The “Punishment” of Adam and Eve

 

It is quite common among Orthodox saints to view God’s activities in the world through the lens “God is love.”  They felt this was a non-negotiable truth.  If something reported in Scripture does not seem consistent with a loving God, then the issue is we don’t understand the story, how it was written and/or how it is to be interpreted.  The fault is not with God but with our limited understanding of the world.  There is mystery in the world, and much happens that we simply don’t understand because we don’t have the big picture – we can’t see how God sees the world, and so our interpretation of events and logic are very limited.

These saints were totally OK with moving away from a literal interpretation of a text if the literal interpretation seemed to show that God is not love.   Some Patristic writers and Orthodox saints for example interpreted God’s comment to Adam that if you eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge you will die as a loving warning to Adam rather than as a threat of punishment.  And they saw death not as punishment but God preventing a person from growing endlessly in evil – terminating life was to stop the negative growth of evil in a person.  God thus uses death to stop us from increasingly falling under Satan’s power.   As an example, St Isaac the Syrian writes:

“Just as He decreed death, under the appearance of a sentence, for Adam because of sin, and just as He showed that (the sin) existed by means of the punishment–even though this (punishment) was not His (real) aim: He showed it as though it was something which (Adam) would receive as repayment for his wrong, but He hid its true mystery, and under the guise of something to be feared, He concealed His eternal intention concerning death and what His wisdom was aiming at: even though this matter might be grievous, ignominious and hard at first, nevertheless in truth it would be the means of transporting us to that wonderful and glorious world.  Without it, there would be no way of crossing over from this world and being there.”

So though death appears to be a punishment, God was actually hiding his intention.  His intention was to give us eternal life, but the way to that end was through death – the death of the Son of God on the cross. 

Why can’t we enter heaven without dying? Because sin that clings to us cannot enter heaven – death purges us of sin, we resurrect to a new life free of sin.   This is the imagery of baptism as well – we die with Christ and are buried with Him, but then resurrected to the new life free of sin as our sins remain in the watery grave of the baptismal font.   St. Isaac continues:

“Again, when he expelled Adam and Eve from Paradise, He expelled them under the (outward aspect of anger: ‘Because you have transgressed the commandment, you have found yourselves outside (Paradise)–as though dwelling in Paradise had been taken away from them because they were unworthy. But inside all this stood (the divine) plan, fulfilling and guiding everything towards the Creator’s original intention from the beginning. It was not disobedience which introduced death to the house of Adam, nor did transgression remove them from Paradise, for it is clear that (God) did not create Adam and Eve to be in Paradise, (just) a small portion of the earth; rather, they were going to subjugate the entire earth. For this reason we do not even say that He removed them because of the commandment which had been transgressed; for it is not the case that, had they not transgressed the commandment, they would have been left in Paradise forever.”

(Isaac the Syrian ‘The Second Part,’ Chapters IV-XLI, p 164)

For St. Isaac, God was not responding to human behavior such as sin, but had a plan in place all along.  God knew what humans were going to do, and used human action as the very means for human salvation.  This is far from the angry vengeful God portrayed in some forms of Christianity.  It is a God who is infinitely loving and who works with us despite our penchant for sin and rebellion.  God has not interest in our death or punishment but forever works to bring us to salvation.

God’s Miracle: Loving Us to Death

“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”   (St. Paul writing to the Ephesians 3:8-10)

The plan of God for the salvation of the world, was also a mystery, hidden from everyone – even the angelic powers didn’t know God’s plan – and yet glimpses of it were revealed through the prophets to God’s people.  Finally, in Jesus Christ the full plan was revealed – the incarnation of God.  St Gregory Palamas writes:

“When the prophet and psalmist was enumerating the different aspects of creation and observing God’s wisdom in them all, he was filled with amazement and cried out while writing, ‘O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom have you made them all’ (Ps. 104:24). Now that I am attempting, if I can, to tell you about the manifestation in the flesh of the Word who made all things, what fitting word of praise will I find? If all things that exist inspire wonder, and their coming out of non-being into being is something divine and greatly to be hymned, how much more amazing, divine and demanding of our praises is it for a being to become god, and not just god, but the God who truly is?

