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Seven things that are essential for understanding God’s creation & our place in it, but seem completely insane to the modern mind
A sort-of-manifesto about what we’re doing with True Magic, and why it matters.
True Magic is mostly going to be a podcast. But it’s a podcast that is very hard to explain, because we’re trying to do something that literally doesn’t make sense to most people today.
Not most people throughout history. Just most people for the past couple of hundred years. The way God actually made the world might as well be magic to the modern mind—which is part of what the “True Magic” name is all about.
To provide a foundation for the podcast, I’m first going to try to explain what it is we’re trying to do. What is “true magic”?
But to explain that…I need to explain a few key ideas we’re taking for granted.
Each of these is going to sound nuts to the average reader. But each is also easy to see and accept if you just think through the examples I’ll give. The problem is not that any of this is really hard to understand, but rather that it requires a huge mental adjustment. This is because the way we have all learned to think is deeply out of kilter with the world as God made it.
So here are seven axioms (foundational principles) that True Magic is working from:
1. Physical things participate in spiritual patterns
If the headings are gobbledygook to you, just keep reading. They’ll make sense when I’ve explained them.
Here what I mean is this: The created world is symbolic. I.e., the material form of stuff gives physical expression to spiritual realities.
A symbol is a physical expression of a spiritual reality.
This can sound quite alarming to modern ears. But it’s actually something you already take for granted. Here’s a simple example from scripture:
Both life and light are spiritual realities that existed in the Son before the world began. Yes? You know this:
In him was life; and the life was the light of men… Again therefore Jesus spake unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life. (Jn 1:9; 8:12)
So when God said, Let there be light, and there was light (Ge 1:3), that light was a physical expression of the spiritual reality that already existed in the Son. The light we see is a symbol of the light we cannot see. Photons “participate” in the spiritual pattern of light—which is why they are the way they are. Think of what they do: the illuminate, they warm, they can dazzle or even destroy. Or think of their physics: they are mysterious, both particle and wave, and they do not experience the passage of time. These are all fitting, necessary properties of a physical thing that participates in and reveals to us the spiritual pattern of light.
Or, when God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven (Ge 1:20), creatures with physical life came into being—participating in, embodying, giving physical expression to, the spiritual pattern of life that already existed in God himself.
Pretty much everything in True Magic is just working out the implications of this. The implications are surprisingly deep, often weird, and sometimes deep-weird.
2. Physical things therefore have meaning
In other words, physical things are the way they are because that means something. This is just the natural conclusion from axiom #1. There are no “mere empirical facts,” as we tend to assume. Everything participates in some kind of spiritual pattern, and each pattern manifests physically in a fitting way—a way that couldn’t be otherwise.
For example, consider our own bodies. God could have made us to go on our bellies, theoretically. He could have given us eyes in the backs of our heads. He could have made us androgynous. But being made to stand upright means something (and lying down when we lose consciousness means something too). Having a blind spot behind us means something. Being male and female means something—see Bnonn & Michael’s treatment of this here:
Our physical form is therefore the only fitting form for the spiritual reality of what we are. (There’s much more to say about this, but I’ll leave the creation of Adam for another time.)
Obviously we can’t discern every meaning of every fact. But we must believe that facts do mean things—which is completely foreign to the modern mind, where many or most physical facts have no deeper, spiritual import. Even many professing believers rail against seeing spiritual meaning in created things. I feel like I need to briefly back up that claim, so let me get controversial for a second:
Think of how many Christians today hate the idea of women veiling in worship. They claim that it is a symbol that has lost its meaning in the modern world. Yet they also say that it is humiliating. How can it simultaneously be meaningless and humiliating?
Or think about how many Christians today use grape juice instead of wine in the Lord’s Supper. Many argue against wine because it can make you drunk. But what if that fact is part of why Jesus chose it? Jesus did not intend for us to become drunk, of course (1 Co 11:21). But the effects of wine are not irrelevant, nor even problematic, to the institution of the supper. On the contrary, they are crucial to it, because they mean something—something presumably connected to why Jesus chose wine!
Clothing and food will be our chief focuses in the first two seasons of True Magic—so if these examples bother you, you have much to look forward to :)
3. We participate in the same spiritual patterns at different levels
Paul illustrates this third axiom well in Ephesians 5:31–32:
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church.
