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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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literality

Literal Jesus?

When I talk with people about how Genesis 1 and 2, or the flood narrative, or other assorted things in Scripture are not literal history, the number one concern that people tend to bring up fairly quickly goes something along the lines of (with a huge note of caution, concern, and alarm) :

“Wait – if you don’t take Genesis 1 and 2 literally, then how do you know what else in the Bible to not take literally – and how are you sure that Jesus is a literal person and His story should be taken literally??”

Right.  Well, first, I don’t always know in every case what in the Bible is literal, what is literal while simultaneously figurative, and what is just not.   I’ll just be honest and put that out there.   But as to Jesus being literal, I think most people asking this question might already sort of have a sense of the answer, because as I write it it’s going to seem almost too easy I think.   But fear has a way of blinding us to truths we already know, so sometimes encouragement is just the voice which reminds us of what we DO know, unencumbered by those fears.   But here is my reply:

“….the substance belongs to Christ.”        

Colossians 2:17

Ok, end of blog post.  🙂

No way, that would be my shortest blog post ever!    So let’s look at this a little deeper. Now, it just doesn’t work to go backwards on this – to say that, “In order for Jesus to be real, we have to claim that Genesis 1 & 2 must be literally real too” might seem to have noble motives behind it, but it’s just not a good path to go down.   Jesus’s reality does not hinge on Genesis – rather, Genesis’s reality hinges on Him.  After all, if Jesus isn’t real, most Christians aren’t going to give a hill of beans if Genesis is (at least until the dust settles for them somewhere between Atheism and Judaism.)   And if Genesis indeed isn’t plain history, me lying about it to prop up Jesus’s reality is bound to get us all into hot water sooner or later, and just isn’t generally the type of foundation anyone would want Jesus to have for a claim to His reality.

But again:

“….the substance belongs to Christ.”        

Colossians 2:17

  So to elucidate: In the context of the verse above from Colossians, the topic is about practicing rituals from the the Old Testament (the Torah) like the Sabbath or New Moon or what have you – and that these things have their place, but that Jesus is more “real” than all of those (aka, He is the real, the fulfillment, the actuality of what all those things are.)

Here are more verses on the same general tone, this time from the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 8:5
They [people living out the instructions of the books of Moses] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 9:22-24
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood,and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

Hebrews 10:1
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

We know that Jesus during His Earthly ministry showed up and had this strong preference for speaking in parables and stories.   We tend to think that this is a uniquely Jesus-y thing – that everything in the Bible is stone cold factual reality and history (except for poetry, of course) apart from Jesus’s very unique and quirky way of getting a point across.   AND, we tend to believe that Jesus told stories in order to really “get at the heart” – to really, truly, illustrate a point in a way that a straightforward teaching might not be able to.   But this isn’t what Jesus or the writers of scriptures had to say about the reason for this style of revelation.   As uncomfortable as it may be to consider, it seems Jesus’s motivations in story-telling were more about a motive to CONCEAL, than to reveal:

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables.  And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”  Mark 4:10-12


This is, by the way, a fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah 6:and 6:9

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”  He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’

Now, why on Earth or in Heaven God would have such a motive is well beyond the scope of this blog post, and I’ll be up front and say I’m not even going to claim to have a real grasp on it either.  But the idea that God has some delight in concealing things is also seen here:

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” ~ Proverbs 25:2

So we have Jesus, concealing truth by using parables.   Could – Would – God the Father also use parables, stories that conceal truth, stories that are God-breathed but not literally historically true (nor even immediately clear in their intended meanings and use?)  We are told that Jesus is the fulness of God in flesh, and the express image of His person and that “did nothing He did not see His Father doing” – that in fact, He and the Father are One.  So could – would – God the Father possibly do similar things?

 

Actually it’s not totally the right question to ask – it’s not a matter of whether or not God would do the same things as His Son, but whether or not His Son was pretty much walking in His Father’s footsteps – doing the same things His Father always does, had already done.

So we gotta ask the question:  What is WITH this shadowy, copy tabernacle stuff anyway?   Have you ever asked, “Why bother?”   Or, “Why would God do it that way – set up an entire religion for thousands of years when that who system wasn’t even His main goal?”  He is an incredible concealer, isn’t HE?  While at the same exact time an amazing Teacher.

sky-690293_640It depends in part of whether someone has the key to open the mystery. He seems to be able to teach and reveal while hiding and concealing in the very same breath.   He’s a God who surrounds Himself with clouds of darkness, but is Himself a blazing light.  He’s a God who veils Himself, then splits the veil and becomes the way through it, for some it is taken away completely.  And yet for others the veil is never gone.

