Category Archives: Hebrew Bible
The King James Bible’s ubiquitous fan base seems to be growing. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Inspiration in the Bible and the Beats, David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors identifies one inspiration for his art as the Bible. In reference to the King James Bible, Longstreth suggests,
“I just like the stories. Clearly there are stories in there that animate some deep [stuff] in the human psyche. I don’t particularly relate to any of the superstitious aspects of it, like the religion per se, but as a collection of stories, as a collection of characters, tales, the quality of the language is beautiful.”
David Longstreth’s outlook on the Bible shouldn’t surprise anyone. He makes no claim to religion, which relegates the Bible to an apparatus for psychological exploration and a literary masterpiece. However, I’m not sure that Longstreth is that far off in his assessment of the function of the holy scriptures. First, in animating the deep stuff in the human psyche, we are attempting to answer deep questions about ourselves– questions such as why do I act the way I do or why am I here or what am I supposed to be doing. Are not these the very questions the Bible answers about humankind and God’s interaction with them? The three questions just posed can all be answered to some extent in the first book, Genesis. Why do I act the way that I do?– Moral evil entered the created world when mankind choose to listen to the words of the enemy of God instead of God himself (Genesis 3:1-7). This resulted creation being separated from God (Genesis 3:17-24). However, in the judgment of humankind, God provided a promise that would ultimately reverse the curse of humankind’s actions (Genesis 3:15). Why am I here?– Humankind was created in the image of God for relationship with other humans and with him (Genesis 2:18-25). Humankind was charged with creatively care-taking God’s creation (Genesis 1:27-31). Because of the presence of evil in the world, humankind struggles in human relationships and care-taking creation. We see this clearly in how we treat one another in this hemisphere and the carelessness toward other human beings’ plight throughout the world. We also see this in our disregard for God’s creation, many times using it as our personal trashcan. We fail in relationships and creational care.
The second function of the Bible, as defined by David Longstreth, gives us a collection of stories. Here too, it is hard to disagree with Longstreth’s assessment. The Bible was not meant to function as a set of propositions although it contains them. Propositions in the Bible are set within a story. For example the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) do not exist apart from the context of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 1-14). God explained that Israel’s motivation for obeying the Ten Commandments is rooted in his mighty act (the story) of deliverance (Exodus 19:3-8). The Bible is a collection of wonderful stories that relate God to his creation. They re-tell how God diligently pursues relationship with humankind throughout generations of the world. These stories also re-tell how humankind continues to wreck the relationship between God and humans because of the effect of evil that results in sinful choices by humankind. In the Christian faith, all of these stories point to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, where we find God entering the story in human form, in the person of Jesus, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: Live a perfect life in relationship with God and restore the relational divide between humans and God (John 20). This brings us back to Genesis: curse reversed (Genesis 3:15). In time, God will completely restore creation to its perfect preeminence (Revelation 21:1-8). God will once again walk among his created in perfect relationship. All of these are stories that answer the thoughts that “animate the deep stuff in the human psyche.” So in this way, perhaps we should view the Bible similar to David Longstreth. But when we view it in this way, it becomes impossible to divorce the “religion” from the stories because the stories are the “religion” if by religion we mean relationship to God.
The NY Times featured an interesting article in their Technology section today entitled, “Big Brother, No It’s Parents” The article suggests,
“If, a few years ago, the emphasis was on blocking children from going to inappropriate sites on the family computer, today’s technologies promise to embed Mom and Dad — and occasionally Grandma — inside every device that children are using, and gather intelligence on them wherever they go.”
