Many years ago when I was studying theoretical econometrics, I had to master linear algebra to make sense of the proofs. I do not remember much of what I learnt, but I was I was struck when we projected an n-dimensional subspace into an m-dimensional subspace, if n was greater than m, any object would be slightly different, but would carry its form through. For example, if a sphere is projected from a three-dimensional subspace into a two-dimensional subspace, it becomes a circle. It is not exactly the same, but it is still a perfect representation of a sphere.

I remembered this bit of mathematics, because it seemed to have a theological application. We live in a three-dimensional world, where things have height, depth and width. If you include time, it is a 4-dimensional world.

God operates in a world with many more dimensions than ours. The spiritual aspect of life can be thought of as another dimension beyond the three core dimensions. The spiritual world is not another world in another place, but an additional dimension to the physical world we observe. We do not know how many dimensions the spiritual world has, so it is an n-dimensional subspace, where n is greater than 4.

Jesus is a perfect representation of God. He said that if we have seen him, we have seen the father. In a mathematical sense, Jesus is a projection from an n-dimensional subspace into a 4-dimensional subspace. He does not look exactly the same as God, because he was confined to the three dimensions of our physical world. However, he is the best representation we can have, given this constraint.

Flatland

When I shared this with a friend who had studied engineering and knows more maths than I have forgotten, he lent me a copy of a book called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A Abbot, who lived from 1838 to 1926. As the subtitle indicates, the purpose book is to explain the way that dimensions function. Abbot describes a two-dimensional world, where everything is flat. This world has length and width, but no height. The characters in the book are circles triangles, squares and various polygons. When I read this book, I was fascinated by the parallels with what I had learned in linear algebra. Three things stood out.

Perception

In a three-dimensional world, sight is our best sense. We use sight to recognise other people and objects. People generally believe what they can see. Touch is also useful, but it is limited, because we can only touch things that are close to us. On the other hand, Thomas thought that he could prove Jesus was real, if he could touch his hands and side.

In a two-dimensional world, sight still works, but it is much less useful. Although the characters in Flatland were different shapes, they all looked the same to an observer. In a two-dimensional world, a circle a square and triangle, all look like a straight line. Skilled people could recognise the size of a person, by assessing the way the length of that line changed as the person came closer, but it was not possible to distinguish the type of person, by looking at them. In Flatland, they mostly relied on touch to recognise the type of characters they were dealing with. When a person came up against another, they could recognise their shape by touch.

Touch is the most useful sense in a two-dimensional world, but it is less useful in a three-dimensional world. Sight is less useful in a two-dimensional world, but is the best sense in a three-dimensional world. It follows that sight will not do that well in a four-dimensional world. Although we live a three-dimensional world, there is an additional spiritual dimension that it is an important aspect of reality. Our sight does not handle that dimension very well. We need spiritual insight to understand what is happening in the spiritual dimensions. That is why Paul prayed that they "eyes our hearts may be enlightened' (Eph 1:18).

Recognising the Spiritual

Towards the end of the Flatland, the narrator who lived in flatland had a visitor from Spaceland, a world with three dimensions. This visitor was a sphere, but when he entered the world of Flatland he appeared like a circle. When he first appeared, the circle was small, but as he entered further, the circle became larger.

The visitor had a great deal of difficulty persuading the narrator that he was a sphere, because all the latter could see was a circle. The concept of a sphere did not make sense to someone who lived in a two-dimensional world. He eventually persuaded the narrator by rising up, causing the circle to shrink in size, despite not moving further away.

This reminded me that God had to become a man for us to understand him. People living in our physical world find it hard to understand the concept of God who is Spirit. God moves in many more dimensions than us. We will not recognise him with senses that calibrated for use in a three-dimensional world. By becoming a man, Jesus was able to bridge the barrier between our three-dimensional world and God's multi-dimensional world.

Walking through Walls

Flatland had houses and walls. The characters of flatland could not pass through walls. The visitor from Spaceland was able to choose where he entered and departed the flat world. He once entered the locked room in which the narrator was sitting. He was able to go out of the room and move into a locked cupboard and carry things back to the room where the narrator was waiting.

When a person living in a three-dimensional world has the capacity to move into an additional dimension, they are no longer constrained by physical barriers. When Jesus first came to earth, he was stuck in three dimensions, so he was restrained by physical barriers. After the resurrection, he had a spiritual body. This gave him access to an additional dimension, making him immune to physical barriers. When Jesus entered the upper room where the disciples were hiding behind locked doors, he could choose the point of entry to the physical world. The physical doors and walls were ineffective barriers.

