Helping Haiti

Jan. 16th, 2010 10:43 am
rj_anderson: (Doctor Who - Five - Tegan Comfort)
Being currently absorbed with trying to make a very tight deadline, I didn't think I could do anything to contribute to the [livejournal.com profile] help_haiti fandom auction, and was feeling sorry about it. However, [livejournal.com profile] sinstralpride pointed out that I could offer some signed books, and then it occurred to me that I could also offer to write fanfic after all, provided that the recipient understands I can't do it until April.

So here is my thread: Pro Author Offering Signed Books OR Fanfic. Winner makes a confirmed donation directly to a charity bringing aid to Haiti, and gets their choice of books or a commissioned story in return.

***

On a related but more meaningful note, the very talented [livejournal.com profile] penwiper26 has continued her series of Psalm-inspired poetry with this take on Psalm 4, dedicated to the singers of Haiti. Lovely and thought-provoking, and the link to the news article made me tear up.

It always amazes and humbles me when people in the depths of sudden and unthinkable suffering can find it in themselves to praise God in song. I can't help being reminded of the apostle Paul and his companion Silas singing hymns in prison after being beaten and put in stocks for preaching about Christ; or Job in the midst of physical agony, financial devastation and shattering personal grief saying to his wife, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" and refusing to curse God and die.

Those of us who live in relative comfort sometimes argue that it's impossible to believe in a good or a righteous God when disasters like the one in Haiti happen. Yet when some of the very people who are hurting the most are the quickest to turn to God in prayer and even in praise, it makes those arguments seem a little less compelling. Or at least it does to me.
Yesterday, thanks to the kind offices of Twitter, I followed a link to an opinion piece about the recent controversy in the Montgomery County school system, where a teacher is being challenged and accused of corrupting young minds because of the inclusion of certain books in her classroom reading list.

No, that isn't what I'm going to rant about. Actually, the article made some quite good points about the dangers of judging these things hastily or leaping to wrong conclusions about the people or books involved, so there's not much to complain of there.

The column was nevertheless responsible for triggering this rant, however. Because halfway down the page I came across the following statement:

"I believe consenting adults should be able to write, publish, read or surf almost any loony material they please (with the exceptions of child pornography and nuclear secrets), just as I believe they ought to be free to worship anything from the fire-spewing God of the Old Testament to pet rocks."


Think you know what I'm going to rant about now? You're probably wrong. Actually, it was the "fire-spewing God of the Old Testament" part that got my dander up, and not much else.

Is the author of this piece (a pastor no less) actually saying that the God of the OT is completely different from the God of the NT, and one whom only "loony" people would worship? I would hope that I am misunderstanding him on that point, not least for the sake of my Jewish friends. But whether the author means what he appears to be saying or not, he's far from being the first to claim that the God of the Old Testament is somehow significantly different in temperament from the God described in the New. I've been hearing similar assertions from people -- not just skeptics trying to disparage the Bible, but professing believers as well -- all my life.

And quite frankly, it drives me crazy. Because I've been reading and studying the Bible since I was a child -- I've read it cover to cover several times and studied the major books of the Old and New Testament more times than I can count -- and based on everything I can see about God's character as revealed throughout the Bible, the idea that the Old Testament God is a big meanie and the New Testament God is jolly old Santa Claus is just not true.

First, let's have a look at God's character in the Old Testament... )

Not to mention the New Testament… )

You may or may not agree with any of this: you may not think the Bible historically accurate or even in some vague sense "spiritually true". It may be that as far as you've seen, you find both the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New to be unappealing and as such, the idea that they are one and the same hardly matters.

But I do hope this rant of mine makes it at least somewhat evident that the much-touted dividing line between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New is really no wider than a single thin, rustling page... and that the God of the Bible is -- to use a New Testament phrase -- "the same yesterday, and today, and forever," whether you choose to love and trust and worship Him for it or not.
Over the last year or so I've been reading through the Bible at the rate of about a chapter a day. I just finished Jeremiah yesterday, which is a really emotionally tough book if you identify even slightly with Jeremiah*, and as I was reading the first chapter of Lamentations I was struck by a thought that's been creeping up on me for a while.