Especially as it was our nature which was neither able nor willing to preserve the image in which it was made, and had therefore been rightly banished to the lower parts of the earth.  That our nature should become like God, and that through it we should receive the gift of returning to what is better, is a mystery so great and divine, so ineffable and beyond understanding, that it remained absolutely unrecognized by holy angels and men, and even by prophets, although they had spiritual vision, and was hidden throughout the ages.” (The Homilies, p 100)

For Palamas, the miracle and the mystery of God is that God made us in His own image, but we scorned that gift.  We didn’t even have to earn that status, God gave it to us and we willfully tarnished it.  Despite this high-handed rejection of God, God still willed that our nature should become like God!  This is so beyond comprehension – pure grace, undeserved.   Even the angels in heaven, according to St. Gregory didn’t know what God had in mind and where God was headed with His continued loved toward humans.

The incarnation has a further and tremendous mystery hidden in it that is revealed in Christ:  the Cross.  Christ dies on the cross.  Christ dies for our sins.  The death of God in the flesh is the revelation of God’s love for us.  While we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  God appears on earth as a man, and dies on the cross in order that we might share in God’s divine and eternal life.  God loves us to death, even death on the cross!

God Triumphs over Evil

“My point is that such has been God’s custom right from the start, to turn whatever plots the Devil contrives against us [back] onto that [demon’s] head and to set things in place for our salvation. Consider!  He (sc. the Devil) expelled humankind from Paradise, and God opened up heaven to them. He drove them from governing on earth, and God gave them the kingdom of heaven, and set our nature firmly on the royal throne. In this way He always gives more abundantly blessings which the Devil attempts to strip away. He does this by rendering the Devil more hesitant in his plots against us, while teaching us never to fear his machinations.”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Cult of the Saints, pg. 234)

Where is God When You Need Him?

“Where indeed is God, when you need Him? There is only one answer to that agonizing question, one that God Himself gives. It is the truth that ultimate salvation is not of this world but is fulfilled only after our biological death. Jesus came not to heal every malady or save everyone from physical death. Lazarus, after all, would one day die a natural death; and Peter would follow his Lord to martyrdom. Similarly, you and I will die our own death, even if in the meantime God works in our lives miracles of healing. What does this mean for the submariners and all those who face death, who cry out to God from the depths of hell, beseeching Him to save them? It means Christ is there, present in their midst. He is there to suffer with them, to share their anguish and agony, and to lead them through the valley of the shadow of death. They, like Peter and Lazarus, can hold in their hearts and minds the absolute conviction – the absolute truth – that insofar as they seek their salvation in Christ, He will grant it in full. Accompanying them in their dread and their hopelessness, He will guide them – as He guides each of us – toward the ultimate salvation, the ultimate source of life.”   (John Breck, God With Us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith, pg. 218)

Review: DNA: THE SECRET OF LIFE (A)

[Note:  I originally wrote this review in 2005, long before I started blogging, and never had a venue to publish it.  It sat stored in the deep recesses of my computer’s memory until I came across it again while searching for something else.  I decided to publish it in this two part blog.]

DNA: THE SECRET OF LIFE By James Watson (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2003)

James Watson along with Francis Crick are credited with revealing the very nature of DNA – the double helix which is for science as the title suggests the secret of life. Crick and Watson received the Nobel Prize for their work to crack the code of proteins which constitutes how life is passed from one cell to the next, and life from one generation to the next. Watson’s book offers insight into how the various discoveries of an array of scientists brought the pieces of the puzzle together to open to our eyes how life works on the level of molecular biology. The book is a fascinating history of modern science in the field of genetics. It also brings a great deal of science to the level of knowledgeable readers. One can gain great insight into the possibilities which the science of genetics is opening to our world. One also realizes clearly that for some what has been opened by molecular biologists and geneticists is a potential economic bonanza, the likes of which the world has not previously known. For others, the unveiling of DNA will bring into reality the worst fears of science fiction. Watson does not avoid the controversies which this science has caused nor the alarms which have been set off among some people about the dangers which it represents. He is in the end confident that this new science will prove its worth and will silence its critics.

