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:

Creation

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.

Why Not?

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.

Noah’s Flood

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?

6 Comments »

  1. What about pretending science is mythic?

    A friend of mine is an actual scientist. Several years ago she was doing an experiment in quantum chemistry. In the middle of her experiment she saw the Death and Ressurrection of Jesus Christ. She was not a believer until then. Not insignificant is that she has Native American heritage.

    She began a search for a theology that would explain her experiment and came to Orthodoxy.

    If we do not echo Hamlet’s words: “There is more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy. ” We will always be lacking.

    Fortunately the eternal Well of Mercy is closer than hands and feet. We can bathe in it and drink from it at any time if we humble ourselves.

    God is God.
    “If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it is not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. ” Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2

    Like

    • Oh yes, practically all our science is really a mythology that dare not speak its name.

      I should be unsurprised to find that the millions and millions of years were not needed after all, or that any other aspect of what we “know” is just a convenient theory of the moment.

      Something similar is touched on in St. Paul’s discussion of women and veiling. “Does not nature itself teach you…” he says, where nature means something more like science than like our post-Romantic concept of Nature. And sure enough, it turns out that Hippocrates taught, and Greco-Roman society believed, that head-hair was part of the reproductive apparatus.

      Like

  2. So, I suppose if one doesn’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, there’s not much I can do. However, for those who accept most of the Bible but try to explain creation as “myth,” I’d like to ask them why. Is it because science tells us that the world must be far older than 6 to 10 thousand years, that there’s too much evidence in favor of evolution to deny it?

    Science also tells us that virgins can’t have babies, water does not spontaneously turn into wine, and dead men don’t come back to life.

    But science is only one way of many to understand the world—as you well know when you refer to the mythological consciousness. God is not bound by science, as he is not bound by myth or any other epistemology. All of these things point to one facet of the intricate, unknowable divine, and we do best when we recognize what each understanding can tell us and what it cannot. Why should we assume that our “scientific” perspective is better or more accurate, particularly when embracing that worldview means redefining God’s word (and God’s character) to fit that worldview? Wouldn’t it be better, as Christians, to shape our worldview to what God has revealed to us?

    Perhaps God chose to give the revelation of creation in a time and to a people who could accept and pass down his truth, rather than today when excuses abound and it’s all too easy to say, “Well, God didn’t actually mean…” Perhaps the truth of creation was not too complicated for the Hebrew prophets, but rather is too beautiful and ordered and Godly for today’s scientists.

    Or perhaps, as I’ve always thought, the early chapters of Genesis were passed down in oral tradition from Adam and Eve themselves, who were, of course, told it by God.

    Rather than believe that the early Genesis accounts are inaccurate, there are two other much better possibilities:
    1. God chose to create a universe that looked older than it was. Why he would choose to do this, I don’t know, but if you’re okay with an unpredictable God, then it is a viable possibility.
    2. We’re wrong about the age and history of the earth.

    Given the many, many, many times humans have been painfully, dangerously, damnably wrong—I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.

    Like

    • “If one doesn’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture…”

      There are so many answers to this.

      For instance: I believe in Christ; the scriptures are a truthful witness to that belief, but not the object of belief themselves.

      Or this: Truthfulness is a concept the writers of scripture understood; inerrancy is a modern absolutist concept they would not have understood.

      Or this: because the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and the fulness of him that fills all in all, the scripture and the church can only be understood in relation to one another, and revelation (or truth) can only be understood in relation to both.

      Or this: we sometimes refer to scripture as revelation, but scripture refer to Jesus Christ as revelation.

      But that’s all theology.

      My project here is to try to see scripture the way the scriptures see scripture. And that’s a literary project first of all!

      Like

Comment rules: name and email required; website not required. No more than 2 links, please. Markdown is enabled. Enclose with 1 asterisk for italics, or 2 asterisks for bold.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.