Grief is not a sin.

Well, duh, you may say. Of course it's okay to grieve. We lose people or hear terrible news or suffer disappointment, we feel sad, it would be monstrous if we didn't react that way. And I think most people would agree that this is the case.

And yet it's easy to fall into the trap of expecting that grief, or lamentation, should only last so long or go so far. Just a nice neat little grief, not too long, something you can swallow back and force a watery smile and then put your chin up and keep marching with a smile on your face. Especially if you call yourself a Christian, because Christians are supposed to be full! of! joy! and count themselves blessed when they suffer tribulation, etc.

And for this reason people -- especially religious people, it seems -- can be amazingly cruel and dismissive toward others who are hurting, by trying to pep them up with positive talk and encourage them to stop focusing on all that negative stuff, or even (the worst) condemning and shunning them if they go on grieving and lamenting past the generally accepted time period for such things.

Where does this come from? Not the Bible, that's for sure... )

Sin, and all the things that have gone wrong with our world because of sin, may be the ultimate cause of every grief we suffer, and it's true that one day all tears will be wiped away forever and that will be a very good thing. But until that happens, grieving and lamenting and suffering over sin and hardship are not just tolerable or permissible to a certain limited extent -- they're actually good and right.

So the next time you're genuinely upset over something terrible that has happened to you or someone you love, and somebody comes up to you and chirps, "Oh, well, praise the Lord anyhow!" You should feel free to punch them in the face** hand them the book of Lamentations.


--
* Actually, I keep thinking there has to be a YA novel in there somewhere, because God called Jeremiah to be a prophet when he was just a young teenager. I'll keep you posted if I ever figure the plot of that one out.

** See, that's why I usually talk myself out of writing serious blog posts without spending a week editing them first.

*** No belittlement is meant by the use of this term, believe me; I would gladly have used "Tanakh" instead except that some of my non-Jewish readers wouldn't have understood what I mean by it.
(Points to anybody who not only recognizes the quote in the subject line, but can supply the correct response.)

In spite of feeling physically horrible and emotionally stuffed-up, I have to say that looking over my editor's suggested revisions for Knife today has been a great kick in the mental pants. Over the last couple of hours I've experienced a cascade of new ideas, and I'm really excited now about the prospect of making them work. Some of them mean chopping out and/or replacing bits of the story which have been in place for literally fifteen years -- but the new ideas I've got are so much better, tighter, more economical and even more interesting* that it makes me wonder why on earth I didn't think of them before.

This is the best part of writing, for me -- not the initial getting-stuff-on-paper stage, but the discovery of how much better the story can be with a good revision. And since I have now revised Knife at least ten times, it's a good thing I can still find a spark of excitement in the thought of cutting old scenes and writing new ones.

Now ask me if I still feel that way in six weeks.

***

On a related note, you know how I was whining about not getting my revisions earlier? When I was lamenting to my mother about the courier mix-up, she said, "There must be a reason behind all this," and as much as the cliche made me want to grind my teeth at the time, I've come to believe she was right.

See, I had an insanely busy weekend, and if the revision package had come on Thursday or Friday as planned, it would have been just one more source of agonizing distraction. I had no time to work on the book, and there were a whole lot of other responsibilities and commitments I needed to deal with first.

Even this morning would have been too early. I was too full of worries about fixing the airline ticket problems and coping with my kids to concentrate. My agent called mid-morning, and when I told him about my courier woes he said, "Well, at least you have Catherine's revision letter to look at, even if you don't have her comments on the manuscript. ... Oh, you don't have it? Well then, I'll forward you a copy straight away." Which he did, but! -- this has never happened before, not with my agent, but for some Mysterious Reason that e-mail spent a few hours wandering around the sub-ether instead of showing up in my mailbox. So, again -- no revisions.

