Beyond the Beginning and the End

In physics and cosmology there is an idea that there are certain limits or boundaries to what we can know.  The Big Bang in which our universe came into being is one such limit.  Science can only study the empirical universe and what if anything was on the other side of  (‘before’) the Big Bang is beyond the empirical universe and so remains hidden from our knowledge.  As astrophysicist Robert Jastrow writes: 

“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation.  For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”   (God and the Astronomers)

Sergius Bulgakov, Russian Orthodox philosopher and theologian, wrote in a similar way that the end of the world – the eschaton, the parousia – remains equally veiled from our eyes as the eschaton is describing a reality beyond this present world.   Scriptural references to the parousia, Bulgakov maintained, are endeavoring to use the inadequacies of human language to describe something not quite of this world.  He thus warned against an overly literalistic reading of New Testament passages referring to the parousia. Those who wrote about the eschaton were trying to use human language and symbols to relate what vision had been given them about life in the parousia.  But precisely because they were translating the vision into current human language and symbols, their efforts must be read in a more symbolic way as they only approximate what they saw, for what they saw is beyond our experience in this world.  Bulgakov wrote in THE BRIDE AND THE LAMB:

“The idea that the cosmos is transformed, not abolished but transfigured, is expressed in images of the destruction of the old heaven and old earth and the ‘creation of a new heaven and a new earth.’

This is not a new ‘six days of creation,’ a new creation out of nothing: this creation cannot be repeated.  Rather, it is a renewal of the created world.   …  

An ontological connection is thus affirmed between our world and the world to come.  They are one and the same world in its different states.  However … they are separated – or united-by a chasm …

Human life is connected by its yesterday and tomorrow, between which today is suspended, but the last day of the world will not have a tomorrow and will not become a yesterday. …

deisis… the parousia takes place not in this world but upon a new earth and under a new heaven.  The present world, this heaven and this earth, will not see Christ again.  The parousia is therefore not an event in the life of this world, and even less is it one of the world’s events.  Rather, it is an accomplishment that entirely transforms the life of this world as well as that of the humanity that passes through resurrection.

The appearance of Christ in heaven, His descent from it on clouds accompanied by angels and saints, seen simultaneously in all places by all of humankind, is, of course, only a symbolic figure of what the helpless language of our spatiality and temporality cannot describe or express.  This only means that the entire world and all humankind will be penetrated by the appearance of Christ; it will be visible and palpable to them.  Let us add that He will appear not only to humankind but also to the angels, including, in their own manner, the fallen spirits, for whom the Lord’s coming will signify, first of all the expulsion from the world of the prince of this world as well as their own expulsion.  It will signify for them their accusation and judgment.  In other words, the panorama of the parousia is indescribable; it serves only to express the general idea that the Lord will be manifested and that He will be accessible to all creation, which will become transparent for his presence.  …

The end of the world is not physical but metaphysical.  In reality, the world does not end but is transfigured into a new being, into a new heaven and a new earth.

3 thoughts on “Beyond the Beginning and the End

  1. Fr Ted, thank you for this post. I absolutely enjoyed Robert Jastrow’s quote. And Sergius Bulgakov’s quote is one of those instances that demonstrates what I love about Orthodox theology.

  2. Marc Trolinger

    Father Ted,

    I truly believe that the commentary on Revelation that I recently sent to you, answers these questions. Please review it, and reflect on it.

    In Christ,

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