Underlying Structures of Reality

The Underlying Structures of Reality



The Voice of God

A Poem by Mike Garner - followed by the essay.


Are you hiding?

But how can you?

Are you silent?

The echoes of your voice sail the cosmos

Enter the heart of humanity

And I

I search for you to tell me why I am here

My heart is unsettled

There is more than I see

I find you in speech

In all you’ve created

I live as though you’re watching

You’re in my every thought

I need you O’Lord

    The underlying structures of reality, is a phrase for referencing the relational and physical realities that form and govern our experience of knowing the world as human beings.  Some of these structures are cultural while others are universal. We often live aloof from these structures as though they lack definition or are not easily discernible.

    We use words to explain these realities that belong to the human experience. Words evidence our insight into the world and enable us to live beyond instinct. Words are like spirit; they are invisible and have power beyond mere sound. With words, we limit and define the world, (our experience of reality). We question and seek answers in our pursuit of understanding how to live. The perennial questions that drive us (Who am I? and Why am I here?) speak to our incompleteness our need to become.

    Our ability to form our own reality with ideological concepts that frame human thought and life continually threatens our need for ‘shalom’. Shalom comes from living in harmony with God and in concert with others.[1] The ability to form our relational reality and challenge the physical limits of reality is both gift and curse or life and death. It is curse because the relational reality we form with words often lacks the love (justice is governed by love) essential for shalom. It is blessing because we can learn to align our creatureliness with the creation and our God-likeness with Spirit. It is insight and faith overcoming instinct that enables us to live as both creature and spirit.

    The structures of relationally formed reality are a conundrum as stable as God’s promises and as fluid as infinite-possibility within measurable confines. The physical structures of reality are measurable and calculable; meaning there is differentiation in the creation that forms the natural world, e.g. male and female, animals, sea life, trees, vegetation, ground, earth, the sky, the cosmos.

    The Hebrew search for wisdom includes proverbs. Proverbs are generally basic pedagogical statements for young people; they are not promises nor are they great insights into reality. For the most part, proverbs are aids for succeeding in a cultural milieu. The basics of the book of Proverbs begin with two simple pieces of instruction; don’t be greedy and males must restrain their sexuality. To unlock the depth of the compiler or redactor of the book of Proverbs requires a structural reading of the book. Behind apparent cultural misogyny is a message of liberation. This becomes explicit in the final chapter for the attentive reader.

Simplicity is found in a proverb and wisdom is the complexity of pain and experience

in the laughter of the one that agrees with the proverb

while laughing at its exceptions.

   Creation also takes place within the relational reality through words that we speak and use, words that govern over our thoughts and actions (unless we act from instinct or suffer psychosis). We are created in God’s image. God is a relational, redeeming, creator who keeps covenant. These four are indicative of the image of God within human beings. John writes that God is love and this truth is the power behind the four I have listed. [2]

   We are co-creators with God, or we un-create God’s good world via the animal sin.  God cannot be redemptive without someone to redeem. Our redemption is a process.  We partake in the process of creation and redemption by learning to speak correctly about the world, by speaking correctly to each other, by mixing our speech and actions with grace and mercy amidst a world of chaos where sin has entered many times and its repercussive power lingers like a monster.

    We must learn that when we speak with another human being we need to be intentional and compassionate with our words, there is nothing more powerful than words and they should be used for the healing of the broken relational reality we all experience. Perhaps James’ admonition on the power of the tongue is spoken for teachers?   

As we become aware of the structures of reality

we should become peacemakers with our words and actions,

we should be able to see God in the darkness.

     I think Paul understood this concept when he spoke of the 'elemental spirits of the universe', the stoichea. I think Martin Luther King Jr. understood this concept when he stated that the moral arc of the universe may swing wide but it swings toward justice. I think the underlying structures of reality reflect the good creation and attest to the marring of the good creation through the impact of sin and death. Death is God's severest judgment; as a structural part of reality it is the most powerful, it speaks the loudest and humanity cannot overcome its power of our own effort. Yet, death is also a fact of the human condition and not punishment for some primal sin. Ultimately death is the enemy of God because of his love for humanity and the embrace in which he holds us all. In the present death speaks to say that as we are, we are not fit to live. Only God’s mercy allows us to continue as God seeks to redeem us.

    One of the structural elements of the universe that proceeds from God is the Bible's teaching that our ethical and moral behavior affects the ground (from which life proceeds). We take this one for granted, for example, we pray 2nd Chronicles 7:14. This prayer in Chronicles explicitly links moral behavior to the healing of the land.  Hosea 4:1-3 teaches that sin dismantles life to the degree that death is not just an end, but also a present power that is woven into creation. This passage in Hosea 4:1-3 also enables us to make the theological statement that our ethical and moral behavior effects the cosmos, the ground, and animal life.  This is true in both a physical sense, through ethical use of the earth in relation to humanity, and through a spiritual reality upheld by God.