But not being a scientist nor an entrepreneur nor a venture capitalist, I can’t really comment on the these aspects of the book DNA. I was however intrigued by some of the theological implications of the book, though Watson would never claim it to be a theological book at all. Watson admits he is purely a secularist and a scientist. But that makes the book interesting for believers. It is a readable book even when the scientific details are beyond my understanding and even when the story complete with names of all those involved is beyond my interest. It is a book which really does assume and advocate a purely secular scientific understanding of life. Watson is quite confident that the potential of this science, though fraught with some risk, ultimately is for the greater good. He dismisses the concerns of religious folk, ethicists, politicians, environmentalists, organic farmers and American lovers of racial and gender equality with equal aplomb. Whatever questions or fears have been raised about genetically altering plants, foods, animals or humans, he dismisses as not founded on good science. He wholly trusts in the goodness of science and scientists because he does believe in the end humans are basically benign if not outright benevolent.  (“Mostly harmless” according to THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.)

I would encourage Christians to read this book for several reasons, not the least of which is we gain some understanding into the secular scientific mind.  If we are to fulfill our evangelical mission, we have to have some comprehension of those to whom we will proclaim the good news.   Evangelism is about communication and to communicate with others we have to understand their language and concepts so that we can translate the Gospel into a language that speaks to them as well.

1) For those who are interested in the connection between life and physical creation, this book does offer a scientific criticism of the need for any kind of vitalism – some force divine or natural which gives life to inanimate material. By showing the basis of biological life to be in proteins and protein manufacturing and transfer, Watson aims at demonstrating that even without any sense of divine intervention, biological processes toward the continuation of a species does go on at the molecular level. This is taking the Creationism vs. Evolution to a new level – a microbiological level. DNA – basically chemicals and proteins – works to preserve life from one cell to the next and from one generation to the next. At this level it is possible to believe that inanimate proteins are somehow carrying on the work of life itself. It is not so totally impossible to see a physical universe capable at the level of proteins to begin organizing chains of proteins and than copying those chains and passing them along to ever complex forms until cells emerge. They are doing that right now in our bodies, millions of times every day. At this level we also see the mechanism of evolution at work, and can see why scientists believe this does explain the history of life itself. In some sense genetic material is in fact a historical record of life on earth, recorded, copied and passed down through the millennium complete with scribal errors which brought into being new combinations of DNA resulting over time in new species. As Watson describes it, “Life, we now know, is nothing but a vast array of coordinated chemical reactions.” Of course this is a reductionism and assumes that life can be completely understood on the level of proteins. But we know life exists and functions on other levels besides the molecular level. Nevertheless, as Christians, molecular biology, microbiology and genetics do offer to us a new way of seeing the universe, and the plan of God at work. While humans may disobey the will of God, at the molecular level, creation is working according to the will and plan of God. And because we know this level exists, we can hardly pretend otherwise even if it is a challenge to our belief in creation.

2) In the chapter “Who We Are” Watson also points out that the great scientific opposition to evolution and Mendelian genetics was Comrade Trofim Lysenko who inspired Stalin to follow disastrous agricultural methods which while ideologically acceptable to the atheistic communists, totally ignored the discoveries of genetic science. The results were the massive starvation of millions of Soviet citizens while US agriculture following genetic science became the breadbasket of the world. This is a historical truth which creation scientists might not want to forget. In Watson’s own words: “… ideology– of any kind– and science are at best inappropriate bedfellows. Science may indeed uncover unpleasant truths, but the critical thing is that they are truths. Any effort, whether wicked or well-meaning, to conceal truth or impede its disclosure is destructive.” Here Watson would agree with the search which Orthodox Christianity also would claim for religion: truth. For Watson however, there is no transcendent truth, no truth outside the realm of the physical world, no meaning to be bestowed upon us all at the end of the world. For him, when the universe might end by reaching entropy or in another Big Bang, meaning will cease to exist as well. There is no great struggle for the good against evil for him. There is no sense that something greater than this world (or this DNA!) exists beyond or outside of the chemical universe. Human intelligence, emotions or creativity not withstanding, for Watson the world of DNA is awesome and awe inspiring, but mystery is limited only to that which we have yet to discover or that which is beyond our immediate technology. A true sense of mystery – a logic of other beyond human logic or of some plan unfolding in the universe whose purpose or goal is beyond our understanding – these Watson the secularist is not interested in.

Next:  DNA: THE SECRET OF LIFE (B)

Isaiah’s Foretelling of the Messiah

 Sermon from 12 December 1993

Gospel: Luke 14:16-24

A long time before the Messiah was born, in fact almost 750 years before the birth of the Christ, a prophet of God told the nation of Israel that they would be a light to the Nations of the world. This Prophet, named Isaiah, told them that they would be God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

Now this prophecy that Israel would be a light to the world and the salvation of the nations, came at an unsual time. For while Isaiah was telling the people of their unique role in history, they were in the Process of being conquered by the Assyrians. Isaiah was prophesying that Israel would do something great for the entire world at the same moment that Israel was being defeated by its enemies.

