Embracing the Mystery

Since I continue to live in the town in which I went to high school (heck, I work there), I occasionally run in to people I knew during those years. Whenever I do, I usually walk away from the encounter glad that it happened. However, there is one guy who does not get that reaction from me who was a freshman when I was a senior. I have come across him or his father several times since my graduation, and it seems that every time I have, they have either asked me what my college’s science department said about evolution (if they taught about it at all) or what my thoughts were on Genesis (relating to the Creation).

Well, I ran in to both of them four or five nights ago at my favorite haunt, the local B&N. I’ve always liked the guy, and he’s involved with Campus Crusade at the JC, so that’s cool, but for some reason he always brings this stuff up. Whenever anyone who seems to be defensive about this topic brings it up, I pretty much just try to avoid the discussion, and that’s what I usually do when I run in to him. This time, however, I was just sick of it.

jesus_creation_birds_fishes.jpgI was originally planning to write a post about my actual view of Genesis 1 and 2, but I realized that there is a deeper problem here than our interpretation of these two chapters, so I want to talk about that instead.

Those of you who have succeeded in cornering me into talking about the so-called “Evolution vs. Creation” debate probably know that I do not read Genesis 1 and 2 literally (if you don’t know, the Bible contains two distinct creation stories, and no, they don’t match up). I imagine that most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians react in a shocked way to such an admission. That’s why I just avoid it most of the time, and refer my students to their parents or pastors for definitive answers.

I don’t know why, but I reacted, on this most recent occasion, to my fellow alumnus in a more straightforward manner. He began the now-familiar routine with questions about what the science faculty at Westmont College say about evolution, if they say anything at all (in this case, simply teaching “creationism”). I only took a handful of science classes there, but from my experience, the professors did not avoid teaching about evolution in class. They didn’t even really acknowledge the debate between evolutionists and creationists to any large extent. That’s pretty much what I said to my friend from high school. The questions proceeded to my personal views about the creation story (he spoke as if there was just one). To my surprise, I simply said, “You’re not supposed to read Genesis 1 and 2 literally, and I don’t.”

I am still a little puzzled by his response: “What about when Jesus uses Genesis?” The question indicates to me that he believes Jesus read Genesis the same way he does, which I believe is mistaken, but I’ll get to that in a little. My response: “What about it?”

I probably should have responded with something more constructive, something that illuminated an alternative way of looking at things, but I was just wanting to leave at that point. Besides, as I said, I don’t think the way we interpret Genesis is the root problem; it is just a symptom or manifestation of something deeper.

The problem I want to talk about is Science. Science and the Western Church’s response to it (particularly that of the Protestant wing). I’ve had heated discussions about Science before, and I think my view is still the same. I think Science, overall, has been a bad thing for us humans. Yeah, there have been good results, but they seem to me to be by-products an evil machine dedicated to, on the microcosmic level, advancing some people at the expense of others, and on the macrocosmic level, advancing the human race at the expense of others (other living creatures) or in defiance of others (namely, God).

With the advent of the Age of “Enlightenment” (as it is so self-exaltedly called), the Church had no option but to respond to the systematic critique of the Bible (among other things; I’m not going to get into the question of Church authority and whether it has acted in a morally acceptable manner). Unfortunately, because they were forced to respond to “Science,” many Christians felt the need to use the language of Science and the new Reason when they described the ancient Faith.

To make a long story short, Christian fundamentalists and the most violently atheistic scientists really ended up being two sides of the same coin. They both, in the end and to the fundamentalists’ disgrace (in my opinion), approached the Bible wearing the lenses of Science and Modernity (a world-view inextricably intertwined with Science). Science is supposedly unable to address questions of faith, and good scientists stay away from trying to do that, and, ironically, it was the fundamentalists who broke that taboo. They are the ones who say that the Bible, every last word of it, must be literally true. They ignore the fact that the Bible contains a wide array of different kinds of literature, and that none of it was written in a way similar to that of a textbook or newspaper. That is what many of these kinds of Christians try to reduce the Bible to — some book of facts.

The Bible is not a history book or a science book, although there is history in it. It is not this morning’s newspaper, although I don’t know if we should be trusting everything that is written in a newspaper anyway. Don’t degrade the sacred Scripture by reading in ignorance, by grouping it with all that other written stuff. With that said, even though it is not a text book or a newspaper, I say it is still true.

When we begin to read Genesis 1 as more of a liturgical poem or song extolling the creative power of God, we become less concerned with the questions of Science. New scientific theories come and go faster than the latest fashion trends. We should never form our faith in reference to Science. I could care less about the fate of the evolution question. Evolution could be proven as absolute fact or disproven as a big joke. My faith in the truth of the Bible, by virtue of its inspiration, will not change. The questions of Science are beside the fact when it comes to my faith.

One might ask, and legitimately so, how I would then read Genesis 1 and 2. Fortunately, the Bible itself tells how we should read these two chapters:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

—John 1.1-4

What does Genesis tell us, and what has John told us? That all that exists was spoken into existence by an all-powerful creator, among other things. That is truth, my friends, and it is a truth that goes a lot further for us as spiritual beings, beings created in the image of our creator, than the assurance that God created everything in seven literal days. Is this not so?

We call our Faith “faith” for a reason. I think at the center of faith is something “contradictory” to the scientist. We believers call it paradox. A holy Scripture both God-breathed and written by humans, a being that is all God and all human, a deity that is both three and one. Why is there so much of this paradox in Christianity?

