God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11:10-32 (d)

See: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (c)

Genesis 11:10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpach’shad two years after the flood; 11 and Shem lived after the birth of Arpach’shad five hundred years, and had other sons and daughters.  …  26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde’ans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sar’ai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sar’ai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.

With the birth of Abram the Bible begins its clear focus on one particular people on earth.  That the Bible was moving in this direction becomes all the more obvious in the chapters that follow in Genesis.  Just as a Christocentric reading of the Old Testament reveals how the entirety of the Scriptures was moving toward Christ and in Christ finds its full meaning, so too with Abram the direction of the early chapters of Genesis becomes clear and pointed.  God’s plan for the salvation of His fallen creation is being put into motion and revealed.  This becomes clear in the genealogy Matthew placed at the very beginning of his Gospel (Matthew 1:1-25).   Matthew does not trace Christ back to Adam, the first human, but rather he traces back the genealogy to Abraham, God’s chosen servant, who is the father of Israel, the man with whom God makes an eternal covenant that is to be traced through his descendents, or more properly through a particular descendent: “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many; but, referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).  In Orthodoxy we read Matthew’s genealogy on the Sunday before Christmas because we do believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.   Immediately after Abraham had shown himself willing to sacrifice his son, the God-promised heir for whom Abraham had so hoped, the Lord said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:16-18).  Jesus is believed by Christians to be the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecy.  All the nations of the world are blessed through Jesus Christ, not just the nation of Israel.  

God’s universal hope for all of humanity which is established with the creation of the first man Adam (the prototype of all humans) and whose fulfillment is promised through Abraham’s descendent is accomplished in Jesus Christ (the new universal man, the prototype of the resurrected human).  The genealogy of Matthew’s Gospel offers the world the sense of the continuity in God’s plan – the promise and the fulfillment are traceable through one Holy Tradition which is laid out in the Bible.   In the Gospel according to Luke the genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) is traced in the reverse order of Matthew.  St. Luke begins with Jesus, the divine God-man who also is the new universal man and the new Adam, and traces His ancestry through David to Abraham, Shem, Noah, Seth and back to the first Adam who was the first universal man and the son of God.  Thus Christ fulfils what God intended His humans to be from the beginning. The birth of Jesus is not merely the birth of a good or holy man.  The birth of Jesus is the beginning of the universal salvation of all humans, the reunion of God and humanity, and the restoration of humanity to their original and God-given role to be mediator between God and all the rest of creation, and the fulfillment of God’s promises to His chosen people.   The Nativity of Christ is the restoration of humanity to humanity’s God-intended role in the universe.  Finally a human exists who has Godly dominion over the rest of creation.

“For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels, you crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’  Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one”  (Hebrews 2:5-9).

“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death. ‘For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection under him,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one”  (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

Next:  God Questions His Creation: An After Word

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11:10-32 (c)

See: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (b)

Genesis 11:10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpach’shad two years after the flood;  …  26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde’ans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sar’ai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sar’ai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.

This section of Genesis brings us to the birth of Abram, whom many consider to be the father of the great monotheistic religions:  Judaism, Christianity and Islam.   Genesis offers that overarching metanarrative which ties all of humanity together.  It is a story that helps define our common human nature.  We are all part of God’s great unfolding narrative, and it is His story which gives our lives and our individual stories meaning.  Many think that at the beginning of the 21st Century, the philosophical outlook which shapes our current understanding of the world is “postmodernism.”  While the ideas of postmodernism are complex, as a philosophy it seems to accept the notion that there is no real way to “measure” the truth or validity of any story, since each person’s life experience is true to them and can’t be measured against any standard or canon as any one story is as true and valid as any other from the point of view of each person.   Postmodernism would say everyone’s story is true and right from some perspective and it would deny there is a shared human nature or shared human story to tie us all together.   This philosophy is a theory of intellectual and moral relativity.  As in the theory of relativity in physics, “truth” is limited to the vantage point of the observer – time and space are all relative to the position, speed and direction of the observer.  “Perception” of an event is completely shaped by one’s position relative to the event.  Any one perception can be true for that observer but others seeing the same event from other positions relative to the event will see the event differently and yet their perception will be true for them.  

