did god really say? :: from adam’s apple to achan’s stones [part one]

Forbidden Fruit The serpent’s first question to Eve is an attempt to get under her skin, fomenting second thoughts about God’s gift and command. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The serpent calls the content of God’s speech into question by twisting the command and putting a harsher edict in its place. Eve is sharp enough to set that twisted serpent straight–for the most part. “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say…”

The story is centered on controversy among God’s creatures as to what God actually said, and what was meant when he said it. The snake and the human bring different versions of God’s command–and different gods. The god of the serpent is a restrictive fellow who hoards all the garden’s fruit to himself (even though there is plenty to go around) and threatens transgressors with death (even though he doesn’t really mean it). Adam and Eve have another God’s breath in their veins; they know his generosity and his character, but in their naivete they act on the serpent’s sermon and fall into the serpent’s world. Adam and Eve claim the fruit for themselves, and awake to find themselves shamefully bent. This story is our story.

This post, however, is not about Adam and Eve per se. I want to look at a few other Old Testament representations of God’s speech, and eventually raise a few questions about the nature of revelation, inspiration, and our relationship to scripture.
Continue reading “did god really say? :: from adam’s apple to achan’s stones [part one]”

daniel’s four beasts :: four Kingdoms

I’ve just posted a paper in the “Essays and Papers” page that I wrote over the summer. For those of you with a Biblical bent, the paper enters the 2,300 year old debate over the imagery the author of the book of Daniel employs to speak about the kingdoms of the earth. The images have been trotted out in various apocalyptic schemes for thousands of years, the latest renditions being Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, and the infamous Left Behind series by Jenkins and LaHaye. The books cryptic imagery has been mis-read in some fairly fantastic ways.

The paper makes the argument that the first three beasts/kingdoms should be read historically, while the fourth should be read eschatologically. The book of Daniel, rather than being a time-table for the last days, is a warning to the powers of the earth about their responsibility to their people. When the world’s kingdoms forget the humanity of those subject to thier control, they turn into bloodthirsty beasts liable to God’s judgement. Undercutting our eschatological self-righteousness, I argue that Western nations like the United States can be identified as the fourth beast just as easily as Ancient Greece, Rome, the USSR, or any of the other “usual suspects.” The “Son of Man” figure represents the restoration of God’s image in humanity in the form of a fifth kingdom which displaces the four-fold beastly reign of terror.

This paper comes out of a course taught by Regent’s Iain Provan, and he deserves credit for most of the good ideas in the paper (you be the judge) but he should be exonerated from its faults.

room for humans :: the words of God

Reading Telford Work’s book Living and Active, I’m recognizing the amount of breathing room available within the biblical tradition. We often speak as if there were only one way to be “biblical” people. We imagine that there is one cookie cutter mold for how to be faithful (and not surprisingly, that cookie cutter looks an awful lot like our own silhouette). But even within the Bible there are traditions at tremendous tension with one another, and in the world that Scripture describes, there is room for many different sorts:

Wisdom literature portrays a world where the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer. The wise are blessed and saved, the wicked judged and condemned. God’s mercy is then a kind of converse of God’s justice. The apocalyptic vision turns this conception of salvation on its head. In a world where the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, one is not saved from God’s eschotological judgemnt. Rather, one is saved from injustice and wrath, through God’s eschatological judgment. God’s justice is itself a dimension of God’s mercy. (159)

There is a breadth to truth that acknowledges the validity of many perspectives. What a relief that God speaks through many voices. The “American Dream” wisdom of Proverbs (work your tail off and you’ll do alright) stands side by side with Daniel’s very different version of wisdom. Daniel reminds us that beastly and inhuman empires have their way on the earth only for a time, but that in the end, God’s power and God’s judgment are ultimate. As Ghandi says – every oppressor dies someday. Continue reading “room for humans :: the words of God”