God the Mother

God reached into the dirt, and kissed it.  And suddenly, it was alive!

That first human was made in the image of God.  It seems that it came with the breath itself.

I have been thinking about how Eve was made from Adam’s rib.  And wondering how God’s image works through all of this.

It could be that God’s image was just copied into both of them.

But given all the stuff that is said about sex and marriage, and it seems like maybe a separate part of his image ends up in both of them.  God’s image isn’t copied, it is broken in two, and Adam and Eve each get a part.

(This seems to connect with the second creation account, that occurs later in Genesis.)

Here’s the pretty amazing thing about this possibility:

It puts to bed all the talk about God as a ‘he.’  It locates the divine in the feminine and the masculine.

God the father and mother!  So much more robust and liberating then just choosing one or the other.  A pretty cool thing.

 

Here

I am here.

Those words?  Perhaps the most powerful words in the English language.

I am here.

They are more powerful, I am learning, than “I love you.”  They may just be more fundamental to who we are than ideas of home, or even of mother, and father.  I suspect it is written into our deepest history.

I think that this is what the story of Adam and Eve is about.  We began with this connection to our maker, to each other, and to ourselves.  At that time, we could truthfully and fully say, “I am here.”  We were naked and unashamed.  We entered into the created world in this attempt to name things, to understand it.  It was all good.

There is something different about the interaction at the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  I suspect that the knowledge offered by this tree is something inferior to the learning that was happening elsewhere in the garden.  Suddenly there is this hair-splitting and debate, going on.  They are no longer in that moment, present.  In their imagination they are comparing a future where they have eaten the fruit with a future where they have not eaten the fruit.  To do this, in their memories, they are thinking about what the past has been like.

There are so many ways to not be here.  There are so many forms of absence.  So many ways to fail to be present.

 

I think ‘being here’ must mean a lot of things.  I just barely have words for some of them.  At the minimum,  being here means stepping back into the present.  There is so much of me that lives in the past, and this part of me projects that past into my future.  I am so rarely experiencing what is happening now with fresh eyes.  I am so often putting happenings in these little boxes, “This is how it happened before, this must be how it will happen again.”

 

This is my goal today.  To experience some of those brief little moments, that stretch out on their sides into eternity.  I think they are echoes of the life we lived before we ate the fruit.

Too Many Guard rails.

highway_guardrails
Imagine a road.
Maybe it’s a curvy road. It’s a bit dangerous. So somebody sets up guard rails.
The guard rails help, some. They decrease the number of people who drive off the road, damage their car, injure themselves.
Yet sometimes, careless of sleepy drivers veer into the opposite lane. Occasionally, there are head-on collisions. Head on collisions are never good things. So they set up a guard rail running down the middle of the road. And it becomes even more safe.
guardrails
But once in a while, cars are moving too fast or they are too heavy. They drive through the guard rail. And so they put a second set of rails inside the first.
But even two rails aren’t enough for the faster, heavier cars. So they put a third, a fourth, a fifth.
At the end of this process, the road is left so narrow that nearly every car is bouncing off of them. Some people (presumably those with out much interest in the appearance of their automobiles) even grow to depend on them; they are more careless on this heavily guarded rode than they otherwise would be, knowing that the rails will keep them from driving off.
A good chunk of the freedom people would have had, in the form of space, is just eaten up by the rails. Drivers are limited, now. Perhaps it used to be two lanes in each direction. Now, it is only one. Tempers flare because nobody can drive around slower people in front of them. The original goal is achieved: nobody drives off the road. But is it truly safer? Is it better?
We are handed rules all the time. Often they are good. With the best of intentions, we set up these guard rails. And sometimes, the first set, maybe even the second, these are good, too.
I see this in the church all the time.
The bible says that we shouldn’t get drunk. Good idea. People set up the first guard rails. Maybe don’t have 3 drinks. Also a good idea. (o.k. kind-of a good idea.) And then there is a second set of guard rails: don’t have 2 drinks. And then a third guard: Don’t drink at all.
It’s not a bad thing, not to drink. But when we treat the third guard rail, (don’t drink) as if it’s God’s idea, bad things can happen.
I realized, recently, that this is not new. In fact, it’s one of the first things that people ever did.

