Archive for September, 2013

Light from the Clerestory

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30, 2013 by ancienthopes

The picture painted in the last post is dark and grim, but it is not the only reality. True, the cosmic Temple is but a shadow of its former glory, but the glory is still present, just under the crust of the cursed earth, pushing its way to the surface, an undeniable reality in the world. Gothic Cathedrals were made with an upper level full of windows called a clerestory through which light streamed down upon the floor. In a like manner, the light of God shines down through the wreck and ruin of the temple upon the earthen floor, giving us hope. Chaos cannot win; God must and will.

The ray of light is given to us in 4:25 where we see that Adam and Eve bore Seth, and it is in his line that “men began to call upon the name of the Lord.” What is more, Seth is specifically said to be made in the image of Adam who was made in the image of God (5:3). This specifically tells us that the imago dei, in spite of the fall, is the fundamental reality of Seth’s line, the distinguishing trait. Now it is true that Cain was also made in the imago dei, being Adam’s offspring. However, we see in chapter 4 that Cain’s line is in process of falling away from this fundamental human feature, and become more violent and wicked. The fact that the fall has not obliterated the imago dei in every human is critical. The divine image within us leaves us with many interior powers, such a conscience and the knowledge of what is right, and real choice. God’s warning to Cain in 4:7 proves to us that Cain was not absolutely powerless against the temptation before him. He had fight, and with God’s help, he could have mastered the beast of sin.

Moreover, the divine in humanity will conquer evil. This is clear in the curse on the serpent in the so-called “protoevangelium” (3:15). In spite of the fact that evil will snap at, strike, or bruise “his” heal, he shall crush its head. The pronoun “his” is masculine singular, and can be understood as a collective of the seed of Eve, or as an individual who will prophetically conquer evil. In fact, as a first reference to Christ, we see that the collective Church will in fact defeat evil by and through the power of the One.

Finally, God clothes Adam and Eve. We have seen before that nakedness is the visible symbol, or motif, that describes sin and its effects on humanity. Adam and Eve tried to save themselves with their feeble attempt to cover themselves. This symbolizes that humanity cannot save itself. That God provided animal pelts to deal with sin and its consequences is symbolic of salvation as a divine act. Implicit is that God slew these animals, which is startling, for it makes God the first killer. This speaks of a price that must be paid for sin. Redemption is not cheap. It costs the most precious thing that we humans have ─ life! Sacrifice is fundamental to restoration and worship itself, and it would be natural to the ancient mind that the story of Abel and his sacrifice in contrast to Cain’s follows hard upon the fall described in chapter 3.

We see these beams of light shining through the clerestory down into the gloom. It gives us hope. Humanity will either seek this light or hide in the gloom, groveling in the shadows. The ruined temple can be experienced as heaven or hell. It all depends on how we see the light. Do we love it and work our way towards it, or do we shrink from it because it exposes our evil?

With these beams of light we see that God is recreating his holy temple. There are two forces within. Like the original creation pattern, God is taking humanity from chaos to order to rest. This movement is in contrast to the fall where we see humanity receding from rest to disorder, finally to tumble into chaos? The re-creation of the individual is the same motion as the recreation of the cosmos, for both are temples.

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The Haunted House: “…I was afraid…”

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2013 by ancienthopes

As we have seen, when Adam the priest sinned, the cosmic temple was immediately affected, for there is a necessary link between humanity and creation. In the Bible, there is always a symbiosis between human morality and environment. The once glorious temple now becomes a haunted house. Adam’s first reaction is fear, fear of God and fear of his nakedness, his vulnerability. Though all the original glory of creation has not disappeared, and it is still God’s temple, death and terror has entered its precincts. Adam is everyman; fear is everywhere! We travel our roads, we pass cemeteries, grisly road kill, terrible accidents. We struggle to keep alive, to keep our relationships and homes together; chaos threatens everything. Yes, we know fear! We live in a haunted house.

At the heart of this haunting is struggle and strife, effects of the curse on the earth. Things do not work as creation was originally intended. First, there is the great internal struggle; Adam’s “house” of spirit, soul and body, his own temple, is in chaos. Humanity was made to live from the inside out. Adam’s spirit is the most internal part of him; the place deep within where God is made to commune, Holy Spirit touching spirit, the most mysterious and unknown part of our humanity. Spirit then directs the soul, the place of will, memory, imagination, reason, and emotion, and all psychological functions. The soul, led by the will, then controls the body with its senses. With the fall, this is reversed. The tendency now is for the body and its senses to rule the soul with its internal powers. When the soul is ruled by the senses, the spirit is in turmoil. Adam now becomes a stranger to himself, living in internal strife.

Adam finds himself in a struggle with God. Created in the imago dei, he is made to exist like God in miniature, to live from the inside out, not by his senses like an animal. To commune with God Adam must master himself, but without grace he will not and cannot, and therefore is at enmity with God. Moreover, the penalty for sin is death, which as we said, does not mean cessation of being, but diminished being, lost original glory. Our fallen humanity in all of its humiliation is disgusting to God, something only God’s love can overcome as we see in the incarnation.