By the time I'd fed the kids lunch and put the youngest down for his nap, I was completely frazzled. And at that point I realized I just had to let go of the whole thing. I ended up praying, "Lord, You send the revision package when You think I'm ready, because the truth is I feel like crud right now and I know I'm not really prepared, so maybe it's a good thing after all that it's not here." And instead of peering out the window and checking my e-mail every two minutes, I sat my two oldest down with a Tintin cartoon and then spent the next hour and a half resting, reading, and praying. After which I felt much calmer...

...and just a few minutes after that, the package arrived.

Really, you'd almost think it was planned.

*cough*

--
* In fact, at least one of them is making me grin with the anticipation of writing it. Just imagine the faery equivalent of Sydney Bristow stealing a Rambaldi artifact while her partner provides some kind of outrageous distraction, and you'll get the idea.
As a parent, I try to be fair and generous with my children, but just the same, there are times when I say "no" to their requests. And not just the kind of requests that are foolish, extravagant, or ultimately harmful -- sometimes I find myself saying "no" even when what they're asking of me is harmless or even potentially beneficial to them, just because I'm too tired or don't have the money or simply don't feel like it.

But God is not like that. Here's why... )

I say this for my own benefit more than anyone else's, because I've just had some disappointing news about something that means a great deal to me, and it's all too easy to ask why. But I know that this is not the end of the story, or the whole of it either. And since it wasn't very long ago that a similar disappointment turned into a triumph I could never have foreseen, I am choosing to wait and trust God in this matter, too.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

***

On a tangentially related note, I told [livejournal.com profile] jamesbow I would write a review of his new book Fathom Five, and I still intend to. But a new deadline has come up, and right now I don't have the time to give his story the careful attention it deserves. So, until I can compose a proper review, I'll just say that it's beautifully written, with emotional resonance and an intriguing, well-executed plot, and that you should go read it (and the previous book The Unwritten Girl, which I reviewed here, as well).

And now it is dinner time.
Today I was reading this passage in Leviticus 5, in which the Lord is instructing Moses on the various offerings and sacrifices to be made in the Tabernacle: A bit of Jewish theology )

And that reminded me of this passage in Luke 2: And a bit of Christian theology to go with it )

Excuse me, I just got a shiver down my spine.
Shawn over at Grey in Black and White has a couple of lovely posts on what worship is, and what it means to God. I think he's on to some really good thoughts here -- simple, yet meaningful, and encouraging to me in my own efforts to understand and practice worship.

From the first post:
I take some pleasure when I receive a compliment, but if you really want to see me happy spend some time telling me about how fine a child my son is (or my daughters for that matter). So it is with the Triune God....

And the second:
Worship is when we are amazed by God, when we are completely taken up by the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and when we express back to the Father what we know to be true about the Son through the leading of the Spirit. It can sometimes be emotionally satisfying, sometimes emotionally draining, and sometimes the emotions have little to do with it. Really, worship is not about having my heart touched; it's about touching God's heart when we acknowledge the perfections of the Son.

Those are just excerpts, though; I do recommend you read all of both posts. They aren't very long, but they're meaty.
Part One, in case you missed it

We do not sin in a vacuum, or for mere sinning's sake, but rather in response to natural human feelings and the pressures of circumstance: hunger, thirst, weariness, frustration, boredom, anger, loneliness, pain, sickness, discouragement, sexual urges, and so on. And when we seek sympathy and understanding from those who might otherwise condemn us, it is on that basis that we make our appeal. "I stole that money because I was hungry." "I hit that man because he made me furious." "I had that affair because I was so lonely." We want other people to understand the feelings that led to our giving in to temptation, to be able to imagine themselves in our place, so that they will be compassionate toward us and show us mercy.

If we think of it that way, then it is unnecessary to believe that Christ had to be capable of actually committing sin in order to sympathize with us. What we really want is to know that He understands how we feel before we give in to sin – that He knows what hunger, thirst, weariness, frustration, boredom, anger, loneliness, pain, sickness, discouragement, and sexual urges feel like because He has personally experienced them.*

Well, in the gospels we do find Christ coming under these kinds of overwhelming pressures, and being demonstrably affected by them. He was not some super-being immune to the frailties and vulnerabilities of humanity, but a true Son of Man. After forty days and nights in the wilderness, Matthew and Luke tell us, He was hungry (perhaps the most colossal understatement in all of Scripture: He must have been nearly dead of starvation). By the well in Samaria after a long day's walk, He was thirsty. After preaching long hours to the crowds in Galilee, He was weary – so weary in fact that He could sleep soundly in a boat tossed by a raging storm. In the temple courts, seeing His Father's house turned into a marketplace, He was consumed with anger. In Gethsemane, He was overwhelmed with loneliness and sorrow almost to the point of death. On Calvary, He experienced horrific physical, emotional and spiritual pain.

