A New Perspective: Spiritual Insights from Flatland

January 1, 2009

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, is a novella by Edwin A. Abbott.  It is written from the perspective of one A Square, who is  a square who lives in a two dimensional world.  Part one has more to do with the criticism of the Victorian society the author lived in: the misogyny, the class hierarchy, and the various practices that seem inhumane even in light of the fact that they were practiced by anthropomorphic polygons.  While the modern reader may not be able to relate to it as a satire, there are some insights, particularly from part two of the novella, that can be of spiritual benefit.

The first insight comes from the Pointland, “the Abyss of No Dimension.”  Here A Square finds a creature, a point, that is perfectly content with itself, whose entire universe consists entirely of itself, of its thoughts.  It knows not even of the number two, and does not consider the number zero.  It knows not, then, of love, of selflessness.  It is then, the picture of hell, where it can neither love nor know anything else but itself.  All other voices are discounted as passing fancies withint its own imagination.  All other possibilitese are pushed away by its all encompassing hubris.  Its self-satisfaction is the very cause of its doom.  It is trapped for it knows not that there is more.  The only difference is that in hell, we will constantly hear the distant echoes of praise of God, and be forever be tormented by the unrelenting reality that we are not our own gods.

The second insight comes from where A Square tries to explain to the king of Lineland about the second dimension.  (We also see it when the Sphere tries to explain the third dimension to A Square).  The Square can see inside of the King because of the extra dimension.  The Sphere can see inside Square for this reason as well.  In our three dimensional world, we see everything as projected onto a two dimensional plane.  We cannot directly see what is inside of other three dimensional objects.  But if there was a being who lived in a higher dimension, this would be immediately possible.  The scripture tells us that God is spirit.  It also tells us of His omnipresence.  Lewis, in Miracles put it like this: “…God is totally present at every point of space and time, and locally present in none.”  It is not just that God doesn’t have a material form – it’s that He exists in a reality that is higher than ours.  It is not the case that God is incorporeal and impersonal, but that He is trans-corporeal, trans-personal. (Lewis, same book).  And in light of this, His omniscience and omnipresence does not seem too far-fetched.

The third insight comes from when the Sphere tells the Square of a way to think of even higher dimensions.  Because we can only see everything in a plane, it is hard to visualize a fourth dimensional cube-like structure. It does not have a corresponding structure in our world.  But one way to think about it is through time.  Move the cube in any direction and connect the corresponding vertices.  This will result in some hyper-cubic object through time that has the correct number of vertices, faces, and edges (according to the geometric progressions from lower dimensions).  What we do, through time, then, allows us to see inside ourselves and others.  By our fruit you shall know the tree.

Finally, we see A Square imprisoned by the rule of the Circular high priests for claiming the existence of third dimension.  And in this we find the story of those who claimed that there is more, that there is more than what we see.  This is the story of Jesus (as Rob Bells put it so elegantly in Everything is Spiritual).  And this longing for something more is that which has been planted deep within us (as Herbert says in The Pulley).  This is the message: that there is more, that we cannot be at rest until we find God, and that we can only find this rest through Christ.  Rob Bell says Jesus came to show us that everything is spiritual.  But Jesus did much, much more than that.  It wasn’t the case that everything was fine and alright, and we only needed to change our perspective.  Rather, to a broken and shattered world, Jesus came to redeem and restore.  It is like statues coming to life; it is like polygons being lifted out of the Flatland.

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