When the Earth Shook

When the Earth Shook

Versión Español pendiente

It’s been nearly three months since the earthquake hit.

Terra and I were in a Mega, which is a store kind of like a Superstore (in Canada) or a Walmart Super Center. My memories of the actual event are kind of chaotic: a feeling that something was a bit off, then realizing it was an earthquake; watching a pop bottle explode and fly over a shelf through the air; trying to pull Terra to move faster so we could get out while she paused to put down the groceries; attempting to step over a puddle from a broken bottle and being annoyed/amused because it wouldn’t stay still so I could step over it; looking up and seeing the lights sway and wondering if anything – like the roof! – was going to fall; and seeing two workers lead their coworker, who was crying and obviously terrified, out of the store. Then it was over, and we were standing outside trying to process what had just happened and what we should do next.

I don’t want to overdramatize the event. I can’t honestly say that I was afraid at the time – I simply knew we needed to get out and was focused on that. And the initial aftermath was pretty calm as well. We managed to get word from our kids’ schools fairly quickly (within about 10 minutes) that the boys were all fine and started heading that way to pick them up. We communicated with family that we were fine. There was no really obvious damage right where we were, and we didn’t see anything major on our way to get the kids, so it seemed like a good shake, but nothing too serious. It was more interesting and adrenaline-inducing than scary.

It was only after we arrived home that we began to understand the severity of it. A little over 30 buildings collapsed, about 3000-4000 were damaged, and over 350 people dead – although we wouldn’t know those numbers for a few weeks. To be honest, in a city of over 20 million, that’s not that much damage percentage-wise. What was more striking was the fact that there were three buildings just a few blocks from us that had collapsed, and some of our teammates whose houses had been so damaged that they had to move out (ours was fine). It was when we discovered that that things began to feel a little more surreal.

Over the following week, we got used to streets being blocked off, crowds of people working and digging through rubble, and constant sirens (the photo above is one of the buildings that collapsed a few blocks from us). The city seemed to be in a frantic trance for the first few weeks, and it has been in a slow recovery since then. For most people, things are back to normal – although definitely not for those who lost family, friends, possessions or homes. Or for those who lost the security of living each day without worrying when the ground will shake again, a mental and emotional loss that can be extremely long lasting. I know that it hits me at times. I notice it most when I’m out walking or driving and suddenly feel like I have to figure out the safest place to go if an earthquake were to hit – where is the shortest building that is least likely to collapse?

But for me, there has been one realization that has stood out above and beyond all the others:

Life is valuable – but it is also short.

This came home to me in two ways. First was the reaction of everyone to the collapsed buildings. In an impressive way that seems to be common in situations of disaster, everyone pulled together to do everything they could to help those in need. It was impressive to watch people jump in and help to save the lives of those trapped. Supplies poured in, helpers lined up for hours, and everyone’s attention focused on saving lives. Life is something that can be taken for granted – until it is threatened. Then it becomes incredibly valuable.

The second way was hearing about the people who were trapped, but who eventually died because nobody could reach them in time. There are few things that have made me reflect as deeply on the value and fragility of life as this thought: What do you do when you’re trapped and you know you might not make it out alive?

The thought, understandably, is a scary one for many. It was for me, and there is a limit to which one can reflect on it without feeling overwhelmed. We live in a relatively safe society where we can push death far to the margins of our thoughts, to be confronted only when disaster strikes, if at all. But living through an earthquake where people living near to you have suddenly and unexpectedly died forces one to reflect. On the one hand, it makes me grateful to still be alive, overwhelmed by how valuable and precious life is, and how much I want to hang on to it! On the other hand, it makes me wonder – am I ready to die?

This brings me back to the topic that I raised in my last post – what happens after death? This earthquake has made me once again profoundly aware of how much of a mystery that question is! We have no videos of life after death, no way to objectively study it or quantify it, and no reliable accounts of what happens after death. The accounts we do have vary widely and are highly suspect, to say the least. We are left to make the best decisions we can based on inferences and whatever circumstantial evidence we can find. Not exactly a comfortable place for many of us to be. And yet, I think it’s worthwhile to consider because eventually, we’re all going to face death, like it or not. So for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the matter.

As I see it, there are three major categories that our society holds to as options after death. These three are nihilism, reincarnation, and God (heaven or a similar afterlife). I think that each of these provides evidences for or against, as well as implications for our daily life that are important. But rather than just talk about them, I’d like to imagine them.

Nihilism

First Nihilism. Put yourself in the position of someone trapped in a collapsed building. Your cell phone has died. You can hear people, but you’re too tired and weak to respond. Your throat is parched, your stomach is grumbling. It’s been days – you think. Trapped in the darkness, it’s hard to tell. Nobody has come. Or better put, nobody has been able to get to you. You have reflected on your life, your family, your loved ones. Hope has faded, and you can feel yourself fading too. You close your eyes and slowly drift off and then… nothing. Not blackness. Not peace, not a light, not anything. You just disappear. Your body is there, but “you” are gone. And along with you, everything that was important to you. All that you’ve worked for and dreamed about – gone. Your family – gone. Your experiences that you’ve worked so hard to accumulate – gone. For all intents and purposes, it’s as if you never existed.

This view basically states that life has no meaning, purpose or value. It often finds itself paired with naturalism, which holds that this world arose through natural means only and is all there is . Nihilism has a number of things that make it interesting to people. First, it focuses exclusively on this world that we can see and touch, which for many people (especially in the western secular culture) is the sum total of our life. No need to worry about any of that spiritual stuff that can seem so elusive and uncertain. Second, at least in a way, it provides freedom from all of the requirements and expectations that religious/spiritual belief seems to put on us. For those wanting to control their own life and destiny, it seems ideal.

But from my perspective, it has a number of significant problems. First, it denies our desire to live. I have heard of atheists describing death as a time of peace and freedom from life’s troubles, but I think that’s kind of a fake way to describe it. It’s not peace – it’s nothing. You cease to exist. All of your experiences, all of your learning, all of your wisdom (if indeed you were wise!), is gone. Your longings, dreams, aspirations, love, family, friends – all gone. Which ultimately brings up the huge question: What’s the point of it all? This isn’t a new thought – many atheists will admit that the thought of not existing is uncomfortable or disappointing for them. And I have to wonder: If we are so attuned to life, if life is so incredibly valuable and the instinct to live is so strong, why would we choose to believe something that fights against that? Why do we care when loved ones die? Why do we try to save victims of an earthquake? Something inside us cries out for life, and implies that life is more than just what we can presently see. This seems to fit in the desire-fulfillment pattern we see elsewhere in life: We get hungry, and food exists to fulfill this desire. We grow thirsty, and water exists to satisfy this desire. We desire love, and there are people around us to meet that need. We long to live – does it not make sense that this longing shows that there is a reality that could fulfill this longing? This is an inference, not direct evidence (which we don’t have), but it is a strong one.

Second, the implications for our daily life are significant. If there’s nothing after this life, if we’re just a cosmic accident who is really no better or different than an animal, then we have no intrinsic value. We have no reason to live for anything other than what we can get in this world and to enjoy life as much as we can. Many have struggled in this world for this very reason – a lack of value and purpose. Others live completely focused on getting as much as they can. It might be nice if you’re in the “rich” western world, but not if you’re living in the slums in a two-thirds world country.

Third, if there’s no God, then there is no objective right and wrong, and we have no basis for justice. If society decides so, child sacrifice or eugenics is just as valid as any other belief. But whatever society decides, we have no reason to obey it and they have no right to punish us for disobeying, because it’s just a social construct. And yet western society is one that cries out for justice! We rail against the evils of this world, all the while claiming that right and wrong is purely subjective. It makes no sense, to be honest. It’s interesting to note that while our society claims to not believe in God, we’ve borrowed a lot of concepts that flow much more naturally from a theistic view of the world than a naturalistic view. Justice, love, the value of people, compassion – all of these are contrary to the naturalistic, survival-of-the-fittest view that goes naturally with nihilism and naturalism.

Finally, where is the hope and comfort in this belief? I’m not just referring to our own hope but also for those who have experienced loss. Can you imagine telling a parent who has just lost a child in the earthquake that their child has ceased to exist and they’ll never see them again? Or that their remains will help fertilize life for others on the planet? Or that the injustice that the poor and oppressed face is nothing more than bad luck, and that they will never experience anything better, and their oppressors may never face justice? Talk about cold (or no) comfort!

All told, I can’t fathom why anyone believes that this view is viable. It doesn’t conform to our inner feelings, it doesn’t offer us hope or comfort, and it doesn’t agree with all the things that we claim are valuable in our society. If you hold to this view, I would love to hear your comments on how it improves humanity and our experience, because I can’t see it at all. It might help justify an individual who wants to live their life without any restrictions or guidance, but I don’t see it helping society as a whole.

Reincarnation

How about reincarnation? Let’s jump back into our trapped scenario. Except this time, as you fade out, you suddenly awake again! Now you’re a bird, tapping your way out of an egg (who knows how much time has passed?). Finally you break free! You get your first meal – regurgitated worms! Everyone’s favourite! And finally, after weeks of feeding and growing, you get thrust out of the nest and take your first clumsy flight. Soon, you’re soaring over canyons and mountains (unless, of course, your first flight was unsuccessful and you got eaten or died right away). What exhilaration!! (The flying, not the getting eaten/dying).

Except… you’re a bird. You don’t really feel exhilaration. In fact, you don’t feel much of anything. Or reflect on how amazing it is to be a bird. Or have any deep thoughts at all. You eat. And sleep. Maybe, depending what kind of bird you are and where you live, you poop on people. Not that you get any joy out of that. You just sort of live. Then you die again. Maybe next time you’ll come back as another person – who doesn’t remember any of their previous life. Maybe all the good karma you earned in this life will be completely wasted by that next jerk of a person that you are, who doesn’t realize that they are earning bad karma and shoving you back to worm status (again, not that you’ll be aware that you’re a worm). Maybe – horror of horrors! – you’ll be a Christian or an atheist who doesn’t even believe in reincarnation and teaches others that it’s ridiculous! Would that be a step forward? Or backward? Doesn’t matter – you’ll neither know nor care, because you won’t know who you started as anyway. You, as a person, don’t actually exist anymore. You have disappeared.

There are variations on this idea of reincarnation, especially as regards the end purpose. Some hold that the goal is to eventually achieve oneness with an impersonal life force and be enveloped in it. Others hold that the end result is our annihilation – that we eventually escape from this world and cycle of rebirths. I’m sure others hold that it is a repeating thing, so that we keep reincarnating ad infinitum. Life just keeps going.

I can understand some of the appeal of this way of thinking. To imagine that after this life we get to live another one is vastly better than just disappearing altogether. It also provides at least some motivation to lead a good life, or at least it is open to be used that way. If I live a good life, then I’ll reincarnate as something (someone?) better and be closer to freedom/perfection/escape or whatever goal we’re pursuing. And let’s be honest, who hasn’t wanted to be an eagle flying over the Grand Canyon, or a dolphin, or some sort of other animal or person?

But again, I struggle with this view for a variety of reasons. First, I just can’t find any objective support for it. Yes, there are a few people who claim to have been a person in a previous life, but really, how credible is that? There are tons of other explanations for these “memories” – from making them up, to psychological disorders, to spiritual forces. But the lack of empirical evidence could apply to any of these post-death ideas, so that’s not particularly notable.

