The Same Stuff as The Universe - Part 3

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In the last couple of posts, I've been exploring a framework for understanding the world in light of the Bible. Check out part 1 and part 2

This final piece looks at gaining new perspective on things we thought were old and tired. I'm not so much interested in laying out a theory of how to gain new perspective, but rather in simply approaching things from various perspectives to see what insights can be gained.

The benchmark for accepting an insight as useful or not is it's shape. What I mean is if it has a Jesus-shape or Jesus quality to it. My understanding in this regard is always growing and maturing, but Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith as I see it, and that's why I stick with it.

I want to start off with the idea of Both/And reasoning. Here's a nice little exercise to illustrate:

It's interesting that from one angle, you see the circle being made counter-clockwise and from a second angle, you see the circle being made clockwise. Which is it? The answer is: wrong question. It's both. It's the same hand doing the same thing in the same direction - you've just got a new perspective on it. That's what this series is all about. Gaining new perspective.

This brings me to Genesis 1.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Fair enough.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
Cool, if not a bit strange. God speaks, then stuff happens. He creates day and night, which means there must be a sun, right? After all, the whole idea of day and night is that the earth rotates around the sun creating day and night depending on where you are on the earth and where in the rotation the earth is. So far so good. Day 1, down.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
Interesting, this idea of water being above and below. Maybe not surprising since the sky is blue.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
I see what's happening. In the ancient world, alll of the elements were seen as Gods, or had Gods. This is dismantling that whole system. These things which people saw as gods are nothing more than stuff, which this God names and seems to have complete dominion over. Epic!
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
Nice - this God even has dominion over vegetation. Nothing is out of reach for this god.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
What?????? How .... what? The whole time things were growing, FOUR days passed, there was light and and there was darkness, but no sun? My brain is ready to explode. This is stupid, I'm going to watch Netflix.

And this is how a typical modern person might read Genesis 1. We get to verse 16 and everything falls apart. All of what we assume to be how things work is thrown up in the air. But this is also where it gets really interesting. Dismantling our assumptions is exactly what Genesis 1 is supposed to do. For millennia, Genesis 1 and indeed the Bible have been confronting our thinking in order to prepare us for something better. I know well the arguments about how regressive and backwards the Bible is. I consider elsewhere that the Bible isn't really the problem, but rather poor thinking about the Bible which is the problem. Most of the arguments against he Bible which I've heard come from a reading of the Bible that I long ago rejected. So then it turns out the God my atheist friends don't believe in, I don't believe in either.

I don't think anyone needs to commit intellectual suicide in order to accept the Bible as true, because there is more to truth than being literal (but we will need to consider our philosophies and weather or not they are helpful or destructive). Depending on the literature, the point may not be the literalness of the events. Most often, what I've found in the Bible is a combination of spiritual truth and literal 'how things are' truth. So asking "Is it literal or figurative" can be the wrong question, depending on what you are reading. For example, the Psalms are a collection of poetry which include a ton of metaphor, but also embedded in the poetry are elements of prophecy and real history. Similarly, Genesis, (chapter 1 in particular) is a book which contains elements of both real history embedded within poetic prose. Think about the little one line choruses Genesis 1 is broken up into ... and then there was morning and then there was evening. But then there's Jesus' death and Resurrection, which are written in Greco-Roman biographies of his life. I consider these to be primarily historical accounts due to the nature of the writings.

The seeming disorder of the events in Genesis 1 becomes less of a problem when you stop looking at them as a linear timeline. It should become clear after verse 16 that being linear is not the point. Further to that, it is possible to have order which is not linear or flat. If you look at the Gospels for example, you can get a 3D picture of Jesus' life by reading all four gospels. Even though some of the details seem to conflict or are out of order, it still gives us a full picture of who Jesus was and what he was all about. In Genesis 1, the things in day 5 and 6 fill in the empty space leftover from days 1 though 4.  And the things in days 1 through 4 fill in the emptiness which was present at the beginning of day 1. All of the things from days 1-6 also bring increasing form and order to the emptiness and chaos (see here) which was present at the beginning of day 1. There's a parallel structure to this unfolding story. And notice that on day 4, sacred times and days are marked out, and the seasons are also marked . Both depend on people to have meaning, and both come just before the advent of humanity. Day 4 is also disruptive
And He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.
This single statement blows apart astrology, which was a big deal in the ancient world (as were season changes, harvests etc). There's nothing divine about the seasons or the stars. They were made, and they are sacred. But they aren't divine. Also notice that we are brought back to the idea of light being separated from darkness. It's as if the writer purposely waits to tell us about the sun, moon and stars to prove a point, but hints that when God separated light from darkness, he did so by creating the sun, moon and stars. It was just more poetic to wait.