And yet, the author of Hebrews assures us, He went through all these ordeals "sin apart". He was tested and tempted in all the ways that make us weak and vulnerable and prone to sin, but He never stepped over the line. Sin found nothing in Him, no claim or hold on His spirit, because He was not only truly Man, but truly God. He never lost sight of the Father, or of the glories of heaven, and so none of the insipid, feeble pleasures of this sin-corrupted world could possibly beguile Him, any more than you or I would be tempted to covet rhinestones if we owned the Koh-I-Noor. All the tests and temptations He endured, potent and real as they were, served merely to demonstrate His incorruptible and divine character. As the same writer of Hebrews noted, "Such a high priest meets our need -- one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens."

But because as a Man Christ was tempted, in the sense of going through all the same feelings of need and experiences of hardship that we do, we can cry out to Him in any situation and know that He understands – not only how we feel, but what we need to endure and overcome. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Cor. 10:13)
I am thankful beyond words that whatever I feel, whatever I face, whatever pressures I am under, I have a Saviour who understands. He does not ignore or excuse sin -- rather, He died to save me from it. But He will never treat me unjustly or fail to hear my cries for help, either.

--
* Before anybody has hysterics over the implication that Christ was not asexual, I'd like to point out that the sexual impulses were given and blessed by God at the beginning of creation, and that they are in no way sinful in and of themselves. I suggest, therefore, that if the incarnate Christ was truly Man and not a eunuch, He would surely understand the feeling of sexual attraction, though He never indulged in lustful fantasies or committed any form of sexual sin.
It's been a long time -- too long -- since I blogged about anything theological. After sitting through several thought-provoking, heart-challenging messages at the Christian family camp we just attended, it's really come home to me that I've been giving the Lord short shrift in a lot of ways, my online activities especially. So in future, by the Lord's grace, I hope to get back to talking a little more often about the things that really matter -- or perhaps I should rather say, the One who really matters.

After listening to three messages on the subject, I've been thinking about the temptations of Christ (see Matthew 4:1-11 or Luke 4:1-13). More specifically, about the whole controversial topic of precisely what it meant for the Lord Jesus to be "tempted", particularly in light of the book of Hebrews:
For this reason he had to be made like [us] in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17-18)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Some people argue that in order for Christ to experience or be able to empathize with human temptation in any meaningful sense, He had to have the potential to sin, even if He did not actually do so. But the more I think about it, the more I disagree… and tomorrow, I'll try to explain why.
Pretty much everything I could say about this supposedly hot issue has already been said, concisely and well, by this blog entry.

In other words, I am not exactly trembling in my evangelical boots over this one, any more than I lie awake nights worrying about the shattering implications of The Da Vinci Code. Heresies that were old hat in the first century are hardly worth Christians getting all het up about now, no matter how many liberal scholars jump on the bandwagon.
Aha! Now I remember something interesting I wanted to post about. Months ago, Cheryl asked me in the comments of her blog:

What is your approach to Biblical interpretation? (I'm thinking mostly literal vs. nonliteral here, though I'm aware there are many more nuanced approaches and you have one of those. And feel free to direct me to a blog post on this, as I think you've probably written one on it...)

Well, as it happens, I didn't have a blog post written on it, so I had to file her question away for future reference, and now here I am, finally getting around to it (thanks for your patience, Cheryl!).

I do approach the Bible literally -- that is, I believe that it may be read and understood without a secret decoder ring or years of special education. This is not to say that a theological education has no value, but rather that I believe any person capable of reading, say, the average newspaper article should be capable of grasping the basic narratives and concepts of the Bible.

