A being from Heaven fully enmeshes himself in Earth. Not just any being, either but the Being, the source and font of all that we call being, the Son, the second person of the Trinity becomes a human without forsaking his divinity. Now, he himself is a pocket of heaven everywhere he goes and he begins to reclaim people and things for heaven. The people part is obvious, lost become found, blind regain sight, sinners are made saints. However, remember that Christ also transfigured water (both by turning it to wine and sanctifying it for baptism). Christ transfigures bread and wine into his body and blood in the Eucharist. Christ is, in a sense, revealing to us the true meaning and purpose of these worldly (and even manmade) objects. He makes them pockets of heaven.

But beyond even this, believers, and therefore the Church, become pockets of heaven, or thin places, if you like (often called a Celtic Christian idea, I can say that I spent roughly three years studying ancient Irish Christianity and never encountered the phrase thin places, but it is a useful metaphor). However, I want to suggest that there are still physical thin places; the most obvious of which are churches (that is the buildings). Traditionally, church buildings have been built theologically. Shape and design are given a theological meaning. Even more so, the medieval churches are filled with images (primarily images called icons in the Christian East), statues, and carvings to evoke Heaven. Angels surround the altar (what many Protestants call the communion table), depictions of the life and death of Christ and the saints are set in place, not merely to inspire or remind us of the stories.  They are there to draw our minds into Heaven which is present in that space, unlike how it may be present in others. Why? Because as the video noted concerning the death of Christ, the efficacy of that death (and the nature of that life) is repeated in the sacraments. Preeminent of these is the Eucharist where we share in the body and blood of Christ, however conceived by celebrants and participants. This makes churches holy ground, thin places where Heaven and Earth collide.

This brings me to a blog post I read this morning. Robb Beck at “Sublunary Sublime” reminds us that the re-enchantment project in Christianity can become something of a purely intellectual notion at best and mere cliché at worst if we are not careful. He reminds us at the end of the short post, ‘Re-enchanting the universe is not some abstract idea, nor is it a simple intellectual task. It is a summons to face the enemy head on. As Fr. Steward Headlam once remarked, “it seems to me to be the duty of every minister of Christ to do all he possible can to stir up a divine discontent in the hearts and minds of the people with the evils which surround them.”’ This is, I believe, the natural conclusion of what I have outlined above. If the Earth is “enemy occupied territory” as C. S. Lewis calls it, then the Church and the churches are bastions of Heaven which send out Heavenlings to reclaim, to re-enchant a world gone dormant, a world lulled to sleep by the lying lullaby of the Enemy. And it is fitting that this all begins at the altar, at the recapitulation, the non-identical repetition of the Cross.

This is what it means to pray Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is Heaven. This too, I would argue, is the significance of praying for our daily bread. That this bread represents true sustenance cannot be denied for what is more sustaining than the Bread of Life?

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Love Wins or How grace works or Is Rob Bell a Heretic?: Old Post 2

Rob Bell, Heretic?

Well, amidst what I am sure will be the general deluge of reviews on Rob Bells most recent book, Love Wins, I thought I would add my own.
What the biggest question most Christians have about Bell’s book is, is he a heretic? The simplest answer I can give to that question is no. What Bell presents in Love Wins is not some kind of Unitarian Universalism where all roads lead to a proverbial Rome, that is, Heaven. Bell makes it clear, salvation, life in God in the resurrection comes only through the salvific act of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God in flesh. The question, however, is not that simple.
While Bell presents views that are similar to those presented by C. S. Lewis in The Last Battle and The Great Divorce, he does what Lewis does not, he writes an entire book dedicated to the subject and calls others to believe as he does.
Also, on the question of heresy, it is true that the Early Church might have condemned him, but probably more specifically his views, as heresy, but I think they would have been wrong. Today, the label of heresy should be saved for those who deny Jesus as God incarnate, who died for the sins of the world and was resurrected three days later, ascending to the Father forty days later and denies that salvation comes through Jesus alone. This Bell does not do.
Therefore, even if you disagree with Bell’s understanding of grace, I would not recommend that you condemn him to Hell for his views. First, that is God’s decision alone. Second, he says nothing that I think should keep him from God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Rob Bell and Grace
This brings us to just what Bell does say about grace. Without giving too much away, Bell states that not only do all have the opportunity to come to God’s grace in this life, but that God’s persistent love extends beyond this life into the life to come. As I said above, Lewis shows something similar to Emeth the Calormene who finds himself in Aslan’s Country when he has served Tash his entire life. Origen, in the third century, goes even further saying that eventually everyone will turn to Jesus, either in this life, pre-resurrection, or in the life to come, post-resurrection. For Origen, this extends even to Satan and his angels.
The people Bell seems to upset the most are those who have a Calvinistic or Augustinian understanding of grace, where God only chooses a select, elect few to spend eternity with Him, the rest He condemns (or they condemn themselves) to Hell. This needs to be kept in mind when reading Love Wins. (Frankly, I think they both get it wrong but that Bell might possibly be closer.
What do I think?
Personally, I disagree with Bell. I don’t think the Scriptures, or the majority of Church tradition are clear on this issue. I don’t think it is completely evident that all people will always have a choice. I have a hard time reconciling certain passages (especially parables) with Bell’s view (or Calvin’s for that matter). Nevertheless, I hope he’s right. Yes, I hope that all people will always have a choice, that they will not only be able to, but will choose Jesus in the end. I want it to be true, even if I don’t see it in Scripture. Since I want it to be true, and I don’t think it is, that spurs me on even more to help spread the Gospel to all people. That is love and God is love. This is what Bell calls us to, even though all people will always have a choice, we must help them see that there are real consequences now and in the life to come for our decisions now and as Christians we must help people make the right decisions and accept God’s love.Also, check out my friend Peter’s review Love Wins.