I must admit, our family is an electronic geek family. Most of our electronics are Apple from iPhones and iPads to MacBook Pro laptops. I have been a mac-user since I was first introduced to them in the U.S. Air Force in 1986. We even have Apple relics, previous iPhone now used as iPod touch and old laptops now used by the children. The NY Times article highlights the struggle I feel in attempting to, on the one hand, keep communications open and, on the other hand, protect my children from themselves and others. Presently, both my sons have iPads (got’em free, long story, not hot and not sharing) and have access to a laptop for games, internet, and homework. I have found the iPads are not as parent friendly as computers. iPads don’t allow for separate admin accounts, but they do have parental privileges. Because of the limited options and because the boys have access to a computer, I have chosen to turn off all internet connection, ability to change apps, and access anything not pre-approved by me. On the computer, I have set up a user account that allows me to monitor and choose which programs and web sites they can access. It also allows me to monitor usage. They have an allotted amount of time each day on the computer, when the time is up the device logs them out. The set-up was easy and separates them from things they don’t need to see. This may not be a long term solution, but it works for now. Some might argue that this is over-protection, but I don’t think so. I believe they are still exposed to many things in their school, neighborhood, and society as a whole that are vacuous of any virtuous quality, I don’t have to be a part of that. Those items in the larger society, provide enough basis for conversation to last through their high school graduation. In fact, we have great dialogue about those things as we encounter them through daily life. Some might also argue that I am delusional in thinking passwords can be kept secure from my children. I agree and that is why they are changed regularly. The point of the article and this blog entry is vigilance. That is what it takes to bring up children in the digital age. You have to be in tune with you kids, listen to changes in their communication, their attitude. You have to constantly check and re-check your security measures to guard them. Most importantly, I believe I must talk to them about what they are experiencing in the culture itself. I have found these conversations frustrating and valuable at the same time. They are frustrating because many times it seems like they are not listening, but they are. They are valuable because it allows me to speak truth into their life– to help them quantify, measure, evaluate, and compare what they hear and experience to what we value as Christ-followers. I think this helps me follow pattern set in Deuteronomy 6:4-8 which states,
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.”
I really believe letting them experience the world in these limited ways allows me to point out the virtues and the pitfalls around them. In doing so, it provides a voice into their world. However, I can’t do it alone. The church must be a voice in their world also. The church’s role is to speak truth into my family’s life, which affirms teaching received in the home. No computer parental protection device can do this part. That is why bringing children up in a digital age isn’t really different from successful parenting of other eras– it takes vigilance, dialogue, ongoing communication of truth, and the church.
In his book, Why We Need Confession, Russell Shaw identifies four answers for the problem of evil. First, some posit evil in therapeutic explanations that evils are a disorder of the human psyche and therefore can be treated. In short, cure the “illness” and evil will disappear. Second, some suggest that evil is related to consumer activity. Here the answer is supplying those without enough so as to create a cushion against the harsh world. The wealth is distributed according to need (Marxism). Third, some accused the unjust political, social, and economic systems for evil. Their answer is revolution, since those in power are the beneficiaries of evil perpetrated on humankind. Last, some propose that education is the key to subverting evil. In this model, evil exists because ignorance exists; therefore education of the public in science and technology will defeat evil.
“While each of these views speaks a certain truth and must be taken into account, none takes adequate account of human freedom and its contribution both to evil and its eradication. The root of much of the misery in the world is an abuse of freedom: in other words, moral evil, or sin.”
In a similar fashion, it is futile to assign blame to the nebulous category of “Social Injustice” or evil. Social injustice usually refers to suffering caused by unjust social structures and systems that trample on human rights and ignore human needs.
Here Shaw cites Pope John Paul II, where he attached personal responsibility to social sins. A longer quote of John Paul II is helpful as he writes, “At the heart of every situation of sin are always to be found sinful people. So true is this that even when such a situation can be changed in its structural and institutional aspects by the force of law or-as unfortunately more often happens by the law of force, the change in fact proves to be incomplete, of short duration and ultimately vain and ineffective-not to say counterproductive if the people directly or indirectly responsible for that situation are not converted.”
John Paul II rightly attributes these actions to a loss of the sense of sin and the seriousness of it. He writes, “The loss of the sense of sin is thus a form or consequence of the denial of God: not only in the form of atheism but also in the form of secularism. If sin is the breaking, off of one’s filial relationship to God in order to situate one’s life outside of obedience to him, then to sin is not merely to deny God. To sin is also to live as if he did not exist, to eliminate him from one’s daily life.”
Scripture asserts sin is always personal and reaches beyond the offender to impact others. Beginning with the garden scene in Genesis 3, the choices made by humankind were made outside of obedience to God that resulted in moral evil in creation. The following narratives after Genesis 3 recount the implications of personal sin.
 Shaw, Russell B. Why We Need Confession. Princeton, N.J.: Scepter Publishers, 2000, 21.
 Pope John Paul II. “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance of John Paul II.” Vatican.va. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_02121984_reconciliatio-et-paenitentia_en.html (accessed June 25, 2012).