After the resurrection, Jesus could move around the physical world, in the same way that the sphere from Spaceland could move around Flatland. Access to another dimension changes life in the remaining dimensions.

Seeing Ourselves

When the visitor carried the narrator into Spaceland two things surprised him. The first surprise was that he could see into himself. His organs that had been enclosed in a two-dimensional world were totally exposed when he was taken into a three-dimensional world. The narrator was totally embarrassed by what he saw.

This describes how we will fell when we stand before God on judgment day. We will have moved into a world of extra dimension where time does not count and physical things are totally exposed. On that day we will see ourselves for the first time as we really are. That will be totally embarrassing and we will be full of shame. Just as well we can call on the blood of Jesus to wipe our sin and shame away.

Broader Perspective

The narrator of Flatland was totally amazed by what he saw in Spaceland. He looked down on the two-dimensional world that he had come from and it seemed poor and shadowy compared with the new world that he had entered. We are impressed by life in this world. When we have access to the dimensions that God moves in, we will realise how small and insignificant is life on this earth. We will look back on our lives and feel like they are just a blink of an eye.

This is a problem for scientists trying to understand the world. When they look into space through their powerful telescopes, they are only seeing three dimensions. When time is included, that is four dimensions, but they are not certain about time. The problem is that they are only seeing three dimensions of a multi-dimensional existence. Without an understanding of the spiritual dimensions of life, they are not seeing all that exists, so naturally they do not understand it.

The narrator was totally blown away by what he saw in Spaceland. His eyes were calibrated for seeing in a two-dimensional world, so he just could not make sense of what he saw. He just knew that it was absolutely wonderful.

Christians who get a vision of the heavenly realm face the same problem. Their senses are tuned for a physical world. Their language is designed for describing a physical world. This makes it impossible for them to communicate what they have seen. For example, Paul visited the third heaven in a vision he was dramatically affected by what he saw, but he did not describe it (2 Cor 12:2-4).

John faced the same problem in the Book of Revelation. He had a wonderful vision of worship in heaven, he did not have the words to describe it. He took words like emerald, crystal, rainbow, glass, sea, thunder, gold, lampstand, snow, that describe some of the most amazing things in this world, and jumbled them up to describe what he saw in heaven. We should not assume these are literal descriptions. John was doing his best with words designed for describing a three-dimensional world, but he was actually describing the indescribable.

We should be very careful about Christians telling us they know what life in heaven will be like. Even if they have seen it, they will not really understand what they have seen, and they will be totally incapable of describing what they have seen.

Heaven

Christians tend thing of heaven and earth as two different places. Heaven is way up there, and earth is way down here. There is a huge gap between. The gap between heaven and earth is real, but the assumption that they are far apart is misleading. A better way to think about the earth is to see heaven as spiritual dimensions that exist alongside, or within our physical world.

An even better way might be to see the physical world as three additional dimensions added on to a multi-dimension spiritual world. The spiritual world is more real than the physical world, so this latter view is most likely correct, but it is too hard for us to handle, because our eyes are calibrated for a physical world. Seeing heaven as spiritual dimensions attached to our physical world is not perfect, but provides some useful insights.

At the ascension, the disciples saw Jesus ascending and a cloud hid him from sight. It is not that he disappeared out into space, like an interstellar rocket, to a place a planet far distant planet. He moved back into the spiritual dimension from which he had come. Because the eyes of the disciples were calibrated to the physical world, he was hidden from their sight.

Angels and evil spirits live in the spiritual world. They can touch our physical world at only one place at one time. This limits what they can do on earth. In contrast, the Holy Spirit is present everywhere on earth at any time. This gives him unlimited power. He is far greater than any angel and has much greater reach than the devil.

The Goal of History

Paul described God's eternal purpose with the following words.

And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment-to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Eph 1:9-10).

Gods ultimate purpose is to bring heaven and earth together under Jesus. The Kingdom of God puts everything under Jesus. This Kingdom is God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. It is things on heaven and earth coming together. If heaven is up there and earth down here that cannot happen. However, if heaven consists of additional spiritual dimensions alongside the physical dimension that we do not see, God's purpose can be fulfilled now.

In the rest of the letter, Paul explains that this mystery is not an event that comes at the end of the age.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known (Eph 3:10).

The mystery of God will be fulfilled now, through the church. If the heavens consist of additional spiritual dimensions alongside the physical world, then heaven and earth can come together now in the age.

