Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Ivory Cubicle | Becoming Real

Once upon a time, there was a square. He lived in a country called Flatland, which was populated entirely by two-dimensional shapes. One night, the square had a dream about visiting the lord of a country called Lineland, which was inhabited solely by lustrous points. In his dream, the square attempted to convince the ruler of the existence of the second dimension, but finds that the ruler cannot expand his sight to see anything that does not fall along his infinitely straight line.

Upon waking, the square finds himself visited by a circle who claims to be a "sphere" from the three-dimensional world of Spaceland. The square is incredulous, and refuses to believe until he is taken to Spaceland to experience the wonder of the third dimension. Excited, he begins to speculate about the existence of a fourth and fifth dimension, causing the sphere to become offended by his presumption and return him to Flatland in disgrace. After preaching the existence of the third-dimension to fellow polygons who are unable to conceive of a reality outside their two dimensions, the square is imprisoned for his heresy and spends the rest of his days attempting to explain the third dimension to his brother.

Coming to Be

Literature is full of stories of lesser beings becoming something greater. Take children's literature for example. The classic children's book The Velveteen Rabbit tells the story of a nursery animal in his quest to become a real rabbit. The Adventures of Pinocchio tells of a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy, providing some rudimentary idea of what it is that makes a human "more real" than a marionette (the cricket, for example, shows the importance of conscience).

Many Christian philosophers have picked up this idea of “becoming real” as a way of understanding the Christian walk. In C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, we find the narrator exiting a bus from hell and coming to a grassy area that is more solid than any place he has seen before. The men he is with appear as ghosts in comparison to the solidity of that land, and he cuts himself as he tries to walk on the "real" grass or pluck a "real" daisy. An angel attends to the narrator, drawing him towards the true, the good and the beautiful in that land, and the specter gradually becomes more substantial, more solid.

For Lewis, this is meant to serve as an image of the Christian’s growing participation in a higher dimension. Man lives in a three-dimensional world and experiences only those dimensions. But, like the square in Flatland, we believe in a world that is greater than what we see. We understand that the “circle” we see in Flatland is a representation of the real “sphere” in Spaceland.

This leads to a concept that C.S. Lewis likes to call “transposition.” According to Lewis, the world we experience has been translated to a lesser medium. It's like reducing an actual sunset to an artist's painting (or, for today's modern world, like reducing the robust expressiveness of a genuine conversation to a bunch of instant messaging smiley faces). The reality that God desires to bring us to is so much greater, so much more vibrant, so much more real, but we only get a glimpse on this side of heaven. “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).

As we journey in our spiritual walk, we continue to “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29), we find ourselves “transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Rom 12:2) and as we become more mature, we are presented a hidden, mysterious wisdom through the indwelling Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:6-16). We stand as fully redeemed children of God who are becoming more and more aware of the glorious reality we participate in. We become more real.

All right, this particular theory of reality is by no means unquestioned by Christian scholars. Would you agree or disagree with C.S. Lewis' understanding of reality? Let's hear some discussion!

Posted by Nick Barden

The story of Flatland is taken from Edward Abbot Abbot's classic book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions.


  1. I agree somewhat with the fact of becoming more "real" . As we mature as Christians we become much more aware of the spiritual realm and it's affects on the physical: we can understand more of reality in this way. I have not read Lewis's book, am I correct in assuming that sin is what has put us in a "lesser medium", or is it just the fact that on earth we cannot live completely "real"?

  2. I think that's fair. If I'm reading him right, Lewis believes that we become more real through a process of sanctification and restoration of communion with God.