Of course there are difficult texts and passages which require thoughtful consideration before the reader can be at all confident of their meaning; and there are also parts which at first glance seem merely irrelevant or tedious and are hard to interpret in that sense. But I do not believe that the Bible is so packed with allegory, metaphor and figurative language that a reasonably intelligent child couldn't understand the gist of what it's trying to say. I believe that God gave us His Word in order to communicate, not obfuscate.

Note, however, that taking the Bible literally does not mean failing to recognize that it contains poetic language, parables, metaphors and the like. Jesus used all kinds of analogies and figures of speech in His teaching, for instance; and the writings of the Old Testament prophets are full of symbols and visionary language. However, it is generally quite clear in the context when a given passage is figurative or poetic in nature.

In that sense, I read the Bible as I would read any other book -- I begin by assuming that the author(s) of said book have a message that they wish to communicate to me, and that I will be able to understand that message if I read carefully. It may take me a long time -- even a whole lifetime -- to fully grasp everything that is being said, but that doesn't mean that I won't be able to understand any of it.

The problem with the view that the Bible merely "contains" truth or that it is primarily figurative in nature is that it postulates a God who plays favorites with the intelligensia. The more sophisticated a thinker you are, the better you are versed in ancient literature and languages and symbolic interpretation and so on, the more of the Bible you will understand; whereas a person without the same access to higher education and extra-biblical historical writings and so on will be left in the dark. However, Paul in his letter to the Corinthians explicitly stated that God does not give preferential treatment to the highly educated. His message is not merely for some, but for all.

As such, I believe that the Bible can indeed be profitably understood and put into practice by anyone who approaches it thoughtfully and humbly, even if they are not an accredited Biblical scholar; and that it is also possible for a highly intelligent and educated person to miss the interpretive boat, if they approach the text in a spirit of arrogance or with preconceived notions of what it will or should contain.

Mind you, the real difficulty most of us (and I include myself in this) have with the Bible is not that we read it and fail to comprehend what it is saying, but that we read it carelessly or not at all.
This morning I'm starting to wonder if I'm on a two-week schedule of rough, half-sleepless nights followed by a day of fatigue and breathlessness, or what. The lack of oxygen is making me light-headed and my legs feel wobbly. However, because I am a complete geek, I spent much of the time I couldn't sleep thinking of how best to reply to the comments made to my previous entry, and now here I am typing it up, since if I'm going to feel cruddy anyway I might as well do something productive with my time...

Both Paula and James raised the question of why sin couldn't have come into the world without a literal Adam and Eve and a literal fall in Eden -- why it couldn't be the result of evolved humanity exercising a God-given free will. Again, it seems a reasonable idea on the surface: but the moment you start to examine the details the whole thing breaks down. The ability to exercise free will is by no means evil in itself, to be sure, so God could give human beings free will without being the author of sin. But if we propose that sin has come into the world merely as the result of evolved humans choosing to do wrong on an individual basis, with no creatorial Head such as Adam represents in the Biblical narrative, we are left with the following very serious unanswered questions:

1. Why do all human beings, starting at the very youngest age, do wrong things without any coaching whatsoever, but have to be taught and encouraged to do good? Why is selfishness our "default mode", as it were, whereas good and unselfish behaviour requires conscious effort (effort that fails as often as not, or at least doesn't go as far as we would like it to)?

As a mother of two children whom I love dearly, as well as someone who vividly remembers her own childhood, I can readily attest to the fact that it is very easy for "sweet, innocent" children to be rude, unkind, disobedient to authority (even wise and compassionate authority), to harbor evil thoughts and say cruel things to each other -- and to do this knowingly and willfully, with no doubt in their minds that their behaviour is wrong. Even now that I am a well-brought-up and socially adjusted adult who knows better than to throw a tantrum in the street or hurl sharp objects at people who annoy me, I nevertheless still find it far easier to do evil than to do good -- I'm just better at hiding my sins from others.

