By Daniel Malakowsky
"Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places..." ~ Ephesians 1:18-20
Several months ago I began the unexpected journey of changing careers and becoming a math teacher. As this transition has unfolded, and I now find myself working with high school students in discovering the simple truths and processes of algebra, one question comes to the forefront more than any other, "when am I ever going to use this stuff?!" Apparently the banality of sitting with the repeated variables of 'x' and 'y' and thinking through their relationship, while learning about things that sound foreign and unnecessary, like discovering the joy of quadratic equations, is not an invigorating experience for youth who are thinking of education more pragmatically.
What many of these students miss is that underneath our physical world is the architectural manifestation of mathematics that gives explanation for the invisible things that bind together our reality. Thus the learning of math takes what is unseen and allows them to harness the force and powers that undergird the world of creation and exercise the dominion called forth in by Yahweh in Genesis 1 to bridle them for good. From the Fibonacci sequence that unfolds the patterns of shells and flowers to the complex equations that reveal the nuances of energy, electromagnetic waves, and all physical matter, the elements of life that are not seen become known and expressed through the working of math.
Many of these great discoveries were made by those who looked at our physical world and that which was beyond it, namely a reality in which God was king. As a new believer I once stumbled into the works of Nicholas of Cusa, a 15th century German philosopher and astronomer. In his work titled, "On Learned Ignorance," he compared the life of discipleship and truth to that of a polygon. He noted that in pursuit of truth we can add numerous sides and angles, making a polygon to look increasingly more like a circle, but it will never be a circle. The more sides we add, the smaller they become and the corresponding angles, but we will only have a shape with smaller angles and sides, never an object that is entirely without angles, like the circle. Only the truth is without angle and he found that truth in the person of Christ, the unbending reality of our existence.
Like Cusa and those that have been driven to explore the unseen reality behind our physical world and existence, I believe that the apostle Paul was ultimately driven by what was unseen, yet made known in our world. While not thinking through such things in terms of metaphysics, astronomy, and mathematics, Paul was ultimately compelled by the Fatherhood of God that was manifest through the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus.
Paul and the Unseen
In the latter part of Ephesians chapter 1, Paul moves from his great benediction in which he unpacks that Triune truth of who God is and how he has been at work and known in the world, being his purposes, heart and plans, to a prayer for the recipients of this letter. As he prays for them, he petitions that 'having the eyes of their hearts enlightened' they may know the hope, calling and inheritance that is theirs with one another in the power of the resurrection. This hope and calling are not ambiguous or generalized, but the hope to which he just called them forth in his opening benediction. It is the hope of God's work that they now have in deposit (Ephesians 1:14) in that he is working in Christ to unite all things to himself. The hope that what is now in deposit, will one day be consummated and the divisions and discord that are the consequences of sin and death will be no more.
The calling then is not abstract, but is the calling to live in light of the triune reality that has been made known in Christ, where the union of the Trinity has become our union through our adoption in Christ. Christ the Beloved, or more fully the one who has been and is presently being loved by the Father, incorporates us into the fullness of who God is by defining this truth through the simple statement of 'in whom.' In whom, meaning the one we now belong to and through whom we have access to all that God is, becomes the meta-narrative of the Christian life. This is our shared inheritance, that we belong to the life of God in Christ through the working out of his love in the redemptive actions of the cross.
For Paul then, the unseen world to which we are invited into in Christ, is ultimately the world of our union to the harmony of love found in the Trinity. It is a union we have in part, but that part is fully ours and we are to live in light of our belonging to it, but also the hope of its culmination when the Son of Man returns in his glory.
At the heart of Paul's vision of reconciliation and unity is his unwavering trust and vision of the world unseen in which God reigns in the power of his glory, but is yet also revealed in the love and humility of his Son. Paul is not inviting us to worship and come before the proverbial imaginings of delusion that only find harmony in the minds of wishful thinking and dreaming. He is taking what God has made known in Christ and inviting, through the tangible and concrete actions of this love and redemption, to see a reality that is equally real, if not yet seen, in which we now participate and have union with.
The Trinity - Our Doxological Reality
This reality is one that is ultimately trinitarian and doxological. It is trinitarian in that it is the Father, Son and Spirit who give it life and animation and bind it together in the union and unity of the Godhead. While this mystery is unfathomable, it in itself can still be known and experienced. It was revealed in the person of Christ and now defines our union with God, therefore also giving us this rich inheritance of sonship whereby we too can call God our Father, our Abba.
It is doxological in that in it we are invited to experience the fruits and joy of our union with God through praise knowing that his purposes are never thwarted, and his glory is made known now in the redeeming blood of Christ. This is not the doxology of simply lifting our voices and melodies of our instruments in set aside times of service and praise, but that of engaging all of life and the relationships therein through the incredible truth of belonging to God and participating in him. It is the doxology that Paul now exemplifies in prison by opening his letter with praise and benedictions to the one true God that he is in chains for. It is the doxology of praise in his unceasing gratitude for the faith and love now found in the church that he can pray and impart this truth to others.
At the heart of Paul's writing in the letter of Ephesians is his understanding of the mystery of God's purposes in the working out of the church. For Paul the unity and oneness of the people of God is not merely a missonal program that should periodically be engaged, but is the very nature of its existence. It belongs and exists in the oneness of God and the reconciliation of the Gospel through the shed blood of Jesus. It is this belonging and oneness in the Trinity that our eyes have been enlightened to in Christ, though we are invited to see this truth through a vision of the heart. While the life of Christ may only be accessible through faith, it can only be animated and revealed in love. May we see one another in light of this vision.
As my math students have been stymied by their limited vision and engagement of what they are being taught, we too can easily miss this vision that Paul is praying we would see through the faculty of our hearts. Just as math can numerically express what is invisible in our world to the naked eye, the cross of Christ points us through its concrete love rooted in history to a world which is beyond it. At the center of this world is a God who is actively at work to unite all things in himself. A world that for those of who are in Christ now belong to and are invited to explore through our shared inheritance in also belonging to God and one another in the reconciled truth of the Gospel.