Sitting in Darkness but Seeing the Light

“You, O Lord, make darkness, and it is night…”  (Psalm 104:20)

“... the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  (Matthew 4:16-17)

All that exists, even darkness, is made by God.  God is the Creator of all things – both the visible and the invisible.  Darkness is part of the created order and is not some power outside of God or even opposed to God.  Darkness plays a role in salvation.  St Macarius says:

“I say to you, my child, if Moses had not entered the darkness, he would not have been given the tablets of the covenant written by the finger of God [Ex 19–23].”   (St. Macarius The Spirit Bearer: Coptic Texts Relating To Saint Macarius, Kindle Location 2936-2939)

Isaiah had prophesied:

In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.  (Is 29:18)

Out of the darkness the blind will see – which is what St Paul claims is fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord:

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.   (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The image which St Paul describes surprises us for God doesn’t shine into the darkness but out of it.  Even the darkness serves God’s will and purpose.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to You, [O Lord];
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to You.

(Psalms 139:11-12)

Astronomically Speaking: What Are Humans?


When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,

and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(Psalm 8:3-9)

Astrophysicist Carl Sagan waxes eloquently on the same topic – how grand the universe and how tiny we humans are on that grand scale of things:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”  (THE OXFORD BOOK OF MODERN SCIENCE WRITING, p 395)

I suppose Carl Sagan would roll over in his grave if he knew his writings was going to be used positively in a religious context – but then he didn’t believe in an afterlife, so I guess he won’t be rolling anywhere.  But his beautiful prose seemed to go well with the poem, “God”, written by Gavriil Derzhavin in 1784:

If all this mass of earth and sky,
This universe that we can see,
Is but a drop dropped in a sea,
Then what, compared to you, am I?
And if I saw not just this one
But five score times a million
Worlds, and if then I dared compare
Them to you, they would seem a dot
Tossed on an ample sea of air.

NASA Hubble Photo

I, too, next to you, am but naught.
Nothing!—and yet you shine within me
With magnanimity of virtue,
Your holy image etched upon me,
Like the sun on a drop of water.
Nothing!—yet, filled with breath of life,
Moved by a spiritual strife
And thirst, my soul flies up to you
And, in a state of high elation
And concentrated meditation,
It knows: if I am, you are too!

(THE WHEEL Issue 19 Fall 2019, p 43)

The vastness of space –  the size of the  known universe – defies human comprehension.  Poets, scientists and the Psalmist all have marveled at the universe and the human role in it.  The bigger the universe – or at least our understanding of it – the more distant God can seem.  And yet the witness of Scripture is that God is not far away, but always close to us, even dwelling in our hearts.  “... they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being‘” (Acts 17:27-28).

Additionally, each human is created as a microcosm of the universe, and God dwells in each of us.

“You must understand that you are another world in miniature, and that there is in you sun and moon and stars.  …  Hear something else that the Lord says to his disciples: ‘You are the light of the world‘ (Mt 5:14).  Do you still doubt that there is sun and moon in you, you to whom is said that you are the ‘light of the world’?  Do you want to hear still more about yourself, lest perhance by thinking small and humbly of yourself you might neglect your life as of little worth?  This world has its own governor, it has someone who rules it and lives in it, the almighty God, as he himself says through the prophet: ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord‘ (Jer 23:24).

Listen to what the almighty God also says about you, that is about human beings: ‘I will live in them,’ he says, ‘and move among them‘ (2 Cor 6:16). … This world possesses the Son of God, it possesses the Holy Spirit, as the prophet says: ‘By the WORD of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth‘ (Ps 33:6).”  (Origen, SPIRIT AND FIRE, pp 40-41)

Creation Involves Risk

I appreciated the comment in the New York Times op-ed, “Every Moment With My Son Is an Act of Creation”  by Viet Thanh Nguyen

“There is no creativity, or creation, including the making and raising of children, that comes without risk. I now understand what I never did as a child: that I was the product of my parents taking a risk. The risk that their gift of love would be rejected; the risk that they would be misunderstood; the risk that their creation would have a life of his own.”

