Lazarus Saturday (2010)

“Christ weeps at the grave of his dead friend Lazarus – what a powerful witness!  He does not say, ‘Well, now he is in heaven, everything is well; he is separated from this difficult and tormented life.’  Christ does not say all those things we do in our pathetic and uncomforting attempts to console.  In fact he says nothing—he weeps.  And then, according to the Gospels, he raises his friend, that is, he restores him into that life from which we are supposedly to find liberation toward a higher good.”   (Fr. Alexander Schmemann, O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING?, p 25)

There was a belief in Jewish Rabbinic tradition that “sleep” defines human mortality and impermanence (My thanks to Dr. Silviu Bunta of the University of Dayton from whom I learned this fact).  The fact that God could put Adam to sleep before fashioning Eve, is the sign that Adam is not divine.  God’s threat to Adam that should he eat the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was simply another sign of Adam’s created rather than divine nature.  Sleep in the scriptures is used as a euphemism for being mortal:  “slept with his ancestors” means the person died.  Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death…”  (Psalms 13:3)    Thus while sleep is a sign of human mortality, meaning humans are not divine by nature, death is imaged as sleep.  Humans cannot prevent their own death, and neither can they raise themselves from the sleep of death.

With these thoughts in mind, the Gospel Lesson of the Raising of Lazarus, shows itself to be very significant for who Jesus is, what He accomplished in His life, and also what the true meaning of being human is.

 After saying this, Jesus told disciples, “’Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’  The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’  Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.  For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him’”  (John 11:11-15).

Jesus in speaking of Lazarus having fallen asleep, speaks of Lazarus’ death, but also of his (fallen) human nature.  Jesus weeps for His friend, the fallen human, created in God’s image, and yet mortal – asleep and incapable of waking up.  Jesus goes to the tomb of Lazarus, and calls to him, as a man might call to awaken his friend:

“When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’”  (John 11:43-44).

In awaking Lazarus from the dead, Jesus not only reveals His own divinity, but He also reveals again the nature of humans created in God’s image and likeness. 

“Jesus answered, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, you are gods”?  If those to whom the word of God came were called “gods”—and the scripture cannot be annulled—  can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, “I am God’s Son”’?”   (John 10:34-36)

Christ raising Adam & Eve from Hades

The fact that Lazarus sleeps reveals the created and human nature of Jesus’ dear friend.  That fact that Jesus is able to wake Lazarus from the sleep of death reveals Jesus’ divinity, but also,  not only Lazarus being in God’s image but the fact that humanity was created by God to share in the divine life.  Death is the fiction which separates us from God.  Jesus overcomes death, that usurping jailor who held humankind captive.   As a text from the Matin’s Canon for Lazarus Saturday reads:

“The deeps are afraid at Your presence, O Lord.  All the waters serve You, O Source of life.  The gatekeepers of Hades tremble before You, O Christ.  The bars of death are broken by Your power.  Lazarus rises from the grave at Your command, O almighty Savior and Lover of mankind.” 

Death has something to fear – the deception is over.  Death is not the final power over each human being, but rather death is merely the final enemy for God to defeat.  Death and Satan are shocked to see that humans in fact have God’s image permanently imprinted on them, and that they do share in the divine life and so can break his chains and escape imprisonment in his impermanent hell.  Death is trampled down by Christ’s own death, giving life to all those in the graves.

Reading Noah and the flood through the Source Theory Lens (a)

Previous blog:  God Questions His Creation: The Story of the Flood (d)

 The entire selection of God Questions His Creation: The Story of the Flood is also available as one PDF document rather than a series of blogs. 

What happens if we follow the wisdom of Source Theory and accept a notion that there actually are two distinct flood stories in Genesis that were intertwined by some unknown editor?    We can fairly easily reconstitute the two stories if we simply separate out the verses based upon how they refer to God.  Remember, in the J-Source, God is referred to by His Name, YHWH, which is usually translated into our English Christian Bibles as “the Lord”  or “the Lord God.”  The P-Source usually refers to God by the generic word “God.”   Without doing any other editing or rearranging, we can see one possible way that the Noah story might divide out: 

J-Source –   Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-9a, 10, 12, 16b-17a, 22-23; 8:2b-3a, 6-13b, 20-22 

P-Source –  Genesis 6:9-22; 7:9b-11, 13-16a, 17b-21, 24; 8:1-2a,3b-5, 13a, 14-19; 19:1-17.

 I have arranged the text of the Revised Standard Version of Genesis 6-9 separating them according to this J-Source/P-Source schema and then placed them in parallel columns so that you can see how the two stories compare with each other.  You can view you this parallel column arrangement at  Reading Noah and the Flood Through the Source Theory Lens – just scroll down through this same text until you come to the two parallel columns of Genesis 6-9 with the J-Source on the left and the P-Source in the right column.  While there is a lot of agreement among Source Theorists about the two sources that contributed to the Flood story, there is not a 100% agreement among Biblical scholars precisely how to separate the text between the J-Source and the P-Source.  I based my editing almost entirely on the text referring to “God” or “the Lord.” Obviously a phrase here or there (especially the transitional phrases between the two sources) could go either way or actually could go both ways.  But you get the big picture of how the Flood story reads as two stories woven together.  

It is also possible that the editor of the text moved some verses around so that the text would flow better in its final edited/woven form.  Two verses that seem possibly out of place when the story is separated into two versions are:   7:16 in the J-Source which seems to fit more naturally after 7:9, and in the P-Source 7:17 seems as if would flow perfectly from the end of 7:11.  You can judge for yourself whether each of the 2 stories flows well when separated along a J/P pattern. 