Second, I, as an individual, still end up disappearing. As I sit here writing, I have absolutely no memory (providing reincarnation is actually true) of what I was before. Whatever person, or animal, or thing that I used to be has disappeared. Which means that all that I am right now will also disappear. I will still cease to exist, and everything and everyone that I love will mean nothing to me in my next life. Now, some might argue that our lives are all meaningful in the “in-between” life, but, aside from not even knowing if that exists, that is small comfort. Can you imagine the type of identity complex we would have after being multiple different people in multiple different times? But more seriously, the goal of reincarnation is either to become part of the impersonal life force (in which case I cease to exist as an individual) or to escape the cycle of life entirely (in which case I cease to exist as an individual), or, in some more modern variations, to just keep being reborn (in which case all my previous existences don’t matter, and this one doesn’t either). In any case, the person that I am now doesn’t matter, or won’t matter after I die.

Thirdly, like nihilism, it has negative implications for our life at present. If my goal is to obtain a better reincarnation, then my life becomes inherently selfish. Sure, I might do good things, but only because they benefit me in the long run. And who decides what is a good thing? We see right now that we are scorning the ideas and customs of previous generations, even though they (in many cases) thought that they were improving the world. Surely in future years people will look back at us and mock many of our ideas about what was right and wrong.

But I think those seeking a better reincarnation is the minority of cases. The reality is that most people, believing they will be reincarnated, can live however they want because they know what I just explained – whatever reincarnation they obtain, they won’t remember this life anyway, and so it’s essentially somebody else who is paying for whatever negative reincarnation they’ve earned. I’m free to do whatever I want! And there are other variations. Look at the society that developed in India with the caste system – a society based primarily on this idea of karma and reincarnation. As I understand it (its been a while since I’ve studied it in depth), the reincarnation system in India led to a belief that those who were suffering or in lower castes were simply experiencing the results of their previous lives. In their belief, to help someone was to interfere with the punishment that they were experiencing and with their ability to earn a better reincarnation in their next life! This is why Mother Theresa stood out so much when she actually tried to help people. A belief in reincarnation ends up being self-focused, releasing us from accountability for our actions. From another angle, I have actually had people tell me that people who commit evil acts (from abuse to murder) are simply acting the way the had to act because of their previous lives, and that they were neither to blame, nor wrong in their actions. That’s kind of scary to me.

So again, I struggle to believe that reincarnation is a net positive for me as an individual (I cease to exist) or for our society (it is selfish, except for those who want to earn a better reincarnation, who still have purely selfish motives). The possibility of being something or someone else sounds cool, but with nothing to back it up, it’s just wishful thinking.

God

So what about a belief in God? Again, let’s go back to our scenario. You are trapped. You have had no food or water for days. You slowly fade away and awake to find yourself in the presence of the most amazing, incomprehensible, glorious being you’ve ever seen! What is your reaction?

I think your reaction varies a lot depending on your life and how you’ve lived it. There will be a lot of people who will be surprised, and mainly in a negative way. Perhaps angry or belligerent, even. On the other hand, there will be many who breathe a deep sigh of relief and collapse into the arms (if we can use that term) of this divine being that they have long desired to know. I know that the concept of God (especially and specifically in the Christian sense, which is the most common in both my Latin American and Canadian contexts) is ridiculous or disturbing to many people. Yet it is the option that I believe best explains both our longings and our reality as living beings, as well as being the best guide for our daily lives.

For me, the foundation that drives my belief in God is scientific. It is now pretty much universally accepted that the universe had a beginning. I cannot bring myself to believe that the universe sprang into existence from nothing, and all the arguments trying to proclaim that that is what actually happened (including those of the renowned Stephen Hawking) seem to fall desperately short of being believable or making any sense. Nothing simply cannot produce everything. On the other side of the equation, Buddhists (the strongest example of the reincarnation religions) view the origins of the universe as meaningless, and posit that the universe itself is part of the cyclical nature of life – one universe ends and another begins. In their view, this question has no relevance. However, this is pure philosophical speculation. The fact is, we know is that this universe had a beginning. A beginning implies that something or someone began it. Add to this beginning the incredibly complex realities of life on earth (design, which implies a designer), as well as the existence of humans as rational, reflective beings, and I think that there is solid reason to believe that the notion of God is not only credible, but a very real possibility that has dramatic relevance to our lives and how we live.

If, then, we face a very real possibility of standing face to face with God after our death, I think it makes ample sense to try to understand who this God is that we would be facing. I have already tipped my hand by saying that I would focus on the Christian God, but I think we don’t necessarily have to dip deeply into Christian theology to come to some conclusions about who this God might be. To try to fully explain God would be huge and far beyond the scope of this post. Instead, I want to focus on three aspects of God that I think are fairly obvious even outside of Christian theology. These are his greatness, his smallness, and his personality.

Although listed last, I want to focus on the idea of God as a person, or his personality, because I believe that it brings life to the other ideas.

The very idea of God implicitly carries with it the idea of personality. There may be many debates about the character of God, whether he is distant or close, kind or cruel, etc. But it is particularly difficult to divorce “God” from the concept of personality. And I think that this has been fairly obvious throughout time. While various cultures have developed concepts of an impersonal life force (such as buddhism), they would not consider this force to be “God”. It is impersonal. God (or, in many cultures, gods) always contain the concept of a personality. I think we can see the reason for this supported from a few different angles.

I previously mentioned the concepts of creation and the design of the universe. Both of these acts – creation and design – are associated with the mind, planning, creativity. These are acts of people or personalities, not impersonal forces. Similarly, the presence of a rational, reasoning race of people within this creation strongly implies the presence of a rational, reasoning God. Although it is all the rage at present to point out the many similarities between primates and humans, we must recognize that the differences between us and them are far more striking than the similarities. Indeed, while one might be able to make an argument stating that biologically we have developed from apes (an argument for another time), there is a huge gap in terms of reasoning, self-awareness, and morality. While much of the present scientific community tries to argue that these traits developed slowly and naturally, most of the rest of the world has viewed these as transcendent gifts, whether from a God or the gods. Humans are seen as similar to animals, yes, but still completely different. It is true that our skills and knowledge of the world have developed over time, but I am hard-pressed to believe that human nature has changed much at all. As I understand it, the ancient written records that we have show humanity then as being similar to humanity today. And the extrapolations from pre-written records (“early man”) often seem to suffer from an assumption that a lack of technology indicates a lack of intelligence, an assumption that can be logically shown false on many levels. Be that as it may, I think it far more logical to believe that our intelligence, morals, and self-awareness come from another source, one that shares all of these characteristics, but in a much fuller, more perfect form. To use biblical language, that we are created “in his image”, that our own personhood comes from the top down, not from the bottom up.

Now, some may argue that we are falling into the age-old pattern of creating God in our own image – that as humanity has evolved we have created gods that look like us, and there is no reality behind them. Certainly, looking at history, this is one possible conclusion. Many of the ancient gods (Greek, Roman, others) look very much like glorified humans, and often just as depraved. And although the Christian God has pushed many of these traits to a higher level and perfected them in their concept of God (all the good concepts, anyway), there is no denying that the God revealed in the Bible is very “human” like – He is a person in the best sense. He is just, loving, wrathful, powerful, caring, merciful, etc. It would be very difficult to show one way or another whether we have made God in our image, or whether he has made us in his. Except… except for what I mentioned at the beginning – that the earth began. We cannot have created God if he is the one who began everything. Given this, it is far more likely that we, as creatures superior to the rest of the animal kingdom, were created in his image, and that throughout time, however imperfectly, we have sensed and tried to explain who this

Being is by reference to gods or a God who is above and beyond us.

I feel that one other explanation is necessary, and that is why, if God exists, he is so hidden from us. In my mind, the core of the answer is actually quite simple, and it centres around his personhood. There are really only three possibilities for how God relates to us. The first is that God would completely hide himself. But the only way that he could do that is to make us completely blind to the possibility that he exists, and to do that, he would have to eliminate much (or all) of our ability to think rationally – a significant part of what makes us in his image. If he doesn’t, there will always be people asking the questions of where everything came from, and why we are different than the animals, and why we hate injustice so much, and why love is so important, and so on. The fact that we ask those questions shows that we are aware of something beyond us, and implies that God might be found. But once he takes away our ability to reason, we would essentially be back to the level of animals, unable to relate to him as anything but an obedient pet. On the other side, God could reveal himself completely. But again, this destroys our freedom and choices. We would be either terrified of making a wrong choice (because we know the consequences and would be completely unable to hide) or forced to do what God wanted. Either way, the concept of love or a relationship is completely obliviated. If God is a “person” or a personality, then it implies that he values relationships, and relationship is not possible when it is completely controlled by one party. And so we are left with our present reality – the ability to conclude that God exists, the possibility of having a relationship with him, but also the possibility to reject and ignore that. While we might not totally love that answer, it seems to be the only way to allow both genuine freedom and love to flourish.

If, then, we accept that God exists and that he is a “person”, then we turn to the second aspect of God that I believe is very obvious – His bigness. The concept of God, as understood by the Christian and various other cultures or religions includes the idea of God as the creator of the universe. It can be very easy to affirm that concept without really thinking about what it means. It means that God is big. Not just “He can move a mountain” big, but “form an entire universe plus make all the laws that govern it and keep it in existence at every moment” kind of big. Not just “be in all places at once” big, but “be at every moment in history throughout the course of at least thousands if not billions of years” big. Even in our most contemplative moments, we cannot grasp the bigness of God. To accept this – which is the only conclusion possible if we accept the concept of God – brings to the forefront two realities that we try to ignore.

The first is worship. We simply cannot compare to God. In this sense, we are dramatically behind virtually every other society that has ever existed. In our mad rush to pat ourselves on the back for our tremendous technological improvements, we have failed to recognize that at best we are making poor copies of what God long ago made good. Human DNA makes a supercomputer look like an Etch-a-Sketch. The flight ability of a butterfly or bird puts our best planes to shame. Simple motions like bending an elbow or going for a walk make our robotics look incredibly clumsy. And while it’s true that some of our innovations look like improvements on nature, a close look shows the reality to be false. For example, it’s true that a bird has never made it to mach 2, but it’s also true that a plane has never reproduced naturally. For free. And survived on an (also free) diet of worms and bugs. Nor does a jet look that fast when compared to other “natural” items, such as comets (between 10-70 km/s, compared to mach 2, which is approximately 0.7 km/s). Not to mention that even our best accomplishments begin with the material we have received, not the creation of the material itself. I dare say that if we believe that God exists, worship – or at least some form of reverence or awe for his power – is the only adequate response.

The second reality is that God is in charge. We have built an entire society based on the concept of independence and the ability to make it on our own, without recognizing how little we can actually control. None of us chose the time, family or location of our birth. None of us knows the moment of our death. Most of us struggle regularly with our temper, how much we eat, our sexual desires and our emotions. We can choose our career, but not whether we get laid off. We can “control” our health, yet fail miserably to avoid even a common cold. We can choose to have a family, but we have little control over our reproductive system, and limited control over our kids once they are born. We strive for control, and yet the very arena where we should see the most control – “self-control” – eludes us more often than we care to admit. And yet we set ourselves up as these little kingdoms, confident in our ability to control our lives and our surroundings, without recognizing that our very lives are gifts from a much higher source. I do not mean to say that God controls us, as a puppet-master controls his puppets, but rather that all that we are is not from us. All that we have, we have received. We are stewards rather than owners, responsible to the one who made us. If we believe in God, it is inevitable that he is in charge, not us.

