Saturday, June 12, 2004

Genesis 6:13-22

Not all of this part of the story is inherently unbelievable. But in context with other parts of the story, it is hard to take literally.

13 And God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. 15 And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark--you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. 21 And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them." 22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.
So, again, I am troubled by every single reference to God being so upset with the violence that He would want to destroy everything. Why does this bother me? Two reasons. First, because it was all as God made it. Our nature comes from God. In fact, He made us in His image. God is certainly quite violent at times, even if you assume that He has no blame in the current violence on Earth, He clearly rained violence upon His enemies throughout the Bible. And, although I can't think of the entire universe of victims, they included the people of Bable, the Egyptian babies, the women and children of Jericho, and so on. And the world rewards violence. God could have made a world in which violence was unrewarding. He didn't.

The instructions for the boat are a bit absurd, too. If you read this the way I was taught to read it, Noah packed in a pair of every living thing on the planet. And everything alive today descends directly from the breeding pairs that were saved by the boat, because everything else alive was to die.

Are there not millions of species of beasts? How big a boat would that have to be? The Queen Elizabeth couldn't do it. Noah's boat was better than anything man can build today. From what I've read outside the Bible, from those who both claim to believe Genesis and claim to know the weights and measures, the ark was about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. And it housed everything from the mice, to the spiders, to the wolves and sheep and elephants. And they all came to Noah's home to be saved. And after they landed, they all went their separate ways again.

When I was young, I loved this story. I loved to envision the pairs of animals, lined up obediently, walking up a ramp onto the boat, two by two. But I can't fathom it now. The carnivores ignoring all these meals on legs? Not likely. But, says my pastor, God inspired the animals. That's is how they knew to come. And that same divine inspiration caused the carnivores to not eat the other animals during the voyage. If so, that would have been the most compelling part of the story, but it goes untold. Besides, it would have made more sense for God to inspire the animals to swim.

And there was "a window for the ark, ... to a cubit from above." I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, but it sounds to me like God reminding Noah to plug in a single window, for air and light. One window. Millions of animals, eating, and pooping and all that nasty business for several months, and you need one window. Or maybe they didn't have to eat or drink or breathe, because God intervened. But the story doesn't say that, and it would be remarkable enough to mention if He did.

This story only makes sense if you view it as a small boat, enduring a localized flood, with a small collection of local animals and a large stock of food and water. And as such, it would be a great story. But the author of Genesis goes to great pains to make it a flood that covers the entire Earth, killing everyone and everything. And it just doesn't make sense that way.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Genesis 6:5-12

Once they started mating with sons of God, people fell out of favor with the Lord. Almost immediately,

5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 So the LORD said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
Clearly one of two things is going on here. Either someone is taking literary license, and exaggeration or speculating to make the story interesting, or God is being exposed as imperfect.

God was sorry He had made man? God knew, did he not, that he made man this way. Because man is made this way. And God is the One who made us like that. He knew when He first made us. Is it that God regrets His horrible decision? But God makes no mistakes, right? The other day, when someone urged me to read James 1:5-6, I read the rest of James 1, too. I found this to be of interest:
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
With God, therefore, there is no variation or shadow of turning. God does not change. God certainly would not change His mind. Yet, here He is, in Genesis 6, lamenting His error in the creation of man, and deciding to fix this error by killing, killing, killing.

And why does God decide to punish all the beasts of the ground and birds of the air? What did they do wrong? And if they were wicked, too, why have Noah save breeding pairs of each wicked breed? And what was so great about the fish that the destruction was to come in a form that would not harm them? If God wanted to kill mankind, why not just unlease a virus (other than because the ancients didn't understand viruses)? Why do billions of innocent creatures have to perish? The decision appears to be arbitrary, cruel and unjust.
9 This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
So Noah was just, and "perfect in his generations", whatever that means. I'm sure it cannot mean that Noah was perfect. He was only a man. In fact, we learn later that Noah is going to be quite imperfect, but perhaps compared to the wicked, he was pretty good. It doesn't say whether this is why he walked with God, or if walking with God made him just and perfect.

But the world was filled with violence. Much, I suppose, like it is today. It makes me wonder why God isn't flooding the Earth again. Yes, in a couple of chapters, God is going to promise not to do that again, but why? Could this ancient time have been any more wicked than today's world? If not, why would God destroy the ancients, but promise not to destroy us? We are undoubtedly many times more wicked and dangerous than people were 4,000 years ago. So why this and why then? Unless God does not see the future. So far, the context is telling me that perhaps God is not clairvoyant. An all-knowing deity who sees the future should never regret any prior decision, as God clearly does in Genesis 6.

