Awe

plasticine

I remember someone describing seminary as the place you lose your faith. Sadly this has been echoed by many people. Today, I sat in my “Roots of Christianity” course – taught through the religion department – and got thinking about it.

My rigid upbringing with a black and white framework was definitely challenged in attending a secular university and even a year of seminary. But I wonder now – is that a bad thing? Eight years ago, I would have defined what kind of Christian you are based on whether you believed in a seven day literal creation or not. If you didn’t, you were “liberal” meaning basically that you were not only wrong but really didn’t take Scripture seriously.

In one of my courses, we read Brian Walsh’s Subversive Christianity  (awesome book btw – prophetic, thought-provoking and challenging). Brian deals with the creation narratives in Genesis in an interesting way. He puts them in the context of the lives of the Jewish people in Babylon and describes the context of other creation narratives – something that all ancient cultures seem to have. He writes, “Genesis 1 is written to despairing exiles to give them hope. It cuts through the experience of exile to ground life in something more fundamental than the Babylonian experience – the creation itself. And it provides hope in a Babylonian context by being well-crafted, probably liturgically enacted critique of that whole Marduk, Tiamat, and Kingu story of creation” (pg 19-20). The Babylonian story of creation had human beings at the lowest rung, with the Israelites slaves. But the story of creation in the narratives that begin the Hebrew Scriptures speaks of a God who got involved with the elements of this world and created a masterpiece – human beings – who were made in God’s image. Read in this context, the narratives take on layers of meaning and depth and beauty that a simple literal read.

Now don’t get me wrong… I believe in a God who is capable of speaking creation into being in a matter of 7 24 hour days. I mean, he is God. And that’s pretty spectacular. I’ve often been told it takes more to believe in a story of evolution than it does creation. I think it is true. It’s much easier for my mind to comprehend a God who speaks and it is so than to believe in a God who created a world that keeps on creating and changing. Truth be told, none of us were present at the time of creation – whether that be a big bang, a spoken word or something. All we have is evidence and that evidence is inconclusive at best.

But I wonder if we lose majesty, splendour and beauty of God when we take texts that were written and put them under the scrutiny of the historical and scientific methods of our day – very modern methods  in comparison to these ancient texts. I wonder if demanding something more from a text is an unfaithful reading perhaps committing a greater hermaneutic sin than blindly accepting evolution as the current theory.

Taking courses has made me unwilling to take texts such as Genesis 1-2 to be simply historical and scientific fact. But if anything, these courses – while challenging the “truths” of my upbringing – have brought me to a greater sense of awe and love of God. How so?

I come away from these texts and the commentaries in utter awe for a God who orchestrates a story of beauty and meaning and hope in ways that I cannot fully comprehend. I like a good magic trick. But the awe quickly wears off. Instead, I am left with layers and layers of meaning and beauty that speak to God’s character and role in Israel’s life – and subsequently in my own life.

I read these texts that once provided me a “solid” answer to how the world came about (and a pride and arrogance that anyone who believed otherwise was simply wrong!). But now I have more questions and puzzles and turn to a God who is bigger than I ever could have imagined. Why does God have to create a world in a way I understand it? Why not create it with a beautiful mystery that keeps me exploring and in awe? Who am I to think that I could comprehend the ways of God?

I am admittedly quite ignorant when it comes to the “facts” of evolution and yes, some of these things seem bizarre to me. I have trouble with the “accident” language, and while I see some similarities, I struggle to see that we came from apes. But that is not my scientific mind speaking – it is my deep love of Genesis 1-2 that speak of God intentionally creating mankind as separate and special from the rest of creation. I’m not trying to defend or reject evolution here – anyone steeped in knowledge could very quickly pull apart any arguments that I have to make. But lately I have been wondering, why not? If God is who I say He is – capable of all things – who am I to say that I find it impossible to believe in the tenets of evolution, therefore it must be false? who am I to say that God’s ways must conform to my constructed view of the world and how science is recorded? What if, God created a world that continued to create and recreate and transform? What if God set the whole world into motion with free will?

I think of what I am able to create and every once in awhile I produce a “masterpiece” (typically a piece of writing that gets shared around the world). A few days later – if even that – site stats go down and that masterpiece gets archived and, probably forgotten. Maybe one day I’ll produce something cool enough that people quote in books and articles to come. In just thinking about this, I get excited about my work of art taking on a life of its own. What if it is the same with God? What if he sets into motion the world and then sits back for a moment and watches creation recreate? What if he takes pleasure in watching his creation continue to create and develop? Of course, we all know creation doesn’t always create beauty and wonder – thankfully God doesn’t step back from creation but get his hands messy in the dirt and walks in the garden with us.

It makes me sad that my linear approach to Scripture would have missed this. it makes me sad that I was once content with an arrogant assurance of knowing God’s ways when finding myself in the vast mystery is a much more beautiful place. I wonder if awe is more the point than literal answers? If such a reading is more faithful because it expands the horizons of possibility of who God is?

It reminds me of a few lines of simple words from worship song writer Matt Redman

You are God in heaven, and here am I on earth. So I’ll let my words be few. Jesus I am so in awe of you

Maybe that is the point of Scripture – to see God in all his splendour and glory and mystery. And to see how limited my own understanding and ability is. And to stand before God not with words and answers, but in a humble awe.

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