Metaphysician, Heal Thyself.
By Rick Booye
Metaphysics is the science of the unseen. It is the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, especially the relationship between mind and matter. The term itself comes from two Greek words “meta” which means “beyond” or “after,” and “physika” from which we get our words “physics” and “physical.” In our language, metaphysics usually refers to the study of realities that transcend the things we routinely accessed with our five senses.
Christians are deeply involved in metaphysics, even though the word may be unknown or even suspect to many of us. But if the message of God in Christ is not about the nature of ultimate reality, what is it about? And if we are not talking about the invisible world and its interaction with the material world, what are we talking about? The apostle Paul did not hesitate to instruct us about invisible realities. He says pointedly that we should concentrate not on the visible, but the invisible, because the visible world is temporal and the invisible one is eternal (2 Cor 4:18). So the nature of Christian thought is metaphysical by definition. The message of the cross—the gospel—is a metaphysical message. It conveys a body of knowledge about reality, personified in Jesus Christ and revealed by God in the sacred writings known as the Scriptures (see 2 Tim 3:14-17). It conveys the ultimate facts of life.
New Age spirituality has pretty much hijacked the term metaphysical over the last few centuries. If you ask a stranger on the street where to find the local “Metaphysical Bookstore” you are apt to get directions to a small shop smelling of sweet smoldering organic matter, papered with posters of various Maharishis, and featuring an assortment of crystals and copies of The Secret. At the till you might encounter a pleasant, spiritual person who will insist if asked that organized religion (meaning Christianity in its historic forms) is all wrong (mainly because of its assumption that it is right) and that ultimate truth is found “within.” You might even receive an invitation to join a small group seeking enlightenment at the knees of a local channeler or guru. Payment for this session will not be metaphysical however. You will need hard currency in significant amounts.
Many people see the above New Age spiritualities as wrong-headed. I agree and so might you. But why to we reject such claims? I suggest that we instinctively shun them because they do not fit our idea how reality works. Our culture has forcefully tutored us in the ways of naturalism—the idea that all reality and knowledge are limited to empirical facts only. Our educational structures uniformly teach us from the time we are young that what we cannot see or demonstrate mathematically is not real in any substantive way. It is this basic worldview that I think is the true foundation of our skepticism regarding New Age material. But is this the right way for us to critique these views? I don’t think so, because if we discount invisible realities like our culture does, we will become “double-minded” regarding our own understanding of the Lord and His ways. He talks a lot about invisible things. Maybe this is why many churchgoing people rarely pray or worship with existential confidence. They secretly simply do not believe anything they have not learned through the empirical sciences. They rely on the sentiment of faith and never put full confidence in the facts of it. In short, their metaphysic is inadequate to their profession of faith in Christ. It’s like owning an antique car they never drive. They may push it around, trailer it to car shows and impress their friends with its pristine condition. But the reason it is pristine is because they never actually use it for anything meaningful. They have other cars for that, cars more suited to the roads of reality in daily life.
I propose that we wrestle the word metaphysical back from paganism. We Christians do know things about the invisible world that have specific connection to the world of history and science. Creation itself is an example. The incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ in history is a parallel event to creation. We need to keep this connection firmly in mind as we pray (see 1 Corinthians chapter 2).
Let me suggest two thoughts we should think if we would think like Jesus. First, we should remember that the material world is the product of the spiritual dimension and not the other way around. This surprises some Christians because they have never thought of it that way. God is Spirit (Jn 4:24) and He is the Creator of the material universe. Clearly then, the spiritual realm is the source for the material world. This is why Paul is so enthused by the advantages we have in the spiritual realm, the heavenlies (Eph 1:3-14). But we are apt to approach this like our surrounding culture does. It teaches that the physical world produced the spiritual, or that entirely physical beings thought up the idea of spirituality, calling it religion. No wonder people think the Bible is just another religious book, praise is just singing, and prayer is self-generated mysticism, talking into the air.
Second, and following on the previous idea, we should see the universe not as a machine, but as a kingdom (see Psalms 47 and 104 among others). In a machine the natural, material forces are all there is. This is what we learned in public school and it forms our default thought pattern about reality. But in a kingdom, the word of the king is the authority for what takes place (Matt 28:18-20; Col 1:17). The Bible sees the universe as physical and material to be sure, but as a material world functioning under the spiritual power of God, not on its own “impersonal intelligence” (which is an oxymoron anyway). Could this be why Jesus controlled nature by speaking to it? If He is God in the flesh, the king of the universe, could he not simply speak to the natural world (which functions in any case because of His original creative word) and thus temporarily alter its normal activities? Miracles are not “violations of the laws of nature” because the natural “laws” are nothing more or less than the normal patterns of physical life as God’s mind arranged them. If He decides for His own reasons to suspend the normal pattern for a moment, how is that a “violation” of anything? And if He is actively involved in the workings of the universe, is that not precisely why He instructs is to pray in the name of Jesus confidently?
Christians do think differently about metaphysics than this age does, whether we realize it or not. I suggest we start realizing it and stop apologizing for it. Eugene Peterson once wrote: The Reality is God … Worship or Flee. Now there is a metaphysical statement with material application.
Just a Thought,