If God created us (or rather, allowed us to evolve) with no innate tendency toward evil, only the basic power of free will, it should be an easy fifty-fifty proposition as to whether we do evil or good, and we should be readily able to choose good all or at least most of the time. But this is manifestly not the case, as anyone who tries to do only good and no evil, even for just one day, will soon discover. We read many stories in the Bible of noble and godly men such as Noah, Abraham and David, who did great things for God -- but they also committed great sins, with grievous consequences for themselves and those around them. As the psalmist wrote and the apostle Paul echoed in the epistle to the Romans, "There is no one righteous, no, not one."

The idea of human beings having evolved free will and choosing to do good or evil on an individual basis doesn't answer or even address this perennial moral problem. Only if humanity sprang from a single human couple created in a state of innocence (thus allowing God to declare them truly "good" in the beginning, not merely "potentially good if they choose to be") who then used their God-given free will to sin against Him and so corrupted both themselves and all their future offspring in the process, do we have an answer to the question of why we human beings are sinners by default, as it were, and why moral behaviour is such a concentrated (and frequently thwarted) effort by contrast. Only then do we have the necessary guarantee that human beings are not as God created them, and that God Himself is not responsible for nor is He indifferent to our present sinful state.

But there's another very important question left unanswered if "sin" is supposed to be just the result of evolved man exercising his God-given free will for evil instead of good, and it's this:

2. What about evil that is not the direct result of man exercising free will -- natural disasters, disease, "nature red in tooth and claw", etc.?

If we look around this world, we see much that is beautiful, much that is breathtaking, much that gives the appearance (misleading or not) of complex and intelligent design. But there is also much evidence of decay, suffering and death in the natural world. If God set evolution in motion in such a way as to produce the result we see in the world today, then He would be neither loving nor righteous. Only if God created the world in a state of perfection would He be justified in calling it, or Himself, "good".

So then, how did the world get from a state pleasing to God into the obviously imperfect state in which it now exists? Why do we have cancer, tsunamis, schizophrenia, colonies of monkeys who chase down other monkeys and rip them apart for sport? How did death -- something we all instinctively know to be an evil and seek to avoid, however we may try to whitewash it with various philosophies -- become an inescapable part of creation? Again, there is no satisfactory explanation for this if the world as we know it was simply set in motion by God and allowed to evolve to its present state. Only if at some definite point in history something went suddenly and cataclysmically wrong with creation do we have an answer, and Genesis 3 provides us with that answer.

Again, I am not claiming to have a timeline for creation, or to understand all the processes by which God worked and continues to work in bringing life into the world. Where the Bible specifically touches on these subjects I believe it to be factually and historically and scientifically reliable: but it addresses these matters primarily in the context of revealing God's character and expounding on man's relationship to Him, and so does not provide us with an exhaustive scientific explanation. Nevertheless, I can see no means by which the obvious realities of human moral weakness and a corrupted, decaying world can be explained apart from a literal father and mother of all humanity, a literal historical point at which innocent man was presented with the choice to do good or evil, and a literal fall into sin which affected not just human biology and spirituality but the whole of the created world of which humanity was Head. And that means reading and interpreting Genesis 1-3 just as the book itself invites us to do -- as a simple, straightforward historical account of what really happened.

I have more to say in response to Paula's comment in particular, but the reliability of the gospels and the question of whether Jesus actually spoke the words attributed to Him is another subject for another time.
As part of a discussion in her LiveJournal, Kate Orman wanted to know why I believe it's important that the things the Bible -- and specifically, Jesus Himself -- says about Adam and Eve and the fall of humanity be literally, factually correct, and not merely figuratively or metaphorically true. Couldn't the first few chapters of Genesis be mythical rather than historical, designed to be appreciated by people less scientifically advanced than ourselves? And couldn't Jesus have been speaking to the crowds on that level?

At first glance, it sounds reasonable enough that even if Jesus was the Son of God and not merely a good human teacher, He might have chosen to accomodate the ignorance of his listeners, speaking in mythical terms that they would understand. After all, He told parables, didn't He?