     We are of the adamah, the ground, after our father the first Adam. Our goal is to learn to become life-giving spirits like the 'last Adam' Jesus. I think that as we learn to recognize the underlying structures of reality, we connect with the voice of God that set the limits and order of existence under the sun. However, God still speaks, particularly to challenge each of us to manifest the spirit of God in the world by being obedient to the revelation of God in Christ. Theology is (for me) always ontological because God is (living) a being.

   The Hebrew quest for wisdom, for discerning the voice of God through the created order, (that is the underlying structural elements of reality) explores the revelation of God in creation and seems to neglect the revelation of God in Jewish History. Wisdom in the Bible is a form of 'natural theology' and avoids the complications of theology drawn from interpreting complex narratives. The pursuit of God through the ideology of monotheism accompanied with the witness of creation and human experience is a spiritual exercise.

   For example, the universal human rejection of death as acceptable and the desire for life beyond our creaturely limits testify to the structural reality of how we have been created as human beings. Ecclesiastes 3:11 acknowledges that God has set in the heart of human beings haolam, that is, the idea of forever. This single insight is a universal reality experienced by all human beings. It is Hebrew wisdom at work and also is an existential reflection. As an underlying structure of humanity’s creation, it reflects the reality of an unseen God who is without end.

    The underlying structures of reality, that exist within us as creatures, is our relatedness to God through likeness and image; relational, redeeming, creating and promise-keeping.[3] These structures are guided by the collective reality of the moral conscience, which encompasses each and is to be governed by love. Love is always gift because it proceeds from God. Yet, like all God’s gifts, it can be marred in expression if not governed by moral conscience and insight. In the flux and flow of life, it is promise-making and keeping that ensures love’s faithfulness.

Sexuality and Structures of Reality

    The most promising and most harmful aspect of the underlying structures of reality is the role of human sexuality. Sexuality is essential, yet its temporal function grounds each of us in the earth as creatures that are dependent upon an instinctual impulse for our survival. Gender and procreation, male and female, these creaturely structures form the beginnings of the relational reality in which human maturation takes place. Sin and sexuality are major themes introduced in the creation narratives nearly simultaneously. Nakedness and shame both arrive as consequences of violating the initial prohibition to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Although the command to multiply came before this event, any other possibility of imagining sexuality free from the realities of nakedness and shame is removed.

    Sin is first an existential act of violence against one’s self; it is to reach beyond the structures of reality for forbidden fruit in a garden overflowing with the fruit of goodness. Next, sin is an external act that blames the existence of the other because sin is always expressed relationally once existential violence is done to our psyche.  Because the initial act of existential violence for violating the structures of reality (reaching beyond for the fruit) and sex (recognition of nakedness) enter the world at the same moment in the Genesis narratives, sex is viewed as incompatible with spirit and a result of separation from God; yet sex is not sin. Interestingly the word sin is not used in the Genesis narrative until Cain’s murder of his brother. However, sex is not spirit and it is the confusion of the two that results in the most heinous religious aberrations. For this reason, sexual restraint is a spiritual discipline.

    Sexuality, like sin, is related to instinct and must be governed by insight. Insight is wisdom that discerns the underlying structures of reality; which is the voice of God. Sexuality is more than biological impulse, to violate the role and function of sexuality releases a marred reality of such force that it consumes. The intensity of harm caused by violating the structures of reality in relation to sex, structures that govern humanity, is responsible for immeasurable effects of death in our souls and societies. To ignore the structure of sin found in both scripture and reality is to fail at the task of good religious teaching.

    Procreation is godlike because our children are born in the likeness and image of God. It is not the act of sexuality that is godlike, it is the birthing and parenting.[4] For the woman, this experience is born in pain. For the male, it is the responsible-knowing that he is the one who has caused pain in the one he loves. Parenting and marriage reflect the relationship of God and humanity. In this sense, sexuality is redeemed through godlike suffering that gives freely of self for the life and blessing of family. Although we are mothers and fathers, we are all children of God.

    This being said, the so-called ‘fall’ narrative is a deeper contemplation of the human condition and our journey begins outside the mythical garden of innocence. The myth enables the imagination. Imagination belongs to likeness and image and serves in order that we might seek paradise where humanity and God the creator live in harmony. The Genesis narrative makes a powerful statement in relation to technology. The created environment, though hostile, can only be reconciled to God through the reconciliation of humanity. Our problems with reality are not ultimately outward but inward.

[1] Because God is redemptive God allows for the disturbance of shalom. We too must suffer the disturbance of shalom in order to heal the world. The Hebrew phrase ‘tikkun olam’ is an idiom that means ‘repairing the world’, this is our task, our way in which we live and walk, even though we do not see its completion.

[2] The image of God is demonstrated in many ways including humility. I am not attempting to establish a conclusive or exhaustive list. The list I have compiled is based on dominant themes found in the OT.

[3] There are other traits that demonstrate image and likeness, my list is not exhaustive but is workable. For example, insight over instinct is reflective of likeness and image as is our discontent with mortality.

[4] Lady wisdom in Proverbs is ‘brought forth’ through an event for God that is like childbirth, so the same word that describes childbirth is used in the translation ‘brought forth. Suffering is essential for human existence, growth, and development, in order that we might be formed into children of God by insight and choice through God’s giving of self; God’s Spirit.