“I want now to tell you, gentlemen, whether you care to hear it or not, why I could not even become an insect. I tell you solemnly, that I have many times tried to become an insect. But I was not equal even to that. I swear, gentlemen, that to be too conscious is an illness–a real thorough-going illness. For man’s everyday needs, it would have been quite enough to have the ordinary human consciousness, that is, half or a quarter of the amount which falls to the lot of a cultivated man of our unhappy nineteenth century, especially one who has the fatal ill-luck to inhabit Petersburg, the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole terrestrial globe. (There are intentional and unintentional towns.) It would have been quite enough, for instance, to have the consciousness by which all so-called direct persons and men of action live. I bet you think I am writing all this from affectation, to be witty at the expense of men of action; and what is more, that from ill-bred affectation, I am clanking a sword like my officer. But, gentlemen, whoever can pride himself on his diseases and even swagger over them? Though, after all, everyone does do that; people do pride themselves on their diseases, and I do, may be, more than anyone. We will not dispute it; my contention was absurd. But yet I am firmly persuaded that a great deal of consciousness, every sort of consciousness, in fact, is a disease. I stick to that.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From the Underground
One of Owen Barfield’s contributions was to emphasize that Jesus did not only incarnate within himself, all of the fullness of the Godhead, but he also incarnated within Himself all of the powers of the cosmos. When Mary was impregnated with him, we are told that the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her (Luke 1:35). This is clearly an allusion to Genesis 1:2 where we are told that the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep.” (In the LXX “hovering over” is the same word as “overshadowed” in Luke.) The Messiah brings a new world, a new cosmos, because He is a new cosmos.
When Jesus died, He not only died for His people. It is also the case that the cosmos was offered up in his body upon the Cross, and when He was resurrected, the cosmos was also resurrected in Him. Jesus’ priestly work was to offer up the world in Himself. A new heaven and new earth could not happen apart from its own death and resurrection in the second person of the Trinity.
Prior to Messiah, who was also the New Israel, the final remnant who represented them in all their fullness, Israel’s task was to be the true form of participation in the cosmos, taking in rather than worshipping the powers of the cosmos. Israel was entrusted with all true typology and symbolism. The entirety of what we term the “Old Testament” is replete with symbolism everywhere. Everything in the cosmos is a type that points to God and His attributes,
The rest of the nations did not have this vocation, at least in the purity that Israel did, and it was especially Israel that was called to resist the great temptation, although she very often failed. The great temptation everywhere was to treat creation as divine. The great temptation was idolatry. The human race was meant to take the cosmos into its own consciousness, and then as priests, offer all of the wealth and powers of that cosmos up to God. It would in this way be consecrated and transformed. And, everything in the cosmos in one way or another, by virtue of creation, already reflected the nature and glory and identity of God. Through humanity, the world would be further glorified. With the fall into sin, the human race became enslaved to the cosmos, and then worshipped it.
Something else happened. Humanity grew and became more than it was by taking the cosmos into itself. All of the powers of the world became in measure part of humanity. Even in perverse and idolatrous form, when the race took all things into itself, there was still a human transformation and growth of consciousness, even if it was perverted.
Animal powers became human powers. David took into himself all of the warrior qualities of the lion and the bear that he battled in protecting sheep. He became the original Lion of Judah. He was a great lion, but a lion who was also a shepherd, and the one who protected the sheep as the shepherd of Israel. In all of this, David anticipated Jesus, the Messiah, who was the final Lion of Judah, and the final Good Shepherd.
Israel took everything into its consciousness. The entire structure of both the tabernacle and temple offered up many, many of the elements of the world to the true God. The gold, the silver, all of the sacrificial animals, all of the elements that were involved passed through human consciousness in the tabernacle and temple, and then they went up to God. Israel’s vacation was to precipitate the growth of human consciousness.
Jesus could not come until he did, so the race could absorb all powers over those centuries with Israel leading the way. He came as both the fullness (incarnation) of God, and of the cosmos. He was crucified, offered as a sacrifice representing a sacrifice of the whole cosmos up to God. He was raised. He ascended. The cosmos and the race rose in him, ascended in him, and the race sat down together in the heavenly places together in him to rule over the cosmos.
One like a son of man harvests the first fruits, the martyrs who rise up to rule over the cosmos and be ascended to heaven with Christ (Revelation 14). This happened very rapidly with the first martyrs, even before 70 AD (Revelation 7). In prototype, it was finished. But the rest of the earth still had to catch up, and this was a very long process. All through this process, the temptation of the race was to worship and magnify the cosmos. But even in the perversion of idolatry, the race did not stop taking into itself huge draughts of the powers of the cosmos. This was true of the tribes, of the kingdoms, of the empires. But this process was still always led by the church.
This continues until about the day before yesterday. And then, people like Dostoevsky began to write strange novels about Underground Men, and existentialists began blathering about the self and the nothingness. At the beginning of this transformation, the oddity of the explosion of the French Revolution happened, and was followed by the even greater oddity of the Bolsheviks in 1917, and now we see the strangeness of drug-using, sexed-out, Western youth lost in the cosmos, not worshipping and adoring it. The impulse is no longer to worship the sun, but, as the Marquee de Sade wished to do, to snatch it from the sky and extinguish it. The human consciousness that has been developing and growing and expanding, begins to be experienced as a “disease,” as with the Underground Man. An entire era is approaching an end. The old temptations to a cosmic idolatry are essentially over. The cosmos has become passé and boring. In an odd way, we have moved beyond the cosmos. If there is not more, we are at a dead end.
The human race is now set for its next advance. It has taken approximately twenty centuries. We are as prepared for this stage as was the late and dying Roman Empire was for the last in the death of Messiah, and death to idolatry. Nothing in the cosmos can satisfy, unless one could die to all the earth and sun and moons and stars, and fly to some heavenly place and reign over it . . . but wait: That has already happened. Nothing less will do then “being raised up with him, and being made to sit with him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:5-6).
There is nothing left to be taken in with huge appetite, from the cosmos that can satisfy. The old tribes and empires and their digestion of the cosmos are over. We now gnarl on the nothing, and produce no great tribal chiefs, but we produce wraiths. We can now only be satisfied if we ascend, if we now look down from above. To remain here is to become nothing.
Ascension: That is the next step.
Rev. Richard Bledsoe was until recently a hospital chaplain in Boulder, Colorado. He is the author of Can Saul Alinsky Be Saved?