The marriage covenant, and especially its physical one-fleshness, are a physical expression of the mystical union between Christ and the church. At a basic, mundane level, every married couple participates in this spiritual pattern of onetogetherness. I don’t mean that sex is a spiritual or even religious act. But I do mean that sex means something: it embodies a relationship between two people, and that relationship also means something: it embodies the relationship between Christ and church.
So when a Christian couple has sex, they are participating in the same spiritual pattern of onetogetherness as when they are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ…and when they are covenantally bound to a church…and—ultimately—when they stand as one body with the saints in eternity and experience the beatific vision.
Another foundational example of “layered” patterns is meal-sharing:
…we who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Co 10:17)
There is a spiritual pattern of bread in which the loaf we eat participates. Yet we ourselves participate in the pattern of bread also, at a higher level; just as we are individually bodies, and corporately a body also.
These patterns are fractal. The pattern of bread participates in the larger pattern of meal-sharing. This is a pattern we participate in every day, when we eat with our families. Yet we also participate in it at a higher level during the Lord’s Supper. In one sense, the Lord’s Supper gathers up the daily meal pattern into a greater, more elevated form—just as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will gather up every Lord’s Supper into a still greater, more elevated form. Yet, it would be foolish to think that this makes our daily dinners less important, as if they only existed for the sake of the Lord’s Supper, which only existed for the sake of the Marriage Supper. No, even though the Lord’s Supper “gathers up” our dinners, its pattern “flows down” to them as well. It is because the lesser reality participates in the greater that the lesser matters at all.
Think of it this way—and again, I choose my example to show how deeply connected many patterns are, like bread and bodies. It is symbolism all the way down:
The body is not less important than the head because the head is at the top. For if there were no body, there would be no top for the head to be at. Everything the head has flows down to the body—the head is the ordering principle of the body, providing vision and direction. But everything the body has is also gathered up into the head—the body is the outworking principle of the head, providing power and capacity.
4. There is an order of being that flows down from God
Let’s apply this at a cosmic level. Heaven is the head; earth is the body. And within that hierarchy, there are more hierarchies. God made us a little lower than the angels (Ps 8:5; He 2:7)—and he made us a little higher than the animals (Ps 8:6–8). The angels are closer to God, and participate more directly in the spiritual realities that find their beginning in him. Yet the angels lack the physicality that allows us to express those spiritual realities in substantial, material ways. They are wind and fire (He 1:7)—we are earth and water (Ps 103:14; Le 17:11).
This order of being applies to every pattern. For instance, our “low,” everyday service of God is gathered up into a higher, Sunday service. That Sunday service will be gathered up into our worship in heaven when we die. Our worship in heaven will be gathered up into our worship in the new heavens and the new earth when we are resurrected. And who knows if that is even the final step in the ladder. If we imagine this as a cosmic mountain, can we ever reach the peak, if God is infinitely higher than we are? C.S. Lewis suspected not—think of his vision of the True Narnia with mountains going ever higher, or his view in Perelandra of the “last things” being merely a true beginning after a false start.
But just as everything gathers upward, so also everything flows downward. Man is not the lowest point—he is, in fact, the very middle, the intermediary between the insubstantial heavens, and the substantial earth. Man is the symbol of God on earth—the physical expression of his spiritual reality. We are the point at which the visible most embodies the invisible. We are his image. This gives us a fifth axiom:
5. Heaven and earth participate together in Man
I want you to read Man first with a capital M, knowing that his purpose can only truly be fulfilled in Christ. But then I want you to read man with a lowercase m, knowing that Christ is the second Adam, and that he finished what Adam started—achieved what Adam was made to do in the first place.
Man is the generation—the offspring—of heaven and earth (Ge 2:4). He is the “integration point” that spans and connects and unites them both. He is capable of true magic: of gathering up all both earth and heaven in such a way that they can participate in each other. Man’s purpose is to bring heaven down to earth, and earth up to heaven. This is fulfilled in the work of Christ himself, in which we covenantally participate—which is why it is literally at the very center of the Lord’s Prayer:
Who art in the heavens
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
As in heaven, so also on earth
Give us today our daily bread
And forgive us our debts
As we also have forgiven our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from the evil one
This is the task given to Adam: to exercise rule on God’s behalf, completing the work that God began in the first six days, of impressing the heavenly patterns onto the earthly cosmos. Man must take the immaterial, and give it material form. He must take what is still waste and void here below, and fill it with meaning from above—on earth, as it is in heaven.
