God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:18-23 (a)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (c)

Genesis 9:18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. 20 Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; 21 and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

Shem, son of Noah, holds special honor in both the biblical tradition and in the Orthodox sacramental tradition.  In the Wedding Service of the Crowning, we invoke this blessing on the wedding couple:  “Remember them, O Lord our God, as You remembered Enoch, Shem, Elijah.”    Shem is remembered between the two men of the Old Testament who were taken by God and whose deaths are not recorded in the Scriptures.   God’s remembering His saints is the same as His blessing them and safely protecting them from harm and evil.  Somewhat unexpectedly the survivors of the flood are invoked several times in the Sacrament of Marriage.   In the Wedding service we want God to bless the wedding couple and to see their righteousness as He saw the righteousness of Enoch, Shem and Elijah.  Both Noah and Shem, two men who found refuge in the ark from the cataclysmic flood which destroyed the world, are both invoked in the prayers of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  The story of the flood is used in the Orthodox Church to invoke blessings on newlyweds.  A good trivia question:  In which sacrament of the Orthodox Church are the people on Noah’s ark remembered?   I wonder how many would guess that Noah and flood are so connected to the sacrament of marriage.  What does it say about our understanding of life for newlyweds in this world?

 “Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard …“   Genesis 4:2 told us that Cain was a tiller of the ground, so in what sense is Noah the first tiller of the soil?  The story has him being the first to have a vineyard, and some think the story only implies that he was the first husbandman. We had not yet been told that humans ate grapes, but apparently they have already learned the art of fermenting the grapes. This is also the first mention of wine and of drunkenness.  Prior to this the only wickedness detailed by Genesis was violence.   Though no mention of wine occurred before this reference, obviously Noah acted with intention in planting a vineyard – he somehow knew the product he wanted to produce.  (Chrysostom excuses Noah thinking Noah was [pleasantly] surprised by the drink he could produce from grapes.  St. John assumes Noah was depressed as every where he looked there would have been the dead carcasses of humans and animals left by the flood).   The text has so far not spoken about or against alcohol nor alcohol abuse (drunkenness).  God has not warned the humans of the potential dangers of alcohol abuse just as He had not warned Eve and Adam about the dangers of talking to the serpent.   Does God think experimenting, discovery, learning by experience, and mastering desire are valuable for His free willed humans?    Has God continued to assume the humans would practice self control?  The Bible is circumspect in detailing what happened here but certainly implies that Ham in seeing his drunken father naked perhaps saw something lewd but more likely engaged in a lewd act far beyond voyeurism.  Noah upon waking from his drunken stupor immediately knew what his son “had done to him” (:24).  Noah wouldn’t have known if Ham had only looked – he felt or could see that something had been done to him.   The text modestly avoids detailing what may have been an incestuous and homosexual act.

 “he drank of the wine, and became drunk…”  According to Psalm 104:14, God gave “wine to gladden the heart of man.”   Wine is meant to serve a good purpose, but like the rest of creation it is subject to abuse by fallen humanity.

Chrysostom remarks that after the flood things were totally different for Noah – he is introduced to a carnivorous diet, and discovers wine as a new drink.  Chrysostom goes on to say that wine was the first medicine invented by humans – it helped reduce the pain which Noah felt by realizing his world had been destroyed by the flood.

 Next:   God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:18-23 (b)

Great Scientific Ideas (Part 1)

While driving in my car I’ve been for the past few weeks I listened to Professor Steven Goldman of Lehigh University  doing his lecture series, GREAT SCIENTIFIC IDEAS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD.  This is the first in a two part series of reflections on what I learned.

I very much enjoyed the 36 lectures in the series.  I just want to list a few comments from his course notes that stood out in my mind – there were many others, but I don’t want to repeat the entire course.   The comments below are listed, to use a word I learned in the course, stochastically (in no particular order, randomly).


Plato & Aristotle

1)     For Plato and Aristotle, “knowledge” (truth) is “universal, necessary, certain, hence timeless.”

This has an interesting impact on theology as well, for while in the Church we take the definition of “truth” to be clear and understood by all, in fact truth like every human term is defined by humans.  Pontius Pilat famously asks Jesus, “What is truth?”  (John 18:38)    Christian theology emerged into a world in which “truth” was pretty much defined by Plato and Aristotle.  Modern scientific and mathematical work in probability, statistics, the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, genetics, complexity theory and the like has altered the way science looks at the universe and the concept of truth.  Uncertainty plays a role in the truth we can know about the universe.  So many things that happen in nature and in the social realm can be described in mathematical formulae in which probability is part of the way we understand what is true.   In Christian theology, the concepts of faith and love serve equally in introducing into our concept of truth an unpredictable nature to God and the universe.    While Christians do believe that “truth is truth” and that “all truth is Christian”, it must be recognized that science in moving beyond Newtonian physics is embracing an idea of truth that includes probability, uncertainty and randomness.   Traditional Patristic theology always had that in the notion that God in His Nature is beyond our understanding.    For example in Philippians 4:7, St. Paul says the peace of God surpasses all human understanding.  There are things about God, His plan and His activity in the world which is beyond our capacity to measure and understand.  God works by a different logic than we do (Isaiah 55:8-9).

2)     Even art has an interesting relationship to truth, science and religion.   Is the goal of art to represent things realistically, or “to arouse in the viewer an ideal intellectual or religious response, in the belief that the ideal is superior to, because more real than, the natural”?    For example the use of central-vanishing-point art was considered real, whereas traditional Christian iconography was always to lead the viewer to an ideal.   Additionally CVP art was shown to be a mathematical technique which is to become a theme in modern science – everything real can be explained mathematically.  