That risk that parents take when deciding to have children appears to have been experienced by God in bringing humans into existence.

And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.   (Genesis 6:6)

... the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.   (Genesis 8:21)

It may seem wrong for us to imagine that God took a risk in creating humans – after all God is omniscient and omnipotent.  Yet, in bestowing free will on humans, God was taking a risk – and allowing choice, uncertainty, ambiguity to be part of rational creation.  God gave humans free will – with consequences.  God did not predetermine everything, but rather watched to see His creation unfold in unexpected ways.   We see the same thing in  physics, for in creating a universe with quantum mechanics, God builds into creation some indeterminacy, some probability, some unknowingness, some chance.  By allowing mutations to occur within the genetic process of producing DNA, God allowed change into all living beings.  And then there is humanity with its free will.   We see this being enacted in Genesis 2 when Adam is given the task of naming the animals.  God watches to see what the human will decide is the name of each animal.  God doesn’t predetermine this naming, but watches and seems to enjoy the creativity which the free-willed human exhibits in creating new and unexpected names for the animals.  Creative genius can unexpectedly change the world, but so can changes in the genetic process, and the natural working out of the laws of physics.  So many things happen naturally everyday for which we are not able to see or even anticipate their consequences.

So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.   (Genesis 2:19)

 

Psalm 95 Pictured

O come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!


For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

Thanksgiving (2019)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since this is a great American holiday, here is a poem from a great American Poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.

A THANKSGIVING POEM

The sun hath shed its kindly light,

Our harvesting is gladly o’er

Our fields have felt no killing blight,

Our bins are filled with goodly store.

From pestilence, fire, flood, and sword

We have been spared by thy decree,

And now with humble hearts, O Lord,

We come to pay our thanks to thee.

We feel that had our merits been

The measure of thy gifts to us,

We erring children, born of sin,

Might not now be rejoicing thus.

No deed of ours hath brought us grace;

When thou were nigh our sight was dull,

We hid in trembling from thy face,

But thou, O God, wert merciful.

Thy mighty hand o’er all the land

Hath still been open to bestow

Those blessings which our wants demand

From heaven, whence all blessings flow.

Thou hast, with ever watchful eye,

Looked down on us with holy care,

And from thy storehouse in the sky

Hast scattered plenty everywhere.

Then lift we up our songs of praise To thee,

O Father, good and kind;

To thee we consecrate our days;

Be thine the temple of each mind.

With incense sweet our thanks ascend;

Before thy works our powers pall;

Though we should strive years without end,

We could not thank thee for them all.

(The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar,  Kindle Location 6676-6691)

Basil the Great: Reading Scripture and Creation

Image 1…in the Bible to bless God is not a “religious” or “cultic” act, but the very way of life. …All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. “Homo sapiens”, “homo faber”…yes, but first of all, “homo adorans”. The first and basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands at the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God…”  (Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For The Life of the World)

Fr Schmemann saw the human as basically a worshiping creature.   Yes, we are ingenious at fabricating things, we are sentient and capable of wisdom.  But for Schmemann the human was created by God to be a priest, to worship  the Lord and that is partially what we lost when we humans decided we don’t need God to know our universe.  As soon as we desired to approach the cosmos in a role other than as priest in service of God, when we stopped seeing creation as a means to our maintaining our relationship with God, we lost our unique role as humans in the cosmos and lost our communion with our Creator.

