Wednesday, September 26, 2007


In 1884, an English clergyman and teacher wrote a fascinating little book called Flatland, telling the tale of a resident of two-dimensional Flatland, mathematician A. Square. Mr. Square describes what it is like to live in a two-dimensional world and details the workings of their society, where women are thin, straight lines, the lowliest of shapes, and men have various number of sides, depending on their social status. Irregular shapes are looked down upon as inferior, with sharply pointed triangles being the lowest form for a male. These dangerously-shaped men are suited only for life as a soldier, the most degrading of occupations. Regular polygons are highly respectable members of society, the more sides, the better. Mr. Square tells about how these inhabitants of Flatland recognize each other and interact as they go about their lives without any concept of a direction that is "up, but not north".

Then one day, A. Square encounters something he has never seen before: a shape which has no sides at all, but appears to curve smoothly. Even more remarkably, it seems to grow larger or smaller and sometimes disappear entirely, only to reappear somewhere else. As Mr. Square interacts with this amazing creature, he comes to understand that it is a sphere, a three-dimensional creature existing outside of the plane which had defined his entire existence. Mr. Square tried to explain this third dimension to the other inhabitants of Flatland, but they derided him as crazy. This third dimension was beyond their experience or ability to understand, so they concluded that it could not exist.

It occurred to me that trying to understand God is like an inhabitant of Flatland trying to imagine a sphere. God exists outside of time and space. After all, he created them. He pre-existed this universe, and He will continue on after it comes to an end. Just as the sphere could look down on Flatland and see what was happening inside a closed room, God is not bound by the constraints of time and space as we are. He is all-present in time just as He is all-present in space. He does not need to look ahead to see the future. He is already there.

As humans we try to impose our tiny vision and short-sighted wisdom on God, saying "If God were good and loving, he would do things MY way." How foolish of us to think that we know better than God! How presumptuous to think that we can wrap our finite minds around His infinite being. It is unsettling to not fully understand why God acts as He does, but sometimes we must accept that while we don't know the reasons, we trust God and know that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and that He is ultimately in control.

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