So far, the picture we have of God is of a powerful being, possibly even a tyrant. So we turn from the bigness of God to his smallness. By this, I don’t mean to contradict myself by arguing that God is not big. What I mean is that just as looking at the expanse of the sky reveals God’s greatness, so looking at a blade of grass, a ladybug, or our very DNA reveals that God is a God who cares about the details, about the small stuff. While looking at the big stuff shows us God’s power and greatness and the characteristics that are associated with that side of him, so looking at the small stuff reveals his care, his compassion, his love. When we look at the whole of nature and the world around us, we are humbled by his greatness. When we pause and examine the minute details of this world, we are overwhelmed by a sense of care that would arrange something so intricate and beautiful. Sadly, this aspect of God has been less often inferred than God’s greatness. One reason, at least in the present, is that we have a skewed notion of what God’s love should look like. In particular, we tend to think that he should take care of all of our problems or eliminate all the evil in the world. We see the bad around us and blame him, using it as an excuse to deny that he exists, instead of taking the blame ourselves and living in the freedom and responsibility he’s given us. We beat each other up, then blame God for not stopping us. We ignore his provision of life, his daily sustenance, the ability to enjoy this world, and the guidance he’s willing to give us, then claim he doesn’t care because our life isn’t going perfectly. His smallness shows that he cares, down to the most minute detail, even if he doesn’t interfere the way we sometimes want him to.

When we put these three concepts together, we find a an all-powerful God who created and sustains the universe, yet who is personally involved with and cares about the world – and us. In his smallness, we discover a God who loves us and every detail of our life and who desires a relationship with us. In his greatness, we are reminded that his love does not negate his role as King. Just as there are laws that govern the natural world, so God has expectations (morals) that are intended to guide our lives. As such, we are called to love others, to avoid some things and to do others, not so that we might please an angry God, but so that our world and our lives as individuals are fulfilling and meaningful. I believe that this God we can infer from the world around us is best and most completely revealed in the Bible and the person of Jesus, and that this belief strikes the balance of giving us hope for the future, while still giving us guidance (and often correction) for the present. And most significantly for this discussion, he is revealed as the creator and sustainer of life who offers that life to us.

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And so, with the options of nihilism, reincarnation and God before us, I choose to believe in God. To me, God provides a better answer for our existence, our desire for life, and stronger implications for how to live than either of the other two options. If I am trapped in a building facing death, I will still, with everything in me, long to live and fight to live. There is an uncertainty about what comes next that will never be fully answered unless God personally reveals himself to me at some point. But the circumstantial evidence around me leads me to believe that this life is not all there is, and that God does indeed exist.

Which brings me back to the reality revealed through the earthquake – the value and shortness of life. It is a problem that we must all face, but it is a problem with a solution (and here my Christianity shows clearly). We long for life and eternity, and we find that in Christ. We fear death, yet Christ has conquered death. It was not his miracles and his teaching that changed the world, as impressive as they were. It was his resurrection. Don’t get me wrong! I still don’t want to die. The thought of another earthquake can still get my heart racing. But at the end of the day, I believe my life – now and for eternity – is held firmly in the hands of God, and that no matter what happens, I will be okay.

I’m Losing My Son…

I’m Losing My Son…

Versión Español

I’m losing my son.

That’s what my thought was as I woke up in the middle of the night last night. No, it’s not that he’s dying (thank goodness). Nor is he being taken from me by anyone, or being rebellious and running away from us in any way. He is, after all, only 12. No, I’m afraid the problem is much worse than that.

He’s growing up.

Now before you accuse me of using “clickbait” to get you to read this, when you wake up at 4 in the morning, this thought can be (and was) nearly crushing. After years of anticipating being a dad, after 4 kids and 12 years of building a family, of sharing times together, of watching them grow and learn and struggle and mature, to suddenly realize that in 5 short years he’ll be gone and our family that we have invested so much love and effort into will begin to dismantle is a hard thought to swallow. And it’s not just him. I know that every two years after that, another one will graduate and be ready to head out. Yes, I know that they may move in and out for a while, and that they’ll still be around, but still… they’ll be going. And then they’ll be gone.

And right now, that thought kills me.

I know I’m not discovering anything new. Parents throughout history have been dealing with this reality. Maybe the situations or the feelings are different now, or stronger than they used to be because of our culture or something, but I’m not convinced about that. Maybe I’m just a super sentimental guy who’s overthinking the situation. There’s probably a lot of truth to that one. But still, the reality is, losing your kids – losing anybody! – whether it’s through death, or rebellion or just them leaving, sucks. We grieve the loss. I very much recognize that I’m getting hit with a wave of what they call “anticipatory grief”. The thought of losing him, or any of my sons, is deeply sorrowful for me, and might be amplified because we expect to be in Mexico when he graduates, and it’s entirely possible that he’ll head back to Canada for school or to work. So when he leaves, he could really leave. And I grieve how that will change the dynamics of our family, especially since right now, our four boys are each others’ best friends.

So what do to with this grief? I can suck it up, because it’s still 5 years away, but that doesn’t change that it will happen and that 5 years will fly by. I can be grateful that I still have him around, and that even after he moves out we anticipate being able to see him regularly, at least for a few years. And I am grateful for that. Or I can accept that this is just part of life, and I have to deal with it. Definitely some truth in that. But for me, this brings up a bigger question.

What happens when he, or I, or another of my sons, or Terra, leave permanently? What happens when one of us dies?

Ay, there’s the rub! All this loss, all this grieving, just anticipates the day when that loss becomes permanent, and these relationships that we’ve spent so much time investing in come to an end. How can that be? How can something so precious, so valuable, just end? Am I wrong for feeling gypped, for feeling like that answer (that it all just ends) doesn’t match with what we sense? Why, despite our culture’s claims that we believe in pure evolution and that man has to make his own fate and that there is no transcendent meaning, do we end up looking at a child asking about God and say, “One way or another we all end up back together in the end. That’s what you’re asking, right?” (quote from the movie Gifted, starring Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace – go see it!) While that particular one is a made up interaction, it highlights our desire to continue, to keep going, to not lose what we love and who we have become.

And so when I wake up in the middle of the night, grieving my loss-that-will-be, I turn to God – more specifically, to Jesus – believing that he exists, believing that life transcends this world, that all that we experience and the relationships we long to see continue will actually do so.

It’s true that I have many questions about what happens after death. We have no eyewitness accounts, after all (other than Jesus, who really didn’t give us many details about what comes next). But our options are rather limited – we either cease to exist, keep existing as the people we are, or somehow reincarnate/merge into some form of oneness. Sure, there are variations, but those are the three main ones. I hope to examine that concept next week.

It’s also true that I have lots of questions about Jesus and God, but I’m coming to realize that many of them come not from evidence or lack thereof, but rather from presuppositions that make it hard to believe. Hopefully I can get to that topic in a few weeks.

But in the meantime, I’ve got a son (or 4) to put to bed. 5 years are going to go by really fast, and I want to take advantage of them.

Estoy perdiendo a mi hijo

Estoy perdiendo a mi hijo

English version

Estoy perdiendo a mi hijo.

Eso era mi pensamiento al despertarme en la madrugada. No, no es que él está muriéndose (¡gracias a Dios!). Ni se lo lleva ninguna persona. Ni siquiera está en rebelión contra nosotros – pues, solamente tiene 12 años. No, me temo que el problema es mucho peor que eso.

Él está creciendo.

Ahora, antes de que te me enojes por haber implicado que era algo grave para que leyeras este post, cuando uno se despierta a las 4 de la mañana, este pensamiento puede ser (y de hecho, fue) muy aplastante. Después de años de anticipar ser un papá, después de 4 hijos y 12 años de construir nuestra familia, de compartir tiempo junto, de observarlos creciendo, aprendiendo, luchando y madurando, es muy difícil aceptar que solamente me faltan 5 años cortos antes de que el primero se vaya, y que nuestra familia, en que hemos invertido tanto amor y esfuerzo, va a disminuir y cambiar. Como decimos en inglés, eso es muy difícil de tragar. Y no es solamente el mayor. Después de que él se vaya, cada 2 años otro va a graduarse e irse. Yo sé que tal vez van a todavía vivir con nosotros a veces, pero solamente por tiempitos. Y sé que todavía los vamos a ver, pero de todos modos… se estarán yendo. Y pronto, se habrán ido.

Y ahorita, ese pensamiento me mata.

Yo sé que no estoy descubriendo nada nuevo. A través de la historia casi todos los padres han tenido que pasar por este rito. Tal vez las situaciones o los sentimientos son diferentes ahora, o más fuertes que eran en el pasado, pero lo dudo. Tal vez nada más soy un hombre muy sentimental que está pensando demasiado. Eso probablamente tiene mucha razón. Pero de todos modos, la realidad es que perder a sus hijos (o a cualquier persona), sea por la muerte, la rebelión, o solamente porque se van, es horrible. Lloramos la pérdida.

Reconozco que me está pegando una ola de lo que llamamos “dolor de anticipación”. La idea de perderlo, o cualquier de mis hijos, es muy doloroso para mi, y tal vez se amplifica porque esperamos estar en México cuando él se gradúa, entonces es muy posible que él vaya a ir a Canadá para la escuela o para trabajar. Entonces, cuando se vaya, puede que se vaya muy lejos. Y me causa dolor pensar en cómo eso va a cambiar la dinámica de nuestra familia, sobre todo porque ahorita, los mejores amigos de nuestros hijos son ellos mismos!

Entonces, ¿qué hay que hacer con esta tristeza y dolor? Podría esforzarme y aguantarlo, porque todavía tengo 5 años más con todos en casa, pero eso no cambia la realidad que eso va a pasar y que los 5 años van a pasar muy rápido. Podría vivir con gratitud que todavía lo tengo en casa, y que aún después de que se vaya anticipamos poder verlo más o menos regularmente. Y sí, estoy agradecido por eso. Podría aceptar que esto es simplemente una parte de la vida, y que tengo que manejarlo. Definitivamente eso es cierto. Pero para mí, de esta situación surge otra pregunta aún más grande.

¿Qué pasa cuando perdemos a él – o yo, u otro de mis hijos, o mi esposa – permanentemente. ¿Qué pasa cuando uno de nosotros muere?

Por ahí encontramos la dificultad. Toda esta pérdida, toda esta tristeza, solamente anticipa el día en que esta pérdida se hace permanente, y estas relaciones a que hemos dedicado tanto tiempo y esfuerzo terminan. ¿Cómo puede ser? ¿Cómo puede algo tan precioso, tan valioso, terminar tan bruscamente? ¿Me equivoco por sentir estafado, por sentir que ese resultado no está de acuerdo con lo que sentimos? ¿Por qué, a pesar de las declaraciones de nuestra cultura que creemos completamente en la evolución y que la humanidad tiene que crear su propio significado y que no hay un significado trascendente, le decimos a una niña que nos pregunta sobre Dios que, “De alguna manera u otra todos terminamos en el mismo lugar. Eso es lo que quieres saber, ¿verdad?” (Una cita de la película Un don excepcional”, con Chris Evans y Mckenna Grace – ¡vale la pena verla!) Aunque es una interacción ficticia, resalta nuestro deseo de seguir viviendo, de seguir más allá de la muerte, de no perder lo que amamos y quienes somos.

Entonces, cuando me despierto en la madrugada, angustiado por la pérdida-que-viene, me acerco a Dios, o más específicamente, a Jesús, creyendo que él existe y que la vida trasciende este mundo y que todo lo que experimentamos y las relaciones que son tan importantes no tienen que terminar.

Es cierto que tengo muchas preguntas sobre lo que pasa después de la muerte. No tenemos testigos oculares (con la excepción de Jesús, quien de veras no nos dio muchos detalles sobre lo que viene). Pero las posibilidades son muy limitadas – principalmente hay tres: o dejamos de existir, o seguimos existiendo como las personas que somos (tal vez con algunos cambios), o de alguna manera reencarnamos y/o nos fusionamos en algún tipo de unidad. Claro, hay variaciones, pero esas son las posibilidades principales. Espero poder examinar este concepto la próxima semana.

