Close your eyes, and imagine that you are absolutely flat.
You’re like a drawing, a 2-dimensional shape living upon a piece of paper. Yours is a perfectly flat life in a perfectly flat world where width and length are the only measurements—height is unimaginable. Left, right, forward, back, and the all the gradations in between are the only comprehensible directions in which you can move.
You live in Flatland.
Now imagine something intrudes into your flat, little life. You’re alone in a room, and you hear strange sounds. You realize that some of them are coming from inside your own head. A shape appears before you. It’s a misshapen mass of confusing imagery. And what’s more, it changes, continually morphing and transforming and reshaping itself in impossible ways.
Suddenly, it’s gone, possibly along with your sanity.
What you’ve just seen with your flat eyes is a 3-dimensional being intruding on your 2-dimensional life—a human’s finger poking through the paper that you’re drawn on. From outside Flatland, a human can see everything in Flatland at once, including the inside of your flat body, of which your flat peers can only see the outside. From your flat perspective, this human would be omnipotent.
And so this human’s voice would seem to come from everywhere. And when it intrudes into your world? Your flat perception would only allow you to see a flat slice of the human finger poking through—as the finger passes through, you’d see this slice changing and reshaping. You can’t see the rest of it—only what slice currently occupies your flat universe. And once the finger retracts? It’s gone. You can no longer see it. Take a look at this informational video by famed scientist Carl Sagan for a more detailed description of this idea.
But, in reality, you’re not actually flat. You’re a human, a glorious 3-dimensional being with the power to move not only left, right, forward and backward, but also up and down. To the Flatlanders, you’re a god, able to see all of their reality at once, able even to pluck them from their homes at will. They cannot hide from you, no matter how they try.
Now think on the myths and legends of humanity, the stories we tell ourselves. Over the course of human history, contact with the supernatural marks our tales. Mythology speaks of beings who were capable of feats no human could ever accomplish, of magic and our urban legends which tell of ghosts and monsters and unimaginable horrors that lurk at the edges of perception.
We often tell ourselves stories in an attempt to feel we have some measure of control over the world—to feel that we have it all together, that we have it all figured out. But that’s all they are. Stories. Words on the page. Ink on paper, giving us no more impression of what they actually represent than a stop sign is a set of screeching tires.
One of these stories is the Bible, and for Christians, this is The Story, the One True Myth from which all other myth derives. But, when you physically hold it in your hands, the Bible, like all other stories, is a book—still ink on paper, even while being divinely inspired. The words are signs, symbols which attempt to describe reality—and not just reality, but divinity.
But the problem is that words can fall woefully short in that regard. The beings we know as angels are described many times in the Bible. They are spiritual entities created by God to do His work and carry His messages. Daniel 10:6 tells of an encounter with an angel, and reads, “His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.”
This doesn’t sound so unusual so far. But let’s look at another description of an angel. In Ezekiel 1:7, an angel is described as thus:, “I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.”
Not exactly a smiling, little cherub, is it? What can explain these varied and utterly strange appearances? What can explain angels’ ability to seemingly traverse great distances in an instant, to wipe out entire armies, entire cities, and to release people from impossible situations? What is the reality behind the words?
This is where science may just be able to pick up the tale. Angels may just be the finger poking into Flatland—they may be 4th dimensional beings intruding on our 3-dimensional world.
But knowing what we do of our perception of a 4-dimensional creature, how would angels appear as normal human beings, as they so often do throughout scripture?
To answer this, take a look at your shadow. It’s flat, isn’t it? You could cast it over a sheet of paper, and the Flatlanders from our earlier illustration would perceive it as like unto themselves. Given enough effort and practice, perhaps you could even learn to project your shadow in a way that is somewhat familiar to Flatlanders.
So the humanoid angels that have been reported throughout history could be just that—shadow puppets in the firelight, the real shape and being of the angels hidden from us, completely beyond our minds’ ability to comprehend. This would be a kindness to our mortal senses.
So why is any of this important?
Because this is the intersection between science and theology, and we may be on the verge of seeing the two fields come together.
The scientific revolution of the 17th century saw our perception of the universe mechanized and secularized—everything, we decided, was made up of ordinary matter that adheres to Newtonian laws. And all of it, we could study, categorize, and neatly label, with enough progress. As a result, theology, as the study of the unseen and the immeasurable, began its long, slow decline, the supernatural being explained as psychological phenomena—imaginary.
But this mechanistic worldview is now being undermined—not by theology, but by science, itself. New discoveries, beginning with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, have opened up possibilities about our universe that we could have never imagined before now—things like multiverses and extradimensional objects and the possibility of life that is beyond our comprehension. The natural and the “supernatural” may all be part of one seamless system.
Who ever thought that the work of Thomas Aquinas and Albert Einstein could parallel one another?
Science may very well be ushering in a new era of faith as we learn more about the universe around us. If all truth points to God, then our scientific endeavors to uncover the truths of the universe may, one day, take us right to Him.
“For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.”