Adam finds himself in a struggle with Eve. First, he blames her before God when in fact it was his responsibility to protect her from evil. Eve, of course, blames the serpent. Neither is repentant, neither can own up to their part of the blame. Humiliated by loss of original glory, their making of crude leaf clothing is as much a matter of hiding from one another as hiding from God. All sorts of suspicion now swim in their heads. Does he really love me or lusts? Does she respect me? Do they really accept one another for who they are in their imperfections? Moreover, Eve’s punishment in childbirth sets the stage for the struggle between the sexes. Her desire, whether we understand this as sexual desire or desire to dominate (Heb. tešûqâ “desire” the same word as in 4:7 where sin, personified as a wild animal, crouches to devour Cain), results in the pain of childbirth and being ruled (3:16).

Adam finds himself in a struggle with the earth. The curse on the earth creates a struggle to plant and survive, struggling by the sweat of his brow. In the end, the earth wins the struggle, for Adam is dust, and to dust he must now return. Created to live in harmony as a caretaker of animals, now there is enmity between humanity and beasts. It is chaotic to be devoured or dominated by an animal, a reversal of the created order, or for places once settled by humans to become a “haunt of jackals” (Isa. 13:21f., cf. Ex. 23:29, Deut. 32:24). Finally, humanity struggles against humanity resulting in murder (Cain and Abel) and warfare (increasing violence in Cain’s line culminating with Lamech and the violence before the flood).

We are locked in a struggle with chaos on every level, and we are chaos itself. We live in a haunted house, and we are haunted ─ afraid of ourselves, of those close to us, those far from us, the earth and its beasts. We have fallen far from the blessedness of the seventh day, and we know it.

The Temple Ruin

Posted in Uncategorized on September 16, 2013 by ancienthopes

Adam was the great high priest of the Garden, the most holy place in the cosmic temple of God, with Eve, his wife, his perfect mate and helper. It was through Eve that Satan reached Adam. Adam and the earth from which he came are inseparable; what happens to the one happens to the other. The great cosmic temple shakes at its foundations as Milton so powerfully presents it:

So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth-reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat.
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat,
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe
That all was lost …
Against his better knowledge, not deceived,
But fondly overcome with female charm.
Earth trembled from her entrails, as again,
In pangs, and nature gave a second groan;
Sky loured, and, muttering thunder, some sad drops
Wept at completing of mortal sin
Original…

The temple still stands, but without its most holy place, corrupted, a mere shadow of what it once was. Adam and Eve, once glorious, move about as ghosts in their haunted chambers. They cover themselves with leaves out of shame. God came to them in the evening as was his custom. Before, the approach of God was awesome, beyond anything they ever experienced in this garden of wonder and delight, and they received Him in their joyful innocence. Now the approach of God came upon them in a terrifying theophanic storm, and they ran to hide themselves in wild fright.

The picture painted here may well seem fanciful to the jaded minds of today’s world, but it is most obviously true. Our collected human consciousness cannot quite escape the memory of such a place; it is the very source of human longing. Every Church, temple, mosque, or holy place stands in quite proof of what once was lost. Moreover, that we were once gloriously other than we are in our present state of mortality and biological humiliation is proved by one simple human emotion ─ shame. Nothing can evolve by mere chance, let alone these two strange and profound human attributes, longing and shame. We must posit that something happened on the molecular level, not only to the temple, but also to the human body, which is a microcosm of the cosmic temple itself. Without original glory, we are to this day embarrassed by our bodily odors and functions. Before our systems were perfectly efficient with regard to nutrition with no waste, now we cannot make a system perfectly efficient. The very fact that we try raises the question of what inspires such aspirations. Is there a connection between the building of medieval cathedrals and building ever more and more efficient machines? Salvation? Paradise lost?

Be this as it may, it is certain that the bear in the woods is not ashamed of its odors. Though cultural mores differ from one culture to another as to what is embarrassing, it is certain that embarrassment and shame are fundamental to every human being. This is because every human being is made in the imago dei, made with the purpose of being priests in God’s holy temple.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 9, 2013 by ancienthopes

The Divine Incantation

God is the first blesser. When something is blessed, like the original creation, it is empowered to function as God intended it to function. As surprising as it may seem, God is also the first curser. What we have in Genesis 3: 14-19 is a curse, an incantation. A curse is as powerful as the curser, and since God is all powerful, his curse is irrevocable. We are accustomed in our “enlightened” culture to think of curses and incantations as done by primitive witch doctors of the third world whose power is effective only over the ignorant. Scripture, in contrast, is fully aware of the power of words, either to bless or curse. Curses are directly associated with chaos and are not appropriate for the children of God. Still, God is the first curser, not Satan, not man. Again, evil can only imitate, operating with a borrowed power, for it has no real power base in creation, for it is not of God, and God did not create it.