In postmodernism we may all share the same planet, but our lives relative to one another are not all that connected.  There is no one perspective that is the correct perspective and so truth, right, wrong, good and evil vary from person to person.  A movie which captures this quite well is the 2005 movie, CRASH.  In that movie all of the characters live in the same city and their lives are tied together by a series of otherwise random events.  However, despite being tied together by these events, none of  the characters are aware of their connection to the others – only the viewer of the movie has the perspective of how they are all tied together.  But for the characters, their lives are a series of accidental “crashes” into one another.  The movie suggests that individuals longing for feeling some connection to others – longing to be sprung from the isolation and alienation of extreme individualism  – “crash” into each other, sometimes intentionally just to feel alive or to get some sense that they belong to something greater than themselves.  

In certain ways this postmodern thinking is an intellectual Darwinism where all events that happen are ultimately random not giving direction to life, not serving any purpose, but definitely shaping present experience and the future of humanity.  Like Darwinism, postmodernism, denies teleology (the idea that life purposefully moves toward some conclusion or end).  The Bible certainly accepts teleology – there is a purposeful beginning to humankind and there is a God who is guiding the world and this God has a plan for the world which includes an ending toward which God is guiding things.  The Bible offers the beginnings of the story, shapes the direction we are headed in, and offers some specific thoughts about how it all will end.  In postmodern terms, the Bible offers a meta-narrative, a story that ties together all peoples, all lives, and all human stories.  It is not one person’s story, it is rather the story of everybody,  a story that shows our common humanity and which ties together all the individual stories of humans.  It is a story with a purpose, in which it is possible to discern right and wrong, good and evil, beginning and end.  

Each life is important, not random, and not meaningless.  Even the use of typology or a prototype within the biblical narrative (that one story can somehow foreshadow a later story and help us recognize and understand later stories) argues against pure postmodernism.  Figurative thinking and symbolic thinking help us recognize patterns in life – they help us make sense of past historical events, they help us to recognize the significance of current events.  They help us realize each life is not totally unrelated to all other lives. Each life contributes to the bigger picture, the tapestry or mosaic or narrative.  No one life is self contained, no one life can measure the worth of all other things, because every life is part of a bigger whole, which is purposeful.  Each life and each person’s story will get measured and evaluated in terms of this bigger narrative, and it is this bigger picture which offers meaning to each life, no matter how great, how long, how short. 

The important insight of monotheism is that there is a meta-narrative; there is a way to understand all the individual stories, even if we can’t fully grasp that meta-story yet – even if there is mystery, even if there are unresolved contradictions in the Scriptures which contain the revelation of this one God.  The Bible contains in a written form the known elements of this revelation, and it gives us perspective on life, gives direction to life, gives meaning to life.  The Bible also tells us that the world is confusing, and at times every bit as uncertain as postmodernism would affirm.  The Bible does show us that events do occur which from our limited human perspective do appear to be random, unfair, inexplicable, and ambiguous.  

The Bible does take perspective – it traces history and humanity through particular peoples’ lives, and does not pretend to be neutral or objective, but rather is either biased or ambivalent or both.   Perhaps the most postmodern event in the Bible is when God creates light in Genesis 1:3.   There was light – it had no source, no direction, it simply was.  There existed no perspective in that verse, it is all about simply being.  And since nothing else existed it had no direction, no goal, no purpose, and no movement.  Even Einstein’s relativity didn’t exist in that event for light was all.  

Adam & Eve

The Bible however doesn’t end with this directionless and perspectiveless light.  That light serves to connect and illumine all else that exists.   The Bible says this is the truth of humanity as well – we each are not merely individuals, but we are communal beings.   We are created to be in communion with God and with each other.  We are by nature beings of love (meaning we are by nature oriented toward others).  Genesis tells us in narrative form the story of each of us and any of us and all of us.  It reveals to us our humanness and thus our interdependency on all else that exists.  It helps us realize there is a way, a direction, and it tells us we have lost that way, but it is still available for us to find.  Genesis helps put us on that right path.   Even the ambiguities in the story and the contradictions tell us we need to find a better perspective to understand what is.  That gives us purpose, motivation, and direction – we need to move to that new perspective.  And the Scriptures will help us find that way.