God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eve reports to the snake, ” God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die.”
We don’t know where the miscommunication comes in. Or why. But it seems to me that the most likely thing is that Adam built a guard rail. To keep Eve away from the fruit he added the idea that they couldn’t even touch it. Who knows? Perhaps he even convinced himself of this.
I can understand why he might want to do this. It would be a pretty dangerous thing, to stand there, fondling and ogling fruit that you are not supposed to eat.
But to claim that the order comes from God that we can’t even touch it… I imagine that Eve stood there, in the garden, and when she touched the fruit and nothing happened, it might have motivated her to take that next step. It would be easy to think, “Well, I wasn’t supposed to touch this, and yet nothing happened when I did. So presumably when I eat it, nothing will happen either.”
I wonder how many people thought that God said we shouldn’t drink at all. And then they had a drink, and the world did not come crashing down around them. And it called into question everything they had been told about God, everything they believed about God. And they decided God didn’t have much to offer them, words that they thought were his turned out to be wrong.
I don’t believe that we are meant to Genesis literally. But I do believe we are meant to take it seriously. I think the whole book is seeped in layer upon layer of wisdom. This seemingly insignificant detail about Eve is just one tiny little nugget of that wisdom.

Adam, Eve and Evolution

A recent facebook exchange has inspired me to try and put words to some things I have been feeling for a really long time, some things I have been wanting to post for a while.
I believe thoroughly that The Bible expresses a deep truth. I also think science is an incredibly powerful tool of humanity. And I think most of the apparent tensions between science and faith are man-made, silly, and politically motivated.
The big question, it seems, for Christians like myself, is around the beginning of humanity. The test case in how to navigate the science/spirituality question is about the meaning of the book of Genesis and the implications of the Neodarwinian understanding of evolution.
Some people claim that they science and Christian faith can be understood to be compatible. I take a more radical (I think) stance. I believe that the book of Genesis is a pretty amazing confirmation of truths we have arrived at through science. And so, I am going to ponder this idea for this blog post: in what ways does The Book of Genesis confirm the scientific view.
It is tempting to get hung up on a wide variety of chronologies. Others have written about how the universe came to be, and eventually we get things like a planet Earth. There is first an ocean, and then land arises. First there are sea creatures and then there are land creatures.
These developments coincide with the scientific understanding. But they are not as interesting as what happens when people arrive on the scene.

Pretty late in the creation story (and in the evolutionary one) humans arise.
God breathes into these first humans. In the intitial account, it appears that Adam came first. (Later, though, in Genesis 10, comes the implication that both were created at the same time)

Ascent_of_Man_3
The question that people get hung up on is this:
Was there a single beginning to the human race? Was there an Adam?
It seems that most people think if the answer to either of the above is ‘yes’ then we have given up the scientific account.
But I think it’s trickier than that.

What if God set the world up at the beginning of time? What if he tweaked the big bang? What if he fine tuned the universe to give rise to pre-human hominids?

And at some point, these hominids passed a critical point. God had wired the universe such that evolution gave rise to an organism which bore his likeness. And these very first humans could have lived in obedience to God.
But they decided that Wisdom of good and evil was preferable to submission to The Creator. In some sense, those early humans ate of that tree that they had been told not to eat.
Could it have been only two people who had come to resemble God? Two people who might be called Adam, and Eve?
Sure. Why not?

There is so much more to be said here. But I think this is a good place to end for now.

After a busy day

Adam named them all.

that done, he lounged.

Naked and unashamed.

In the Garden.

He contemplated his help-mate.

Considered locating her.

He realized that she was nowhere to be seen.

He realized there were these rules.

He’d never told her of.

By the time

he worked up the enthusiasm

to go find her.

She

was already mid-conversation

with a thing

he’d recently named serpent.

(He was especially proud of that one, serpent.

It starts soft and ends hard.)

One wedge had been chewed out of the fruit in her hand.

Its juices ran down her chin.

Adam took it from her with a shrug.

But also a feeling of wonder and horror.

He contemplated that he’d mastered all the nouns on that warm afternoon.

He reckoned that he was ready

for the knowledge of good

and the knowledge of evil.

Returning to the Garden

A disclaimer: I am dealing with quite mature, explicit, and sexual themes in what follows. 

In the beginning…

Nothing.

And even when the stars were assembled,

Even when the fundamental forces were gathered,

even when the light burst out from the darkness…

Only the angels were present to watch.

 

Up came man from the dust.

Complete and lonely in the garden.

 

And then!

Where there was One,

and then where there was two…

Came a third of that same flesh.

 

The two were naked and unashamed in the garden.

The two were together in the garden.

 

God walked with them in the cool of the evening.

 

Did they recreate that oneness in the garden?

Did Adam’s hand fall to the place where his rib had been?

Was there an emptiness inside that was only quelled…

when the two became one flesh, again, in the garden?