También es cierto que tengo muchas preguntas sobre Jesús y Dios, pero me estoy dando cuenta que muchas de ellas no surgen de la evidencia o la carencia de evidencia, pero más bien de mis propias presuposiciones que lo hace difícil de creer en algo sobrenatural. A lo mejor puedo abordar ese tema en unas semanas.

Pero mientras tanto, tengo un hijo (o 4) que tengo que acostar. 5 años van a pasar muy rápido, y tengo ganas de disfrutarlos.

Biblical Creation – Not What We Think It Is

Biblical Creation – Not What We Think It Is

Versión español

When I started this blog, one of the first things I said that I would write about was what the things are that have helped me continue as a Christian despite the challenges that Christianity faces. One of those items was the unanswered questions in the field of science, a post that I made a while ago. While this post doesn’t add anything to the scientific discussion there, it does look at the Biblical side of things, and why I think that the biblical account of creation is misread and is in no danger of being irrelevant, regardless of what scientific discoveries might arise in the future. 

When I was a kid, the first chapter of Genesis was amazing. That God would create the world in seven days just by speaking was completely believable and a fascinating story. I see the same fascination with it in my kids’ Sunday School classes. It gives a simple, clear explanation for how the world (including us) came to be and even explains why we have a seven day week.

Of course, growing up has a tendency to altar our understanding of life, making it far less simple, but often far more interesting. This has been the case for my understanding of the first chapter of Genesis. Although I spent many years studying young earth creationism (and I still find many of their arguments interesting), I eventually began to feel like there was something missing from all their discussions and theories of creation. In particular, especially as I studied more about how to interpret the Bible, I began to wonder if we were reading it correctly. We are far removed from the original writers and audience of Scripture, and I began to wonder how they would have understood this passage, and what point it was trying to make. As I have worked through these types of questions, I have begun to understand and interpret the first chapter of Genesis much differently than I did as a child. To be honest, it is a view that has very little to say about the age of the earth or the method of it’s creation. Instead, I believe Genesis 1 was presenting an alternative worldview for the ancient Israelites, one that is still relevant to us today, and one that lays aside the arguments about the age of the earth to focus on some concepts that are much more important to our life.

While there have been a variety of influences in this journey, I must especially highlight the influence of John C. Lennox1 and John H. Walton. In particular, many of the ideas below come from Walton’s commentary on Genesis.2 If you want a much more detailed explanation of some of these concepts, I highly encourage you to read it.

Audience and Author

To start with, we ask the simple questions of who wrote this account and to whom were they writing? Tradition (and the books themselves) has it that Moses wrote the majority of the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Old Testament) and completed it before the Israelites entered the Promised Land (by 1200 BCE3 at the latest). Others argue, based on internal manuscript details and language, that it wasn’t written until later, some even saying as late as the Persian period when the Israelites returned from exile. I struggle to believe that it was that late, personally. Since we have virtually no clear evidence one way or the other, I lean toward it being primarily an account that came from Moses, although the exact timing of when it was committed to writing and how various accounts may have been blended into one are certainly up for discussion.4 Regardless, though, there are some characteristics that we need to take into account as we read Genesis:

  1. It was written in the Ancient Near East (ANE) in a broader cultural setting that had a way of explaining the creation of the world, as evidenced by works such as the Enuma Elish, an ancient Babylonian creation myth. While nobody has convincingly showed that the creation story in Genesis directly derived from other ancient works from Babylon, Egypt or other places, it is reasonable to assume that the Israelites were aware of how other cultures explained the world, just as we are aware of the culture around us. It is also evident that a variety of common ANE concepts are present in the book of Genesis, although with a significant twist that differentiates them from their contemporaries.
  2. It was written with the Israelite’s context in mind – their recent departure from Egypt, their slavery there, and all the Gods and beliefs that they had known in that context, as well as the broader ANE context I just mentioned.
  3. Obviously, no person was present during the actual creation, except for the very last few verses when Adam and Eve were created.5 This means that this story is only available through the revelation of God. Whether He revealed it to Adam and Eve and it was passed down from there, or whether it was revealed to Moses, there’s no way to tell. That means that God could have revealed the act of creation precisely (what we view as scientifically), or literarily (in a story form that would capture the main concepts in a way the people would understand given their context and culture). While either one is possible, I lean towards the second for a variety of reasons that will be explained as we go.

Genre

As mentioned in that last point, we must decide what type of literature Genesis 1 is to be able to understand it properly. Like many, my default while growing up was to read it as history. It’s a story, so it must be historical. However, it doesn’t take much to realize that there’s more to this story than just a simple account of history. Days 1-3 are mirrored by days 4-6. Either God was very poetic in his creation act (which is definitely possible), or it was deliberately arranged to make it flow smoothly and sound very poetic. Add to that the repetition of various expressions (“It was good”, “there was evening and morning the nth day”, etc,) and we suddenly are faced with a very poetic creation account. After having a brief exchange with a creation scientist who swore up and down that it was pure history, I called up my seminary’s linguistic professor, and he calmly and quickly defined Genesis 1 as poetic narrative, similar (although much shorter) to other creation accounts such as the aforementioned Enuma Elish. That makes sense to me and seems to fit well with the poetic elements present.6 That means that it is moved out of the category of “pure” history. While obviously not everyone will agree with me, I have yet to find an argument that convinces me that it has to be history and can’t possibly be poetic.

Purpose

Unfortunately, it is impossible to get inside the author’s mind to determine exactly what his intended purpose was. The best we can do is try to understand the general flow of what he was communicating and understand the literary and cultural purposes of the time when he was writing. While we might not get it perfectly right, it’s probably going to be a lot closer than if we start from our own culture and literary understanding, which is a minimum of 2500 years removed from the original context.

With that caveat in mind, I am persuaded by Walton’s argument that the focus of Genesis 1 is not on structure (the parts and material), but rather on function (the purpose and role) of the cosmos. In particular, he points out that the Hebrew term used for “create” in Genesis 1 brings out more of the concept of “arrange and organize” rather than “manufacture”. In saying this, neither he nor I is trying to claim that God did not, at some point in some way, create the universe from nothing – rather, that is not the focus of Genesis 1. It appears, both in the broader culture and the Israelite context, that the question on everybody’s mind was not “How did God make this all?” (which is what we ask), but rather, “What is it’s purpose, and how does it work?” They wanted to know how it was organized, not how it came to exist. As we shall see, this impacts our understanding of the passage considerably.

Genesis 1

I could spend forever detailing all the complexities of the passage, but instead I refer you again to Walton’s commentary on the matter for an in-depth explanation. Here, I just want to highlight some of the key factors that stand out to me.

  1. Have you ever noticed the description of the state of the world in verse 2? That it was “formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”? The description is one of a lack of order, not lack of existence. This fits in well with the ancient concept of darkness and water as conveying chaos and lack of purpose much better than our concept of nothing existing and God calling it into being from nothing.
  2. There is a distinct lack of personification here that stands in marked contrast to other ancient worldviews. In other words, the water, the darkness and chaos are not gods and goddesses (such as Tiamat, the goddess of water who was cut in two to form the seas and the sky in the Enuma Elish). This continues throughout the whole account. The greater and lesser lights (sun and moon) are just lights, not gods or goddesses. They’re not even named directly! The entire account shifts the focus from a group of gods who gave function to the earth (and thereby needed to be given sacrifices to control these areas) to a single God who was in charge of everything.
  3. Related to that, the concept of chaos is different than what is seen in other ancient accounts. Instead of being evil, it simply is. As Walton says, “There is nothing sinister or menacing about this chaos in Genesis; it is simply the indication that God has not yet done his work.”7 In these two points, we see that the author is using familiar concepts, but changing them to develop a new, different worldview.
  4. Day one of creation is what I find most fascinating and sets the tone for the rest of the passage. There have been many attempted scientific explanations of how God created light on day one, but waited until day 4 to create what we accept and view as the sources of light. However, Walton argues that the focus is not on the creation of waves and particles, but on establishing the function of the world. In other words, when God separated the night from the day, the focus is on the fact that night would follow day, then day would follow night, and so on. In other words, he was establishing a pattern of time – day, night, day, night, day, night, etc. This is the foundational concept for how we measure time – the passage of days. Interestingly, when we read the definitions from verse five (God called the light “day” and the darkness “night”) back into verses 3 and 4, we get a totally different feel for this: “And God said, ‘Let there be day!’ And there was day. God saw that the day was good, and he separated the day from the night.” I don’t know if that’s legitimate linguistically in the original language, but I think it helps us get a good grasp on God’s focus here. He established time as the basis of our life on earth.
    One other note worth making here before moving on is how God calls it all good. This again seems to contradict the worldview of that time, which seemed to view darkness as one of the sources of chaos and something to be feared. Instead, God says time is good – both day and night. We see a similar reality in some of the other days, in particular day 2 (the expanse of water was also seen at that time as chaotic and sinister) and days 5 and 6 where both wild animals and sea monsters are seen as good, not as evil.
  5. Day 2 sees God dividing the water above from the water below. I remember studying creationist literature in high school that argued, based on this verse, that the earth used to be surrounded by a canopy of water that created a greenhouse effect, causing things to grow bigger (dinosaurs), live longer (accounts in the Bible and other ancient cultures) and be generally warmer. I haven’t seen that argument for a while… At any rate, in the ancient world, they did not share our understanding of the sky, space, stars, etc. They literally thought the sky was a hard dome. And that the water in its various forms (hail, snow, rain) was somehow let into the dome by God (or gods), and that the stars were somehow in or above the dome, but certainly not way off into space like we understand them. Their understanding was completely logical given the observational evidence that they had. What’s more, the purpose of the firmament was to regulate the weather system. When we read day 2 in light of this, it makes far more sense. God made a firmament (or vault or dome) that he called the sky. He left some water below and put some above (rain, snow, etc.). Basically, he set up the weather system.
  6. On day 3, we see God gathering the water into one place (which matches with their understanding of one land mass surrounded by water) to create dry ground. He then causes plants to grow and reproduce after their own kind. Once again, rather than focusing on the specific items that God created (plants, ocean, dry ground), it is helpful to view this as organizing the chaos into a working system – in this case, the agricultural system. At the end of day 3, rather than unorganized chaos, we have a functioning world: time has been established and called good, and the world is ready for its inhabitants – what Walton refers to as the functionaries, or those things/beings that govern and fill these different spaces.
  7. On day 4, returning to the concept or sphere outlined in day 1, we see the arrival and purpose of the lights – to govern the day and night, to separate night from day, to serve as signs for sacred times, and to mark days and years. It is an explanation of their function, not their fabrication.
  8. Day 5 also mirrors day 2, this time filling the firmament and waters with their respective functionaries – birds, fish, etc. These are not creatures that are enemies (in particular since the word used seems to indicate the large sea animals, i.e. chaos monsters) – they serve a function and were put there by God.
  9. Finally day 6 mirrors day 3, presenting the various animals (domesticated, wild herds and wild predators) as the functionaries (inhabitants) of this sphere.
  10. Most notable on day 6, of course, are the humans, who are created in God’s image and given the role of ruling the world God has created. The focus is on the image of humanity – that they in some way carry the essence of God and his character – as well as their role of acting as God’s representatives to rule and subdue the earth. Once again, this role and concept of humanity differs notably from the worldviews of the day, where humans were usually created out of some sort of conflict or sexual relationship between the gods, where they could be an annoyance to the gods (too noisy), and where they served the role of providing food for the gods through their myriad sacrifices. To once again quote Walton, “Whereas Mesopotamian literature is concerned about the jurisdiction of the various gods in the cosmos with humankind at the bottom of the heap, the Genesis account is interested in the jurisdiction of humankind over the rest of creation as a result of the image of God in which people were created.”8

So where does all this leave us? (I won’t get into day 7, since most of the disagreement about interpretation focuses on the creation part, not the resting part.) I think that there are a few things that Genesis 1 is not, and a few things that it teaches us that we have often lost sight of.