The fall introduced a great rupture into this order of being—a great separation and divide between heaven and earth at the point where they were supposed to be drawn together. Through Jesus Christ, of course, it is restored and redeemed. This is why scripture speaks of Christ as reconciling all things through his blood, whether things on earth, or things in heaven (Co 1:20). He is the new integration point for all of creation—the place where meaning can flow down into the physical world, and where the expression of that meaning can be gathered up from the physical world. And this is why we find that history ends with heaven and earth becoming merged:
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God… And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof. (Rev 21:10–11, 22)
Cosmic meaning is expressed and exemplified and embodied at the mundane level, and the world becomes a physical “host” to the spiritual patterns it is made to reflect. And as that reflection becomes purer, the distinction between heaven and earth becomes less and less certain, until God is all in all.
6. Therefore, man must live liturgically
Given these axioms, there is one more that follows from it. If…
The physical form of things matters for their participation in spiritual patterns, and this goes all the way down; and…
Man is meant to order the physical realm to properly, fittingly participate in spiritual realities…
…then how we order everything in our lives matters for whether we are doing the work God made us for: rightly “hosting” heavenly patterns here on earth.
Therefore, we have to learn to order the form of our lives to resonate with heavenly realities.
Which is really just to say, we have to learn to live liturgically. Liturgy is simply ordering the form of our actions to reflect what is happening in heaven. But as with all patterns, this repeats at multiple lower levels. Liturgy is not just for the Lord’s Day. It is for all of life.
This sounds weird because we have desacralized the world, so that we only think of spirituality here on earth at one level—the level of church. We distinguish between “secular” and “sacred.” Liturgy can only take place in the little sacred carve-out. But Paul tells us that everything we do is spiritual:
…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service [latreia]. (Romans 12:1)
That Greek word latreia is where the English word liturgy comes from. If we were to reform our view of life to match Paul’s, we would begin to realize how unnatural, how out of bounds, it is for anyone to do anything irreligiously. It is not that, e.g., having dinner together is a religious act, per se. Rather, having dinner together participates in a spiritual pattern—and acting out that spiritual pattern, while also living as an enemy and rebel against the God in whom it originates, is grotesque, unseemly, perverse. Man in his natural state, alienated from God, is a travesty. By nature, he images God and participates in his patterns—yet simultaneously, by deed, he lies about who God is and defies his ways.
It is only when we are brought back into a right relationship with God, when we are spiritually resurrected after the image of his Son, that we can properly participate in creation as he intended. So eating with believers means something different than eating with unbelievers—because the eating takes place within a “redeemed realm.” Meal-sharing within the church is covenantally “reconnected” to God through Jesus, and can therefore properly participate in the spiritual pattern of partaking of one substance together, in order to be built up into one substance. We are one body, for we partake of one loaf. But for this very reason, we are also instructed not to eat with someone who is living a lie about this covenantal reality (1 Co 5:11). Drawing someone into the pattern of mutual participation when he is in fact alienated from us defiles our own participation. It is unseemly and perverse.
But by the same token, we have an obligation to learn the patterns of heaven so that we may rightly participate in them. Why do so many Christians say grace before dinner? Not, I am afraid, because they truly understand heavenly patterns. Rather, because their traditions have been formed by people who did: people who extended the pattern of the Lord’s Supper down into their everyday lives:
…the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do unto my remembrance. (1 Cor 11:23–26; cf. the ten times this pattern is repeated for us in the gospels: Jn 6:1–11; Mt 14:15–21; Mk 6:40–42; Lk 9:14–17; Mk 8:1–6; Mt 15:34–37; Mt 26:26–28; Mk 14:22–24; Lk 22:19–20; Lk 24:28–35)
7. To live liturgically, we must study both man and scripture
In other words, we must discern the basic patterns that God built into us, and seek out their meaning. This involves studying them as they appear in ourselves and human society—and as they appear in the Bible.
What sorts of things? Well, we should start with the basics—with elemental, fundamental symbols:
These are the sorts of things we’re going to delve into. This podcast is not mine, but ours—a fusion of my theological insights, and Smokey’s historical and cultural knowledge. It will be equal part doctrine and documentary. If you enjoy listening to a good sermon on Leviticus, or a good YouTube video on dress-making in the 1700s, you will enjoy True Magic.