the flood & why

I was thinking about the flood -- the whole-earth mabbul  that swallowed the world with water and drowned almost every living thing.

I was thinking about the tragedy.

And thinking, Why couldn't God have destroyed the violence without destroying the people? Why couldn't He have fixed the world without destroying humans? Why did God do this unthinkable thing?

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was very great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land..."
Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them."  [gen6]

Corruption, rottenness. Evil continually. Filled with violence.

And it grieved Him to His heart.

All the things we hate about this life. Extortion and exploitation. Using and abusing people, the animals, and the land. Plotting, conniving, manipulating. Predation and discarding the weak. Debasement, debauchery. Rivers and pools of pain that multiplied until it all became a flood.

Why couldn't God have destroyed all of that pain without destroying the people?

>> Because God could not separate unwilling sinners from their sin. 

And right now we're in the world millennia after that big flood and I look around and sometimes I'm struck with the beauty of a common rabbit just really enjoying himself in a patch of grass and clover, but a lot of times I'm sickened in the stomach with the realities of corruption, rottenness, evil continually, and violence, just disgusted with all the pain. 

And in these situations we ask God why He doesn't put an end to it. 

But when He tells us that He will, we ask Him why He'd do such a thing in destroying the earth with fire. 

Why can't God just destroy all the pain without destroying people?

>> Because God cannot separate unwilling sinners from their sin.

He'll do so much! He will wait with the patience that even the saints cannot fathom. He'll send His Spirit and His message of rescue and restoration and give every invitation to a people who have stopped up their ears. He will put up with the pain that only an infinite heart can feel. He will consider all the privileges of divinity as something to be set aside, and He will make Himself nothing, and He will be born as a man and will humble Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death on a cross. He will pour out every good thing He has and everything He is to save as many as He can from destroying themselves. 

But what He'll never do is force someone into holiness and love. What He'll never do is wrestle away their power of choice, leaving their robot bodies alive and pretending that they're still human. 

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. And this is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. [jn3]

. . . . . . .

A beautiful song that gives voice to a common question. (but: language warning!)

a modern terror of ancient suffering

>> a poem by Ernesto Cardenal, an interpretation of the biblical Psalm 22, of David, from Cardenal's "Salmos de este momento en el mundo" (click here to hear this piece read). An English translation follows.
 

SALMO 21 (22)

Dios mío Dios mío ¿por qué me has abandonado? 
Soy una caricatura de hombre
el desprecio del pueblo 
Se burlan de mí en todos los periódicos
Me rodean los tanques blindados 
estoy apuntado por las ametralladoras 
y cercado de alambradas
las alambradas electrizadas
Todo el día me pasan lista 
Me tatuaron un número
Me han fotografiado entre las alambradas
y se pueden contar como en una radiografía todos mis huesos
Me han quitado toda identificación
Me han llevado desnudo a la cámara de gas 
y se repartieron mis ropas y mis zapatos 
Grito pidiendo morfina y nadie me oye
grito con la camisa de fuerza
grito toda la noche en el asilo de enfermos mentales 
en la sala de enfermos incurables
en el ala de enfermos contagiosos 
en el asilo de ancianos
agonizo bañado de sudor en la clínica del psiquiatra 
me ahogo en la cámara de oxígeno
lloro en la estación de policía
en el patio del presidio 
en la cámara de torturas
en el orfelinato
estoy contaminado de radioactividad
y nadie se me acerca para no contagiarse
Pero yo podré hablar de ti a mis hermanos 
Te ensalzaré en la reunión de nuestro pueblo 
Resonarán mis himnos en medio de un gran pueblo 
Los pobres tendrán un banquete
Nuestro pueblo celebrará una gran fiesta 
El pueblo nuevo que va a nacer.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

PSALM 21 (22) 

My God my God, why have you abandoned me?
I am a caricature of a person
despised by the people
They sneer at me in all the newspapers
Tanks surround me
machine guns take aim at me
barbed wire, loaded with electricity, imprisons me
Every day I am being called up
I am tattooed with a number
They photographed me behind the gates
and my bones can be counted like on an X-ray
All identification has been removed from me
Naked they pushed me into the gas chamber
and my clothes and shoes they have shared among themselves
I cry for morphine and no one hears me
I cry with the straitjacket
I cry every night in the mental hospital
in the ward for incurable patients
in the quarantine wing
in the asylum of the elderly
I agonize, covered in sweat, in the psychiatric clinic
I suffocate with the oxygen tank
I cry at the police station
in the prison courtyard
in the torture chamber
in the orphanage
I am contaminated with radioactivity
and no one comes near me, for fear of infection
But I will speak of you to my brothers
You I will praise at our public meetings
My hymns will be sung in large crowds
The poor will hold a banquet
Our people -- the people yet to be born -- 
will rejoice in a great feast.

 

I like this poem mainly for 2 reasons

1. Through its contemporization it gives me deeper insight into the sufferings of David and of Christ; it makes me to feel a modern terror of ancient suffering.

2. It draws a line, thick and intolerable, between the suffering Christ and the oppressed and forgotten of today.

It 100% succeeds as a poem. 

detail of "Golgotha", a painting by Gebre Kristos Desta (1963, Ethiopia) 

Make No Image

I've been concerned about the "masculinity" of God. Why does God call "Himself" a "He"? Doesn't it seem that by identifying Godself with the "He" then the "he" is elevated above the "she"? Doesn't it seem that if the divine is masculine, then masculinity is divinized? and femininity is marginalized, made the "other"? A glaring part of the world's brokenness is that it is thoroughly androcentric (1), and a male god seems to be a part of this same damaged and damaging pattern.