But that seems to be how God often works His plan of salvation. In the midst of what seems total defeat, and humanly impossible to salvage, God works out His plan for the salvation of the world.

And God’s plan for salvation does not require that He have on His side the people with the most money, nor the nation with the biggest army, nor the people who think themselves most important, nor most enlightened, nor most progessive.

God’s plan for the salvation of the world is in no way based upon human merit. God is not controlled by human merit and does not have to respond to it. For God is a sovereign Lord, whose Goodness is not derived from the good behavior of his subjects. Rather God is good, loving and gracious in His own inner being, and He acts according to His nature, not just in response to our good and bad behavior.

We learn of God’s true loving and grace-filled nature in the story of the Exodus and in the story of the Cross, for in both cases God loves us even when we are not very lovable. He saves us despite ourselves.

Today, our Lord told us a parable about a banquet which he had prepared and for which he had prepared a people. However, those prepared for and invited to the feast, declined to come. These people are all too busy with their own lives, problems, concerns, dreams and prosperity to take time to come to the feast which has been prepared for them. And so others are invited to the feast, and these others are not a very attractive lot, they are outcasts, and handicapped and homeless. They do not deserve an invite to such a great banquet, but they are welcomed into the feast.

Brothers and Sisters, God prepared for Himself a people to come to His feast, but many have turned away from this invitation in order to pursue their own interests in life. You and I are the ones who have chosen to accept the invitation of the Master. We should be forever humbled, grateful and thankful for this invitation, because we are the outcasts and misfits of the parable. We are here only by God’s grace, not by our merit.

We are here because somehow we know, somehow we believe, somehow in the depths of our hearts we hope that this invitation, this eucharistic banquet, this Christian way of life, in fact fulfills all of the hopes and dreams of our hearts. Somehow we understand that it is not pursuing our own private dreams that will give us fulfillment in this world. Those who have tried this in the past ended up outside of the banquet. Our hearts are to be set on the kingdom of God. For this Kingdom is the sole source of happiness for the entire world.

The birth of Jesus Christ brings revelation to us about what is true and what is important and what is worth living for and what we should pursue with all our hearts and minds. And that deep and abiding happiness which can never be taken away cannot be found in a Mall, nor under a tree nor in Santa’s sack.

As St. Simeon prayed in Luke’s Gospel: (Luke 2:29-32)

“Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

Whether we can understand this or not, Christianity is not the abolition of our dreams, but rather their fulfillment. In faith and in love, we can experience that fulfillment with thanksgiving at this altar, at every liturgy, at every feast.

Remembering as a Reason to Have Hope for the Future

Prophet Isaiah

Text for the Sermon from Isaiah 46   (23 October 1994)

 One thing very noticeable about the Prophet Isaiah is that he repeats his message over and over.   Scholars today always feel that a repeated message in the bible reflects how important the message is.  The more often it is repeated, the more significant the message.   Obviously, the Prophet Isaiah considered his message very important, because he gives us plenty of opportunities to hear it.  

  Today, we are looking at Isaiah 46.   I hope the message repeated by Isaiah through these chapters will not become boring to you, but rather they will become important to you.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

 In the first paragraph, God continues to contrast Himself, His religion and His people with the pagan gods, religions and peoples.    Most noticeable is that the pagans carry their idols, while God carries Israel.   It is God who has carried His people through history, from the beginning of the world, through the worst and darkest times, right into the present.   And God’s unfailing promise is that He will continue to bear, carry and save us!

“Remember this and consider, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfill my intention,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man for my purpose from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have planned, and I will do it.”

 Then we come in the second paragraph to one of the biggest words of the entire Old Testament.  The word is “remember.”   God constantly tells us to remember in the bible.   He especially wants us to remember all that He has done in the past, so that we remain faithful to Him in the  present.   God commands us to  “remember this!”           

 What are we to remember?

We are to remember how and when and in what ways God carried and saved us His people in the past.   We need to remember bible stories to do this.   We are to remember all the events of the bible.   By remembering the past, we understand the present & future.   By remembering the past we understand that there is a continuity in God’s action between the past and how God works today.  The same God who carried and saved Israel in the most difficult times, is the same God of the Christians, and He still guides the world and He will save us.  