I would also point out that Genesis 1 is an exile story - where the spirit of God is found out of heaven, hovering over the waters of a formless and chaotic deep sea of some sort. But God takes this formless void, fills it up and gives it meaning. Side note: in ancient cultures, seas were a symbol of chaos (see here). It's interesting that even though the writer uses waters to mean water, in context it seems the writer is pointing to the idea of water/seas as another form of chaos.

The point of history for the ancient Hebrews (and indeed ancient cultures) was to give a framing story by which you could live by. Today, we have many framing stories to choose from. There's the happenstance story; that everything is a product of happenstance so there is no real meaning except the meaning you make. There's the suburbia story: that life is all about staying busy, acquiring stuff, amassing as much wealth as possible, and dealing with the side effects of depression and anxiety. There's the nature story: that life is all about getting away from the busyness and into nature. There's the mystical story: That life is about you harnessing the divine power of nature, including the divine power within you. There's the us vs them story: that we are the good guys, they are the bad guys and we need to keep them out.

And then there's the biblical story (I'm getting a little ahead of myself, but here it is anyway): That life isn't about you at all. To find your life, you in fact need to lose it, because the way things are isn't how it's supposed to be. Life is about entering into a creative, renewing partnership with both God and each other, which will culminate in the renewal of all things.  Your life has inherent meaning. 
You don't have to be a slave to facebook likes, the latest social media crazes, addictions, your financial situation, or your work schedule. Your life has meaning that transcends all of this: the boredom, the ultra busyness, the pain and suffering of life. To find that meaning, we need to be willing to lose all meaning as we know it. Consider it a loss for the sake of Christ and in doing so, enter the better story of salvation where God absorbs our pain, our suffering as well as our enslavement to the good life. That's the story we are invited into.

This story, which encompasses the stories of the Bible, begins in Genesis. I think it's a story we can all relate to, because it's a story of Exile. Genesis 1-3 acts like a prequel to the whole narrative - It's Star wars Episode 1. It explains the backstory of how the Hebrews got into exile. But in a much bigger sense, it's also our backstory. I think we've all experienced exile in one way or another. The marriage that started so good has become sour, friendships once close are now strained and distant, the money and life that seemed so freeing at first now seems prison-like, the new car needs major fixing, the new house has leaky pipes, the kids are acting up, we have to choose between rent and groceries. And it makes us angry, hurt, frustrated. What we thought would fill us and fix us didn't and can't.

What I'm talking about here is first and foremost realities we can't see but can sense on some level. Science is excellent as explaining the things we can see. It's not so good at explaining the unseen realities of the heart, because the heart is a wild and mysterious place - I would argue too wild to be pinned down by any theoretical form or structure. This is why I think 12-step programs don't work without their 'higher power' and why stiff religion tends to institutionalize brokenness instead of healing it.

If I am honest with myself, there is something inside of me; some unspoken, mysterious longing. I've try to fulfill it with gadgets and trinkets, academic pursuits, addictions, work, music, friends, politics, money, power. The list really could go on and on, up to and including everything under the sun. Many of those are good things, yet when I put them in the position of the thing that would deliver me out of my present exiles into my deepest longings, they became a twisted version of themselves and wound up enslaving me.

But the oral tradition-turned-book that is the Bible comes along and says: The longing which you are filling with all sorts of idols is really a longing for the one whom created you and the universe and everything in it. Nothing else will fill you the way you need to be filled.

So that's it. How to read the Bible starts by letting the Bible read you. It's not about looking for linear, scientific or theoretical structures (although systematic theology can be very helpful if the core is set right). It's about getting your heart cracked open wide enough to be filled.


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