Archive for June, 2013

The Garden: The Idea of Sacred Space

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2013 by ancienthopes

This grand universe is the cosmic Temple of God! This is the essence of Genesis One. Every inch of it is full of His glory, for He fills all things (Jeremiah 23:23). As huge as it seems to us, it can be any size to God, be it relatively large, or infinitesimally small. With chapter two, however, a whole new dynamic is introduced with regard to space. Although God is everywhere, in Scripture He is always somewhere, be it above the heavens which He infinitely transcends, in “heaven” presiding over angelic spirits, or in a special place on earth. This special place is understood to be sacred space. Originally, this sacred space was the Garden of Eden. A Hebrew under the old Covenant or a Jew in the new covenant could not live without a sense of sacred space. Sacred space speaks of lost origins, and is always traced to the primal garden.

We know that the Garden in Eden had boundaries, probably understood to be a walled-in space like ancient gardens that we know go back into misty pre-history. This means that there was a distinction between outside and inside. Inside was sacred space. Whatever things were like outside the garden, we simply do not know. However, it is perfectly feasible that it was subject to the elements, that there was a cycle of life and death among pre-historic animals, rugged and terrifying in its exposure to the watery deep, formless earth (deserts), and the chaotic struggle of the forces of nature. We certainly know that Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden was not pleasant, vulnerable as they were after the fall. One might object that such a scene does not jive with God’s pronouncement at creation “… it is good.” But this statement does not mean ‘perfect” in the sense of human comfort standards, but good for God’s purposes. Again, these creation stories must be understood functionally.

The Garden in Eden, therefore, is a sacred place where God chose to dwell with humanity in a special way. We might call it the “holy of holies,” or the ‘most holy” place, in God’s cosmic temple. “Holy” means absolutely unique, special, uncommon, blessed, beautiful, pure, deathless, and any other pleasant adjective one can think of. In short, it is what every soul yearns for, which is in itself a proof that it once existed, for it is imprinted on the psyche of every human being as our place of origin.

We do well to meditate long and hard on the features of this Garden described in chapter two. These features we call “motifs.” I use the word “motifs” here as concrete images or phenomena in creation and everyday life which are symbolic of deeper spiritual realities. The operative idea here is this: since we know by faith that God created everything that is seen from the unseen (Hebrews 11:3), we can work our way back to the unseen through the seen. The ancients did not do theology like we westerners through logical construction of ideas arranged in categories, but by meditating on motifs from nature, and through story, or narrative. Since we are invited into these chapters as guests, we must put aside our cultural bias and humbly approach these narratives as the ancient Hebrews did. This we will do, God willing, in the following posts.

But the Lord is in His Holy Temple …

Posted in Uncategorized on June 17, 2013 by ancienthopes

Genesis One is not a scientific text. It was never meant to be one. The ancients did not think in terms of scientific method born out of the “Enlightenment” which we take so much for granted. This text is not primarily concerned with the creation of matter; it is assumed that God had created the primal elements, the “raw materials,” so to speak, out of which He formed His cosmic temple. The text is concerned about what this universe was built for and the meaning behind it. It is a cosmic liturgy of the week culminating with the great Sabbath when the Creator is enthroned in his creation. This text explains, in stately terms like no other document in the world, why the universe is framed with such awesome beauty; it is sacred space divinely arranged for a purpose. As such it is most true. The truly wise person comprehends this, for he senses the glory and purpose behind creation, and conforms his life to them accordingly.

This does not mean that Genesis One is incompatible with science. Science and Genesis One do two different things. Science is not geared toward explaining the function of the universe or probe into matters of meaning. Science can, however, support the grand scheme presented in Genesis One with its probing into the secrets of the material world. Certainly this was the attitude of the great scientific geniuses of the Seventeenth Century like Galileo and Newton. The problem with science is that scientific method and theory are limited by the human mind and imagination. How far can we go back into the fog of the past and gaze into the titanic forces that shaped the primal elements into our universe? At some point we run into the fog of mystery that renders our minds and senses stupefied.

Those who are under the illusion that science in time can penetrate all mystery, whether they are atheistic, agnostic, or creation scientists, all suffer inordinately from the same malady: rationalism. True, we make advances in science which to us seem so incredible. But even the trajectory of the advancement of our knowledge is but a drop in the cosmic ocean. Our minds have been completely trained to EXPLAIN the cosmos in a material way. Genesis One invites us to EXPERIENCE the cosmos along with the God who created it. We were created to live in awe, not in arrogance. Science in the minds of the arrogant always turns to dehumanization, warfare, and self destruction. It is a manifestation of the ultimate human weakness; the absurd obsession to be god!

Our minds, reason, science, and technology must all function in the context of Genesis One to be fully human. We live in God’s cosmic Temple which He has graciously given to us as our home. It is the height of reason to live in complete humility before the mystery and glory that pervades all things. It makes perfect sense to live in awe. We were made for worship; we cannot worship something we can understand, or think that given enough time, we can understand. Rationalists have always been afraid of the dark. But is in the darkness of mystery that we penetrate beyond our reason and senses into the uncreated light that glows just beneath the surface of this material world.

“But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before Him” (Hab. 2:20).

Day Seven: The Great Enthronement of God in His Cosmic Temple

Posted in Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 by ancienthopes

On modern ears, the idea of God “resting” on the seventh day is completely lost. It brings up the absurd dilemma of why God would need “rest” in the first place. Moreover, since we moderns think of creation in material terms, this last day simply doesn’t follow the first six days, for it does nothing at all to bring to a conclusion the creation of the material world. For many, the seventh day seems to be a quaint idea that no longer has any real relevance.

