Sunday, September 12, 2010

Echoes of God

Because Gen 1 has become a battlefield, we tend to interpret the text with an eye on modern science, one way or another. It takes a certain conscious effort to detach the text from modern controversies and listen to the text on its own terms.

One of the striking features in Gen 1 is the interplay between the divine “senses.” The interplay between divine speech and divine sight. In Gen 1, God’s speech is creative while his sight is evaluative. His speech is prior to the effect of his verbal fiat, while his sight is subsequent to the effect of his verbal fiat. He commands and commends. He commands something into being, then commends the outcome.

It’s instructive to compare and contrast this view of the world with Plato’s famous allegory of the Cave. Plato views the sensible world of time and space as echoes and shadows of a more ultimate and perfect reality. For him, time and space are inferior copies of timeless, invisible archetypes.

In Gen 1, there’s also a sense in which the sensible world is an echo of God’s spoken word. But in Gen 1, there is no discrepancy between generic exemplars and approximate exempla. Rather, there’s a perfect match between God’s creative command and the creative effect. For the effect is fully obedient to his command. Thus, the sensible world is “good” in its own right-–even “very good.”

In a fallen world, time is by turns our friend and our enemy. Too much sameness is tedious and monotonous. We need some variety for life to remain interesting.

But too much change is depressing and maddening. For we keep losing the things we love. We can never savor the moment. Linger.

As Bible writers put it:

Ps 90

3You return man to dust
and say, "Return, O children of man!"
4For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

5You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

9For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Isa 40

6A voice says, "Cry!"
And I said, "What shall I cry?"
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Eccl 1

2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.

11There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.

Yet Scripture also has a doctrine of the New Eden. Cosmic eschatological renewal. A doctrine of the Palingenesis, where in some sense the future restores the past, the end renews the beginning (Isa 35:1-10; 65-66; Ezk 47:1-12; Mt 19:28-29; Acts 3:21; Rom 8:18-23; 2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 20-22).

But not in a cyclical sense (“the myth of the eternal return”). Not mere repetition or recapitulation. But preserving and improving on the best of the past. The good without the bad. The good made better.

What form that will take exactly remains to be seen. That’s part of the adventure. The Christian hope of things unseen.


  1. This was edifying to read. Thanks, Steve. :-)

  2. Reading this reminds me of a great old wine that I have not tasted yet.

    I enjoyed "IT" very much.