In general, besides referring to God as “the Lord,” the God of the J-Source is described in anthropomorphic terms – He is a very hands on Creator God, very (physically) active in creation.    The God of the P-Source is more transcendent – distant from His creation and a supreme ruler from on high.    If you follow the two Source Theory, you also realize in the: 

J-Source –  The building of the ark is not described; Noah is instructed to take 7 pair of clean animals in the ark but only 1 pair of unclean animals; Noah is to take his unnamed Sons, wife and daughters-in-law in the ark;  Noah is 600 years old when the flood begins; Noah, et al,  are in the ark 7 days before the flood actually begins; the flood is caused by a rain storm which lasts 40 days,  the waters basically cover the tree tops (but not the mountain tops as they do in the P-Source), and on the 61st day after entering the ark, Noah leaves the ark.  

P-Source –  The building of the ark is given very specific detail; the names of Noah’s sons are provided; two of each kind of animal is to be taken in the ark; food for all is to be put in the ark; a covenant between God and humans will be established (covenants are indicative that the verses come from the hand of the P-Source); that Noah “did as God commanded” is a repeating refrain in the story (in Genesis 1 also a P-Source story there is the repeating refrain “and God saw that it was good”);   exact day of the year and day of the week is provided for the beginning and end of the story (as in Genesis 1 where God creates the world in exactly 7 days); it is the deeps above and below the earth which burst forth with the cataclysmic flood waters – not just a rainstorm, but the waters of Genesis 1 which were contained by God so the dry earth could come into existence are suddenly let loose again; the flood occurs on the very day Noah enters the ark, not 7 days later as in the J-Source; the flood waters rise above the mountain tops; the flood waters increase for 150 days; Noah, et al, are in the ark a total of 340 days

Next:  Reading Noah and the flood through the Source Theory Lens (b)

Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology? (1)

This is the 2nd blog in a series, the first blog is entitled Atheism: Luminous or Delusion?    David Bentley Hart in his book ATHEIST DELUSIONS: THE CHRISTIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS FASHIONABLE ENEMIES offers a rebuttal to some of the common attacks on religion offered by “the new Atheists.”  Hart’s comments are quite dismissive of the arguments of the new atheists claiming they lack logic or historical knowledge to back them up.  Here I am most interested in Hart’s own apology for why he can’t take the new atheists seriously.

“It is not even especially clear why these authors imagine that a world entirely purged of faith would choose to be guided by moral prejudices remotely similar to their own; and the obscurity becomes especially impenetrable to me in the case of those who seem to believe that a thoroughgoing materialism informed by Darwinian biology might actually aid us in forsaking our ‘tribalism’ and irrationality and in choosing instead to live in tolerant concord with one another.” (p 14)

“…nor is it possible any longer to deceive ourselves that humanity free from religious authority must inevitably advance toward higher expression of life rather than retreat into pettiness or cruelty or barbarism.”  (p 106)

The above is certainly something I also have encountered when dialoguing with some atheists.  They assume that once religion has been shown to be a fraud, that the world would then be guided by logic and logically people’s behavior would suddenly be incredibly moral.    In every sense of the word it defies logic to think that by simply replacing one set of beliefs with another that people will stop being human.  The basis of religious war and barbarisms is found in humans, not in the ideology they hold.  Ideological atheists will continue to behave like humans, which means they will get angry, be unreasonable, be selfish and self centered, and will form their own version of tribal mentality.

Unit 731

  Twentieth Century fascists and communists are a perfect example, so too the Japanese treatment of the Chinese in WW II – Unit 731 (watch video: .  Eliminating religion, will eliminate using religion as an excuse for violence, but will not erase humanity’s tendency toward relying on violence to achieve goals and to oppress those who disagree.   Just look in the extremes of American politics today and watch how quickly those claiming to be flag-waving, patriotic defenders of democracy want to deny votes to those with whom they disagree and become edgy to the point of using violence to overthrow majority rule votes.   The problem is we are dealing with humans and ideologues exist in every persuasion and belief and are willing to do anything to make their ideas triumph over all others.   Some atheists persist to believe without any evidence to the contrary that atheists will somehow magically choose to act differently than humans have since they first emerged from their genetic ancestors – emotion, prejudice, fear, hatred, mistrust, greed, racism and selfishness will all miraculously disappear and humans will become completely altruistic, compassionate, and loving.   One wonders whether these atheists really do take seriously the implications of evolution and genes on human behavior.

“For every ethical theory developed apart from some account of transcendent truth—of, that is, the spiritual or metaphysical foundation of reality—is a fragile fiction, credible only to those sufficiently obstinate in their willing suspension of disbelief.  If one does not wish to be convinced, however, a simple ‘I disagree’ or ‘I refuse’ is enough to exhaust the persuasive resources of any purely worldly ethics.” (p 15)

When I have asked atheists a question concerning on what would all of their imagined human altruism be based – why do they believe people freed from religion would suddenly become unselfish, altruistic, benevolent and non-violent?—they have no ready answer.  It is in fact simply a belief to which they hold, even though they dismiss “faithists” for holding to beliefs which the atheists say have no basis in fact.  Hart’s point above is exactly that – if one’s convictions about morals are simply based in one’s private beliefs, others need do nothing more than say, “I disagree” or “I refuse” to accept or go along with.  There would be no further basis for dialogue.    That is why the atheistic Soviets replaced religion with the state – some basis for demanding agreement must be found.   Ethical behavior on a social level will not magically emerge because religion has been banished.   And such an atheistic society will still have to deal with those who disagree with them.

Next:  Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology?  (2)