Maybe it’s unseemly to focus on such things, after all, people are already questioning God’s character and motives in the blogosphere without me bringing up more uncomfortable things about how He does His God-thing.    But while I’m not going to explain too much of the whys, let’s just take a good look at the thing and acknowledge that it’s there in Scripture – because it is.

So here in Psalm 78 is what my friend calls, “The Case of the Missing Parable.”   Asaph starts out announcing that he’s about to tell a parable, a dark saying:

Psalm 78:1-4      A Maskil of Asaph.

 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth!

  I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old,

 things that we have heard and known,

that our fathers have told us.

 We will not hide them from their children,

but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,

and the wonders that he has done.

And then you can read the rest, all 72 verses which recount seemingly no dark sayings or parables whatsoever, just the seemingly literal, plain, historical (and if I’ll be honest, a bit boring) retelling of the history of the people of Israel and God’s works among them.  My mischievous friend likes to read the whole long wordy thing aloud (which takes several minutes) to folks he ends up having this discussion with, and then matter-of-factly closes the book and looks up innocently enough to shrug and say, “Where’s the parable?”

Maybe we shouldn’t make too much out of Psalm 78’s parable – or maybe we should make a whole lot out of it.  Maybe we should just read it as a subtle hint from a God who conceals things and tantalizes His Kings and Priests to seek Him out.

So let’s bring this full circle:

We know that Christ is the fulfillment of all that went before Him, of everything in the Scriptures.   We know that He *is* the substance, the reality.   We know our salvation is found in Him, not in the first Adam, nor in Abraham, nor in Moses or even in King David.   We know it’s not altars made with tools, circumcisions made with hands, temples made by men, or the blood of bulls and goats that means anything.   It’s not the keeping of days, it’s not the eating or abstention from certain foods, and it’s not even physical bloodlines from Abraham that makes someone a real child of God.   So why are we so entirely horrified and frightened to think that these things we know are shadows and types and copies might not even in some cases even be “real?”

Screenshot 2016-04-18 at 1.37.51 PMWhen the sun shines on you as you walk down the street, does it matter to you if your shadow on the ground has a real beating heart in it, or if it is a real person?    And if you went to your kid’s school and there was a show for all the kids involving shadow puppets, are you going to get upset and feel your child was deceived if you find out that the shadow puppets were just some lady’s hands?

If you were, you’d seem at best really…silly.   And at worst, really unhinged.

Kids are OK with enjoying and learning from shadow puppets.   The ancient Hebrews were OK with Ancient Near East Creation Mythology.   Then in the “fulness of time” when God decided His people were at the right point in the timeline, the lights came on and the shadow puppets disappeared.

Sort of.   Yes, the REAL was finally here.   But even He couldn’t stop telling stories that weren’t exactly literal reality…because, that’s just not how it’s done – and it’s not the Way He is.   But He the Story Teller – and the Story Himself – were and are and ever will be completely real, to the point of being the very nature and substance of Reality “I am Who I am” Himself.

 

That Time Jesus Appealed to Scientific Observation

Yeah, it happened:

1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.  (Matthew 16-ish)

Jesus found it pretty inconsistent that the Pharisees and Sadducees had some understanding of how the natural world works, but couldn’t apply that same logic and analysis to their understanding of the place they were at on the scriptural calendar.   In other words:  knowing how to interpret the natural world – what today we would consider scientific observation – should be a parallel to and HELP, not hinder, our ability to understand the scriptures and spiritual things.

Some of the early church fathers (most notably Augustine) understood other scriptures AND from the world around them that Genesis was not a literal account of the creation of the world – and they did not have modern science – not the theory of evolution, nor genetics, nor biology, nor archaeology, nor carbon dating, to make this suggestion to them.   Now that we do have all these things, it is not wrong to allow them to influence us away from particular scientifically-untenable interpretations of Genesis – as well as to note that scripture itself contains clues that it is able to be and often should be read non-literally.   (More on that in future posts.)

physics-140901_640“You know how to read the human genome, you know how to date human remains, you know how to use nuclear energy and therefore understand radiometric dating, and travel in outer space, yet you cannot perceive that Genesis is not literal history?”

Ok, it’s not a verse, but, there is some rationale for the paraphrase, methinks.