 When and how do we remember the past saving deeds of God?

Right here in the liturgy and if the feasts and fasts of the church!

Remembering, which is exactly what liturgical services and feast days are, is  a key to knowing God.    God acts in history in order to be known and understood.  Don’t forget that!

 Even if you cannot understand God’s current actions or plan, you know him based on past experience (remember) so trust Him!

“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from deliverance: I bring near my deliverance, it is not far off, and my salvation will not tarry; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”

 The final paragraph repeats a common theme of St. Isaiah.   The theme is meant to give hope to us today as it did to Israel 2600 years ago while they sat in captivity in Babylon.   God continues to work out His plan, His divine purpose in history.   Always remember how He has worked in the past, and do not give up hope.    The present is not more hopeless then the past.   Your actions and your activities as the faithful people of God do count.  It is worth remaining faithful to the knowledge of God and to the joyous and hopeful vision which God has given to us. 

 Let us now in this service give thanks to the Lord as we remember the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven and the Lord’s sitting at the Father’s right hand, until he comes again.

Amen.

Reading the Bible: A Christocentric Approach

This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues.  It began with the 1st blog:  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.  The immediately preceding blog is Reading the Scriptures: The Role of Prayer.

One biblical passage to which I have referred several times in this blog series is John 5:39-40 (RSV), in which Christ teaches:

“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me;  yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

The Scriptures according to our Lord Jesus Christ are not the revelation of God, but bear witness to that revelation.  As St. John the Evangelist tells us, the Word of God became flesh as Jesus the Christ.  The role of the Bible is to bring us to Christ, so that we may know Him which is for us eternal life (John 17:3).  The Bible is not more important than Christ for our salvation.  The Scriptures bear witness to Christ, and bring us to God’s revelation and to our salvation.  Christ is the key to opening the treasury of the Scriptures; He is the One Who is revealed in the Scriptures.  Thus the Bible bears witness to our salvation, but it in itself is not our salvation.  The Bible points to the revelation of God, to the truth of God’s plan, and thus always points beyond itself to Christ Jesus.

 “No one profits by the Gospels unless he is first in love with Christ.  For Christ is not a text but a living Person, and He abides in His Body, the Church.”  (George Florovsky quoted in THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, p 30)

Thus the goal of the Christian life is not to know the Bible, but rather to let the Scriptures witness to Christ, so that we might know Him.

St. Paul guiding Chrysostom's reading of Scripture

“When Philip found the eunuch sitting in his chariot reading the hymn of the Suffering Servant from the prophet Isaiah, the eunuch’s question was not the one that we would ask today—‘what is the meaning of this passage?’—as if the ‘meaning’ were located in the text itself, and so in the past, and our task is simply to uncover it, what the text ‘meant,’ and then perhaps try to find ‘meaning’ for ourselves in the present by some kind of analogy.  Instead the Eunuch asked, ‘About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?’ (Acts 8:34).  ‘Meaning resides in the person of whom the text speaks, and our task is to come to know this person by understanding how the text speaks of him.   This fundamental point is made by Christ himself, when he says, ‘You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life, yet it is they that witness to me’ (Jn 5:39).  To emphasize the point, he says a few verses later, ‘If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me’ (Jn 5:46).  Moses certainly wrote in the past, but the ‘meaning’ of his words is neither as a straightforward description of historical events in the past nor as having ‘meant’ something that we can now retrieve by reconstructing the past. Rather the ‘meaning’ of his words, once again, lies in how he speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Given this locus of the ‘meaning’ of scripture, we can now understand why for the authors of the writings of the New Testament, and those whose work resulted in these writings being collected together, the expression ‘the Word of God’ did not refer to scripture, as it is often assumed today, but to Jesus Christ himself and the gospel proclaiming him, the crucified and exalted one, as Lord.”  (John Behr, THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST, pp 49-50)

And so we return again to John 5:39-40 and the original theme of this series that the Scriptures are a (hidden) treasure.