First, it is not a straight history text as we often have considered it. Second, it is not concerned primarily with structural creation (things), but rather with a focus on function – how the universe works. As such, it really has almost nothing to say about scientific matters or the creation method and timeline. It is not focused on teaching the age of the earth and the physical steps in creation. In this sense, we are free to follow wherever science leads – a discussion that is far from settled.

What this account does still teach us is a variety of truths that are important for our lives. First, it was created (made to function) by God. In our time, this contradicts the purely naturalistic view that says everything happened without God, just as it contradicted the ancient worldview that a bunch of different Gods were the source of this world. We can debate long and hard about the details of how God created the world (structurally), but those disagreements and debates should not derail our conviction that God created it.

Second, it proclaims that the world is good and functions the way it is supposed to. This was a huge message in a time when there were so many chaotic forces of nature (wild animals, darkness, the ocean) that were to be feared rather than celebrated. In our day, most of these things do not hold the same element of fear that they once did. Instead, our culture is more likely to view the world either as a resource to be used and abused or as an entity to be worshiped. The creation story charts a middle course. The world is good and to be understood and appreciated, but not to be worshiped. The cosmos is to be subdued and ruled by humanity, but not abused. It is good, and we should treat it with the respect and care it deserves. What’s more, it teaches us that even time was a creation of God, and the passage of time is a natural and good reality. We struggle with this as we strive to halt the hands of time (or at least our own aging!), but time itself is a creation of God for this world.

Finally, the value of humanity as created in the image of God is upheld, with all its ramifications. We are valuable and separate from the animals, who were not created in God’s image. We have a purpose in this world, and it is a significant and, dare I even say it, noble purpose – to steward the world that God has made. This has huge implications for how we view ourselves, our work, and our place in this world.

Genesis 1 is a beautiful passage of Scripture. I love it. I think it does a lot for setting the tone of Scripture, for who God is, for who we are, and for how amazing this world is. And I think that we do a serious injustice to both this passage and to our understanding of our role in this world when we spend all of our time focusing primarily on a debate about scientific ideas that most of us don’t fully understand and that detract from the primary messages of the chapter. While I don’t insist that everyone has to convert to my (and Walton’s) interpretation of this passage, I do think that we need to set aside the debate about how creation happened and work together to proclaim the presence of God, the value and purpose of humanity, and the wonder of this world that God has given us.

1 Especially his book Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science. Zondervan, 2011.

2 NIV Application Commentary: Genesis. Zondervan, 2001. I have found this commentary fascinating. It is one of the few commentaries that I have read like a book.

3 I’m going to use BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) as my dating abbreviations. Don’t read anything into it one way or another. Some Christians will get annoyed at the removal of Jesus by changing Before Christ (BC) and Anno Domini (AD – Year of our Lord). Non-Christians can get annoyed at leaving Jesus in the terms. Since someone is going to be mad no matter what, I’m trusting in the grace and maturity of Christians to not make this a big deal. Prove me right.

4 It is entirely possible that the accounts found in the first five books were passed on orally or in written form from Moses, and even prior to Moses, before being collected and synthesized into one account. It is even possible that there were multiple different times of collation, done at different times. This does not have to negate the primacy of Moses as the “author”. As Christians who believe God’s word was inspired, it is possible to extend that inspiration to the subsequent editors as well as to Moses. Paul said that all Scripture is inspired, not that one particular person or method of writing it down was inspired. It was a human-divine partnership, and I think too often we needlessly restrict that partnership to a specific belief about how it happened.

5 For the sake of this post, we won’t get into the debate about whether Adam and Eve were real people or are literary figures to convey a truth about humanity.

6 Some argue that Genesis 1 does not fit into traditional Hebrew poetry such as that found in the Psalms or prophets, that uses parallelism, chiasm, etc. I would argue that while it might not match exactly a lot of the poetry found in other parts of Scripture, I hardly think it makes sense to ignore the poetic elements of this passage because they aren’t exactly the same as other poetry, especially if we consider that Genesis may have been written hundreds of years before much of the other poetry.

7 Walton. Genesis. p. 74.

8 Walton. Genesis. p. 134.

La creación – ¿7 días? ¿o algo completamente diferente?

La creación – ¿7 días? ¿o algo completamente diferente?

English version

Al iniciar este blog, dije que quería escribir sobre las cosas que me han ayudado a seguir con mi fe, a pesar de los desafíos a fe que experimentamos hoy en día. Uno de esos temas era las preguntas sin respuestas en el campo científico, un post que hice hace unos meses. Este post no añade nada a la discusión científica en aquel post, pero de alguna manera trata del mismo tema, esta vez mirando a lo que dice las escrituras sobre la creación, y por qué creo que la cuenta bíblica de la creación es todavía relevante (y seguirá siendo relevante), no importa lo que descubran en el campo científico en el futuro.

Cuando yo era niño, el primer capítulo de Génesis me parecía increíble. Que Dios creó el mundo en siete días solamente con hablar fue una historia fascinante y muy creíble. Veo la misma fascinación en mis hijos y en sus clases de escuela dominical. La historia fue una sencilla, clara explicación de cómo el mundo (incluso nosotros) llegó a existir – aún explicaba por qué tenemos una semana de siete días. Bueno, el proceso de crecer tiene una tendencia de cambiar nuestro entendimiento de la vida, haciéndolo mucho más complicado, pero también mucho más interesante. Este es lo que me ha pasado con la historia de la creación en el primer capítulo de Génesis. Aunque pasé muchos años estudiando el creacionismo desde la perspectiva de una tierra joven (y todavía me interesan algunas de sus ideas), eventualmente empecé a sentir que algo faltaba en sus discusiones y teorías. En particular, sobre todo por aprender más sobre cómo interpretar la Biblia, empecé a preguntarme si lo estuviéramos leyendo en la manera correcta. Han pasado muchos siglos desde que ese capítulo fue escrito, y empecé a interrogarme si la audiencia original lo hubiera entendido en la misma manera que nosotros, y cuál era el punto principal del autor. Al buscar respuestas a esas preguntas, he llegado a entender e interpretar el primer capítulo de Génesis en una manera muy diferente de la interpretación de mi juventud. A decir verdad, es una interpretación que tiene muy poco que decir sobre la edad de la tierra o el método de su creación. Más bien, creo que Génesis 1 se les presentaba a los israelitas como una cosmovisión alternativa, una que todavía tiene relevancia para nosotros hoy en día, y una que deja a un lado los argumentos sobre la edad de la creación para enfocarse más en unos conceptos que son mucho más importantes a nuestra vida.

Aunque he tenido muchas influencias en este viaje, tengo que notar la influencia de John C. Lennox1 y John H. Walton. En particular, muchos de las ideas destacadas abajo vienen del comentario de Walton sobre el libro de Génesis.2 Si quieres una explicación mucho más detallado de algunos de estos conceptos, te animo a leerlo.

Audiencia y autor

Para empezar, hacemos las preguntas sencillas de ¿quién escribió esta historia?, y ¿a quién se dirigió? La tradición (y los libros mismos) dice que Moisés escribió la mayoría de la Pentateuco (los primeros 5 libros del Antiguo Testamento) y que él lo terminó antes de entrar en la Tierra Prometida (que pasó al más tardar por el año 1200 AC). Otros dicen, basado en detalles dentro del texto y el lenguaje, que no fue escrito hasta muchos años luego, tal vez hasta el periodo de las persas, cuando regresaron los israelitas de su exilio. Personalmente, me parece difícil creer que fue escrito tan tarde. Puesto que no tenemos ninguna evidencia muy clara (o sea, que muestra definitivamente la fecha), me inclino a creer que es una historia que vino principalmente de Moises, aunque se puede debatir los detalles de cuándo y cómo fue escrito.3 Pero sean como sean los detalles, hay algunas notas que tenemos que tomar en cuenta cuando leemos Génesis:

  1. Fue escrito en el Antiguo Medio Oriente (AMO) en un contexto y cultura más amplio que tenía su propia manera de explicar la creación del mundo, como demuestra obras como Enûma Elish, un mito de creación de los babilonios. Aunque nadie ha mostrado que Génesis deriva de obras ancianas de Babilonia, Egipto o otros lugares, es razonable suponer que los israelitas sabían cómo explicaban el mundo esas otras culturas, en la misma manera que nosotros estamos conscientes de la cultura (o las culturas) a nuestro alrededor. Ellos eran parte de una cultura más grande, y es evidente que haya una variedad de conceptos comunes del AMO que  están presentes en el libro de Génesis, aunque con un giro significante que los diferencia de los de sus contemporáneos.
  2. Fue escrito con el contexto de los israelitas en mente – su salida reciente de Egipto, su esclavitud allá, y todos los dioses y creencias que habían conocido en ese contexto, además del contexto más amplio que acabo de mencionar.
  3. Obviamente, no había nadie presente durante la creación, excepto por los últimos versículos cuando fueron creados Adán y Eva.4 Eso significa que esta historia se conoce solamente por la revelación de Dios. No hay manera de saber si se la reveló a Adán y Eva, y ellos la pasaron a sus descendentes, o si se la reveló a Moisés, pero sabemos que es una revelación, no un testimonio de testigos oculares. Eso significa que Dios tenía la opción de revelar esta historia en una manera precisa (lo que terminamos científicamente o históricamente), o en una manera literaria (en forma de una historia o poema que captura los conceptos principales en una forma que entendía la gente dentro de su contexto y cultura). Aunque los dos son posibles, me inclino hacia la segunda por varias razones que explicaré durante la exposición.

Género

Como mencioné en el punto anterior, tenemos que decidir qué tipo de literatura Génesis 1 es para poder entenderlo bien. Como muchos, mi presuposición como niño era leerlo como una cuenta histórica – un hecho real y preciso. Sin embargo, no lleva mucho para darse cuenta que es más que una simple cuenta histórica. Los días 1-3 se reflexionan en días 4-6. O Dios creó en una manera muy poética (que sí, es posible), o la historia fue contada y arreglada a propósito en una manera muy fluida y poética. Además, vemos la repetición de diferentes frases (“era bueno”, “vino la noche y llegó la mañana”, etc.), y de repente se nos enfrenta una cuenta muy poética. Después de un intercambio breve con una científico creacionista, quien juró que este pasaje fue completamente histórico, llamé al profesor lingüístico de mi seminario para preguntarle. Con mucha firmeza y nada de hesitación, él declaró que Génesis 1 era un tipo de literatura que se llama “narrativa poética”, al igual (aunque más corto) que otros mitos5 de creación como el Enûma Elish que mencioné anteriormente. Eso tiene mucho sentido para mi y cabe muy bien con los elementos poéticos presentes.6 Eso significa que no es “pura historia”, igual que una descripción de la segunda guerra mundial, por ejemplo. Yo sé que no todos van a estar de acuerdo conmigo, pero hasta ahora no he encontrado un argumento que me convence que esta historia tiene que ser histórica, y no puede ser poética.

Propósito

Desafortunadamente, es imposible entrar en la mente de un autor para determinar exactamente cuál era su propósito. Lo mejor que podemos hacer es tratar de entender el flujo general de lo que estaba tratando de comunicar, junto con los propósitos literarios y culturales del tiempo en que estaba escribiendo. Aunque tal vez no vamos a agarrar perfectamente su propósito, estaremos mucho más cerca si empezamos ahí en vez de empezar de nuestra propia cultura, que es por lo menos 2500 años de distancia del contexto original.