Other useful reading:
Reading Scripture in Light of Modern Science (from ICAST)

http://www.reasons.org/articles/coming-to-grips-with-the-early-church-fathers-perspective-on-genesis-part-1-of-5

http://biologos.org/common-questions/biblical-interpretation/early-interpretations-of-genesis

Non-historical Adam and Eve, and original sin

I got in an unplanned discussion with a friend today about Adam and Eve and not taking Genesis 1 and 2 literally.   I’ve written about my views on that before but there are some rubber-meets-the-road questions about how the gospel segues with that viewpoint, that I am asked pretty routinely.   The difference is that today I took the time to write out some replies, which I thought I would share here.

My friend asked the million dollar question (or posed the million dollar objection, whichever 🙂 ) which was:

When you remove the idea that there was a literal Adam and Eve from the picture, you set up a scenario that says Original Sin does not actually exist. In other words if there were other human beings who had been born before the Fall, then there’s still a race out there that hasn’t fallen potentially and therefore does not need a savior?”  

Image

My first reply to my friend was thus:

“This is somewhat off the main topic of what you are bringing up, but just for the record: “original sin” is a term that is somewhat modern compared to antiquity, and postdates the break of the eastern church from Catholicism – the entire Eastern Orthodox church doesn’t believe in “original sin” but something called “ancestral sin” which is a somewhat different spin on the topic – not particularly relevant to a discussion of whether or not Adam and Eve are the first humans, but worth mentioning nonetheless. (http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/ancestral_versus_original_sin)

Since that has next to nothing to do with the main discussion here but is offered just as an informative freebee, I just thought I’d throw it out there, hit send, and then reply to what you’re actually writing about.   I’m not mentioning this because I believe in the Eastern Orthodox perspective per se, but simply to point out that there are a lot of unexamined ideas that we inherit as Christians about something even as seemingly straightforward as our belief in “original sin” which turns out to be not so straightforward as we’d like it to be, after all.  ”

Then I hit send, and wrote my next post, the one that everyone wants to dig into anyway: 

I personally don’t believe that removing a literal Adam and Eve from the picture sets up a scenario that original sin doesn’t not actually exist, at least, not in a way that would deny the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice – because I think the Adam and Eve story is parable, it’s meaning is to reveal truth – truth about Gods reasons for sending His son. Just as like 2 chapters later in Genesis we read stuff like, “Jubal was the father of all who play the pipe” and “Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” I don’t take to means that anyone who ever played the pipe, or lived in a tent and has livestock, is literally the descendants of one of these two guys (and why? because when the [literal,  proportedly worldwide]  flood came, everyone would have been wiped out except Noah’s descendants, and unless Noah was descended from all three guys…this isn’t talking about NATURAL descent, but spiritual descent. )

If we’re going to interpret scripture with scripture, then we need to look about how scripture interprets what it means to be “the father” or “the mother” of someone – and if two chapters after Adam and Eve, we see scripture speaking metaphorically about what it means to be someone’s descendent, that should give us something to chew on. Sin is transmitted through spiritual descent, just as righteousness is transmitted through spiritual descent. Sin resides in the flesh, but so also can righteousness reside in the flesh (the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.) Just as in Christ, “all are made alive” through yes, “one man” – one is not a physical descendant of Christ in order to inherit His righteousness. Neither does one have to be a literally physical descendant of the “one man Adam” to inherit his spiritual unrighteousness. This is one of the reasons that Jesus could rail at the pharisees and tell them that they weren’t children of Abraham when push came to shove:

John 8 38-39, ESV: “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.…”

Sure, they were physically literal descendants of Abraham, but what counts in the spirit realm is who one is spiritually descended from. To be a descendant of Abraham is to descend from the faith of Abraham, not from the flesh of Abraham.  Likewise, Adam *means* man, Eve means *woman*: He represents the condition of the flesh which is not choosing the tree of life (Jesus) to eat from but rather the knowledge of good and evil (earthly morality/the conscience without the Spirit of God.) – the Adam and Eve story, among other things, is revealing the condition of a human without a vital connection by the Spirit to the life of God in the Heavenlies.

So, there was my answer.   I didn’t really get into the issue of whether or not there were other people around before “Adam and Eve” although I think the age old question of “Who did Cain marry?” hints at that.   But it wasn’t important to go there, because the main idea of why it even matters is in the above material.   Of course, I find that I learn the best as I discuss my viewpoints and others viewpoints together, so feel free to add or question or tweek or say anything at all as long as it is respectful and civil, below 🙂

For more reading, I appreciated this post:
http://tamedcynic.org/do-you-have-to-believe-in-original-sin-to-be-a-christian/

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