There's a problem with this idea, however. If you look at the gospels, when Jesus used parables and metaphors, it's generally indicated in or obvious from the context that He is using figurative language. Phrases such as "I am the Door", for instance, would not have been understood literally by any of His hearers, and as He goes on to expound on the meaning of His statement it's clear that He's using a metaphor. Elsewhere it's even more obvious, with phrases like, "And He spoke to them in parables, saying..." and in some cases, as in the case of the parable of the sower, a full interpretation of the parable follows, with each symbolic element assigned its literal meaning.

There are no such indicators, however, when Jesus speaks to the Pharisees about divorce and invokes the example of Adam and Eve. He's not merely using Adam and Eve as metaphors, here: He's arguing that because God literally created a literal man and a literal woman and gave them to each other in a literal first marriage, therefore once a man and woman have been joined in marriage, God means them to belong exclusively to one another and to take their relationship seriously. And in the process of making this argument, Jesus quotes directly from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, treating both chapters as historical and authoritative accounts of what God actually said and did at the beginning of creation.

If in this passage Jesus were merely making reference to Genesis as a shared myth with no basis in literal historical fact, then wouldn't actually be proving anything, any more than I would be proving something if I said, "The story of Snow White proves that eating apples is dangerous, and therefore you ought not to eat apples." Of course, one might say, the Pharisees were part of a scientifically ignorant culture and didn't know that the story of Adam and Eve wasn't literally true, so it was okay for Jesus to use the myth in this way to convince them. But that puts Jesus in the position of exploiting the Pharisees' scientific ignorance and using a false argument to persuade them. And it also makes His words irrelevant to us today, because if God did not actually create Adam and Eve as distinct male and female human beings whose union generated the rest of the human race, then the whole basis for Jesus's "one man/one woman/marriage is sacred" argument collapses.

But there's an even more serious problem, involving not just this one passage but indeed the whole message of the Bible from beginning to end. What the Bible tells us, beginning with Genesis and carrying straight through to the end of Revelation, is that sin is a real and terrible problem in the heart of humankind, and that since the events of Genesis 3 all creation has been "groaning" on account of it. In other words, the Bible insists that at some definite, historical point in the past, mankind made a conscious, willful decision to rebel against God and His commandment, thus bringing about the moral corruption of humanity, the inevitability of physical death, and all the disastrous faults we see in the world around us. This is why humanity needed sacrifices for sin (a practice we see beginning with Cain and Abel) and ultimately, a divine, infinite, perfect Redeemer to pay sin's penalty and offer us salvation.

However, if there was no Eden, no Adam and Eve, and no literal space-time fall, there is no such thing as sin -- only faulty creation on God's part. We are left to conclude that somehow God neglected to build into the process of evolution a safeguard to keep it from going wrong, leaving man and nature mere victims of a faulty evolutionary process, and a careless or short-sighted or indifferent God the real author of the phenomenon we call sin. In which case the whole idea of God sending a Redeemer in the form of His Son Jesus Christ is sheer mockery -- God trying to cover up His own mistakes and pin the blame on us.

But the Bible tells us very firmly that God did not make creation as we see it today: rather, He created it "good" and it was only corrupted after humanity fell. Both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly assert that God is not the author of sin; rather, He is completely opposed to and set apart from sin, and it is antithetical to His very nature. At the same time, the Bible insists, we human beings are far from being victims of chance or evolution -- rather, we are all directly and materially responsible for our own moral and spiritual choices, and answerable to a holy God.

Neither the divine righteousness nor the human moral responsibility described in the Bible are possible, however, unless there was at some point a literal commandment that a literal Adam and Eve literally chose to violate, and therefore a literal space-time fall in a literal Eden. Otherwise, the whole concept of "sin" is meaningless. We can't talk about morality, only about the way things have evolved to be -- and as such we have no basis on which to judge any creature's behavior as good or evil, right or wrong, because all of us are nothing more than soft machines programmed by our biology, with no reason to resist any of our biological impulses.