Con esto en mente, estoy convencido por el argumento de Walton que el enfoque principal de Génesis 1 no es la estructura (las partes y material), sino la función (el propósito y papel) del cosmos. En particular, él muestra que el término que usaba el autor para decir “crear” tiene más el sentido de “organizar y arreglar” que “fabricar”. Al decir eso, ni Walton ni yo está tratando de decir que Dios no creó, en algún momento y manera, el universo ex nihilo (de nada), sino que eso no es el enfoque de Génesis 1. Parece, tanto en la cultura más amplia como en el contexto israelita, que la pregunta que todos hacían no era “¿Cómo creó Dios todo eso?” (que es lo que nosotros preguntamos), sino “¿Qué es su propósito, y cómo funciona?” Ellos querían entender cómo se organizaba el cosmos, no cómo llegó a existir. Como vamos a ver, esto impacta bastante a nuestro entendimiento del pasaje.

Génesis 1

Podría tomar mucho tiempo exponiendo todas las complejidades del pasaje, pero en vez de hacer eso, te apunto otra vez al comentario de Walton por una explicación más profunda. Aquí, solo quiero resaltar algunos de los factores importantes que me llamaron la atención.

  1. ¿Te has dado cuenta de la descripción del mundo que se ve en versículo 2? ¿Que en el principio había “una caos total, las tinieblas cubrían el abismo, y el Espíritu de Dios iba y venía sobre la superficie de las aguas”? La descripción aquí no se trata de falta de existencia, sino falta de orden. Eso cabe muy bien con el concepto anciano de la oscuridad y las tinieblas como evidencia de caos y falta de propósito. Eso explica el pasaje mucho mejor que nuestro concepto de falta de existencia y Dios llamándolo a existir desde nada (ese concepto se encuentra más en versículos como Hebreos 11:3).
  2. Hay una falta completa de la personificación de los cosas, que se encuentra en marcado contraste con las otras cosmovisiones ancianas. En otras palabras, el agua, la oscuridad y el caos no son dioses ni diosas (como Tiamat, la diosa de agua que se cortó en dos para crear el cielo y el mar en Enûma Elish). Eso así en toda la cuenta. Las luces mayores y menores (el sol y la luna) son nada más luces, no dioses. Ni siquiera les pone nombre! La cuenta entera cambia el enfoque desde un grupo de dioses que le dieron función a la tierra (y por eso necesitaban sacrificios para controlar sus zonas respectivas) a un Dios único que creó y controló todo.
  3. Relacionado a eso, el concepto de caos es completamente diferente de lo que se ve en otras cuentas ancianas. En vez de ser malvado, nada más es. Como dice Walton, “No hay nada siniestro o amenazador de este caos en Génesis; es simplemente la indicación de que Dios todavía no ha hecho su trabajo”.7 Vemos en estos dos puntos que el autor está tomando conceptos comunes y cambiándolos para explicar el cosmos en una manera diferente.
  4. El primer día de la creación es lo que más me llama la atención, y establece el tono por lo demás del capítulo. Ha habido muchas explicaciones científicas (o por lo menos intentos a explicaciones) tratando de explicar cómo Dios creó la luz el primer día, pero esperó hasta el cuarto día para crear las fuentes de la luz. Sin embargo, Walton sostiene que el enfoque de la cuenta no es la creación de olas y partículas (la estructura), sino el funcionamiento del mundo (el propósito). Cuando Dios separa la luz de la noche, el enfoque es la creación de un patrón de tiempo – día, noche, día, noche, etc. Este es el concepto fundamental por la medida de tiempo: el transcurso de días. Interesantemente, cuando leemos las definiciones en versículo 5 (“A la luz la llamó «día», y a las tinieblas, «noche»”) y las trasladamos a versículos 3 y 4, el pasaje suena muy diferente: “Y dijo Dios «Que exista el día!» Y el día llegó a existir. Dios consideró que el día era bueno y lo separó de la noche.” No sé si eso es legítimo lingüísticamente en la lengua original, pero creo que nos ayuda a obtener una buena comprensión del enfoque de Dios en este pasaje. Él establece el paso de tiempo como el base fundamental de nuestra vida aquí en la tierra.
    Otra nota que cabe bien aquí es cómo Dios dijo que todo era bueno. Otra vez, esto contradice la cosmovisión contemporánea, que aparentemente veía a la oscuridad como una de las fuentes de caos y algo a temer. A diferencia de esa opinión, Dios dice que el tiempo es bueno – tanto la noche como el día. Vemos algo similar en otros días, en particular día 2 (el mar se veía como algo caótico y siniestro) y días 5 y 6, donde ambos los animales salvajes y los monstruos marinos se nombren como algo bueno y no malvado.
  5. En el segundo día, Dios separa el agua en dos grupos – el agua abajo y el agua arriba. Yo recuerdo estudiando literatura de los creacionistas de tierra joven cuando estaba en la preparatoria. Basado en este versículo, ellos postulaban que en el principio, la tierra se rodeaba por una canopia de agua que causaba un efecto invernadero que resultaba en animales más grandes (dinosaurios), vidas más largas (como vemos en la Biblia y otras culturas antiguas), y, obviamente, más calor. No he visto ese argumento por un buen tiempo. De todos modos, en el mundo antiguo, no compartían nuestro entendimiento del cielo, el espacio, las estrellas, etc. Ellos creían que el cielo era un domo firme, y que todo el agua en sus varias formas (la lluvia, la nieve, el granizo) entró en el domo desde fuera y que las estrellas estaban dentro o encima del domo (pero ciertamente no muy lejos en el espacio, como lo entendemos nosotros). Su entendimiento era completamente lógico dado lo que observaban. El propósito del firmamento en los tiempos antiguos era regular el sistema meteorológico. Eso es lo que vemos cuando leemos día 2 con esto en mente. Dios creó el firmamento (un domo o bóveda) que se llamaba el cielo. Dejó un poco de agua por abajo y puso un poco arriba (la lluvia, la nieve, el granizo). Básicamente, Él estableció el sistema meteorológico.
  6. El día 3, vemos a Dios juntando el agua en un lugar para crear la tierra seca (que está de acuerdo con el entendimiento de esa época de una masa de la tierra rodeado por el mar). Luego causa que las plantas crezcan y reproduzcan según su especie. Otra vez, en lugar de enfocarse en las cosas específicas que Dios había creado (las plantas, el mar, la tierra seca), es útil pensar en el concepto de organización – creando un sistema agricultural que funciona. Por el final de día 3, en vez de un caos desorganizado, encontramos un mundo que está funcionando como debe: se ha establecido el tiempo, el sistema meteorológico, y el sistema agricultural. Todo es bueno y está listo por sus habitantes, a quien Walton refiere utilizando el término “funcionarios”, o las cosas y seres que gobiernan y llenan estos diferentes espacios.
  7. El día 4, el autor regresa a la esfera preparada el primer día, y vemos la llegada y propósito de las luces: para separar el día de la noche, para servir como señales de las estaciones (mejor, los tiempos sagrados), de los días, y de las noches, y para brillar en el firmamento para iluminar la tierra. Es una explicación de su función, no su fabricación.
  8. El día 5 también refleja día 2, esta vez llenando el firmamento y las aguas con sus funcionarios respectivos. Esas criaturas no son enemigos (un punto que no vemos bien un nuestras traducciones – la palabra que se usa refiere a las animales grandes del mar – no ballenas, sino monstruos de caos), sino que tienen una función y fueron puestos ahí por Dios mismo.
  9. Por fin, el día 6 refleja día 3, presentando a los animales (los domesticados, las manadas silvestres y los depredadores) como los funcionarios (habitantes) de esta esfera.
  10. Lo más notable del día 6, claro, son los humanos, que fueron creados en la imagen de Dios y dados el rol de gobernar el mundo que Dios creó. El enfoque es la imagen de la humanidad: que ellos de alguna manera tienen la esencia de Dios y su carácter, y también tienen el rol de actuar como los representativos de Dios para gobernar y dominar la tierra. Como los otros conceptos, este papel y concepto de la humanidad difiere notablemente de las cosmovisiones contemporáneas, que decían que los humanos nacieron de algún tipo de conflicto o relación sexual entre los dioses, que los humanos a menudo eran una frustración a los dioses (hacían demasiado ruido) y que servían el rol de proveer comida para los dioses a través de sus miles de sacrificios. Para citar otra vez a Walton, “Mientras que la literature de Mesopotamia se preocupa por la jurisdicción de los varios dioses en los cosmos con los humanos en la parte inferior de la pila, la cuenta de Génesis se interesa en la jurisdicción de la humanidad gobernando lo de más de la creación como un resultado de la imagen de Dios en la cual se crearon los humanos.”8

Entonces, ¿dónde nos quedamos? (No voy a tratar con el día 7, puesto que la mayoría del desacuerdo de la interpretación de este pasaje se enfoca en el asunto de la creación, no del descanso al final.) Creo que hay algunas cosas que Génesis 1 no es, y algunas cosas que nos enseña que a veces se nos olvidan.

Primero, no es un texto de la historia como a menudo lo interpretamos. Segundo, no se preocupa principalmente con la creación de la estructura (cosas), sino con la función – cómo funciona el universo. Como tal, casi no tiene nada que decir sobre asuntos científicos o el método de creación o la cronología de la creación. No se enfoca en relatar la edad de la tierra y los pasos físicos de la creación. En este sentido, estamos libres a seguir dondequiera que la ciencia nos guíe, sin preocupación por los resultados. Eso es todavía un debate que no tiene resolución, pero podemos debatir sin preocupación.

Lo que esta cuenta nos enseña es una variedad de verdades que tienen relevancia por nuestra vida. Primero, el mundo fue creado (y hecho funcionar) por Dios. Cuando Génesis fue escrito, contradijo la cosmovisión que decía que muchos dioses hicieron el mundo y fueron responsables por su mantenimiento. Actualmente, esta creencia contradice el punto de vista naturalista que dice que todo pasó sin la necesidad de Dios. Podemos tener muchos debates sobre los detalles de cómo Dios creó el mundo (estructuralmente), pero esos desacuerdos y debates no deberían arruinar nuestra convicción compartida de que Dios lo hizo.

Segundo, nos proclama que el mundo es bueno y funciona como debería funcionar. Eso fue un mensaje muy importante en aquel época, cuando había tantas fuerzas caóticas (animales salvajes, la oscuridad, el mar, etc.) que provocaban miedo en vez de celebración. Hoy en día, la mayoría de estas cosas no nos causan tanto temor como antes. En su lugar, somos más probables a ver a la tierra, o como un recurso para utilizar y abusar o como una entidad para alabar. La historia de creación nos traza un curso mediante. La tierra es buena, y deberíamos entenderla y valorarla, pero no es digno de alabanza. Podemos dominar y gobernar el mundo, pero no abusarlo. Es bueno, y deberíamos tratarlo con el respeto y el cuidado que merece. Además, este concepto (de la creación siendo como debería ser) nos enseña que aún el tiempo fue una creación de Dios, y que el paso de tiempo es algo natural y bueno. Luchamos con este concepto. Nos esforzamos para detener las manos del tiempo (o por lo menos el proceso de envejecer), pero el tiempo es también una creación de Dios por este mundo.

Por fin, el valor de la humanidad en la imagen de Dios se sostiene, con todas sus ramificaciones. Tenemos valor, y somos diferentes que los animales, que no fueron creados en la imagen de Dios. Tenemos un propósito en este mundo, y es un propósito con significado y aún dignidad y nobleza. Es el propósito de administrar este mundo que Dios nos creó. Esto tiene implicaciones grandes por cómo nos vemos a nosotros mismos, por nuestro trabajo, y por nuestro lugar en este mundo.

