The Purpose Driven Space

The spatiality of created beings is not an accident. Much of the attention given to the explaining spatiality in our philosophical tradition has focussed on the necessity of space. Space is ‘necessary’ in the sense I was talking about last post: we find it impossible to think of objects in the world without thinking or relying upon a concept of spatiality at the same time.
Human HighwayPhilosophical reasoning first entered on this path by trying to tease out the relationship between being, and non-being, and multiple ‘beings’. This might appear to be a hopelessly abstract question, but for the ancient Greeks it was intimately bound up with the fundamentals of life. I’d like to come back and tell the story in more detail sometime. Let me just give you the conclusion: for the Greek philosophical tradition (which is still deeply influential) spatiality was necessary as a logical feature of what it means for the cosmos to be rather than not be. For a very important reason, however, this answer was completely unacceptable to Christians.

If spatiality is a logical deduction from the concept of being, then it is a property shared equally by all beings, whether God or the cosmos. Greeks had no problem with this, their concept of God as ‘Perfect Being’, meant that the being of God was both the foundation and totality of all other beings: in a sense, God was co-extensive with the cosmos, and embraced the cosmos as part of his own being. For the Greeks, God was perfectly spatial.

The Christian God would have no truck with this. We approach our God, not from the understanding that he is Supreme Being, but as the Author of Being – The Creator. God is not the foundation or pinnacle of a chain of being that leads from greatest to least. God is not part of the chain. Of course, we believe that God is, and therefore is a Being, but his Being and our being cannot be related by forms of logical deduction or degrees of quality/quantity. This leads Christians claim two things about God that Greek philosophy has a real problem with: he is transcendent, and he is infinite. At their root, these are claims that features of created being do not apply unproblematically to God, we speak of him analogically.

This means that, in an intellectual world shaped by knowledge of the Christian God, we cannot rest the necessity of space on a necessity of being qua being. The non-negotiable nature of spatiality for our explanations of experience must rest upon features of created being, the created order. Space is necessary in that it is a fixed property of the created order spoken into existence by God. But Christians do not believe that this universal order is itself a fixed, logical, eternal property of being. Rather, in its fundamental aspect as created, it is radically contingent (i.e., it could have been otherwise or not at all). God created spatiality in freedom, just as he freely called all the other aspects of created being into existence.

Contingency opens up the question of meaning. Necessary Beings are fundamentally uninteresting from the perspective of meaning because they are impervious to the question ‘why?’ When you ask a necessary Being, ‘why?’, it just stares back at you, ’til you either blink and go away or your head explodes. But if spatiality is a created necessity, resting upon an act of freedom, then we can legitimately investigate the possibility that God created spatiality with a purpose: that in its fundamental enactment as a law of created being, space carries an intention. So here’s a thesis: Space is meaningful all the way down, it shares in the basic rationality of all creation as a work of the Spirit. Space communicates just by being the being it is. It endlessly echoes with the words that called it out of nothing. Because:

all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16 HCSB)

This is a tangent, but isn’t it interesting that it is precisely this excess of signal, the sheer overwhelming amount of communication that occurs in, through, by space that makes it necessary for our brains to have sophisticated filters which constantly screen away irrelevant communication and allow us to focus on matters of interest. It’s one of my favourite non-conscious features of my brain (It’s nice to just sit back and enjoy your brain occasionally). I’m enjoying it right now while I write this in the busy atmosphere of a cafe. However, in a world whose order is distorted by the wrenching entropy of sin, our feverish minds not only filter out the particular communications occurring in space around us, we harden ourselves against the meaning of space itself.

He demonstrated |this power| in the Messiah by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens— far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way. (Ephesians 1:20–23 HCSB)

image by kevindooley
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2 thoughts on “The Purpose Driven Space

  1. This is so exciting; theological geography!

    I'm looking forward to reading what you come up with. I remember liking Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space. Also, I enjoyed reflecting Heidegger's essay The Thing and thinking about the contrast between nearness and proximity.

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  2. Hey Nat, I thought you'd like it. I've bitten off way more than I can chew though. Thanks for the book tips. I'm under-done in the reading department at the moment.

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