 

Did they chase after this after the Fall?

We all chase after this after the Fall.

 

We glimpse what we had in the filth.

We glimpse what we had in this path to destruction.

We chase after the oneness.

We forget the flaming sword.

 

There is a path we can walk down.

There is a way to retrace that oneness.

It is a gift.

It can look

so much like

the ways that lead us astray.

Heaven in a Body

“Surprised by Hope” by NT Wright is doing more than playing with my head.  It’s exploding my brains. 

He articulates some things that I’ve been trying to put words to.  I’ve bumbled around with ideas about how embodied and physical Christianity is.  I’ve babbled about how  our traditional disembodied ideas of heaven don’t seem biblical.

He pulls all this together.  I’ll share some quotes later.

Today, I was reading a passage where he repeated one of his main points.

The idea is that Jesus didn’t actually defeat death if the afterlife is this nonphysical place.  He accomodated, death, perhaps, but he didn’t defeat it, if we wander around, ghost-like, after death.

Rob Bell, Wright himself, and others emphasize the idea that Revelations describes the final end that we were promised in the Garden of Eden.  The whole of human history was just a back-pedal, a delay, in reaching our final destination. 

This seems so dead on to me: Adam and Eve would have participated in the city described in Revelations.  They would have gotten to it much sooner than the serpent.

And so it struck me, as I was reading the book today:

We have no problem imagining an embodied, physical existence for Adam and Eve.   Many people agree that through Jesus we’re heading to the final destiny intended for Adam and Eve.  But people struggle with the idea that we’ll be physical beings in this eternity…

This all leads to the question: If Adam and Eve hadn’t fallen, at what point would they have lost their physicality?  If Adam and Eve are physical… if the final desination is non-physical… if Adam and Eve were supposed to end up there.  They’d have had to suddenly (or gradually, I suppose) become ghost-like and nonphysical.

Trees of Life

For a while, I’ve had this interest in the tree of life that appears in Genesis.  I never really connected it to the pair of trees of life that occur in Revelation.  Interpretations of Revelations are so hard to understand, and so divisive, and frankly, in my opinion, have given rise to so much silliness that I probably don’t pay it the attention it deserves.

But it’s a pretty interesting thing, the way it’s described in Revelations”a pure river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, coursing down the center of the main street.  On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month.  The leaves were medicine to heal the nations.” (22: 1-2)

I’m open to the possibility that these “trees” aren’t actual trees.  There’s certainly lots of fodder for symbolism here.  The number 12 seems to represent, through out the Bible, people who are supposed to be doing God’s work in the world.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jewish people trace their ancestory through the 12 tribes to the original 12 ancestors.  In the New Testament, Jesus has 12 disciples.   Through out both testaments, but particularly from Jesus, crops, fruit and the like are also a symbol for mantaining a connection to God.

At the bare minimum, the trees could be understood to mean that Christ-followers are the crop which healed the world.

I think there’s a lot more going on than this.

I’ve been noticing a theme lately.  This theme is that the New Earth is what Eden was meant to become.  It’s easy for me to think, somehow, that the New Earth is a bit of a consolation prize.  Perhaps it’s easier for me to wrap my brain around a God who wants to punish us.  Maybe it seems like there are so many things that are just ruined forever and the best we can do is cope with the aftermath.  It’s possible that I am not fully adressing how very much God loves us, and how indomimatable his spirit is.

Whatever the reason, it’s not my natural tendency to think that what we will end up with is what was supposed to happen.  It’s not easy to recognize that the whole of human history was just this temporary diversion, this speed bump.   The more I read and pray and think the more I recognize that God won’t be thwarted.  The end that will happen will be the end that was meant to be.

The scriptures give a variety of instructions around offering the first fruits to God and around people not eating the fruit of young trees.  I wonder if God started Eden with only one tree of life expecting that it would be left alone.  I wonder if he thought that the right naturally processes were underway for the second one to pop up without his direct intervention, the same way that other fruit trees spread.  (Fruit falls, is eaten by a wild animal, seed is excreted with a bunch of natural fertilizer from the animal, wind covers the seed, seed grows.) 

I can’t say for sure that the reason stated above is the reason we’re told not to eat the fruit of young trees.  And of course, the instruction to do this hadn’t been handed down to Adam and Eve.  I suppose that the whole point of the fall is that sometimes God isn’t going to give us all the details.  If we want to live in harmony with God we need to be o.k. with this.  He certainly didn’t owe Adam and Eve and explanation for why they shouldn’t eat from the tree.  Genesis says that one reason for this is that they would live forever.  Ultimately, it is of course the principal of the thing.  But I wonder if there was more.  On a pragmatic, and perhaps trivial level, I’m wondering if the issue of original sin was about interfering with God’s forestry plans.