St. John Chrysostom

“’Search the Scriptures, because in them you think that you have life everlasting.  And it is they that bear witness to me, yet you are not willing to come to me that you may have life everlasting’ …   That is why Christ, in sending the Jews to the Scriptures, sent them, not merely to read them, but carefully search and ponder them.  And so He did not say, ‘Read the Scriptures,’ but ‘Search the Scriptures.’  Indeed, it was because the texts concerning Him require much careful study (since he was foreshadowed in earlier times according to the needs of the people of that period) that He now bade them to dig out the meaning of the Scriptures with precision so as to be able to discover what lies hidden in their depths.  Their meaning is not expressed superficially or set forth in their literal sense, but, like a treasure, lies buried at a great depth.  And he who seeks for hidden things will not be able to find the object of his search if he does not seek carefully and painstakingly. “   (DAILY READINGS FORM THE WRITINGS OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, p 91)

Next:   Preparing Oneself to Hear God’s Word in Scriptures

God Questions Creation: The Conclusion of the Flood (a)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:24-29 (b)

Like Genesis 1-3, the flood narrative of Genesis 6-9 is as much if not more about us today and what it means to be human than it is a story about the past and the history of ancient peoples.  The story of the flood is fully empowered by symbolic thinking – symbols that God chose to use and men inspired by God recorded to teach, reprove, correct, and train us in righteousness and to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).   It isn’t meant to be read just as past history.  The New Testament writers did not limit the flood story to being a record of the deeds of men of old. The story isn’t merely about the history of an ancient flood; it is the story about how God relates to a fallen and sinful world.  It is the story about God’s judgment of humanity, as well as God’s impending judgment of humanity.  It is a story of prophecy, preparedness, expectation and fulfillment.   God has a particular relationship with the world. The story is also about the future, and a Creator God who has expectations for the world and will hold the humans on earth accountable for what they do with their stewardship of the earth.  God doesn’t interfere with our free will.  However He does hold us accountable for what we do.  To limit the value of this Scripture to whether the story is literally true and to get bogged down in the literal details to the exclusion of its symbolism and higher meaning is to miss much of the importance of the story.  It is to fall seriously short of how Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers understood and made use of the story.   The story is a warning – whether it is history, a parable or a prophecy – the end result is the same:  we are told by the Lord that He is a God of expectation and judgment and we must conform to His will and His standards.  It is not our standards which count. It is not how we judge the story of the flood which matters, but how ultimately the story will be judgment on us if we fail to understand its deepest prophetic meaning.

Cuneiform unlike Scripture can only tell us about the past

How are we supposed to live as a result of the narrative and the lessons Genesis 6-9 contains?  The point isn’t “what kind of science does it teach us?”   Rather we are to ask, “What does it mean for our future and for our present?”    We don’t read it mostly to learn about past history or to learn about science. The story intentionally points beyond itself to a future reality – to the reality of God’s purposes, for the story tells us about God even with grief in His heart accepting the role that the sinful humans must play in His plan.    If the story’s main purpose is to teach ancient history, what difference does it make?  God promises in the story never to flood the earth again, so why should we care about something that will never happen to us or the world again?   The story is prophecy and revelation, it is a teaching story and it teaches pretty well.  The lesson is about how we are to live today in this world and why.   Why should we care about what God thinks?   How am I to act knowing there is a God who is Lord, Creator, Judge and Savior of the universe?   The believability of the story doesn’t lie in its literal accuracy of describing past events, but in its revelation that God is Creator, Savior and Judge, and that I am answerable to Him.   Belief isn’t mostly about accepting the literalness of the text, but is about “how am I to live as a believer?”  St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444AD) argued that Genesis does not tell us everything that can be known about the early history of humankind; rather it offers us only that which is “useful for orienting one’s life.”  The story is essential to us because it speaks about how to live today not because it teaches us past history.  Belief isn’t mostly about what I think about the ancient past, but what I think about the future and therefore how I am to live now.   “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the men of old received divine approval” (Hebrews 11:1-2).    Belief is the basis for our actions as we move into the future.  Belief is not mostly our position in regard to the literalness of the Bible, for the Bible itself never makes a literal reading of scripture the test for whether or not we are believers.  The test of our being believers is how we live – are we willing to love God and neighbor as ourselves?  Are we willing to live in this world always bringing to bear the Kingdom of God which is to come into our every decision and by our decisions witnessing to our faith in that coming Kingdom?  The story of the flood is important because of how belief shapes our daily lives.  “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).

