Separation is an Illusion
How Dualism Blinds us to God's Glory
(adapted from John Crowder's book Money.Sex.Beer.God., available HERE)
There is a pervasive, fundamental mindset that exists in the Western Church that is utterly pagan in origin. Dualism is the basic notion that there is a separation between the physical and spiritual world. This concept is not Biblical, nor was it ever associated with Hebraic thought. This worldview finds its roots in pagan Greek philosophy – from the minds of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato – and more specifically from the ancient religion of Neoplatonism.
Dualistic thought played a major influence on early Christian doctrine – specifically on Western theologians such as Augustine (who was a Neoplatonist before his conversion to Christianity). Throughout the centuries in the West, we have been taught that God is “out there” somewhere. Some incorporeal Being in the sky. Matter and spirit are separate. Or there is a container mentality: physical container filled with spiritual substance. We see it echoed centuries later in the Deists, who believed God sits out in the ethos – separate from the physical, earthly realm – having no real interaction with the material world after setting it in motion by physical laws.
For the Neoplatonist, there is a physical, concrete world of matter (consider the globe as a sphere of solid material). Then out beyond the sky in the ethos – on the outer rungs of physics – lies the immaterial world. A spirit realm of God, gods or goddesses detached from our earthly existence. Sound familiar? Maybe you learned that in Sunday school.
For a number of years we have addressed an extreme form of dualism that has infected the church from early on and still perverts body life today: gnosticism. Gnosticism is dualism on steroids. It is one thing to say the natural and spiritual worlds are separate, but gnostics go a step further to say the natural world is evil. Thus they could not stomach the idea that Jesus actually came in the flesh – material flesh was considered bad. So gnostics believed Jesus was some form of spirit being. As John tells us, anyone who claims Jesus didn’t come in the flesh is of the antichrist (2 John 1:7, 1 John 4:3). Incarnation challenges gnosticism and dualism to the core. God cannot be connected to the natural realm. This same basic notion spills over into every avenue of religion.
Hence in the church today, you have religious zealots who vilify any natural, God-given pleasure. Money, sex and beer are considered evil. Wear starchy, uncomfortable clothes to church because you can’t be spiritual if your natural body is comfortable. Over the years, the church has demonized all natural-world pleasures: musical instruments, theater, dancing (if you’re Amish, you can also toss out tractors, television and buttons).
All sorts of false divisions have been erected between the so-called secular and sacred. God has been compartmentalized. Partitioned off into certain arenas and prohibited from others. Today we can’t just have YouTube; we need Godtube. Can’t just have music, we need “Christian music.” Can’t have a Coca-cola T-shirt. Need a “Jesus Christ” in Coca-cola font T-shirt. Can’t just listen to Coldplay … we need our worship band to sound like Coldplay. Not only do we divorce ourselves from any creativity (religion only copies or shadows reality – just like Moses received the blueprints on the mountain in the Old Testament that “shadowed” Heavenly realities. It’s phony. Fake. Unoriginal. A saccharine substitute), but we fail to see God’s inherent immanence and creativity within the natural world around us.
The reality is that natural world pleasure is a gift of God. We don’t idolize or pervert those pleasures. We filter those pleasures through the Word – because perverting earthly pleasure actually destroys us. We don’t serve money; it should serve us. Sex is a gift to be extravagantly enjoyed in heterosexual marital union – outside of which it harms us. Scripture says wine is a gift to cheer us – but if we’re hammered drunk on Tequila all day it’s going to ultimately work against our pleasure when we lose our job, family and end up in the gutter. God is pro-pleasure. The Word is never about quenching our party – but sustaining it and pointing ultimately to the true Giver and Source of all pleasure. Natural world delights serve as an echo (not origin) of the true Eternal Party of the ages.
I could write entire books on how gnosticism has wreaked havoc in the church – how it denies the Incarnation and embodies religion at its core. But here I simply want to deal with the basic concept of dualism, out from which all these wrong-headed ideas flow.