St. Basil the Great saw humans as  ‘homo legitur‘ – the literary beings – the ones, as theologian Stephen M. Hildebrand notes in his biography of the Saint, created by God to be able to read not only the scriptures but the cosmos itself.  Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writes this ability to read is what sets humans apart as a species: “Our ability to understand the universe and our position in it is one of the glories of the human species.  Our ability to link mind to mind by language, and especially to transmit our thoughts across the centuries is another.  Science and literature, then, are the two achievements of Homo sapiens that most convincingly justify the specific name” (THE OXFORD BOOK OF MODERN SCIENCE WRITING, p 3).  Modern science agrees with St Basil that we are gifted to read.  However, a difference between modern science and St Basil would be that Basil believed God gave us two sets of scripture – the Bible and creation, both written to reveal God to  us.  We need to learn to read both while modern science only wants to focus on the empirical cosmos which it does not see as revealing divinity to us.   Hildebrand writes:

Basil sees man as a reader, but a reader must have a text. Man’s texts, for Basil, are principally two, the Scriptures and the whole of creation, including the human body. The author of man’s two books is God himself. One important implication here is that both the Scriptures and creation, being texts, are full of meaning and significance. The posture that the French poet Paul Claudel took before reality expresses well St. Basil’s too. Claudel in front of a piece of reality—a flower, a mountain, a woman—always felt the need to ask, “Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire?”‘  We might typically translate this as ‘What does it mean?’ but literally it is rendered ‘What does it want to say?’ For Basil, the Scriptures and the world want to say something, or God wants to say something through them.

So man is the reader, and creation and the Scriptures are the texts, the books. Basil tells his flock, ‘This whole world is as it were a book that proclaims the glory of God, announcing through itself the hidden and invisible greatness of God to you who have a mind for the apprehension of truth‘ (Hex. 11.4; 51).  The text, whether creation, the Scriptures, or the human body, calls for a response from the reader.”  (Basil of Caesarea, Kindle Loc 657-667)

Basil believed the cosmos, creation, including the human body were a text to be read by humans to understand what God has done, is doing, is going to do.  In every sense of the word, Basil looked beyond the literal to find the meaning and for him the meaning always had to do with discovering the Creator through God’s activity in the cosmos.  “Glory to You [O Lord] spreading out before me heaven and earth, like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom” (from the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things”).

I would suggest that St Basil would have been impressed with exactly how much modern science and technology has been able to read from the text of creation including the human body.   Just think about all the things we read in drawing blood samples from people or through pathology, chemical analysis, and especially now through DNA which is literally a language that has been recording all that God has been doing in and through humans for as long as humanity has been on the planet and even in the millions of years before that.  “In the beginning was the word.  The word was not DNA.  That came afterwards, when life was already established … But DNA contains a record of the word, faithfully transmitted through all subsequent aeons to the astonishing present”  (Matt Ridley quoted in THE OXFORD BOOK OF MODERN SCIENCE WRITING, p 40).

Just think about ways we read creation today:  paleontology, archaeology, radio waves, molecular structures, laws of physics,  history, anthropology, biological evolution, quantum mechanics, chemical structures and signatures, mathematical equations, binary code,  the remnants of the Big Bang, just to name a few.  Creation has been recording all that God is doing from the beginning, and we are just beginning to learn to read the text which is the cosmos and to understand God’s creation and God’s activity from the beginning of the universe.  God has His hand in creating the cosmos and that cosmos is the record of what God was and is writing.  God’s narrative is God’s creation just as Scripture is – God’s word for those who could read to comprehend what God is willing to reveal.

We can read today so much more from the cosmos and about creation than St Basil ever imagined was possible (as well as countless things he couldn’t imagine at all).  As we sing in the Akathist “Glory to God for All Things”: “The breath of Your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists. The power of Your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Your laws, who reveal the depths of Your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of You. How great are You in Your creation! How great are You in man!

Of course, just like in scriptural interpretation there is the danger of reading what we believe into the text rather than seeing what the text reveals.  Eisegesis instead of exegesis is a risk for scientists as it is for biblical scholars.