Icon of the Ascension

Art that is real can be described in terms of mathematical ratios and relationships, while iconography (like abstract art) relies on the human viewers conforming their viewpoint to that of the art which is not purely mathematical relationships.   Because the ancients did believe there was such a thing as an objective notion of perfection, art (and music) were often measured by how well that fit notions of perfection (the sphere being considered perfect, for example).  Iconography is not science, though some new iconographers in their obsession to simply repeat the masters might reduce their work to mathematically copying other icons rather than doing the hard work of prayer and spirituality to create icons of theology.

3)     The acceptance of the notion of energy occurred relatively recently in scientific history –  energy is real but not material

An absolute materialism is not absolutely possible even for the atheist.  There are forces in the universe that in fact are not material but quite real, even if one totally discounts the supernatural on all levels.  Additionally, the sciences of quantum mechanics and evolution introduce uncertainty into the materialistic mix.

4)     Evolution has brought “contingency into scientific explanation, naturalizing apparent purposiveness, making time the dimension of novelty, and showing how novelty can emerge from the introduction of minute discontinuities into an underlying continuity.”   

Charles Darwin

Though many faithists (as some atheists like to call believers) fear that evolution’s natural selection somehow denies the purposefulness of God, it is also the case that the survival of the species seems to be part of the universe itself – there is “purposiveness” in the reproductive processes found in nature.  

And while for many believers the notion of speciation over huge periods of time seems doubtful certainly chaos/complexity theory such as in weather systems (and the so called “butterfly effect”) shows that  the tiniest of changes in a system can have great impact in a system over time.   The genetic differences in each individual as compared to their parents brought about through the reproductive impact on DNA, is exactly this same minute change as complexity theory shows in weather systems.  Those minute changes which exist in each offspring can speak of big changes in the human genome over time.  

 The implication is also there for theistic theology – God does not have to do grand and spectacular events to bring about great changes – working in creation (and thus in time) a very small change introduced at any point in history can have a great impact over time.

Next:   Great Scientific Ideas (Part 2)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8- 17 (c)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (b)

Genesis 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

Noah and his sons are totally silent and do not respond to God’s covenant promise – they ask no questions, make no reciprocal promises; no response of theirs even gets recorded, so we have no idea what they thought about God’s speaking let alone His covenant.  In verse :18, they already seem to be going about their business as if nothing happened.  They do not thank God for His promise and they make no promise themselves to in any way honor the covenant.   God had demanded of them some level of civilization before stating the terms of the covenant.  God laid down that killing other humans is unacceptable and that humans themselves must enforce the ban on killing by executing anyone who commits homicide.  In effect God is demanding them to develop their own police force, judicial system, and executioners.   What God precludes is both unlimited vengeance as well as  tolerance of murderous violence.  God has recognized that the human heart’s tendency toward violence is real and will continue.  But God is not going to be the one who has to tame the

Humans are responsible for justice

wickedness in fallen humanity.   God appoints His humans to this task – this is now to be part of humans having dominion over creation: they must enforce dominion over their own hearts and over any tempted to murder.   God places the burden on humans to police themselves.  God has promised not to destroy humanity for its violent wickedness, but insists that humans deal with homicide by killing the murderers.    Executing justice turns out to be a very unsavory business.  Humans now are going to be forced to use the punishment God put upon them for the sin of Eve and Adam – mortality – to establish justice on earth.   God has already seen how humans twist around God-given punishment by making mortality a tool of sinful murder.  Now God is demanding of humans to use mortality wisely and judiciously to establish justice and to contain violence.  God is curtailing the human proclivity to vengeance but is demanding that humans must rid themselves of murderers.  If humans are going to live together they must choose to control the homicidal tendencies of their hearts.   If humans want to continue to have a relationship with the divine, God is insisting that the humans must be willing to purify themselves of violent evil.  Unfortunately this too humans will distort with the rise of armies and warfare in which killing is sanctioned by human civilization not just in defense but in offensive aggression and pre-emptive warfare.   While God sanctioned the death penalty for murderers, He does not demand humans to kill the violent before they sin.

In the Orthodox Prayer Service (Slavonic: Molieben) “in the time of inclement weather, and unseasonable rain”, we find the following petition:   “That He will remember His covenant which He made with Noah, and will not despoil the land and His needy people with grievous wetness, dark, malevolent skies and gloomy fog, but will mercifully spare His inheritance and will command the sun to shine on the earth with fruit-bearing rays and abundant warmth, let us pray to the Lord.”   From that same service there is also this petition (note this prayer asks God to make a new covenant with the petitioners – either assuming God frequently makes covenants with His people and one can petition for a covenant and/or that the covenant with Noah was not eternal but must be remade from time to time):  “Save us from mud, O Lord, and from deep mire, and from deep water, that our days not pass in vanity and our years with sighing.  But remember Your covenant, which You made with Noah, and make one with us, according to Your mercies, with broken hearts we pray to You, hearken and have mercy.”    From the Prayer Service “in time of flood”, we find this prayer: “That He will remember the covenant that He made with Noah and not destroy us with grievous wetness and the stormy breath of winds, but will mercifully spare His inheritance and appease the storm that is laid upon us and the disturbance of the air, and will give a seasonable and peaceful breath to the wind, let us pray to the Lord.”   

Next: God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:18-23 (a)