The fact of the matter is there is no separation between Heaven and Earth. No separation between the natural and supernatural. The Eastern Church rarely ever struggled with these dualistic ideas. The Orthodox man wakes in the morning and sees a tree growing out of the ground; he realizes it is woven together and sustained by the miraculous hand of God. He sees that trillions of seeds die and come alive again everyday on planet earth, while scientists can’t even create life in a laboratory. He sees that the synapses and neurons in your brain remember things you learned in second grade. Gravity holds you in perfect cohesion so that all your atoms don’t fly off into oblivion as space dust … everything is supernaturally held together by the Presence of God. So for the Eastern mind (not affected by our Western dualisms), life is not perceived as “natural versus supernatural.” It’s just that some things happen more infrequently than others … such as walking on water.
Heaven and Earth have been permanently rewired in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. In fact, there was never a separation between Heaven and Earth. The only separation that existed was in our fallen mind – our depraved, alienated consciousness that was infected by sin. We were blind to a God who is everywhere.
Contrary to the Evangelical mantra that God was our enemy while we were sinners, God’s only position toward us was to die for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). God was never our enemy. The truth is that “once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation ...” (Col. 1:21-22). God never set Himself up as our enemy. In our fabricated delusion, we set ourselves up as His enemy.
Right from the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus was challenging this wrong-headed notion of God being the distant, aloof bad guy. His resounding message was that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. So close in fact that God became one of us and dwelt among us. Despite the evolution-informed modernism that lends us to believe God created Heaven billions and billions of years prior to planet Earth, the scriptures actually refer to a singular timeframe called “in the beginning” in which Heaven and Earth were both formed. What if Heaven and Earth were formed simultaneously because it was always God’s intent that Adam should search out the Heavens even as he walked planet earth? What if the union of both realms was always the norm?
We think there are areas of our life where God is not. Places where He doesn't exist. Darkened areas of this fallen world that he has shied away from – or that came into being apart from Him. To this, add further pagan ideas of a moody, temperamental God who sporadically intersects our world – coming in and out based on our human whims and performance. These dualisms have blinded us to Emmanuel – God with us – He who is all in all. He is everywhere! David said even if I go to the depths of hell there you are (Psalm 139:8)! Where are you going to run from a God who is everywhere?
God is not just seated up in Heaven. Paul says that heaven exists in Christ (Eph. 2:6)! The Heavens cannot contain Him. All of the created order exists in Christ! He takes up all the space. There was no other place (no “over there”) to put creation, therefore God made us right smack dab in the middle of Himself. We think there are some dark, outer regions where He hasn’t discovered or visited or chosen to live. In our dualistic minds, we think of good and bad, light and darkness. But the apostle John gives us a mind-bender to our dualisms when he says, “The light shines in the darkness ...” (John 1:5). Just when we thought there was a darkened place He didn’t exist, we see that “even the darkness is as light to You” (Psalm 139:12).
All of creation exists within the fabric of who God is. What part of creation came into existence behind His back? All our attempts to partition God off into lines of secular and sacred merely highlight our blindness to His Glory which fills Heaven and Earth.
God is interwoven throughout the entire created order. This is not pantheism – it is the truth of His immanence, His omnipresence. He even existed within the fabric of what we would call the old order, the Adamic reign, the old creation prior to the cross. Yes, it was hidden – not fully revealed – but do not lock salvation or God’s presence into a moment of time introduced 2,000 years ago. The work of the cross stands outside time and space. Although we think of an old creation and then later a new creation in Christ … the fact of the matter is that the whole shebang has been one seamless plan of God from the beginning. It was always in the plan of God that the new would spring out of the old. The Seed must die in order to bear fruit.
The same is true for you. You didn’t exist “apart” from God before your conversion experience. You were simply blind to the source of your origin, and living according to a lie. Paul told the pagans on Mars Hill, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Jesus didn’t magically jump into you when you first went to the altar those years ago. No, He suddenly “revealed” His presence within you, just as Paul spoke of His own encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus: God, who set me apart from birth … was pleased to reveal His son within me (Gal. 1:15-16). Imagine Paul’s surprise when, in the midst of killing Christians, He realizes Jesus is inside of Him! It is not that we actively participate in Him apart from faith – but our faith is based upon the very fact that He has united Himself to us!