My personal conviction is that the story of Adam and Eve as the father and mother of all human beings, and the Fall as the origin of sin and as the reason for man's estrangement from God, may well be powerful in a mythic or symbolic sense, but in the Biblical context it has no meaning unless it actually happened. Without that element of factuality, the whole Biblical narrative of sin and redemption falls apart. Indeed, without that historical narrative and its climax in the literal death and literal resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Bible itself would tell us that there is no hope, no meaning, and no value in the Christian faith for anyone, and that Christians are to be "pitied above all men".

NOTE: For anyone interested in a more cogent and thorough examination of these ideas, my brother Stephen L. Anderson has written an article entitled "Can Myth Save the Miraculous?" to be published in a forthcoming issue of Philosophy Now. Recommended.
Just a quick heads-up for anyone interested in reading my blogback to this recent post by [livejournal.com profile] sff_corgi. I put it in the blog since that's where my non-fannish stuff goes... but feel free to comment here if you have anything to say.
I took the test at the The Political Compass a couple of weeks ago, and again this morning, and both times it declared me a member of the Authoritarian Left and suggested I read the works of Lenin and Mao Tse-Tung. Wah! Of course, in this context the left-right spectrum is focused on economic policy, and I guess my mistrust of big business and capitalism for its own sake came through there. But Lenin and Mao? That's just wrong. :(

On another quasi-political note, but one more in line with my interests, I turned on CBC Radio One this morning to hear an interview with Jerry Jenkins of the bestselling Left Behind series. Since the focus of the show was political rather than creative, nothing was said about the bad prose, hackneyed dialogue and flat "golly gee" characterization that make those books so (IMO) painful to read and their enormous success (to me) so inexplicable; but apart from that, it seemed like a reasonably fair interview. It's not Jenkins and LaHaye's theology I disagree with (for the most part, anyway); but I believe the cartoonish speculation that drives the books, far from being compelling and persuasive as the authors obviously hope, actually ends up making premillenial eschatology look stupid. Not to mention confusing a lot of readers as to which parts of this sweeping end-times scenario are actually drawn from the Bible and which parts are authorial invention.

Anyway, the Jenkins interview was followed by an interesting talk with two analysts who worry that the bestselling series may have a dangerous effect on U.S. domestic and foreign policy, particularly with regard to the Middle East. They were obviously well familiar with the books and their content -- a good deal more so than I am, in fact -- and most of their discourse was fairly intelligent, but a few of their misapprehensions bothered me. For one, they kept talking about "dispensationalism" instead of "premillenialism" to describe Jenkins and LaHaye's eschatology. The two ideas are often connected, but they aren't synonymous. For another, they seemed to think that premillenialists believe that all Jews will be wiped off the face of the earth in God's final judgment, which is not true either. (Unless, I suppose, one argues that the moment a Jew confesses Jesus as Messiah he immediately ceases to be Jewish, regardless of birth or culture. But even so, there will be a great many more Gentiles judged than there will be Jews, so it's hardly an anti-semitic proposition.)

I shouldn't complain too much, though. It could have been a lot worse.
We had such a cool time last night, celebrating my Dad's birthday. For one thing, everything I cooked turned out well, even (gasp!) the much-dreaded brussels sprouts that I'd only bought because my Dad likes them, and figured nobody else (including me) would want to eat any. But I found this great recipe that a) kept the sprouts from getting mushy and b) tempered the flavour, and they got snapped up in minutes. "Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter and Almonds". I love you, Canadian Living magazine.

But the best thing happened after Nicholas had gone to bed, when a discussion between myself and my two brothers about the moral underpinnings of The Lord of the Rings turned into a general conversation about the state of the church today and what might be done to make a positive difference. For my Dad I think that was the best present he could have wished for... he loves it when we talk about spiritual things as a family, but of course you can't force a conversation like that, it has to happen naturally, and last night it did.

In the end it all came back to LotR again, amusingly enough -- my brother Steve suggested that the church would be much better off if we were all more like hobbits in general and Frodo in particular. Not trying to take the spotlight, not wanting power or glory for ourselves, not even imagining that we could make everything right if we only had the means (i.e. like Boromir with the Ring), but humbly serving each other and quietly doing what God wants us to do, even if other people think we're crazy to do it.

Anyway, happy birthday, Dad. We love you.

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