How good is it when earth is joined to heaven and human beings everywhere are reconciled to God (Exultet of Easter, Col. 1:20). Start with heaven above. The heavens, heights, angels, hosts, sun and moon, shining stars: all, by virtue of their existence from the font of generous being, abound in endless praise (Ps. 148:1-3). Earth joins the song: sea monsters and all deep, fire and hail, snow and frost, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals, cattle, creeping things, flying birds, kings of the earth, people, princes, rulers, young and old together (Ps. 148:7-12). Everything that is has its being from God. God is love and song. To be is, in a sense, to love and praise God.
This is not, however, a diffuse vision of divine presence without distinction. The world comes into focus, gains intelligibility in the mind of the one being self-conscious and self-reflective enough to praise with awareness and with a free will. “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Gen. 2:19). This is not merely labeling, but rather the capacity to appropriate and order the world. “Here, interestingly, language is seen not as a means of communication, but as an intellectual capacity by means of which man brings conceptual order to his sphere of life” (Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis). Language is the gift of understanding and the gift of wonder. In this sense, human beings uniquely give voice to every creature under heaven.
As seen in the fall of humanity, our capacity to understand is matched by our capacity to misunderstand, to misread, and to misappropriate the world before us. Some mistakes are inconsequential and often easily corrected. Some mistakes, with the most tragic consequences, feel right; some modes of understanding seem as if woven into the fabric of the world. Does it not seem obvious that people are very different? Do we not in fact understand human culture by making a distinction between them and us? (Acts 11:12). Are not personal and social identity maintained by difference? Is not the world binary? Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Jew, Muslim and unbeliever, atheist and theist are only a few options. Is it not obvious that our capacity to love within limited and intimate community is matched by our suspicion and fear of those we do not know and who live outside our small world?
And is it not obvious that we human beings resist change, clinging to perspectives and understandings that give life definition, even in the face of contradicting evidence? What we need, then, is not primarily discursive persuasion, but a vision, a revelation, a mixing-up of old views.
God, in loving mercy, sent down a sheet from heaven and, confusing the distinction between heaven and earth, put earthly things on the sheet, things that we have come to understand as unclean; foods that other unclean people eat. We do not eat them. We never have. God says, “I would prefer that you have an unprejudiced palate” (The Unprejudiced Palate by Angello M. Pellegrini, a culinary and literary masterpiece). God says, “Fear not. Do not call this profane.”
Then God gave them the same gift he gave us. In a miracle of wonder, we and they believed in the Lord Jesus and found repentance that leads to life. What will we call them now as God makes a holy city, a beautiful bride, the end of tears and death? I see another I in the thou of the other.
Look It Up: Read John 13:34. That you love another. Not so easy.
Think About It: Circumstances and people providentially bring “you” into being.