Génesis 1 es un pasaje de escritura muy bonito. Me encanta. Cree un base importante por lo demás de las escrituras – quien es Dios, quienes somos nosotros, y cuan impresionante es este mundo. Y creo que cometemos una injusticia, tanto a este pasaje como a nuestro entendimiento de nuestro papel en ese mundo, cuando nos enfocamos casi exclusivamente en un debate de ideas científicas que la mayoría de nosotros ni siquiera entendemos bien, y que nos distraen del mensaje central del capítulo. Aunque no insisto que todos tienen que convertirse a esta interpretación del pasaje, creo mucho que tenemos que dejar a un lado la discusión sobre cómo creó Dios el mundo y trabajar junto para proclamar la presencia de Dios, el valor y propósito de la humanidad, y las maravillas de este mundo que Dios nos ha dado.

1 Sobre todo su libro Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science. Zondervan, 2011.

2 NIV Application Commentary: Genesis. Zondervan, 2001. Este comentario me ha impresionado mucho. Es uno de los pocos comentarios que he leído como un libro.

3 Es posible que las historias que se encuentran en los primeros cinco libros fueron pasados oralmente o en forma escrita desde Moisés, o aún antes de Moisés, y luego fueron juntadas y sintetizadas en una sola cuenta. Aún es posible que hubiera varios momentos de colación. Eso no tiene que negar la primacía de Moises como el autor. Como cristianos que creen que la palabra de Dios fue inspirada, es posible extender el concepto de inspiración tanto a los editores como al autor. Pablo dijo que las escrituras fueron inspiradas, no que una persona o método en particular fue inspirado. Fue una obra humano-divino, y creo que muchas veces restringimos ese colaboración sin necesidad a una creencia particular de cómo pasó.

4 Por el propósito de este post, no voy a entrar en el debate de si Adán y Eva eran personas históricas, o son figuras literarias construidas para comunicar una verdad sobre la humanidad.

5 No estoy diciendo que Génesis 1 es un mito en el sentido de “falso”. En el contexto anciano, los mitos eran más o menos una explicación “científica” de algo. En este sentido – una explicación de cómo Dios creó el mundo – Génesis 1 es igual a los otros mitos de ese tiempo.

6 Algunos dicen que Génesis 1 no cabe dentro de la poesía tradicional de los israelitas, pero no creo que debamos clasificarlo como histórico solamente debido a esa diferencia. Es muy probable que se escribiera Génesis siglos antes de los Salmos y proverbios, y uno no puede negar la presencia de elementos poéticas dentro de ello, entonces, creo que identificarlo como una narrativa poética es justo.

7 Walton. Genesis. p. 74 (traducción mía).

8 Walton. Genesis. p. 134 (traducción mía).

7 Ways to Interpret the Bible

7 Ways to Interpret the Bible

Versión español

The Bible is the best-selling book of all time. But it’s also probably the most argued-about book of all time as well. It doesn’t take much for a disagreement to start about what a specific passage is describing and how to interpret it. That doesn’t mean that the basic storyline of the Bible is hard to understand – it isn’t. It just means that people bring a lot of assumptions to the Bible, assumptions that influence how they understand different passages or even the whole thing.

Why does this matter? Well, the assumptions and approach we bring to the Bible drastically affects what we take from it. It’s like reading the Bible with different types of glasses that reveal different things. Different approaches have different advantages and disadvantages, and we need to be honest about them. It’s also helpful to understand (especially within Christian circles) where others are coming from, because often we argue and accuse each other of not taking the Bible seriously, which is rather unfortunate and causes a lot of division that is often not really necessary. In some ways, I am writing this post so I can share my approach to Scripture and to ask for honesty and understanding from those who might not share that approach. I hope that in the end you can see some value in some of the other ways to approach Scripture, even if you don’t fully agree with every aspect. As a Christian, some approaches definitely don’t hold much value. But some (more than one) do.

Below are 7 ways to interpret the Bible. It’s not an exhaustive list – there are probably variations on each of those, and maybe categories I haven’t thought of. But it’s a helpful place to start. Where would you fit?

  1. Hearsay – okay, this isn’t really a way to read the Bible, but it is the approach that many people use. People in this category will usually quote someone else and what they have said about the Bible without actually reading it themselves. Obviously, people in this category don’t take the Bible too seriously, and can be frustrating to deal with when they clearly don’t really know what they’re talking about. Like any of us who try to pretend we know more about something than we really do, right?
  2. Mythically – People in this category usually treat the Bible as an ancient document that may or may not have some truth in it, but is largely on the same level as any other ancient religious teaching, such as the gods of Rome or Greece. The stories are mostly considered mythical, especially if there is anything supernatural. They may take the Bible “seriously” as an ancient document, but certainly not as the Word of God.
  3. Casually – many would fall into this category, although for many different reasons. Some believe the Bible has some good teachings, but it’s no more authoritative than any other moral teaching. Others believe the Bible to be the Word of God (they take it seriously), but never really engage with it much. The reasons can be many (too busy, don’t like reading, not disciplined, find it boring), but they often come across as just excuses. It would be fair to ask how “seriously” people in this category take the Bible, but I also don’t want to be unduly harsh to the many who do take the Bible seriously, but don’t read it much.
  4. Historically-Critically – the people in this category may take the Bible seriously – some of them, anyway. They may even consider it to be the Word of God. But they have a tendency to be very critical and/or skeptical of what it says and to put themselves above the text, trying to judge what is really true and not true. I have in mind here people like the German textual critics who divide the Bible into many different sources, as well as approaches such as the Jesus Seminar. The first group will often take the Bible seriously (and can have some very important and helpful insights), but their tendency to carve up the Bible – and their extensive disagreements on how it should be divided – tend to undercut faith in the Scripture. A group like the Jesus Seminar, who divided the teachings of Jesus into various categories from “accurate” to “completely fabricated” (and only affirmed a few small phrases as actually being from Jesus) come across as arrogant and, to be honest, completely clueless. While I am all for studying the history of the Bible, this group has placed themselves so far above the Scripture that they claim they can know far better than the eyewitnesses what Jesus really said, and they have placed themselves in the position of saying that they are the deciders of truth, not the Bible.
  5. Literally (or traditionally) – okay, technically, literally should mean that they read the Bible according to the style of literature it is – read the poetry as poetry, parables as parables, history as history, etc. And most in this category do that. But this term has also been extended to mean, to quote a song I heard often growing up,  “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me.” In other words, whatever the Bible “clearly” says is what they hold to, even though many of the “clear” teachings (particularly on non-core doctrines) are very culturally interpreted. They hold to “traditional” teachings, which are not always as obvious or traditional as they think they are, and which may not be what the original audience would have understood from them. I don’t want to sound too disparaging to this group, because a) I was in it for most of my life, and b) they take the Bible very seriously. In fact, I have known so many deeply godly and wonderful people in this category that I heartily encourage people to take the Bible as seriously as these! However, I have also seen a lot of anger and dogmatism from this group, and a refusal to allow that anyone interpreting a passage differently than them could have a point. For some, the Bible has become their god instead of a means to know God. As well, I have seen a lot of fighting between members of this group who disagree theologically on various topics (pick one – the return of Christ, free-will/predestination, status of women, etc.) and point to their own verses that “clearly” show that they are right, even though others point to verses that “clearly” show that they are wrong! So while there is a lot of good in this group, there is a lot of potential – too often realized – for stubbornness and insistence on being right.
  6. Historically-Culturally – people in this group view the Bible as a document written by humans under the direction (inspiration) of God. To be fair, many (most?) in these last four categories would agree with that. The difference is that those in this group (who also take the Bible very seriously) place a high value on understanding the influence of culture, history, and our humanity on the text, as well as trying to understand how our own culture and context influences how we read and understand the text. This group tends to raise a lot of questions – how does our understanding of the Ancient Near East culture influence our understanding of the creation account? How did Paul’s cultural reality and upbringing influence his comments and actions regarding the role of women? How do we understand the conquest of the Promised Land and some of God’s commands to kill everyone? They also tend to be a lot less firm on many secondary doctrines, because they see uncertainty in the text. The benefit of this approach is that it digs deep to try to understand the message of what God was really trying to communicate in their culture and context and how we can appropriately convey this message to our current culture and context. The challenge is that it can be easy to move subtly into group 4 that I mentioned above (they are very similar, after all), standing critically over the text, or becoming so skeptical about what is accurate that they end up sliding into a belief that the Bible is not really God’s Word. Another challenge is that of becoming arrogant due to the amount of learning about different topics that is required, and becoming just as dogmatic about secondary topics as those in the literal group. But let’s be honest – arrogance and dogmatism are common traits for anyone in categories 4, 5, and 6. It doesn’t take much for us to think that we’re right and everyone else is wrong!
  7. The Bible as narrative – The basic idea here is that we should understand the Bible as a story (not meaning fiction, just story) that reveals how God was working in a particular time and place. The focus is less on developing theology and doctrines, and more on relationship and how people listened and related to God in a specific time and from there, how we can listen and relate to God in our time. The concept is used rather broadly and in a variety of different ways. The focus on relationship with God can be very beneficial and can both bring alive our relationship with God and assist us to see how He might relate to us in our present situation. On the other hand, some have used this method to move away from key and traditional church beliefs as well as the original author’s intent. It can use a self-centred approach, ignoring theology and church history and using humanity and our feelings and society as a starting point to make the stories (and God) fit into our beliefs. Most proponents would probably argue that they take the Bible seriously; however, depending on their approach and assumptions the results can be wildly different. I believe that adding an understanding of the Bible as narrative or story can be very helpful, but I don’t think we can ignore 2000 years of theology to do so.

So those are the 7 categories that I see. With that in mind, I want to pull out two key concepts.

First, except for categories 1 and 2, there are people in each category who take the Bible seriously – often very seriously. However, their approach to Scripture varies for different reasons. I would encourage us not to assume that someone holds a low (“not God’s Word”) view of Scripture simply because they don’t approach Scripture the same as us – or hold to all the same interpretations as us.

Second, as someone who gets tired of all the fighting, I would like to ask us all to show tremendous grace to people in other categories. This is especially true for those who find themselves in the last four categories, which is where most of the intense disagreements in the church seem to come from. I find myself presently in category 6, and it can be very frustrating to hear people who view the Bible “literally” say, directly or implicitly, that I don’t take the Bible seriously because I differ in my interpretation of a verse or doctrine. I take the Bible very seriously. And I know you do, too (assuming you’re a Christian). But my serious study of the Bible may lead me to a different conclusion than your serious study of the Bible. It’s okay for us to disagree, assuming that we maintain orthodoxy (if we start to ignore Christ and reject primary beliefs and creeds such as the Apostle’s Creed or the resurrection of Christ, then it’s a whole other issue).

My next post will (hopefully) address the creation account, my interpretation of it, and why it is something that has helped me to continue in my faith rather than losing it. But I felt that it was important to challenge us all to be honest about how we interpret the Bible, and to strive for grace and understanding when others interpret some parts differently.

7 maneras de interpretar la Biblia

7 maneras de interpretar la Biblia

English version

La Biblia es el libro más vendido en el mundo. Pero probablamente es el libro más discutido del mundo también. No lleva much tiempo entrar en un desacuerdo sobre un pasaje específico y cómo interpretarlo. Eso no significa que el argumento básico de la Biblia es difícil de entender – no lo es. Simplemente significa que la gente trae muchas presuposiciones a la Biblia, presuposiciones que influyen en cómo entender diferentes pasajes o aún toda la Biblia.