We are the creatures who have learned not only to read, but also to write, to create literature.  This is part of what Dawkins says sets humans apart.  But in creating  literature, we also are not only using our reading skills, we are participating in creation and in the creative process.  Chemist Peter Atkins who says all creation is moving toward chaos and collapse notes that literature, as well as music and architecture really are ways in which we slow down nature’s slide into chaos.  “The emergence of consciousness, like the unfolding of a leaf, relies upon restraint.  Richness, the richness of the perceived world and the richness  of the imagined worlds of literature and art – the human spirit- is the consequence of controlled, not precipitate, collapse”  (quoted in THE OXFORD BOOK OF MODERN SCIENCE WRITING, p 16).

The Genesis creation account has God working against chaos, against entropy, to create [Greek: Poetry] order and bring life into existence.  This is a miracle in the midst of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.   Humans have an ability as God does to bring restraint to the universal move toward entropy.  Our ability to read and write are part of our creative abilities which put restraint, even if only temporarily on the slide to chaos.  God as the original writer or poet of creation gives to us what we can read – God brings restraint to entropy.  We humans can share in that creativity by exhibiting restraint!  And when we are truly creative, we put restraint on entropy as Atkins noted.  ‘Art’ that yields chaos is simply doing what the cosmos does naturally -move toward entropy which in the end is not art at all.  True human genius is restraining to entropy and controlled.

The second law of thermodynamics

Hildebrand continues:

“As Basil says about Genesis 1:26, ‘We have, on the one hand, you see, what looks, in its form, like a story, but is, on the other hand, at the level of power, a theology’ (Hex. 10.4).  God, then, is not concerned merely to communicate so much information, even useful information, about himself or about us. The Scriptures are not just informative, but, if you will, performative, and here the action that God wishes us to perform is the worship of him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As a reader, man is constantly called to relate to God and to his own salvation what he finds in the two great books, Scripture and creation, that have been given to him. This is why Basil is never interested in mere history or mere observation.”  (Basil of Caesarea, Kindle Loc  673-678)

Science will only be interested in the informative part of creation, but believers are called to the performative part – knowing the truth, how are we to behave?  This is where St Basil is not so much interested in history or the ‘facts’ as he is in what does it mean, especially in our understanding of God and God’s will.   Basil sees Genesis as story but as a narrative with a message: the revelation of God also known as theology.  It is the message which we ultimately want to know.  To turn Genesis into science or facts or to reduce it to history is to look at creation through the eyes of science rather than the eyes of faith.  Scripture is to open the eyes of our heart to the depths of meaning which God is revealing to us.  The study of creation can have the same purpose which is why Christians should pay attention to nature and science as St Basil recommended.

The Cosmos as Scripture

In the wondrous blending of sounds, it is your call we hear. In the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers, you lead us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels.

All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards you and make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The breath of your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists.

The power of your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of your laws, who reveal the depths of your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of you.

How great are you in your creation! How great are you in man! Glory to You, showing your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe.

Glory to You, for all nature is filled with your laws. Glory to You for what you have revealed to us in your mercy.

Glory to You for what you have hidden from us in your wisdom.

Glory to You for the inventiveness of the human mind. Glory to You for the dignity of man’s labor.

Glory to You for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

(Akathist: “Glory to God for All Things”, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 2642-54)

A Life-giving Myth (II)

This is the 2nd post in this series based on the short story, “A Life-giving Myth, ” by Fr John Breck from his book, THE LONG JOURNEY HOME.  The first post is A Life-giving Myth (I).  The story is basically a lecture given by a college professor which offers some profound insights into the nature of Christian thinking and theology.  Breck argues in the story that there is a good and proper understanding of “myth” which is helpful for the Christian to know when reading Scripture.  Myth doesn’t mean fantasy or fiction, but is rather offering theology in narrative to help reveal the mystery of God.  “Myth” opens our heart and mind and the Scriptures to the truth which is being revealed to us in a language which helps get us beyond human limitations – which is made possible through art (icons), poetry (hymns), symbol and ritual.  So in the story, the professor lectures:

“People usually read the Bible as though it were a history book or a scientific account that details how God created the world (‘in six days,’ as bad exegesis would have it); how he chose and delivered the Hebrew people from an implacably hostile world; sent his Son from heaven to dwell as a man among men; tolerated his Son’s crucifixion as a vicarious death that frees us from the consequences of our personal sin, and by his ‘descent into hell’ destroyed the power of death; then raised his Son from the tomb and exalted him into heaven, a location conceived as somewhere ‘up there’ or ‘out there.’  These are the basic elements of God’s saving work, presented in Scripture and interpreted in various ways of preachers and teachers in our churches and seminaries.  The faith of most of us is shaped by these traditional elements, whether or not we accept them as ‘fact.'”  (pp 219-220)

The story’s professor says if we want to understand Scripture we have to be prepared to understand myth – how the narrative takes us to a deeper level and meaning.  For example, Old Testament narratives reveal Christ to us.  If we read the Old Testament only as history, we miss its point.  The texts are pointing beyond their literal meaning to the Kingdom of God, to Christ, to the Holy Trinity and to the eschaton in which Christ is revealed to all.  A purely literal reading of the text will cause us to miss the depths of what God is revealing about history and about creation and about what it means to be human.  Genesis is not trying to offer a scientific explanation of creation since in the modern understanding of “science” since science really only considers materialism whereas Genesis is offering a spiritual understanding of the empirical universe.

The story’s lecturer continues:

“This kind of perspective has also influenced – and deformed – our understanding of miracles.  Rather than receive them as ‘signs’ of the presence of the Kingdom of God within the world, we see them as exceptional occurrences that suspend or otherwise defy natural law.  In working miracles, we think, God breaks the rules to perform some extraordinary exploit that we request or that  he sees as necessary for the spiritual progress and enlightenment of his people.” (p 220)

Scriptural miracles are showing us that our world has an interface with the transcendent, with the divine, with all that is holy and glorious, with all that God is revealing to us.  If we only seek out the “magic” of the miraculous (defying nature), we fail to see the miracles are revealing God to us.  We end up caring more about the gift than the Giver of every good and perfect gift.  Miracles are a potential window into heaven, into paradise, where we can see God.  For Breck’s professor, what we need is to have revived in our hearts and minds a godly sense of myth, to help us see beyond the literal.  The empirical world can be studied by science because of its predictability and the laws of nature which govern the physical world.  The miraculous is not mostly a breaking of the laws of science as it is the breaking into the empirical world by transcendence.  We come to realize something more than the material world actually exists.  That’s what miracles do, but sadly and too often we try to change them into magic, a way in which we believe we can control these mysterious powers.  Just as quantum mechanics has revealed the empirical world is not fully grasped by Newtonian physics, so too Christianity points out there is mystery fully present in the empirical world.  And for many scientifically trained people the very problem with miracles is it leads people to want to practice magic to control things, and for them that reduces miracles to mere superstition as they don’t believe nature can be controlled by magic.

“A good example of mythological imagery is provided by the Exodus tradition.  This foundational experience in Israel’s history is recounted in different versions by the author of the book of Exodus and by the psalmist.  In both, cases, the Exodus from Egypt can be fully understood only as a typological myth, a pre-figuration of the deliverance of God’s people from captivity and death to freedom and eternal life.  As a literary trope it unites the two Testaments – Old and New, First and Second – so thoroughly that the Church Fathers could only conceive of the Bible as a diptych: two complementary panels that are self-referential and completely interdependent.  The major bond between the two Testaments is precisely ‘myth’: the unifying story of Israel’s call and saving vocation, fulfilled in the incarnation and saving mission of the Son of God.”  (p 222)

The Old Testament reveals the New, and the New  Testament is foreshadowed in the Old.  The narrative of the Old Testament prepares us from the events of the New, and the New Testament reveals the meaning of the Old.  “Myth” here is not fiction, but the narrative which ties together not only the two Covenants, Old and New, but also heaven and earth, the spiritual and physical, the living and the dead, Creator and creation, humanity and the world, sentience and inanimate, consciousness and existence.