I received my copy of Tim Keller’s new book this week and have begun to work through it. He made a statement that has caused me to pause and reflect. I am certain that it will not the last. In explaining a quote by Archbishop William Temple, he explains,
the true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy day-dreaming about? What is it that occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Do you develop potential scenarios about career advancement? Or material goods such as a dream home? Or a relationship with a particular person? One or two day dreams do not indicate idolatry. Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?
This statement demands reflection for all Christ-followers [especially me] because we frequently and eloquently disguise our idols in “good things” that may on the surface appear honorable.
David Augsburger has some insightful reflections in his book, Dissident Discipleship. He writes,
Serenity is necessary to spirituality because the human experience is by nature anxious. Anxiety is the primary characteristic of self-awareness. When it overwhelms us, the rush of life traps our center. We become hurried, captive souls, entangled in the web of routine involvements, preoccupied with the mundane, caught up in the anxiety of the business of life. Spirituality shifts our center to a higher vantage point, from which life can be seen with patience, work can be viewed as vocation, and the routine of daily tasks can be met as service…the center of our soul has then relocated above the tyranny of the trivial (89).
I think this might be what the sons of Korah thought also,
Psa. 46:8 ¶ Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
Psa. 46:9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
Psa. 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Lord help us in our unbelief…
George Bernard Shaw once stated, “God created us in his image and we decided to return the favor.” Genesis 11 illustrates Shaw’s statement in a most vivid manner. The story of the tower of Babel comes at the end of the first major section of the Hebrew Bible. Some introductory thoughts might be helpful here. The Babel Episode is the pinnacle of the previous events recorded in Genesis 1-11. The story of Babel stands between the previous events…events that continually reflect man’s failure but it also introduces the family of Abraham, God’s chosen one, through Shem’s (son of Noah) genealogy bringing hope to dark stories of repeated failure.
This Babel story gives us a snapshot of life through a story related to the genealogy of Ham. In Ham’s genealogy, we find that Nimrod, descendant of Ham, developed cities. Much like Genesis 2 reflects back into day six of Genesis one providing more detail, the tower of Babel reflects back into that genealogy to report of the result of building these cities. It is a story that tells us the general condition of humankind. Moses has placed the tower of Babel story as a bookend that mirrors Genesis 1:1-2:3. The verbiage of both the creation story and the tower of Babel are similar as they both speak of mankind [adam], heavens [man’s relation to it], both passages have a divine plural (“Let us”), and we are introduced to the motif of blessing through filling the earth. It is evident in the story of Babel that the divine mandate to fill full the earth and subdue it has not been taken up mankind.
Not only does it serve as a bookend to the storyline of Genesis 1-11, but also it picks up several pieces of imagery from the individual stories of Genesis 1-11. For example, the Tower of Babel mirrors the attempt of humanity in the garden (2:4-3:24) to achieve power independently of God. The divine plural appear in the garden story distressed about man’s condition if left in the present state just as in the Babel story. Geographically the Garden story and the Tower story occur in the same region, near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. From this perspective, it would seem humanity has come full circle. The Babel story picks up pieces of the Cain and Able story with Cain’s migration and building cities (4:17), Both Cain and Babel boast of advanced civilizations. Themes from Noah’s flood are also present in the vocabulary such as “heavens” and “all the earth” dominates both stories. The characteristic of pride or renown (6:4) is also introduced in both Noah’s flood and the Babel story. Elements from all the previous stories have found their way into the Babel story revealing that man has not become resolute in his commitment to the Creator. In fact the opposite has happened. In spite of the Creator’s intervention at times throughout Genesis 1-11, man has continued his pursuits with little regard for God’s mandates.
The story of Babel also has literary qualities that reveal the condition of God’s creation. The Babel episode illustrates both human endeavor (vs. 1-4) and divine deed (6-9). The peak of the story, which is found in verse 5, separates these two activities, “the Lord came down.” So the story begins with human construction that results in divine activity triggering the city’s deconstruction. Sarcasm and Irony are also present in the story. First, humankind’s unity enabled the project to be built, but it was the partnership that brought their demise. Second, they sought a “name” (vs 4), they received a humiliating name, “Babble” (vs 9). Third, they set out to build a tower to reach the heavens (vs. 4), but God has to come down to see their puny efforts (vs 5). Moses is telling the freed Israelite slaves from Egypt, to whom the story is written: the divine mandate is not happening. The image of the divine king is not being proclaimed throughout the earth. Humankind is rebelling against their creator again. Therefore, God comes down to take corrective action.