So, again, why? Why does God use masculine pronouns? Here's what I'm learning:

>> God's biggest problem: how to fit the bigness of divine reality into the smallness of human understanding, but
>> All's grace.

God as Person

I think God uses a gendered pronoun because God is a Person, and the only persons we know are he or she---no "it." God is very concerned that we know God personally.

And if in Scripture God switched between He and She, wouldn't we idol-makers have taken that as an excuse for polytheism? Or an exploitative sexualized spirituality? 'Cuz we're like that. And that was already the pattern of religiosity in the Ancient Near East, where God gathered a people and instructed them in worship. (2)

I even find that using the language of God/Godself leads me to conceptualize God as just those letters: G - O - D. Less personal, more alphabetic. I would rather know God as a personal He than as an impersonal It, a hazy force, a fog-like power, or even a string of letters.


The Limits & Necessity of Metaphorical Language

Metaphorical language (3) only gets us so far. To employ a metaphor is to say that something IS and IS NOT like the object to which you are comparing it. For instance, to say, "The road was a ribbon of asphalt in the desert" is to say that the road IS LIKE a ribbon in that it is long and thin and somewhat beautiful and gently twists and turns. But in that the road is not an actual ribbon, it IS NOT LIKE a ribbon in that it is not made of fabric, it does not come on a spool, it is not used to adorn textiles. So the road IS LIKE and IS NOT LIKE a ribbon.

Our language is saturated with metaphors; it is native to the way we think. "Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature." (4) 

So our religious language and the inspired language of Scripture itself is woven in the fabric of metaphors. Our God is a consuming fire. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. Christ is the Head of the church. And Adam knew Eve (wink, wink). Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel! May our cries come before You...! Speaking and thinking like this is so natural for us that we often don't even notice that our language is metaphorical at all.

So metaphorical language is necessary. We cannot speak or even think without metaphors. In communicating with us, there is no way that God could have said anything about Godself without using metaphors, likening God to what is not like God. And if we try to speak of God WITHOUT metaphor, we end up with something that's more like an Excel sheet of abstract attributes than a description of a living, acting, feeling, thinking Person. It wouldn't mean as much to me to know that a Supreme List were hearing my prayers.


Make No Image

"You shall have no other gods before me."

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them..." (Exodus 20:3-5a) 

Those are excerpts from commandments 1 and 2 of the Ten Commandments. For a long time I thought it was kind of redundant. "Don't worship other gods" and "Don't make idols" sounded like the same thing to me. Now I see it differently. God is not only forbidding the worship of other so-called deities (in commandment 1), but God is also forbidding the making of images of the true God (commandment 2). Remember that whole golden calf incident? They made a calf out of gold and then worshiped it, not calling it Baal or Zeus or Thor, but calling it "your god, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." The God that sent the plagues and parted the Sea and gathered you here? Behold! Here she is in all her shiny glory! (And they were actually impressed.)

"My idea of God... has to be shattered time after time." CS Lewis,  A Grief Observed

"My idea of God... has to be shattered time after time." CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

God uses metaphors (and similes too) to talk about Godself. God uses metaphor to say that God is a consuming fire---but we aren't to elevate fire as better than wind or grass or clouds, we aren't to worship a flame. God uses metaphor to say that God is a horn---but we aren't to elevate horns as better than teeth or toes, we aren't to worship horns. And yes, God uses metaphor to say that God is He---but we aren't to elevate he as better than she, or (God forbid!) think that God is male.

  • God is not male. God is suprasexual (that is, above gender, greater than and encompassing gender.)
  • God created both male and female to bear God's image and likeness. (Gen 1)
  • Eve is as much in the image of God as is Adam. She is not "other," nor are any of her daughters. 

Oh, the world went dark so quickly! The gates of Paradise were closed and we find ourselves outside of Eden, living in the shattered world of broken relationships and confused thinking. And in this world we live by the code of bias and enemy, of hierarchy and "others," of suspicion and power struggle. So we have gender oppression and real inequalities and a temptation to think that God shares our wicked preferences. 

But the Gospel? The Gospel says, 

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."

(Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11)

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(1) "Thus androcentricism can be understood as a societal fixation on masculinity whereby all things originate. Under androcentrism, masculinity is normative and all things outside of masculinity are defined as 'other.'" Thank you, Wikipedia.

(2) Polytheism and sexualized worship were common in the nations that surrounded Israel, and unfortunately, as Israel departed from the instruction of God, became part of their worship too. Human beings were thought of as the spawn of divine soap operas, heterosexual and homosexual unions were part of the temple worship, and some rites were meant as human pornography so that the gods would be stimulated to have sex and provide for the earth.

(3)English refresher: A simile is a comparison of two things using "like" or "as." (He stood like a statue. She gathered her dolls like a doting mother.) A metaphor is a comparison that does not use those comparative words, "like" and "as." (She was a whirlwind, packing the house with an almost violent energy. I've been starved for attention lately.) 

(4) http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/01/metaphors/

We were impressed

We were impressed by the burning bush and the pillar of fire. We thought God was close in the Angel and in the Shekinah. But He wanted to be closer still. 

God-nearby-us wasn't good enough for Him. He gave Himself to become God-with-us. Yet that too was for something more: God-in-us! 

Isn't the Christ child the best gift we never could have expected?