It is critical here to understand what is being cursed and what is not. The actual word “curse” appears only in two places in the incantation. First it is in reference to the snake (v. 14). On a purely physical level, the snake, whatever its form before the curse, is now condemned to crawl on its belly, eating the dust. In this why it is etiological, explaining why we (especially women?) hate snakes (v. 15). On a spiritual level, the snake is the personification of evil, and therefore it is the demonic spirit possessing the snake (we know the snake in and of itself is good because God made it) that is cursed. This means that this arch-demon, whom we now identify as Satan, is perfectly cursed, and is irredeemable. This is because evil originated in it and it has become purely evil, and evil has become it.

The second occurrence of the curse is in verse 17 in reference to the earth. However, the context demands that we see a difference here than with the snake in verse 14. The earth did no wrong, indeed it could do no wrong, for it is has no power of choice. It is cursed as a punishment to Adam, who now must work it in toil, thorns, and thistles, and in the end, return to the dust from which he was made. This means that the earth is not cursed in a conclusive way and is therefore redeemable. The destiny of both man, and the ground from which he came, are necessarily linked. St. Paul in Romans 8:19-21 interprets this passage in a most beautiful way. Because the earth is cursed on man’s account, it will be redeemed with the redemption of man, for it was “subjected to futility, not of its own will …” He goes on to say that the earth, without its rightful and original glory, groans like a mother in labor in anticipation of its redemption.

Given what is said above, it is never appropriate to think that neither Eve nor Adam was cursed by God. If they were, they would be irrevocably damned. Rather, we need to understand that this incantation is complex; it is indeed a curse, but it is also a punishment in the context of the legal inquiry of the judgment scene in 3:8-13 when God comes upon them in the “cool of the day,” that is, the evening. There we see that punishment was already in effect, for Adam knew he was “naked,” and as we said earlier, nakedness means a diminished existence, a loss of original glory, which drove him to cover himself before the approaching God.

Snaky Words

Posted in Uncategorized on September 3, 2013 by ancienthopes

God “spoke” all creation into being through “words.” The snake, who we have previously identified as a “demonophany,” the “dark side” of the Theophany motif in the Garden, attempts to undo creation by deceitful words. Since evil has no necessary existence independent of God’s purposes and creation, evil cannot be truly creative, but can only imitate. Still, we have before us a meditation on the whole idea of spoken words and their power, not only for good, but as we have here, for evil. The ancient Hebrews had a keen theology of words; they are symbols of great forces that underlie creation. When God speaks, there is creation, order, goodness, blessing, and truth. When Satan speaks, the opposite is unleashed; chaos, disorder, evil, and death.

How does the snake operate? It is the same thing over and over again; it so effective that it never changes! It always begins with suggestion; “So God said …,” a sort of half interrogation, half exclamation, as if the serpent brooded long over a problem (Skinner). This then gives way to exaggeration; “… from any tree of the garden?” We know Eve is tracking with evil when she herself exaggerates in her response, “… neither shall you touch it.” The snake knows that if he can make God and His commands sound ridiculous through exaggeration, then we are ripe for the final move, that of flat contradiction, “you shall not die!” (Kidner). We have no idea how this all transpired in space and time. We do know that what we have here, in this vivid, brief narrative, is the essence of temptation as it confronts every man since this infernal event. Adam is every man, Eve every woman, and the snake forever lisping the same lines.

The Hebrew word for the snake is nāḥāš. There is some debate as to whether the root of this word is connected to the verbal stem nḥš (practice divination) and the noun naḥaš (bewitchment, magic curse). Whatever the etymology, the sound of the word nāḥāš would certainly draw to the Hebrew mind witchery ─ temptation is a sort of spell casting. How else can we explain the irrationality of temptation and evil? The movement of these few verses invites us to see Eve in a voluntary trance-like state. Though tempted, she is not forced … she allows her will to be drawn by a stronger one. Evil captured her imagination; she follows, against her better judgment, the brush strokes as the snake repaints reality into a nightmare.

Eve’s sin is two-fold. At some point she lost confidence in God. Everything hung on the incomprehensible command not to take of the tree of “all knowledge” (see July 8, The Two Trees). Again, the tree was good in itself for it was created by God. The command could only be listened to and obeyed (Westermann). Eve came to believe that God was keeping something from her. Once she doubted God’s intentions, then the second aspect necessarily plays itself out, and that is to take matters into her own hands and be god (autonomy). These are the two aspects of rebellion that takes place in every temptation at all times, everywhere. This two-fold sin is the essence of infidelity, of unbelief. Its opposite, that of believing God has our best in mind, and that we will therefore not take matters into our own hands, is the essence of faith, which we might call a “pre-fall,” or “original” attitude of humanity. It is precious to God.

Though Eve was tempted, Adam, who was conspicuously “with her” when the nāḥāš was working his wife, failed to subdue evil by neglect; it was directly to him that God gave the commandment and therefore he was more directly responsible. Adam, in fact, was the ultimate goal, for the nāḥāš knew that to get Adam it must go through Eve. Eve wanted to be “like God,” an irony, for she was already made in the image of God; Adam made a god of Eve, and intentionally chose her over God. Neither let God be God.