Next: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (d)

St. Paul: Faith and Works

St. Paul is either accused or credited with being the person who opposed works to faith or law to the Gospel.  Much has been written about the writings of St. Paul in this regard especially in the faith-works debates between Catholics and Protestants.

My own reading of St. Paul, no doubt better expressed by other scholars, is that St. Paul was not opposed to Christians doing good deeds, but rather he writes strongly against “formalized religion” as such.   For St. Paul the crux of the matter is that we each must respond to God’s own revelation – this is the faith that we are to have in God’s promises and prophecies.

When we respond to God’s revelation (whether to the Law or to the Gospel), our response is faith – we believe God and trust in His promises and act accordingly.  Thus Abraham gets praised as a man of faith.  He did many things in his lifetime, but his main response was to believe God, and his many actions are in response to God’s revelation.   The issue is not Abraham’s obedience to God, or Abraham’s willingness to follow commandments.  Abraham believes God, and as a result he chooses to obey or fulfill the commandments.  St. Paul particularly likes Abraham become Abraham precedes Moses and the Law, and for St. Paul’s purposes shows that righteousness can be done apart from the law.

For St. Paul the trouble with the Jewish law is one does not even have to believe in the existence of God to choose to follow the law.  One might decide keeping Torah is a healthier life style, morally superior, a good discipline/training, and all of these things can be without believing in God.   Paul’s complaint is that keeping Torah has in fact replaced faith:  those keeping Torah have even lost an interest in what God is currently doing (becoming flesh in Jesus, for example) because they are so focused on being religious and adhering to a complex set of rules.  In fact St. Paul thinks the way the Jews strive to keep Torah becomes totally focused on the flesh (for example circumcision) rather than on faith in God.

For Paul, the only reason to keep Torah or tradition of any kind is in a faith response to God’s revelation, and if one has that faith response one will understand that keeping rules and regulations is not the goal.  This is where I think Paul sees keeping Torah/tradition as a substitute for real faith which involves a real and risky relationship with God.   Keeping law becomes a way of safety and security – God must reward me or God will ignore my faults, whereas a real relationship requires discernment and choosing what to do rather than simply following rules and rituals.  So fasting or not fasting should result from one’s response to God’s revelation, not in obedience to some set of rules and rituals. 

Good works are not a bad thing, unless they become a religious substitute for responding to God’s revelation.  Obeying the law of Moses is vacuous when the Law is separated from God’s revelation, promises and prophecies.  When obeying the law becomes the substitute for watching what God is doing/revealing, then works becomes a hindrance to attaining righteousness.   Righteousness is not just about being ritually perfect, it is about remaining faithfully attuned to what God is currently doing.  This is where the Jews missed out – missed Christ; they became so focused on keeping Torah, that they stopped paying attention to God.

The reading of Scripture, the keeping of Church Tradition, attendance at worship, the reception of sacraments, are there to keep us alive and alert to God’s ongoing work and revelation in Jesus Christ.  However, they can become a safe substitute for paying attention to God, and can become in our minds the way we please or appease God.   Pray, pay and obey thinking is a substitute for believing in God and living a life of faith.  

Believing God is not foolishly tempting God.  It is however a reordering of priorities and values in life, and placing God ahead of self in the decision making.  Believing God is not equivalent to endeavoring to win His favor, nor to trying to get to heaven or earn some reward.   Believing God is making decisions and living according to what He has revealed to us, which might include forgiving others, loving others, tithing, attending church rather than doing other things, reading the scriptures, being charitable and generous, rejoicing in God, accepting suffering at times, sacrificing, putting others ahead of one’s self, humbling one’s self, begging forgiveness, being merciful, showing compassion, denying one’s self, reconciling with others, praying for enemies, giving expecting nothing in return, giving one’s life for one’s friends, etc.

A joyous feast to all who are honoring the memory of the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul!  