¿Por qué es importante esta idea? Pues, las presuposiciones y el planteamiento que traemos a la Biblia afectan drásticamente lo que entendemos de ella. Es como leerla con diferentes lentes que nos muestran diferentes cosas. Planteamientos diferentes nos revelan diferentes cosas. Tienen ventajas y desventajas diferentes y tenemos que ser honestos sobre ellas. También es útil entender (sobre todo entre los cristianos) el planteamiento de otros, porque a menudo discutimos y nos acusamos mutuamente de no tomar en serio la Biblia, que es lamentable y causa mucha división que no es necesario. De alguna manera, estoy escribiendo este post para poder compartir cómo abordo las escrituras y para pedir honestidad y comprensión de los que tal vez no comparten ese planteamiento. Espero que con este post, puedes ver un poco del valor en algunos de los otros planteamientos hacia las escrituras, aun si no estás de acuerdo con cada aspecto. Como cristiano, es cierto que algunos planteamientos definitivamente no tienen mucho valor. Pero algunos (más que uno) sí lo tienen.

Lo que sigue son 7 maneras de leer la Biblia. No es una lista exhaustiva. Probablamente hay variaciones de cada uno de estos grupos y tal vez categorías en que no he pensado. Sin embargo, es un buen lugar para empezar. ¿Cuál planteamiento utilizes tú?

  1. Por Los rumores – bueno, esto no es una manera de leer la Biblia, exactamente, pero es el planteamiento que muchos utilizan. La gente de esta categoría normalmente citan a alguien y lo que que esa persona ha dicho sobre la Biblia sin haberla leído por sí mismo. Obviamente, la gente de este grupo no toman la Biblia muy en serio, y puede ser muy frustrante tratar con alguien que claramente no sepa de que está hablando. Sería igual por nosotros si tratáramos de hablar sobre un tema de que no sepamos nada, ¿verdad?
  2. Como Mito – por lo general, la gente en esta categoría tratan la Biblia como un documento antiguo que quizás sí, quizás no tiene un poco de verdad, pero es principalmente en el mismo nivel como cualquier otra enseñanza religiosa antigua, como los dioses de Roma o Grecia. Las historias se consideran míticas, sobre todo si hay algo sobrenatural. Tal vez “toman en serio” la Biblia como un documento antiguo, pero definitivamente no como la palabra de Dios.
  3. De manera informal – hay muchos en este grupo, aunque por diferentes razones. Algunos creen que la Biblia tiene algunas enseñanzas buenas, pero que no tiene más autoridad que cualquier otra enseñanza moral. Otros creen que la Biblia es la palabra de Dios (la toman en serio), pero nunca interactúan con ella. Las razones son diversas (son demasiados ocupados, no les gusta leer, no tienen disciplina, les parece aburrida, etc.), pero a menudo estas razones solamente parecen ser puros pretextos. Sería justo cuestionar cuan “en serio” este grupo toma la Biblia, pero no quiero ser excesivamente duro a los muchos que toman en serio la Biblia, pero no la leen mucho.
  4. Histórico-crítico – algunos de esta categoría toman en serio la Biblia. Tal vez aún la consideran como la palabra de Dios. Pero tienen una tendencia a ser muy crítico y/o escéptico de ella y a menudo se ponen a sí mismos encima del texto, tratando de juzgar qué es verdadero y qué no. Tengo en mente personas como los críticos textuales alemanes quien dividen la Biblia entre muchos diferentes fuentes o las del el “Jesus Seminar”. El primer grupo a menudo toma en serio la Biblia (y puede tener unas percepciones muy importantes y útiles), pero su tendencia a partir la Biblia – y sus desacuerdos extensivos en cómo partirla – tienden a debilitar la fe en las escrituras. Un grupo como el “Jesus Seminar”, que divide las enseñanzas de Jesús en varias categorías desde “cierta” a “completamente fabricada” (y al fin solamente “validan” unas frases como verdaderamente de Jesús) me parece completamente arrogante y, para ser honesto, completamente sin idea de lo que habla. Aunque estoy muy en favor de estudiar la historia de la Biblia, este grupo se pone tan encima de las escrituras que dicen que ellos pueden saber mucho mejor que los testigos contemporáneos de Jesús lo que él verdaderamente decía. Ellos (los del “Jesus Seminar”) se han puesto en la posición de decidir la verdad mejor que la Biblia.
  5. Literalmente (o tradicionalmente) – técnicamente (por lo menos en inglés), esto debería significar que estas personas leen la Biblia de acuerdo con el tipo de literatura que es – la poesía como poesía, la parábolas como parábolas, la historia como historia, etc. Y la mayoría en esta categoría hacen eso. Sin embargo, este término se ha extendido a significar que no hay otra manera de leer la sino por la interpretación “tradicional” y la que más fácil a nuestro entendimiento. En otras palabras, cualquier cosa que la Biblia diga “claramente” (sin mucho estudio o interpretación) es lo que ellos creen, aunque muchas de las enseñanzas “claras” (particularmente sobre doctrinas no centrales) han sido interpretados a través de una cultura específica. Las enseñanzas tradicionales que ellos afirman no son tan tradicionales como ellos piensan, o los a que estas enseñanzas fueron escritas originalmente no las hubieran entendido en la manera que este grupo las entienden. No quiero menospreciar los de este grupo porque a) fui parte de este grupo por la mayoría de mi vida, y b) ellos toman la Biblia muy en serio. De hecho, he conocido muchísimos en este grupo que son muy devotos y maravillosos – te animo a tomar la Biblia tan en serio como los de este grupo! Sin embargo, también he visto mucho enojo y dogmatismo en este grupo y a menudo un rechazo completo de cualquier interpretación de la Biblia que no está de acuerdo con sus doctrinas e interpretación. Ni siquiera conceden la posibilidad de otra interpretación. Por algunos, la Biblia se ha convertido en su dios en vez de ser su herramienta para conocer a Dios. También, he visto muchos desacuerdos dentro de este grupo entre personas que no están de acuerdo sobre varios puntos teológicos (escoge uno: le segunda venida de Cristo, libre albedrío contra predestinación, el rol de mujeres, etc). Cada uno apunta a sus versículos favoritos que “claramente” validan su opinión, ¡aunque otros apuntan a versículos que “claramente” muestran que están equivocados! Entonces, mientras que hay mucho bueno en este grupo, también hay mucha potencial – que desafortunadamente se convierte a menudo en realidad – por terquedad y una insistencia en estar correcto en vez de vivir en amor.
  6. Histórico-cultural – los de este grupo ven la Biblia como un documento escrito por humanos bajo la dirección (inspiración) de Dios. Para ser justo, muchos (la mayoría) en estas últimas cuatro categorías estarían de acuerdo con eso. La diferencia es que los en este grupo ponen un valor alto en entender la influencia de la cultura, la historia, y nuestra humanidad en el texto, además de tratar de entender como nuestra propia cultura y contexto influyen como leemos y entendemos el texto. Este grupo tiende a tener muchas preguntas: ¿Cómo influye nuestro entendimiento de la cultura antigua del cercano oriente nuestro entendimiento de la cuenta de la creación? ¿Cómo afectó la realidad cultural y la crianza de Pablo sus comentarios y acciones en cuanto al rol de mujeres? ¿Cómo entendemos la conquista de la tierra prometida y algunos de los órdenes de Dios a matar a todos? Ellos también tienden de ser mucho menos firme con relación a doctrinas secundarias porque ven incertidumbre en el texto. Lo bueno de este planteamiento es que investiga muy profundamente el contexto para tratar de entender el mensaje que Dios quería comunicar en la cultura original y cómo podemos expresar este mensaje apropiadamente en nuestra cultura y contexto. El desafío es que puede ser muy fácil de pasar a grupo 4 y ponerse encima del texto en vez de bajo su autoridad, o de volverse tan escéptico sobre qué es cierto en la Biblia que terminan en creer que la Biblia no es verdaderamente la palabra de Dios. Otro desafío es la posibilidad de hacerse arrogante debido al monto de aprendizaje requerido sobre diferentes temas, y también de hacerse tan dogmático sobre doctrinas secundarias como los de la categoría 5. Pero seamos honestos – la arrogancia y el dogmatismo son características comunes por cualquier persona en categorías 4, 5 y 6. No tarda mucho para hacernos pensar que nosotros tenemos razón y los demás están equivocados.
  7. Como narrativo – la idea en esta categoría es que debemos entender la Biblia como una historia (no como ficción, sino como un narrativo) que revela cómo Dios estuvo obrando en un tiempo y lugar particular. El enfoque de las escrituras no es tanto en desarrollar teología y doctrina, sino en mostrar una relación con Dios y cómo la gente escuchaba y se relacionaba con Dios, y desde ese punto, aprender cómo podemos escuchar y relacionarnos a Dios en nuestro tiempo. El concepto se usa muy ampliamente y en una variedad de maneras diferentes. El enfoque en la relación con Dios puede ser muy beneficioso y puede traer vida a nuestra relación con Dios y ayudarnos a entender cómo Él se relaciona con nosotros en nuestra situación actual. Por el otro lado, algunos han utilizado este método para alejarse de creencias claves y tradicionales de la iglesia, y también del intento original del autor. Ellos pueden empezar desde una perspective egocéntrico, pasando por alto la teología y historia de la iglesia, utilizando la humanidad y nuestra sociedad y sentimientos como el punto de partido para hacer que las historias (y Dios) se acomoden a nuestras creencias. La mayoría de los defensores de esta posición probablamente dirían que toman en serio la Biblia, sin embargo, dependiendo en su enfoque y presuposiciones los resultados y interpretaciones pueden variar muchísimo. Creo que aumentar nuestro entendimiento con esta idea de la Biblia como narrativo puede ser muy útil, pero no creo que podamos ignorar 2000 años de teología para hacerlo.

Entonces, esos son las 7 categorías que yo veo. Con eso en mente, quiero dirigirnos a dos conceptos claves.

Primero, excepto por categorías 1 y 2, hay gente en cada categoría que toman en serio la Biblia. Sin embargo, su manera de abordar las escrituras varía por diferentes razones. Nos animo no asumir que alguien no tome en serio la Biblia solamente porque no abordan las escrituras en la misma manera como nosotros o porque no tienen las mismas interpretaciones como nosotros.

Segundo, como uno que se cansa de todas las discusiones cáusticas, les pido a todos que aprenden a mostrar mucha gracia a personas que interpretan la Biblia desde otra perspectiva. Esto es especialmente necesario por los que se encuentran en las últimas cuatro categorías, donde ocurra la mayoría de las disputas intensas en la iglesia. Ahorita, me encuentro en la sexta categoría, y es muy frustrante cuando alguien me acusa (directamente o implícitamente) de no tomar en serio la Biblia porque tenemos interpretaciones diferentes de un versículo o doctrina. Yo tomo la Biblia muy en serio y yo sé que tú también lo haces (suponiendo que eres un cristiano). Pero mi estudio de la Biblia a veces me lleva a una conclusión diferente que la tuya. Está bien que no estamos de acuerdo, siempre que mantengamos la ortodoxia (si empezamos a ignorar a Cristo o rechazamos credos y creencias primarias como el credo de los apóstoles o que Jesús resucitó, eso es otro asunto).

Mi post siguiente tratará con el relato de la creación, mi interpretación de ella, y por qué esa es algo que me ha ayudado a seguir en mi fe en vez de perderla. Pero sentí que era muy importante animarnos a ser honestos sobre cómo interpretamos la Biblia, y esforzarnos por tener gracia y entendimiento cuando otros interpretan algunas partes de la Biblia en una manera diferente.