The story of the flood invokes in us memory of the opening sentences of Genesis 1 in which God creates dry land from the chaotic abyss of waters.  God imposed His order on creation and defied all the other powers of the universe- malevolent or simply chaotic.   The order that exists in the universe according to Genesis is the result of God’s own intervention in the abyss when he tames the powers of chaos to produce an orderly universe which allows life to exist.  Today some biblical fundamentalists, creation scientists and Intelligent Design adherents want to argue that the order in the universe is the ultimate proof of God’s existence.  Interestingly, as historian Robert Wilken noted, the Christian apologists of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries took a different tact when considering the laws of nature which seem to govern the universe.  “They did not argue that there is a God because there is order; rather they saw design in the universe because they knew the one God.”  (TSOECT)  Or as Hebrews 11:6 puts it: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”   In other words, those who fear that science and evolution disprove the existence of God are demonstrating their own lack of faith; they are not proving or even defending the existence of God.  The stories of Genesis are not as much an accounting of the exact history of our human ancestors as they are an exposition of what it means to be human, an explanation for the existence of evil, and a contextualizing of the human dilemma and story within the context of the larger narrative of the universe which is being told by God and still unfolding before us.

Next:  The conclusion of the flood (b)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:13-16 (d)

See:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:13-16 (c)

Genesis 7:13 On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, 14 they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind, and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. 15 They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16 And they that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.

“and the LORD shut him in.”     The anthropomorphic touches in the story give us that strong sense not just of God intervening in the world, but of the closeness of God to His humans. “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isaiah 57:15).  If we did not have both the J-Source and the P-Source stories (see Source Theory), our imagery concerning God would be impoverished.  If the P-Source with its transcendent God had fully controlled the final editing of the Scriptures, we would have no images of the Creator God closely interacting with His creatures.    So rather than fearing a scholarly insight like the notion of more than one story being woven into our biblical text, we can appreciate how biblical scholarship actual deepens our knowledge of God and appreciation of the text.  The atheistic secularist, who attacks the Faith by mocking the literal reading of Genesis, might find a much more profound truth about what it means to be human when he or she experiences the Christian community accepting and being guided by Truth, whether biblical, historical or scientific.   [Christians would benefit also from realizing that the condemnation of the anthropomorphite heresy in Egypt in the 4th Century was in fact a church-wide rejection of an overly literal reading of scripture.]  The test of faith is not whether we hold on to the literalness of Genesis even when it contradicts common sense or the knowledge of the world God has allowed us to discover through rational search.  The test of faith is do we believe God’s promises revealed through His prophets, His people, His Scripture and ultimately through His incarnate Son?  Even if we lack proof for His promises – the scientific method and historical research cannot prove whether or not God’s kingdom is real nor if God even exists – do we believe that God created the heavens and the earth and do we believe the life in the world to come?  Do we live as if we believed these things or do we live only for the comforts and pleasures of this world?  “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder” (James 2:14-19). The story of Noah and the ark teaches that no matter what happens on earth, it is all part of a much bigger plan of God for the salvation of humankind.   Perhaps a literal reading of Genesis is of comfort to certain believers, but it is not the God established test for determining who is being faithful to His promises.  Our true task and the true sign of faith is to love God and love neighbor – to love one another as Christ loved us –  not to decide whether or not Genesis is literally true. 

Coptic Icon, Moses: Note the Prefiguring of the Theotokos in the Buring Bush

“…the LORD shut him in..”      Certainly the imagery is God intervening in history and yet not confined by history as is His creation – God remains outside of history, or conversely history remains in God.   God does not go into the ark with Noah; rather God closes the door behind and Noah and locks him and his family into the darkness of the inner decks of the ark.  God has not told Noah that He was going to sojourn with Noah.    This is a journey that Noah and family and the animals are going to make on their own, as it were.  God will be on the outside of the ark, not within it.  He has shut them in, come what may.  The journey in the ark – riding out the storm – is a journey for Noah and his family.   The God who walked in the Garden (Genesis 3) will not even so much as get His feet wet in this flood.  The flood is indeed dirty business, and God will maintain His holiness this time around.   As we know in the Christmas story, God acts in a totally new and unexpected way.  By becoming incarnate in Christ, God no longer separates Himself from sinful humanity but rather takes on sinful human flesh and the human heart which is ever inclining to wickedness.  In the Nativity story, God rejects attempts to drown sin,  rather choosing to unite earth to heaven and transfigure and transform fallen humanity making it capable of being God-bearing again.  The Theotokos, Mary the God-bearer is key to the salvation of the world.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 7:17-20 (a)