“This explains the reason why the first chapter of Genesis must be read symbolically.  Its purpose is not to reveal historical fact.  It is to affirm that the one true God is Creator and Lord of all things in heaven and on earth, things he has delivered into the hands of those created in his own ‘image’ and ‘likeness.’  It’s pointless, therefore, to look for scientific confirmation of the creation events as Genesis describes them.  If for example, the account declares that the sun and the moon were created after the earth and its vegetation, it is primarily to counter worship of the sun by Israel’s pagan neighbors.  The author of the account never intended for it to be read as a scientific recital of actual events in their historical sequence.  The first eleven chapters of Genesis and much else in the Hebrew Scriptures can only be properly read and understood as ‘myth’ in the sense that I have defined it.  It is an example of ‘sacred history’ whose purpose is to draw mind and heart to recognition of the God of Israel as the one and only Lord of the universe, and to worship him accordingly.  Biblical myth thus unites history and eternity, and its ultimate purpose is to lead us beyond the limits of space and time, to open our eyes and hearts to transcendent reality and ultimate Truth.”  (p 223)

The purpose of the Old Testament is not mostly to give us history or science, rather its very purpose is to help us see God and to recognize God’s own activity in this world.  To look to the Bible for science and history is to lose sight that it is revealing God to us, it is using history to reveal transcendence to us, to open our eyes to the Kingdom of God, not to teach us material science.  This is how understanding myth and poetry can uplift us to see the transcendent God in the words of Scripture.

Science has tried to carve out its role as studying the empirical universe and thus limiting its study to materialism.  The fight between science and religion is between those who won’t accept the limits science imposes on itself and those who want to impose on science a narrative that is beyond what science is claiming for itself.  Some want the Bible to be “science” but it can never be that by the very definition that modern science imposes on itself.   The very nature of the Bible – a revelation from, about and of the transcendent – is outside anything science can deal with.  It is a narrative that guides believers in their understanding of the empirical universe (that which is the limit of scientific study).  Science is trying to reveal all the mysteries which are found in the empirical universe.  If science embraces an overarching narrative, it is a narrative that is limited to the empirical order which science studies.  Its conclusions can’t be beyond what the physical world can reveal.   Science cannot offer that narrative which guides believers in understanding the created order, though scientific discovery can cause believers to have to re-imagine their narrative because of the marvels it discovers.

“This was the approach adopted by the early Church Fathers, and it needs to be our approach today as well.  It means also that the Christian narrative, from the call of Israel to the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God, needs to be conceived as myth in the true sense: a narrative that opens eyes of faith to the presence of eternity within our time and space, and to the working out within that framework of our salvation.” (p 233)

The Bible does not limit itself to speaking about space and time, but rather its context is God and how space and time occur within the God in whom we live and move and have our being.  Creation speak about the Creator.  Science can and does teach us about creation, but it cannot speak to that truth of the transcendent reality to which creation is a witness.  The Bible speaks to us about the transcendent God who is ever attempting to reveal Himself in ways we can comprehend – which means in and through the created order.  We can marvel when science reveals some hidden truth which helps us know the Creator, but we can also marvel when science simple reveals something about material creation, when science unlocks some mystery about the empirical universe.  Believers may be able to use scientific insight to better understand God’s revelation, but science will never be able to do that.

Next: The Transcendent Myth

 

Seeing With the Eyes of Faith

The first teaching given to us in writing is, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth” and all the other statements about creation. By faith we understand that the ages were brought to completion by the word of God so that what is seen might be made from what is invisible (Hebrews 11:3): the body’s eye did not recognize the God of all as creator; instead, faith instructed us that God, who has always existed, created what did not exist. There is, after all, no example of this among human beings; yet though learning nothing of the kind from nature, we have in faith a teacher of the unexpected. Human beings, of course, make something out of something, whereas the God of all produced what exists out of nothing.

(Theodoret of Cyrrus, Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, pp. 181-182)