(June 2010)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11:10-32 (b)

See: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (a)

Genesis 11:10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpach’shad two years after the flood; 11 and Shem lived after the birth of Arpach’shad five hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 12 When Arpach’shad had lived thirty-five years, he became the father of Shelah; 13 and Arpach’shad lived after the birth of Shelah four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters. 14 When Shelah had lived thirty years, he became the father of Eber; 15 and Shelah lived after the birth of Eber four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters. 16 When Eber had lived thirty-four years, he became the father of Peleg; 17 and Eber lived after the birth of Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and had other sons and daughters. 18 When Peleg had lived thirty years, he became the father of Re’u; 19 and Peleg lived after the birth of Re’u two hundred and nine years, and had other sons and daughters. 20 When Re’u had lived thirty-two years, he became the father of Serug; 21 and Re’u lived after the birth of Serug two hundred and seven years, and had other sons and daughters. 22 When Serug had lived thirty years, he became the father of Nahor; 23 and Serug lived after the birth of Nahor two hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 24 When Nahor had lived twenty-nine years, he became the father of Terah; 25 and Nahor lived after the birth of Terah a hundred and nineteen years, and had other sons and daughters. 26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde’ans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sar’ai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sar’ai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

When we read the genealogy in the Gospel According to St. Matthew (1:1-25) on the Sunday before Christmas, we might be tempted as Christians to say that in that whole list of births, there is only one birth that really matters – the Nativity of Jesus Christ. That narrow thinking would certainly miss the point of the scriptural text.  The very reason all those names are preserved in Scripture is to show that all the births mattered, even those of nefarious characters, because they each were an essential birth in the history of humanity that led to the nativity of the Savior.  In fact all the births are of the utmost importance as the birth of Christ would not have occurred without this exact history unfolding as it did.  Of course in Orthodoxy, though Matthew’s genealogy traces Joseph’s ancestors, it really is the genealogy of Mary the Theotokos which is of genetic and human significance for the incarnate Word of God.  All the births in the Scriptural genealogies are thus essential and matter for the salvation of the world.  Furthermore in Christian thinking, the birth of every human since the time of Christ also is significant for the life of the world.  No human ever conceived is inconsequential to the world, every single human conceived and ever human who is born matters to God and to the people of God.

Genealogies remind us that each of us, every human being is born into a world which already exists, and is born in relationship to other human beings.  We are by nature relational beings.  Genealogies place each human in the context of humanity; giving each person a history and a place in the social order.  They also serve the purpose of reminding us that in biblical terms, as relational beings, we are beings of love (where love is always directed toward the “other” and is not directed toward self interest).   The Scriptures testify that God is love (1 John 4:8,16).  For Christians this also refers directly to the fact that God is Trinity – a Trinity of Persons who dwell in love and whose relationship with one another is love.  For humans true love then is not an emotion but an encounter with God (and in Orthodoxy we always encounter one of the Persons of the Trinity, never God-in-general).   God as Trinity is a relational being and we who are created in His image and likeness are created as relational beings, created to be in God’s image, created to love.  Genealogies remind us of these truths that we are born into and experience the world through interrelationships with all other human beings, but especially with specific humans, normally our parents and family.  We are by our births given context in the world, given a story, given a shared human nature and story.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (c)

The Destructiveness of Self-Righteousness

The Publican & the Pharisee

One should never fall into the error of the legalistic Pharisees and think that the “strait gate and the narrow way” indicates a narrow-mindedness, intolerance, bigotry and the destructive delusion of moralism. This is rather a calling or invitation from our Saviour to focus our minds and spirits, our reason, our thoughts and our emotions on the return to Paradise – not that carnal paradise which appeals primarily to the fallen, external senses, but that true, complete and perfect paradise of participation in the eternal glory of God, beholding “face to face what we may now see dimly as in a mirror.” Does this “narrow way” not call us to a heightened morality? Certainly, but not to that self-righteous delusion of a morality of correct behavior. The “strait gate and narrow way” calls us to that true morality which consists in lovingly and without judging others, ejecting from our lives and minds everything that would separate us from God, everything that would detract and waylay us from the “goal of our high calling in Jesus Christ,” that is, reunion with God and participation in His glory, in His immortality.