So what is the crime that is committed by humankind that evokes divine judgment? Some commentators have said pride as seen in making a name, but we see throughout scripture a prominent name in itself is not wrong. Pride can be a motivator for making a name, but it does not have to be. Some has also claimed that the scattering was an indication of divine judgment, but filling full the earth was a divine blessing in the creation story. The filling the earth had more to do with reproducing not scattering. The point of the divine blessing in creation was to create more little images of God through reproduction to rule and subdue the earth. Both pride and refusing to subdue the earth reveal a heart issue that demanded God’s intervention.
The heart issue reveals itself through understanding the significance of cities and the role of towers (ziggurats) in the ancient Near East (back to Nimrod). Mesopotamian religions claimed that their cities were of divine parentage (originated from the gods). Inside these cities, Mesopotamians erected was the ziggurats as a prominent feature. They developed a mythology that the towers formed a stairway between the gods and earth. Therefore they believed, the gods, including the Creator God, could be manipulated through offerings and celebrations in the god’s honor. Simply put humankind had clustered together for the purpose of God abuse. They were attempting to communicate with God for their own gain. They had turned the Creator God into someone they could manipulate for their own purposes. They replaced belief in the Creator God with paganism. They made him into a needy god (other examples: Prayer of Mursili, 1400 B.C.). In the middle of our story, God almighty in need of nothing breaks into their pagan mythology. He comes down as would have been requested through temple offerings, but he does not come in weakness or need, he comes in power and decisiveness.
It is here that we can inject the implications of pride and refusal to spread out thereby subduing God’s creation. You see if you can manipulate God, then his divine mandates, his rules, can be disregarded. Therefore, why travel away from the peace and security of the city? Similarly, humankind exhibits their pride by their belief that they can manipulate the Creator God. The image of God, tarnished by sin, is forced to disperse and fill full the earth. God will now call one individual, Abraham, to father a nation to reflect his image and bless the nations that rejected his kingship through the stories of Genesis 1-11.
In the story of the tower of Babel, God gives us lessons for today. The Bible serves us many reminders activities that fall short of God’s purpose for his image bearers. We many times create our tower of Babel. We attempt manipulate God as if he is in need of us. As Shaw stated, we have created God in our image. We demand God carry out our desires instead of submitting to his mandates. In doing this, we dilute our understanding of his person and our mission in his creation. John Walton suggests three ways that we dilute God. First, we dilute God through redistributing his power. Instead of resting on God as the supreme originator and sustainer of the universe, we redistribute his power to human entities. We rely on government, technology, education or relationships to solve our problems. Second, we dilute God by restricting his autonomy. We want to make God a debtor to us. Anytime God is viewed under obligation, we restrict his autonomy. We sometimes think God owes us something because we serve him or give material things to him. Third, we dilute God by regulating his power. We are delighted for God’s power to work wonders in our lives but reluctant to allow his power to cleanse and purify us. Sometimes we pray, “improve my health but don’t make demands on my attitude.” “Help me get a promotion, but don’t change my habits.” “Work changes for me, but don’t work changes in me.” If we search our hearts and motives, we all dilute God. We build our towers of Babel that make demands on God and set terms for his work, marking off boundaries around the areas of our life that are “off limits” to his work.
However, as we find ourselves in this destructive pattern, there is also gospel in this story. Genesis chapters 1-11 culminating in the Tower of Babel story illustrates the pursuit that God will undertake to have a relationship with his created ones. For in our times of self-destructive behavior, God intervenes to save us from devouring ourselves. That is the grace of the gospel. God intervened in the garden with Adam and Eve, He intervened in the times of Noah; He intervened at the tower of Babel. His rescue appears in the stories of Genesis 1-11 in ways that seem painful, yet necessary and for our own good.
Even in our pride of our elegant towers, let us run to cross…seek the hope and restoration found in the gospel. For it is in the gospel we see the living Christ in all his majesty, power, glory, greatness and we find forgiveness. Let us seek to make his name renown, not our own. May Jesus’ prayer to God the Father in John 17, be our desire this day: I have revealed your Name to men and have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.