Union with the world is something that always existed from God's perspective - and it found its full and final form and expression in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus did not merely die to “bridge” an existing gap, but to reveal and culminate a union that He’s always considered reality. Before you ever committed a single sin, you had always been associated with Christ from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:15-17, NIV).
He is all in all. All things hold together in Him. He is closer than the breath you breathe … closer than your skin. Closer to you than your own physical body. He who is in Christ is one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17). If all things are held together in Him, where are you held together? In Him. Where are unbelievers held together? In Him. As a matter of fact, where is the devil held together? Mind boggling.
Ephesians 1:23 tells us that He “fills everything in every way.” It is not just that God was bound up in Christ in the incarnation, but that in the incarnation he bound the entire created order to Himself. There is no molecule, no blade of grass, no distant star in the cosmos that is not humming with the Glory of God. Again, this reality stands outside time and space. Mystically all of creation was always in Him – the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. There is nowhere you can run where He is not.
But our dualisms have blinded us. We think, “Oh He’s over in the church.” Or, “There He is at the revival outpouring.” Or, “There He is out in the field.” We miss him in the everyday “natural affairs” of life. Did you have a good conversation with your daughter on the way to school this morning? Think Holy Spirit could have possibly been present in that? Enjoy sitting around the table having cornflakes with your kids? Think Holy Spirit could have been present in that?
But some would ask about Isaiah 42 … didn’t our sins separate us from God? Yes of course sin separated you from God. But sin never separated God from you. This is not mere semantics or word play. This is a huge deal, so you’d better get it. God was never pulling back or running away from relationship … you were!
We were the ones running into the bushes like Adam, withdrawing from relationship and vulnerability in our insecurity, alienation, fear, anxiety and self-willed corruption. But God was always right there in the garden ready to play. “Adam where are you?” He asked. God was not blind to Adam because Adam had become dirty. God knew exactly where Adam was. He was asking Adam to consider where Adam was! Adam was still right there in the middle of God. The bush was on fire and he didn’t know it.
The New Testament never tells us that Jesus died to reconcile God back to you. God never had a problem with you. The scriptures tell us Jesus died to reconcile you back to God. Jesus wasn’t dying to pay off an angry deity. He was dying to destroy your corruption and alienation – the disease of sin that was eating you away.
Were we fallen? Yes! Because we forgot what manner of man we were. Humanity was in an identity crisis. But our rejection of Him never stopped His inclusion of us. You are free to reject Him all you want. But you never stop Him from including you. Hell is the insanity of trying to escape the inescapable love of God.
Jesus stepped down into the depth of our depravity. To the very bottom rung of the ladder – He swallowed up our darkness in uncreated light. He destroyed our decay, our depression and our decrepit state of delusional separation in his own servant body on the cross. But beyond an “action” of bridging Heaven and Earth, Christ was showing a principle that God has always been for us – revealing a principle that we have always been mystically united to Him.
Where does creation exist? Within the very belly of God. Within Himself he made a place where the vast infinite bounds of the universe exist. Creation never occurred in the mind of God as something that would be separate from Him. He has forever identified himself with the created order. In the incarnation of Jesus Christ God has forever identified himself with the human race. He has decided not to be God apart from humanity. There will forever be a human being seated in the middle of the Trinity. And there you are sat up with Him in the Trinity of God in the humanity of Jesus Christ.
As soon as we partition off God from certain areas of our life, we jump into a place of insanity – a religious schizophrenia ... We believe a lie that separation somehow still exists. We split off into false personalities and delusional states of non-living. Suddenly He doesn't exist in this area of addiction, my finances, my health, my dysfunctional family relationships. ... These lies of separation suddenly consume us until we are locked into false pagan mindsets founded only on lies – personality disorders founded solely on smoke and mirrors.
But the truth is that God was always here – and is shining right now in the midst of the darkness. Even the darkness is as light to him.
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John Crowder, 5/4/2016