The focus to which we are called leads us away from that worldly moral fascism that allows one to be outwardly correct in behavior while harboring greed, malice, vindictiveness and vice within the heart; a moral fascism that breeds the destructive self-righteousness of “correct behavior” and mires us in “virtues” that themselves detract us from our destination and separate us from God. The path we are called upon focuses our efforts on the defeat of our own affectations, turning us away from all judgment and condemnation of others, and even of ourselves. Our focus is not on the petty weaknesses and imperfections of humanity, but on the removal of every roadblock which hinders our assent to the longed for destination.

(Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, NOT BY BREAD ALONE: HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT  MATTHEW, pg. 77)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11:10-32 (a)

See: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:5-9 (d)  

 

A 560 year old Tree

Genesis 11:10   These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpach’shad two years after the flood; 11 and Shem lived after the birth of Arpach’shad five hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 12 When Arpach’shad had lived thirty-five years, he became the father of Shelah; 13 and Arpach’shad lived after the birth of Shelah four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters. 14 When Shelah had lived thirty years, he became the father of Eber; 15 and Shelah lived after the birth of Eber four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters. 16 When Eber had lived thirty-four years, he became the father of Peleg; 17 and Eber lived after the birth of Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and had other sons and daughters. 18 When Peleg had lived thirty years, he became the father of Re’u; 19 and Peleg lived after the birth of Re’u two hundred and nine years, and had other sons and daughters. 20 When Re’u had lived thirty-two years, he became the father of Serug; 21 and Re’u lived after the birth of Serug two hundred and seven years, and had other sons and daughters. 22 When Serug had lived thirty years, he became the father of Nahor; 23 and Serug lived after the birth of Nahor two hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 24 When Nahor had lived twenty-nine years, he became the father of Terah; 25 and Nahor lived after the birth of Terah a hundred and nineteen years, and had other sons and daughters. 26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde’ans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sar’ai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sar’ai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

 “…became the father… two years after the flood…”   The timing of the birth suggests no children were conceived or born during the year in which the flood gripped the earth.  Is it possible that the sons of Noah and their wives remained chaste during the duration of the flood?   Most of the Patristic writers who also happened to embrace monasticism believed Noah and his children all practiced abstinence from sex while in the ark during the nearly year long time of the flood. 

 Eber lives to be about half as old as Adam was when he died.   Serug lives to be about one quarter as old as Adam was when he died. The longevity of the humans is in a pattern of decline.  In verse :28 Haran dies before his father dies, one of the great traumas for any parent.  It introduces into the story of the fallen world a new sorrow that mortality causes – the natural (non-violent) death of beloved children.  Genesis 25:8 tells us that Abraham led a long and full life and dies at the ripe old age of 175.  By the standards of his ancestors his life would have been measured as short, but by his generation that indeed was a considerable age to have reached.   When Abraham was born there were 11 generations in his family tree alive – everyone from Noah to himself.    When Abraham dies there are 7 generations alive including Abraham’s children and grandchildren.  Shem, Noah’s son according to the genealogy outlived Abraham by 30 years, though after fathering Arpachshad two years after the flood, Shem plays no further role in the biblical history.

A genealogy is just a list of names.  That would probably be a common summation of what many modern readers get out of the various family trees listed in Genesis.  But in the ancient world, a name is not just a word.  The name of any being reveals the very nature of the being.  Every name is thus a revelation; every name is a thing, not merely pointing out the object to which it refers. The name reveals the meaning; it is the meaning itself, not just that which gets us to the meaning.   Each name thus reveals and represents its reality.  This is why the naming of the animals in Genesis 2 was such a significant story.  It is why the genealogies are so important thousands of years after they were originally remembered; it also explains why the naming of the children in Genesis is of such importance.  We, who are shaped by the mass industry of interchangeable parts, read the list of names and think anyone of those people could have been replaced by someone else.  In the Scriptures however each name is a reality which had to have been present for the coming of the Messiah. This also explains why the Name of Jesus is so significant to the authors of the New Testament.   “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).  In the Gospel, it is not merely His being the Messiah, which makes Him so important, but it is also his very Name which makes Jesus essential to us, to our relationship with God, and thus to our salvation.  As Matthew reports the Gospel, the angel reveals of Mary that “…she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

 Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (b)

Satan’s Power: Darkness, Deceit, Falsehood

 It is pleasing to God when a man begins to notice His action in the heart, because He is the light and the Truth, whilst the Devil especially fears this, being himself darkness and falsehood:  and the darkness cannot come to the light for fear its doings shall be revealed. The devil is powerful only through darkness, deceit, and falsehood; reveal his falsehood, place it  before the light, and all will disappear. He induces men into every passion through deceit, and thus he lulls them to sleep and prevents their seeing things in their true light. The Devil’s covering lies over many things.”      (My Life in Christ: Extracts from the Diary of Saint John of Kronstadt, pg. 44)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11:5-9 (d)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:5-9 (c)

Genesis 11:5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Ba’bel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

 “So the LORD scattered them abroad”   Not only does God create confusion among the humans by creating many different languages, He also scatters them abroad as He did to Eve and Adam by expelling them from Paradise.  Now God scatters the human from proximity to each other, moving them far apart so that they are separated both by language and geography which will soon give birth to cultural separation as well.   God who originally blessed the humans to fill the earth, now scatters them in such a manner that they will be pitted one against the other.  And instead of subduing the earth they will turn instead to subduing each other.

“…the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth…”    The scattering of humans across the face of the earth and the rise of diverse languages will bring an end to the universal nature of the story unfolding in Genesis. Furthermore, humanity will lose its oneness and unity of focus after this event and become scattered not only geographically but also in terms of goals and agenda.   Although the story has paid special attention to one lineage of people, it still has generally been the story of all people, of any people, of humanity and of being human. 

At this point in the story however Genesis will cease being the story of all humanity and will concentrate its focus on the man Abram, toward whose birth the narrative was leading, and on his descendants.   Now the story is to become God working out His plan for the salvation of the world through Abraham and the Jewish people.  But the scattered people of the world will be reintroduced into God’s story at the Nativity of Christ: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2).   With the arrival of the Magi, we have the beginning of all the nations and people of the world realizing that they are indeed part of the promise to Abraham and are to be recipients of God’s special favor.  God promised Abraham,  “by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves”  (Genesis 22:18).   The Magi lead all the nations of the earth to come to worship Abraham’s descendent and to enter into the eternal promise of God.

This scattering of people as an act of God in Genesis 11 contrasts with the more natural spread of the growing human population described in Genesis 10.  This is certainly indicative of there being more than one “source” contributing to the Scriptures.  The final editor of the Scriptures places both stories side by side in the Bible.  He doesn’t try to harmonize the stories nor did he choose between them.  Neither should we.  The final editor of the text accepts both versions – contradictions and all – as inspired by God.  So should we.  But what lesson are we to learn from the fact that texts with contradictions and inconsistencies get accepted into the Scriptures?   One possible lesson is not to read these verses purely literally.  Perhaps their true importance lies somewhere other than in the plain reading of the text.  As many Patristic writers suggested, the text is telling us to dig deeper beyond the literal – don’t reduce this text to a history lesson, it is about God’s revelation.  Seek out that deeper and more important meaning.   Our work is to interpret the scriptures we have received, not to change them or ignore them or to eliminate their challenges and mysteries.

Some speculate that in the modern world there is a new single language which is uniting humanity together.  It is the language of mathematics, which is the same in every culture and tongue.  It has a logic which is not based in any one language but is universally recognizable.  And it is sometimes said that the universal language of mathematics which dominates conversations around the world is closely linked to two other phenomenon.  First there is the Internet which is based in computers which are completely based in the language of mathematics.  The Internet has made global conversations a reality.  The Internet whose foundation is in mathematics makes it possible for the humans to again work for a common language for the world.  The other phenomenon related to math is finances and economics.  It appears in the 21st Century world that one form of economics – capitalism – dominates the language of commerce.  It is the bottom line which determines so much about what we think of things.   Will math, the Internet and capitalism – the modern trinity unifying humanity cause some in the world to create a new Ba’bel?  God has not forbidden humans from using their brains, but it has been His desire that knowledge will lead us back to Him.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (a)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11:5-9 (c)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:5-9 (b)