Actually, the seventh day is the great climax of creation as creation was originally understood. Again, to the ancient, what really mattered was the purpose and function of creation. This great cosmic edifice built in 6 days is God’s temple. On the seventh day God, who fills all things and absolutely transcends everything, takes His place in His temple to commune with humanity made in His image. He is not “tired,” but enthroned and received by man and nature as the great source of all life and glory. “Rest” has nothing to do with inactivity; it has everything to do with completion and fulfillment of purpose. The best place to see this is in Psalm 132:7-8, 13-14. Here we find the “Song of the Ark” sung by the Israelites when going to the Tabernacle or Temple, which to the ancient Hebrew was a microcosm of the universe made in 6 days:

“Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool! Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place, you and the arc of your might … For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation: This is my resting place for ever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.”

As Walton points out in his book “The Lost World of Genesis One,” these verses place together the ideas of rest, temple, and enthronement. Human kings rule from palaces; God reigns from His Temple. Day seven is all about the divine King taking His rightful place in creation at its completion. Rest is a functional idea; God is enthroned to rule. However, He does not choose to rule in complete transcendent isolation. He reigns from without (outside of creation) as well as from within (as the immanent source of life), but also through humanity created to rule as we discussed in the last post. God shares His creative power to shape and form with mankind. We might say that humans are “co-regents” with God, for by sharing His very image, man was made to rule. Man must rule, however, in conformity to the will of the Creator-King, and according to parameters and boundaries set at creation.

The seventh day, therefore, was the pristine moment in creation when everything worked in harmony. Harmony is perhaps another way of understanding the Hebrew idea of “rest.” Everything fulfills its function as it was intended. The seventh day is the climax of the movement from chaos (Gen. 1:2) to the order (Gen. 1:3-31) to rest (Gen. 2:1-3). Soon we shall see that the harmony of the seventh day is disrupted, and a reverse pattern develops from rest, to disorder, and finally back to chaos. God reverses this pattern by re-instituting the seventh day of the week as a day “rest” for the Hebrews. On this day they ceased from the toil caused by the fall and experienced life (preferably in the tabernacle/temple) as it was intended to be experienced. Hence the movement of the Hebrew week looking forward to the seventh day in harmony with God parallels the divine liturgy of the seven days of creation.

We are Kings!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 4, 2013 by ancienthopes

We are all fascinated with royalty! Even if we are Americans who long ago kicked King George out, we never seem to get enough of the royal drama across the ocean. C.S. Lewis would have all the Children in Narnia kings and queens, drawing on a fundamental longing of each human heart. To rule is in our DNA as image bearers of God, the great King of whom all other kings are but a mere shadow, or analogy.

In our post-colonial times, the idea of dominion is politically anathema. Our culture cringes at such words as “… fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea …” (Gen. 1:28). Of course, to “subdue” and have “dominion” do not mean to abuse but to nurture. In fact, the whole idea behind “to till” the garden and “to keep it” (Gen 2:15) is to allow humanity the freedom to be creative with the environment and to fashion it as one would shape an exotic garden conducive for humanity, animals, plants, seas and stones, to exist in complete harmony. Without human rule, nature can never reach its fulfillment and intended end.

To this end, the very structure of Genesis 1 is an apologetic against the ancient pagan world view. For them, the gods did not create the world for man, but man was made to serve the gods. Since the gods were nature deities, this means that humanity was subservient to nature. In days 4 through 6, the order is crucial. God first made inanimate objects, the “two great lights, the greater to rule the day, the lesser to rule the night; He made the stars also” (1:16). It has long been observed by scholars that by not mentioning the proper names for “sun” (Heb. šemeš) and “moon” (Heb. yāēaḥ) the text is minimizing any possibility of associating these celestial bodies that were worshiped by the pagans as the sun god “šameš” and the moon god “yāēaḥ.” The fact that the stars that make up the immovable houses of the zodiac that determine the fates in pagan cosmology are dismissed, as it were, as an afterthought, is intentional. They are not sovereign deities, but are creations of God made for a specific purpose within their own domains. However awe-inspiring they may be, they were not made as an end in themselves, but as features adorning the celestial ceiling of the great cosmic temple in which humanity was to rule for God.

The creatures of the sky and sea made in the fifth day are superior to the inanimate lights of the great dome by virtue of life and proximity to ruling humanity. Likewise, the beasts of the earth made in the sixth day, although they share the dignity of being made on the same day with humanity, are made for humanity and not the other way around. By Moses’ time humanity, by and large, had turned everything upside down in their cosmology. To survive in a hostile environment alive with nature deities with whom there could be no real relationship, one must manipulate the gods as best they could by magic. They must be appeased, bowed down to, and worshipped. Fear drove humanity to worship creatures less than themselves, to reverse the true order of creation, and grovel in earth magic and astrology.

It might seem silly to us now to think of, let’s say, the relatively cultured Egyptians worshiping dung beetles and their elite scholars wasting endless generations of time compiling the “Book of the Dead.” However, our secular culture, in a strange twist, finds itself operating with a similar cosmology as the old witchdoctors. Both magic and science share the same fundamental belief that nature is ultimate, the former as deity, the latter believing that matter is all there is and thus ultimate. Moreover, they both think in terms of manipulation; the former by magic, and the latter by scientific method. Both cosmologies leave the human heart hollow and aching; the former in slavery to a nature that it was made to dominate, and the latter in the endless struggle to dominate the primal elements of chaos ─ darkness, formless earth, and the watery deep; even death itself ─ with its technological gadgetry, so that man can drive the Creator from His temple and take His place! What terrible kings we have made ourselves to be! What a dark kingdom we have made of this world!