Jesus cannot bridge these two worlds, because he took on human flesh. When he came to earth, he had to leave heaven. When he left earth, he ascended into heaven. However, when Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, he poured out the Holy Spirit on his people (Acts 2:33).

The Holy Spirit is God, so he is at home in the spiritual world. We are at home in the physical world. When the Holy Spirit comes and lives in a Christian, the spiritual dimensions and the physical dimensions come together. If we walk in the Spirit, heaven and earth come together under Jesus in the way that Paul promised. The Holy Spirit is the perfect link between heaven and earth. The spiritual and the physical dimensions of life come together. We just need more people on earth to open their hearts to him.

Heaven and earth came together when God poured his spirit out on all flesh. When we are filled with the Spirit, the spiritual and physical dimensions intersect.

The Second Coming

The second coming is not Jesus coming back down from way up there. The Greek word used for the second coming is "parousia". It means to appear. It speaks about our seeing. What is actually going to happen is an opening up of the spiritual realm, so that people on earth can see into the spiritual dimensions of reality. The Greek word used is epiphaneia, which means "manifestation" (2 Thes 2:8). The spiritual dimensions will be blown open for everyone on earth to see.

Everyone will see Jesus seated on the throne at the right hand of God, (whatever that means given that it is an imperfect physical analogy for a far greater spiritual reality. Those who have not been born again will be almost destroyed by the sight. Those who are evil will be totally powerless before his glory.

The spiritual realms will be so glorious that the physical world will shrivel in comparison. It will seem like earth and sky are collapsing and disappearing, but it will just be that everything is coming into its correct perspective. When we can see clearly into the spiritual realm, everything in earth and space will fade away under the comparison. It will seem like the elements a being dissolved. The stars will seem to be rolling up like a scroll. It is not that they will be disappearing. Rather, the beauty and wonder of the spiritual realms will be so wonderful, that the earth and sky, as we know them, will fade into insignificance.

Some of this is captured by this woodenly literal translation of 2 Pet 3:10,12.

The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The spiritual world will come near with a booming, the orderly arrangement of things will be loosed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be exposed. That day will bring about the releasing of the spiritual dimensions by fire, and the order of things will liquefy in the heat.

The words give a sense of the spiritual world intruding into the physical world. Such a dramatic event would produce plenty of heat and light.

Creation

In the first two chapters of Genesis, the universe seems quite small. The sky looks like a great bowl over the earth. The sun and stars and moon seem to be close.

The reason is that after the creation, the physical world was still open to the spiritual dimension of reality. Adam Eve could speak with God. God could walk in a garden on earth. The result of this openness was that Adam and Eve could see into some of the spiritual realms of existence. Compared with the glory of the spiritual world, the physical world seemed quite small and insignificant.

The fall changed everything. Sin blocked the spiritual realms off from Adam and Eve. Once mankind could no longer see into the spiritual dimensions of reality, the physical world began to dominate their reality. (This is the opposite of the effect that will take place at the parousia when the physical world will seem to disappear). The heavens seemed to roll out like a scroll, when the far greater glory of the spiritual dimension disappeared from human sight.

When evening comes, the stars seem to appear out of nowhere and roll out across the sky. Of course, they were there all the time, but were hidden from our view by the greater brightness of the sun. We can only see the stars when the sun disappears. Likewise, when the spiritual dimensions were hidden from mankind, the physical world seemed to take on a new splendour.

Losing contact with all the dimensions in the spiritual realm, drew out the time dimension on earth, making it seem much longer. Since then mankind has never fully understood the concept of time. We must remember when we look at the earth and sky, we are only seeing a small part of the reality of God.

Life after Death

Christians understand life after death in different ways. Some see it as a totally spiritual existence, but that makes it rather ephemeral. A few theologians are now reminding us of the new heavens and the earth. They suggest that life after death will have strong parallels with life on earth as it is now.

Neither view is totally correct. After the final resurrection, we will have spiritual bodies like Jesus. That will enable us to move freely in the spiritual dimensions of life. Because we are human, we will continue to be at home in the physical world. When we move into this multi-dimensional life, we will gain a totally different view of existence. The physical dimension will not be limited to life on earth, but will encompass all the starts and planets throughout the entire universe. We will also understand how the entire universe links to the spiritual dimensions of reality.

In the future life, we will move freely throughout the universe and through the heavenly, spiritual dimensions of life that we currently see dimly. That will be truly amazing. The descriptions of human theologians cannot do just to this life.

No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

I doubt that linear algebra can describe that.

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