Genesis 11:5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Ba’bel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

“…only the beginning of what they will do …”      Though God blessed the humans to subdue the earth, there are apparently limits to what is acceptable to Him.   The humans appear to be on the verge of again breaching that which distinguishes the Creator from the creation.  Eve was not satisfied with being in God’s image and likeness and wanted to be like (equal to) God.   Here too the story suggests humanity is bent on laying certain claims to that which has not been given them.   Eve had all the fruit of the Garden to eat, but the only thing she is recorded taking and eating is the one thing forbidden to her.  Here humans have an entire earth to subdue but they are intent on reaching heaven.  And God sees this only as the beginning of the trouble.  So, as He decided to prevent Adam and Eve taking fruit from the Tree of Life, now too God scatters the plans of humans in building a tower to heaven.  The text does not tell us that the humans once more wanted to be like God, but their actions speak of a goal which God condemns as unacceptable in His eyes.  Humanity continues to rebel against any limits being imposed on it.  Humanity embraces entitlement thinking completely.

“…only the beginning of what they will do…”   Some very modern thinkers reflecting on the Babel story have suggested maybe God is not so much worried about Himself in this passage but is truly as a prescient parent concerned about what the humans might do in the future if one language unites them.  Perhaps the multitude of languages helps establish barriers that protect humanity from the insatiable and uncontrollable grab for power that tyrants and despots might make if language barriers did not limit their pursuit of power and abuse.  Hitlers and Stalins and modern terrorists would have found paths open to them to seize control of information and the hearts and minds of untold numbers if they were not hemmed in by people of other languages.  So the polyglot created by God is perhaps for human protection not punishment.

“ Come, let us go down…”   These words in verse :7 seem out of place, in verse :5 God had already come down to see the city.  Perhaps this is another sign of more than one source contributing to the story.

“And the LORD said…”let us go down, and there confuse their language…”   In a passage very reminiscent of Genesis 3:22-24 (where the LORD unhappy with [afraid of?] what the humans might attempt to do expels them from Paradise), God chooses to come down (a “pre-incarnation”?  Anthropomorphic images of God contribute to notions of pre-incarnations before Christ) and insure that the humans do not accomplish their goal and wreck even more havoc in the cosmos.  God speaks, but to whom?   Christian tradition has this as another witness to the notion of God as Trinity.   Is God afraid of what His creatures might do?  “This is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (:6).  Is God’s sovereignty somehow threatened by what the humans can do?  God in this text is very anthropomorphic – He feels threatened by the puny efforts of a people whose goal could never be attained.  But the fact that they thought they could reach the heavens (in a “Jack and the beanstalk” way) incites God to act against them.   And this becomes the biblical explanation for why there are many so many different and incomprehensible languages on earth – it too is the result of human willfulness and sin.  The fractioning of the human race into different people and languages and nations is portrayed as the continued downward slide of humanity, the effect of sin and the cause of future divisions on earth.

“confuse their language”     God is again displeased with what He sees the humans doing.  He has already accepted the fact that humans imagine evil in their hearts from their youth.  God acts against the humans, but not against their tower.  He doesn’t destroy the tower which might simply result in the humans trying again.  Instead God decides to introduce division among the humans by confusing their languages.   Does God imagine that somehow the confusion of language will curtail the spread of evil which lurks in the humans’ hearts?  The Virgin Mary sings of God’s might and plan to deal with the evil imagination of the heart:  “He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (Luke 1:51).    God has promised never to destroy all the humans again, so He scatters them to prevent them from conspiring to do evil and He divides them by creating many diverse languages for them.  But like the heavy metal mercury spilled on the floor this also will scatter the evil throughout the world and with no easy way to reunite the divided humanity.  