Once we start getting into the animals and the ark, we will be reading my favorite story from my children's Bible. But, now, reading it carefully as a grown man, I find no sense in it at all.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Genesis 6:1-4

In terms of reading, I'm done with Leviticus. In terms of writing, I'll still stuck on the flood. I'll try to write about Genesis 6-9 for the next day or two.

Like most of what I've discussed so far, Genesis 6 confounds me. Verses 1-4 start the confusion.

1 Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. 3 And the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." 4 There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
What in the world does all this mean?

"The sons of God saw the daughters of men..." What does this mean? I once read a text that claimed that early Christians debated whether Jesus was divine for the first 400 years of Christianity's existence. Christ's very divinity depends upon the view, advanced in the New Testament in John's Gospel (John 3:16), that Jesus was God's only son. Someone in my study group said that these were angels. But it doesn't say that. And if it means that, wouldn't it also leave open the possibility that Jesus was only one of many angels? That can't be the solution.

So what is this all about? There were other sons of God. And from the context, it appears that there were a bunch of them. And then they took wives from among the "daughters of men?" And they made babies together? And the babies were giants?

I remember reading about some hoax in New York a hundred years ago in which people thought one of the Biblical giants had been found. I remember wondering "What giants were they talking about?" This is it. They all died in the flood, I suppose, because there is no mention of Noah or his three sons being giants. And yet, there is that nagging sentence fragment "and also afterward," which makes it sound like more of God's sons came down and made more giant babies.

One of the arguments I hear fundamental Christian literalists use to argue against the theory of evolution is that there are scarcely any human fossils. If man had been around for millions of years, there should be more fossils. But there are no fossils of these giants, either. This is just plain weird. I had no idea that I was supposed to believe this.

In verse 3, God puts an apparent end to all of this living for 900 years stuff. God said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." So the life span will be just 120 years. Yet, Noah lived 950 years (Genesis 9:29), and many more people will live well past 120 after this. I'm also confused by the reference to God's spirit not striving with man forever. What does that mean? Is this an explanation for why God seemed to be in close contact with the ancients, but seems to have very little interaction, if any, with modern man?

Aside from inner peace and the rare coincidental event that could be interpreted as a sign, I have never had a prayer answered. God has never walked with me, or appeared before me. If I am wrong, it is only because God hid himself from me, because I have never recognized Him in any physical form during my lifetime. I'm praying for guidance right now. Yet, the conclusions I am drawing are not what any of my Christian fellows would urge me to draw. So, does God's spirit no longer strive with me? It certainly feels like that right now.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

[Out of Turn] James 1:5-6

At the suggestion of anonymous, who does most of the commenting here (I can't complain, I'm staying anonymous myself), I have skipped ahead and read James 1:5-6, which deals with the concept of faith.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.
Passages like this comforted me when I was younger, and, I believe, less wise. I remember being six years old, and being told that a person who dies while wearing a brown scapular will go straight to heaven. The exact quote was "Whoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire." I believed every word. Did that faith save me? Could it have? Was I free to blaspheme and sin, even kill people, as long as I was wearing that key to heaven around my neck?

Looking back, the concept was absurd. But I had faith in it. I wore that thing to bed. I wore it to school. I wore it to basketball and soccer and baseball practices. I wore it until it fell off my neck. And when that happened, I was horrified, because I knew that if something were to happen to me before I could get another scapular, I'd have to get into heaven the old-fashioned way, with good works, repentance and the mercy of the Lord.

Another commentor wrote that I need to seek advice from someone in my church. I am afraid to do this. I value the love and community I share with my church. But I am not sure I believe all that they believe. And I am dearly afraid that, if I even express my doubts, I will be a pariah. I do not want that.

No, if I am going to speak to someone, I'm afraid it will have to be someone from another church, in another town, who doesn't know me, and doesn't know my name, and doesn't know my congregation. Because the question I am asking is a question that the people in my church dare never ask. In essence, it boils down to this: is my Bible (New King James version) God's roadmap to everlasting life, or is it just a brown scapular? And if it is just a brown scapular, where is the right map? I want faith, but not just blind faith. I also want confidence.
The simple believes every word,
But the prudent considers well his steps. (Proverbs 14:15)
I'm trying to consider well my steps. It isn't easy.