The statement around what the trees can do is pretty interesting stuff to.  In Genesis, the tree of life leads to eternal life.  In revalations, it leads to healing.  These two uses aren’t particularly contradictory.  In fact, on the New Earth, we’re already eternal. 

This leads to all sorts of questions, some gory, some quite practical, about what that eternal life will be like.   We’ll be capeable of getting sick or hurt.  Otherwise, the medicines from the tree would be quite irrelevant.  But we also live forever…  This leads me to wonder what if the fruit wasn’t around?  What if we used the whole crop and we had somebody who suffered some sort of horrible accident: an explosion, hideous burn, etc.   The New Earth is supposed to be a place where all our tears are wiped away.  But I think I’d shed a few tears if I was crushed or blown to pieces or burned all over my body and I had to heal up.

I suppose this is part of a wider question about how it all will work… Can we have excitement without tears?  With an eternity that stretches out before us, will we be motivated to do anything?

Old Age in Genesis

Genesis reports that the first several generations of humans lived for many centuries.    I’ve heard people before notice that each generation lives a few years shorter than the generation before.  The idea is that Adam was nearly genetically perfect and each generation after got further and further and further from his genetic near-perfection.

The thing that strikes me as a little odd about this idea is that it seems to suggest that the fall gets progressively worse over time.  I have no particular reason to think that we ought to be able to recover from the fall on our own: there’s no good reason to think things ought to get better.  But it’s a little strange to ponder the idea that things are slowly getting worse. 

It would seem like Adam and Eve– who after all made that fateful decision– ought to experience the effects at least as much as the rest of us.

I suppose somebody could argue that in the Garden they had some sort of advantages that lead to them later in life living longer than everybody else.  The problem with this idea is that every single generation lives shorter than the life before.  It’s not like there’s a sudden drop off.  It’s this gradual shortening of life spans, across dozens of generations.

It’s almost like the fall set loose some sort of symbolic toxin or radiation or cancer.  It’s progressing, getting worse with each generation.  On a literal and practical level, perhaps the shortening life spans are a result of increasing human foolishness, greed, and selfishness.  Each generation honored its elders less and took increasingly poor care of them.  Or each generation was marred by increasing violence making it increasingly likely that people would die at increasingly young ages.  Or each generation simply made less healthy decisions.

These don’t seem all that likely either, though, because the bible does not report these specific things (not taking care of the elderly or increasing violence) and because the drop off is so steady.

An interesting thing is that all these guys are (by our standards) incredibly old when they have our first children.  Like nearly a century old in most cases.  Presumably they aged slower as adults or simply stopped aging at some point  (Otherwise, can you imagine what it would be like to be 200?)  I wonder if they aged slower into adult hood.  If they lived five times as long as us, did it take five times as long to reach adolesence?  Would they emerge from puberty at age 90?

I feel so not up to the task of parenting sometimes.  How awesome would it be if I was able to have five times as much life experience under my belt before I became a dad?!?  This is again, assuming that I don’t get the other less-fun symptoms of being that age.  And sometimes I mourn for all those ages that are behind me.  It’d be awesome to get to spend more time in some of those ages.  (Allthough, junior high was the deepest pit of hell.  I wouldn’t want to extend that by a factor of 5)

I make no secret of the fact that I’m ambivalent on the question of whether or not these stories literally happened.  But I do notice that there is something interesting on a more symbolic level.  (This does not contradict a literal reading, it might complement it.)

One of the ways I make sense of the bible’s talk about sons inheriting the sins of the father is by adressing the fact that we see this all the time anyway.  It seems unfair, but it’s undeniable that if I make a lousy decision in many cases my kids will pay the price for it, too.  I break a law and go to jail, they end up growing up with out a dad.  I become addicted to drugs they have to deal with all the stupid things I did under the influence.  I get a divorce and they grow up with all the challenges a divorce brings.

The question I never considered before this morning was this: who pays more, the father or the son?

Perhaps the idea that is illustrated in these shrinking life spans is that sometimes the sons will pay a much higher price than the father.  Maybe it’s more difficult to grow up without a dad than it is to go to jail.  Maybe some sin has a snow ball effect, and we start just a little ball of the stuff rolling down hill.  It’s a knee-high ball for our kids.  Our grand kids cope with a snow ball the size of a house.  Our great grand kids face a full blown avalanche.