Question for Biblical Literalists
In my observation, so many beliefs about the Bible seem to be founded on an unasked question – one whose answer is assumed, built into the theology.
And that question is, “What would God do?”
“If God inspired a book, what qualities would he give that book, being God? Surely inerrancy, sufficiency, and equality with himself?” This is what I’m hearing biblical fundamentalists say.
So here’s my question:
1. If God were inspiring a prophet to reveal His creation of the world…
2. and if that prophet were speaking to peoples with mythical consciousness and simple language and no awareness of science…
3. and if the truth about Creation were far more complex and huge and detailed than that prophet could communicate in his language, or that people could grasp in theirs…
What would God do?
Unknowing the Uknowable
There’s no proper answer to this question, in my opinion, because we cannot know what God would do. He’s not predictable.
But here’s what I think he might do.
He might send that prophet a vision that lasted seven days…
and that vision might very well involve a compression of time at several points, breaking down the mass of events to several well-defined actions…
he might portray Himself acting in a far more definite manner than one might have seen him to do “on the ground” during Creation…
and this portrayal might form the heart of the revelation precisely because God’s act of creation is not obvious when we look at evil and suffering…
and finally, he might very well move the prophet to encode that vision in the form of a Creation Myth.
How was that prophet to know how that mythically-encoded vision would later seem to a society ravaged by modernity and scientificism? And what if knowing that had impeded the revelation altogether?
After all, God is not forceful.
One might say, “but God wouldn’t let that prophet reveal things in a way that would trip us up thousands of years later!”
To which I reply, how do you know? How do you know what God would or would not do?
To put it another way: we know God is good and truthful; but how that looks in detail, and how it plays itself out on every occasion in every detail when “holy men of God” are “moved by the Holy Spirit” – this is unknowable aside from extremely specific revelation. Far more specific than we have.
God might very well be trusting us to use our brains, look at scripture sympathetically through past-knowing eyes, and figure it out.
So for me, the anxiety which seeks the boundaries of belief is not present. I am very comfortable in the center, saying what the scriptures say, and not trying to draw uncertifiable certainties from it.
That said, my husband and I take great delight in the fact whenever some detail of scripture previously doubted turns out to be true – whether literally or otherwise.
For instance, when Noah’s flood is read as a myth-encoded story of God’s intervention in the ice-age meltdown (about 10,000 years ago)…
and when “the whole earth” is read as “the whole inhabitable land”…
because people were caught between the ice-covered higher latitudes, and the water-flooded coastal areas where all human habitations were then fixed…
and if the breaking up of the waters is the release of water from a frozen state…
it all suddenly makes sense. And that is delicious. Much more satisfying than, say, a theory about how geologists are suppressing knowledge of a global catastrophe that happened a mere 5,000 years ago.
I’m not putting it past the geologists. I’m just saying my husband’s theory about the ice age is far more satisfying in every respect.
Where Literal Meanings are Welcome
What I don’t care for is the sneer which some cast at the idea of Noah’s actually hearing from God, or actually building such an ark. Given real circumstances (circumstances we can recognize as being part of the reality we actually inhabit) God’s intervention, even in the most personal and detailed manner, is never out of court. It is, in fact, precisely what I consider myself as a faithful Christian obligated to confess.
Thus, I am perfectly comfortable with the possibility that God created the world over millions of years, and that Lucifer was meant to be an instrument in this, and that Lucifer went astray by introducing a “survival of the fiercest” principal that brought fear, death, and ultimately evil into the world, and that man was created in the midst of all this, and only became blameworthy after he was made a spiritual being and when he learned of good and evil too soon.
But I wrinkle my nose in disgust when people say there could not have been literal Eden and that Adam and Eve never existed. Really, why? What’s the need? There’s nothing remotely inexplicable about the story if one simply accepts God’s personal and miraculous intervention in human history, and demythologizes the setting and the descriptions.
It Works Either Way
Or don’t. We could just leave the setting and descriptions mythical. As long as we don’t pretend that the mythical is scientific.
The scripture is literature. It must be treated as such. A big part of that, I think, is just knowing what genre we’re reading.
What do you think?