Friday, February 26, 2016

Sandbox #2

Reflections by Joseph Ostrander

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.  ~George Eliot

During round 2 of our Friday night theological cogitations of expanding cerebral dimensions, Chris once again challenged our scriptural understanding of how much of the Old Testament is nested within the New Testament.  Chris reminded us that Jesus never deviated from the Old Testament scriptural identifiers that pointed to Himself.  He self-identified with the direct prophetic references of the coming Messiah, but there were also other scriptural themes that were woven throughout the story of redemption from Genesis to Malachi.  We discovered a richness, and substantial mentions of God’s redemptive motivations, hope-filled descriptions, powerful imagery, and restorative, counter-curse workings that provided a critical back-story first for the Children of Israel, and then to the gentiles that were to share in the promises of the Christ, Jesus (Eph 3:6).

As one of the many other reflective Christians that wrestle with the supposed incongruities of how God in the Old Testament expressed Himself, versus the full revelation of The Father through His Son, Jesus, in the New Testament, I have made the following observations and conclusions about certain “taken for granted” fundamentals of the scriptural narrative.  I believe the writers of the Genesis accounts (chapters 1-11), were writing from the perspective of explaining the way things were at the time they penned these accounts, not from the perspective of a literal, chronological sequence of events.  And they were not attempting to construct a history book that required a rigid acceptance of arcane elements and depictions of the story as the Mount Ararat of Christian orthodoxy to die upon.  They were simply weaving a poetic and mythical account (not devoid of divine orchestration) of humankind’s ‘story’ up to the point of Israel’s national and religious history when the origin mythos was finally codified.  The entire narrative taken from the perspective of the origins of the Chosen People and how Yahweh called them forth to be His own.  As such, trying to extract more from the accounts, especially from a gentile perspective, does a disservice to the writers’ intent, as well as making a proverbial Mount Ararat out of the general mythical narrative molehill. 

1.  Adam and Eve: I understand the importance of adam (the man), and the woman, later named eve (the mother of all the living), as symbolic and not literal.  And their significance is of greater importance to the identity of the Children of Israel than the gentiles.   The story of the man, adam, is much more general when read in the original language, for then we see the wordplay and understand what the names mean.  The story is about an entity called “Mankind” that lived in the “Garden of Delight”.  God takes a part of the man’s side to fashion woman, whom Mankind called “Living”.  In the Garden of Delight with Mankind and Living, God plants the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If we look more closely at the story, we see that “Adam”, or Mankind, is not meant to be understood as a literal person, but as a name for people in general.  The story says that God created them male and female, and called their name adam (that is, mankind) in the day when they were created (see Gen 5:2 and 1:27).

Here is the ‘genesis’ of the story of God’s selection of a people that would acknowledge Yahweh and His original design to inhabit the Edenic paradise (the promised land) that He planted/established.  And the dramatic expulsion from The Garden due to the disobedience of the man and the woman is the very theme the writers of the Genesis accounts had in mind during the Babylonian exile when they decided to rediscover, and compile the oral traditions and scarce, unconnected snippets of texts into cohesive historical documents. 

See: When was Genesis Written and Why Does it Matter?  A Brief Historical Study by Peter Enns

2.  The Flood: I do not subscribe to the geo-physical assertions of a worldwide flood as claimed by Young Earth Creationists (YEC).  I do believe the Noah account is the Jewish version of the well-known Middle Eastern flood myths that contained similarities in their oral traditions.  These cultural versions preserved major elements of the flood stories passed down from elder story tellers to younger recipients.  I do believe they are all related to extensive, but localized, flood events that occurred during the last Great Ice Age (or more accurately, the last glacial period), roughly 100,000-12,000 years ago.  There is now compelling evidence for many gigantic ancient floods where glacial ice dams failed time and again; at the end of the last glaciation, giant ice-dammed lakes in Eurasia and North America repeatedly produced huge floods.  In Siberia, rivers spilled over drainage divides and changed their courses.  England’s fate as an island was sealed by erosion from glacial floods that carved the English Channel.  These were not global deluges as described in the Genesis story of Noah, but were more focused catastrophic floods taking place throughout the world, especially in the Northern Hemisphere.  They likely inspired stories like Noah’s in many cultures, passed down through the generations.

As with the opening scene of Adam and Eve expelled from The Garden of Eden, yet preserved and provided for, Noah’s story repeats the preservation of a ‘chosen’ clan of eight that survives a catastrophic flood and repopulates the earth anew; they inherit a new promised land cleansed of sin and evil.  This theme ultimately reaches its zenith in the story of Moses, The Exodus, and eventual conquest of the land of Canaan.

Natural events, such as the flood accounts, can be viewed as punishment from angry gods exercising their power through the dramatic forces of nature.  Writers of the Genesis account interpreted the influential flood stories, with a common violent imagery, as Yahweh’s wrath literally being poured out upon all of sinful ‘mankind’.  But the story of Israel’s past, present and future was always intimately connected to a faithful remnant, and Yahweh’s covenants (Edenic, Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, and ultimately, the Mosaic and Davidic promises).

I attempt to reconcile the wrath of God as described in the Old Testament, to be caused by a religious misunderstanding, and misrepresentation of God's character due to Israel’s collective guilt and identity, along with their perspective of their divinely chosen statusnot a divinely dictated description of God’s violent nature, vengeful motivation and hardened heart towards all of mankind.

No, Virginia, there was no global flood whose architect was an angry, remorseful deity that decided ‘mankind’ was not redeemable.  And no, I don’t believe there could have been a more wicked human condition long ago than exists today.  Also, God was willing to wipe out all the innocent animals too?  Just on a whim?  Wow.  Don’t you sense a dramatic dose of hyperbole in the Gen 6:1-7 prelude?  How could society exist if all of its citizens harbored evil thoughts and inclinations in their hearts all the time?  And why would Jesus paint a rather rosy picture of that generation in Matt 24:38: “For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark”?  Feasting?  Marrying and giving in marriage?  Actually preserving social structure/order?  No mention of the gross sins of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Or was He merely trying to make a deliberate comparison to His present generation that would soon suffer the complete destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Romans?

Think about it…