Many scientists have already weighed in on this question. They say the paradoxes are there because it is an antiquated, superstitious system of belief. And we, like faithless, dumb sheep have seen fit to try to cram God into their limited little view of reality; tried to express the inexpressible within the feeble idiom of a man-made system of thought.trinity2.jpg

If true faith is paradoxical on a fundamental level, I think the paradoxes of Christianity attest to its authentic insight into the nature of God. We faithful also call these paradoxes mysteries. The modernist mindset does not like mystery, at least unsolvable mystery. I think the mysteries of God are made evident as reminders that we do not know, we are not remotely capable of knowing, enough or understanding enough to really gain any kind of knowledge of the divine, other than what the divine chooses to impart to us.

So who are we to decide that a newly-invented way of reading newly-invented written material is appropriate to use on Scripture? I think, when it comes down to it, Science has made us afraid, afraid of what we have no power to understand. But why should we be? I think it’s actually kind of fun. It’s an adventure, and it forces us to trust a power infinitely more capable than we are. It’s also beautiful in a way; Christianity is a faith poetic and artistic. At least it was once upon a time.

My challenge to you, my readers, is to embrace the Mystery. Love the Paradox. It’s paradoxical, but it’s not wrong. It doesn’t break down into a scientific method, but it is true. We have a certainty that is the envy of Science, and that certainty is rooted in the assurance of the Holy Spirit once we admit that we are uncertain, uncertain in our own ability to dictate what is true and untrue, what is good and what is not good. So then, let us say with the ancient Israelites and in full confidence, hallelujah to the lord of heaven and earth!

5 thoughts on “Embracing the Mystery

  1. WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE.

    MY APPROACH IS SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT HOWEVER. I JUST SAY ‘WHO CARES?’. REALLY. I MEAN SO LONG AS YOU BELIEVE IN THE TRIUNE HOLY GOD, SHOULD IT REALLY MATTER WHAT CREATION STORY WE READ EACH OTHER TO SLEEP WITH? I AM ALL FOR CHRISTIAN APOLOGY BUT THAT SHOULD NEVER EVER BE USED AS A TOOL OF DEFENSE WHEN DISCUSSING CHRISTIANITY AS A SUCESSFUL LIFESTYLE. NAMELY BECAUSE SCIENCE IS LIMITIED TO MAN AND MAN IS STUPID SO NOBODY WINS. IF PEOPLE, LIKE THAT KID, WANT TO GET UP IN ARMS ABOUT DEFENDING THE FAITH THEY NEED TO POINT OUT STUFF IN THE BIBLE THAT IS ACTUALLY CONGRUENT WITH HISTORY IN HER SECULAR CONTEXT. THAT AND KILLING ARABS.

    WHOA DID I SAY THAT?

    “RAY. THIS IS WALTER!”

  2. Okay- on a serious level. As long as science can bring us to a place where we are able to clone Drew in mass quantities, then I say the end justifies the means.

    I love you Drew! Thanks for letting me put crap like that on your web page.

  3. Jordan:

    I think we should care about what the texts are actually trying to say to us because the way we decide to answer that question has a profound impact on the way we live our lives, in both the sacred and secular contexts. There are drastic implications, in fact. You mention the triune God. That understanding was a result of some intense debate about what the texts of the Bible were saying about Father, Son, and Spirit.

    I understand what you’re saying, though, when it comes to Creation. The literalness of the Genesis narratives is not as important if you realize that historic, scientific accuracy is not even the point, that there are much deeper truths. If you are caught up on the fact that the writers of the Bible were not concerned with matters of modern Science (which doesn’t make sense), then you are going to be facing some serious doubts about the validity of the Bible.

    Let’s not go too far the other way, though. The Bible has very important things to say to each of us, and we need to treat it with the greatest respect. This also means that our interpretations and approaches to the Bible should be accompanied with a little fear and a lot of humility, because interpretation is important. The way we understand the Bible does have an impact, for better or worse.

  4. Drew, Great post! I especially like the Christological lens through which we gaze at the creation accounts.

    I want to add to your response to Jordan’s great “who cares?” anyway approach. The creation accounts matter becuase they tell us our beginnings. The stories, rooted in the peoplehood of Israel as presented in the First Testament, give Israel their identity as contingent creatures whose chosenness is a gift of God. An important part of those stories is their suberversion of contemporary creation myths. They attack the stories of the pagan nations by turning the language of their myths on its head (e.g. the heavenly bodies are creatures not gods. God exercises dominion over the chaotic waters of darkness. etc). Why can’t this biblical lesson of subversive storytelling must shape our own interaction with the pagan world?

    Again, Drew, i think you are so right to understand the creation accounts of Israel through the lens of Jesus. We must remember that we are Gentiles, foreigners to the promises of God. But it is through the invitation of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, that the promises are opened up to us, the outsiders. It is through Jesus that we are ingrafted into the true vine and come to know our story. Essential to the story is what it means to be a creature living by the gift of the Divine breath that at any moment can be taken from us. We must come to understand our creaturehood in a time where the “Enlightenment” echos all around us with pagan creation accounts. These echos tell us that we are masters of our own fate. The post-Enlightenment (“post-modern”) response does a good job critiquing these echos but in the end leaves our identity at the whim of powerful social structures. Without grounding in the story of our radical creaturehood, we are left on the waves of cultural screams. We must encounter Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, and allow the Father to re-claim our existence.

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