Random Blog Clay Feet: March 29, 2009
Feel free to leave your own comments or questions. If you would like to be in contact with me without having it published let me know in your comment and leave your email address and I will not publish that comment.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Negative Numbers and the Sapphire Sea

For whatever reason, I found myself thinking the other day about the Sea of Glass described in several places in the Bible, which then in turn led me to another very interesting observation that opened up whole new dimensions about my perceptions of reality.

Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9-11)

Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads. (Ezekiel 1:22)

Then I looked, and behold, in the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim something like a sapphire stone, in appearance resembling a throne, appeared above them. (Ezekiel 10:1)

And before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. (Revelation 4:6)

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. (Revelation 15:2)

A number of years ago I received a set of sermons that introduced me to these various passages about this expanse called the Sea of Glass. They went into great detail about the various colors and the deeper significance of those colors and I found it all rather fascinating and informative.

But one thing that interested me and that sent me off in a different direction this time was the fact that in some of these references this surface seems to be viewed from underneath and in others it seems to be described from the other side. But all of them appear to be talking about the same subject or place, just from different perspectives.

Then my mind went to mathematics – of all things. It occurred to me how confused I often get when trying to work with negative numbers, especially when I was younger. What feels logical when working with “normal”, positive numbers seems intuitively backwards when working with negative numbers. Adding and subtracting I could handle reasonably well if I was careful to think it through logically. But when it came to multiplying and dividing, the results would always confuse me with unexpected results.

As I think about this more carefully, I begin to realize part of the problem between what actually happens when working with negative numbers and what feels like should happen from intuition. If I think about the seeming value of a digit – let's just say -15 to pick a random number – and then I take a positive number like 7 and add that to -15, according to the rules of mathematics I will end up with -8.

Now, I realize that anyone well-trained in math will think this is a no-brainer and may even think this is stupid to analyze. But in another part of my brain something reasons this way (not logically but emotionally):

If I start out with a digit that has the feeling of a certain value, then when I add another digit to that digit one would expect the resulting digit to be greater in size.

I realize that the rules that govern negative numbers cause the opposite to take place in this instance. Yes, I realize that with my logical brain and accept it as a fact. But that does not negate the fact that the other part of my brain simply is not wired to think in that way. It insists with my emotions that if addition is happening here, then the digit size should result in something bigger, not smaller.

Now what does this have to do at all with the Sea of Glass described above in various places throughout the Bible? That is a very good question, and here is how they connected in my brain.

I sense that ever since sin entered into our world and affected everything about our existence, our brains and “normal” logic systems always default to thinking that what feels normal to us is in fact the opposite of what feels and in fact is normal on the other side of reality as we perceive it. That Sea of Glass that looks like crystal with the color of sapphire and has fire somehow mingled all through it – that flat expanse that will someday support the feet of billions of the saved who are about to enter the gates into the New Jerusalem may be likened to the dividing point that zero is in our number system as we use mathematics.

That implies that everything below that Sea of Glass, that division between our perception of reality and the rest of the universe's understanding of reality, functions with rules of negative thinking, negative assumptions and the rules somewhat like those that govern math in the negative territory on the number scale. And most people know that the things you expect when working with negative numbers are very different than the results you would expect to see when working with positive numbers.

To add to the complexity of this situation though, consider the additional rules that must be taken into account when mixing the two kinds of numbers. When something is taken from the other side of zero and used on the opposite side, then that too has to be taken into account as to what to expect in the resulting answer produced.

For instance, if you add a positive number to a negative number, the digit size is going to get smaller instead of larger (unless of course it crosses the boundary-line of zero). But if you add a negative number to a negative number the result is going to be a larger negative number relatively (digit-wise).

In the same way, when things from the other side of reality as we perceive it, the other side of that sapphire sea, are brought into our realm and our ways of reasoning, they almost always seem completely backwards to the results that we by nature would expect to experience.

To illustrate this, let us remind ourselves of some clues of this very principle.

But many who are first will be last; and the last, first. (Matthew 19:30)

So the last shall be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:16)

Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35)

But many who are first will be last, and the last, first. (Mark 10:31)

And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last. (Luke 13:30)

And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. (Matthew 10:38-40)

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26)

It has always felt to me like many things about the kingdom of heaven just “felt” intuitively backwards. It was like I had to memorize the unusual rules than govern how things seem to be working in some other system in order to make sense of what kind of results to expect. But it never seemed to really help change my gut-level expectations of how things should turn out. All of these sayings on the part of Jesus just seem to most of us to be counter-intuitive. This is also seen in the description of the whole attitude of Jesus as described in Phil. 2:3-11.

So in summary, sin has caused our logic, our intuition, our sense of what is “normal”, to function beneath zero. That is because of the factor of selfishness that always permeates every calculation that goes on in our brain, our thinking and our feelings. We are living currently on the underside of the Sea of Glass, that sapphire expanse that appears like the sky to us above which is a whole different perspective of reality and a whole different set of paradigms and “normals” which feel so unfamiliar to us down here. We are currently functioning on the negative side of that boundary line.

The good news is that God is doing everything possible to not leave us stuck in this underworld where everything is so different than the reality which we were designed to enjoy and in which we were supposed to thrive. We were made for a different world and our hearts are never satisfied with the negative results that are always produced from our normal calculations.

It is because of this that we have to learn to trust in the math of heaven instead of what feels intuitively normal to us. That is what faith is really all about. We have to allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God who will guide us in ways that feel strange at times and even illogical from our perspective or many around us. But this is part of our transition to learning how to live in the real reality which the rest of the unfallen universe has always enjoyed and to which we are headed for to enjoy for eternity if we allow God through salvation to accomplish His intended purpose in our lives.

Legal Tender

I got up this morning to capture another one of those unexpected ideas that was presented to me before I lost it. It is insights regarding the nature of debt, sin and salvation that have puzzled me for most of my life and keeps me looking for more answers that make sense and line up with the principles I have been learning from the Bible. This increased understanding is helping me to further sort out some of the troublesome questions that have haunted me for years. As I have spent time listening to others who have excellent insights into this subject and put that together with what God has been showing me over the years, the puzzle just keeps getting more filled in and the picture becomes clearer. If you would care to read it, I posted it at another of my blogs where the subject matter fits in with the theme of the site quite well. You can read it by clicking here. But be aware, it is not a real short post. Enjoy and have a great day. And I welcome any comments or ideas to enhance my own understanding even further.