Kontakion Hymn of Pentecost:  “When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations, but when He distributed the tongues of fire He called all to unity.  Therefore with one voice we glorify the all Holy Spirit!”  Christians traditionally have interpreted Pentecost as a reversal of the evil effects of the many tongues of Ba’bel on humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:5-9 (d)

B is for Bankruptcy

The economic plague which began in 2008 and has swept the planet is not finished with its decimation of national and state economies yet.   Greece and other European countries still may be crippled by its effects and the 28 June 2010 issue of TIME reports the next phase in the United States is going to be what happens to individual states as the economic plague grips them (New York and California both in budget crises have economies far larger than Greece).   The massive influx of federal money into the economy has given the U.S. a huge debt well into the future, and yet may not have been enough to stem the weakening effects of the world economy on state and local governments.   Thirty one states anticipate a budget shortfall in 2011 of 10% as compared to their 2010 budgets leaving them with a projected $55 billion debt.

David von Drehle wrote a few comments in the Time  magazine article which I will quote:

All kinds of real estate dreams can go up in smoke in hard times

When times were good and the future seemed bulletproof, all sorts of grand ventures were floated on waves of debt. No one cared, because everyone planned to be richer when the bills came due. The arbitrageurs of leveraged derivatives, the cash-strapped subprime home buyers, the government grandees issuing bonds and boosting pensions — all were versions of the same doom-shadowed figure. Only if the bubble burst would the bills become unpayable. How did so many people forget all at once that the bubble always bursts?

Ahh, yes, and they say Christianity promises only pie in the sky – the states all banked on a miraculous Shangri-La future forgetting that meanwhile they still had to survive on this earth, and that “tomorrow never comes.”

It also is notable (to me at least) how often and to what extent real estate plays into economic and banking woes and collapses.   Real estate is linked to those false expectations that the future promises that when it comes we all will be richer, and then everyone banks on that dream.   It is also amazing the extent to which the U.S. economy relies on real estate sales and value to drive the economy – we always are relying on “the American DREAM” to build our economic present and future.  Why are we then surprised time and again  to wake up and realize we were living a dream, but now reality says the debt is due?

Tales of lavish retirements for relatively youthful public servants have been making a lot of headlines lately. The New York Times reported that some 3,700 retired New York State public employees earn more than $100,000 a year in pension payments, including a former policeman in Yonkers at the ripe old age of 47. California’s pension poster boy is a Bay Area fire chief who, at 51, was collecting more than $241,000 a year in retirement pay.

See the NY TIMES article, “In Budget Crisis, States Take Aim at Pension Costs” for more information on this crisis.

In sun-drenched San Diego, meanwhile, a grand jury probing that city’s troubled finances found a recurring practice of skipping required payments to the city’s pension fund while simultaneously awarding ever more generous pensions to public employees. Legal? Apparently. Prudent? Nope. A once solvent system is now billions of dollars in the red.

The amazing thing is people seem to forget that the future turns into reality, and when that reality doesn’t match what we were banking on, how unprepared we are for reality! 

The great reckoning of 2010 took us years to create and will be years in the fixing. It’s not as if the economic crisis isn’t plenty painful already. In government, as in life, there are cuts that injure and cuts that heal. As they continue to slog through the wreckage of the Great Recession, state and local leaders have a challenge to be surgeons rather than hacks and make this era of crisis into a season of fresh starts.

To what extent the economic problems were caused by economists mis-guessing  where things were headed is no doubt going to be debated in years to come.  I found interesting (and I can’t deny his writing style is entertaining as well) David Freedman’s “The Streetlight Effect” in the July/August 2010 issue of DISCOVER MAGAZINE.  Freedman is addressing the issue of why there is so much dubious science, and uses as his metaphor of explanation the old  joke about a drunk searching for his lost keys where the streetlight is, rather than where he lost the keys.  “Researchers tend to look for answers where the looking is good, rather than where the answers are likely to be hiding.”

Freedman examines research in several fields including physics, medicine and economics and the resulting claims by “experts.”   The relevance to this blog? 

“In 1992 a now-classic study by researchers at Harvard and the National Bureau of Economic Research examined papers from a range of economics journals and determined that approximately none of them had conclusively proved anything one way or the other.  Given that dismal assessment—and given the great influence of economists on financial institutions and regulation—it’s a wonder the global economic infrastructure is not in far worse shape. (Of course, scientific findings that point out the problems with scientific findings are fair game for reanalysis too).”