Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Maybe the Story of Noah isn't for Kids!

The story of Noah is a favorite of many Sunday School teachers -- isn't it a wonderful story that Noah built an ark so he and his family, along with a pair of each kind of animal might be spared from the flood. But what we don't tell the children is why this big boat has to be built.

My Disciple colleague from the west side of Michigan, Rev. David Stout, using a sort of Mr. Roger's demeanor, tells the story in a way that turns the tables on the usual presentation -- reminding us that maybe this isn't really a kids's tale after all!  The further question concerns the way we interpret Scripture and understand the nature of God.

31 comments:

John said...

That is fantastic, especially the little smile at the very end! Nothing inspires genuine faith, genuine forgiveness and genuine love like the inherent Word of God!

John

Gary said...

Obviously, David Stout does not believe in the God of the Bible. If he believes in a god at all, it is one that he has invented. Pity the poor people who are under the false impression that this guy is a Christian.

Stout must not believe that the Biblical Jesus is real either. Jesus confirmed the Flood in Luke 17 and in Matthew 24.

One of the biggest problems real Christians face in this day is phony Christians like Stout. I wish they would stop playing the hypocrite and drop their pretense of faith.

Aric Clark said...

God is light. In God there is no darkness at all. Anyone who thinks the story of the flood is history doesn't know God. They worship a monster.

David said...

That's a good question. What would inspire us to worship a monster, other than fear?

Brian said...

A bible story leading to a discussion about the nature of God. That's about as good as it gets!

I recognize that for most Christians, at least in moderate/liberal expressions, the idea is that God is all good and not responsible for bad. I understand the function this performs, so I don't fight it.

BUT, it doesn't make sense to me. This understanding of God makes God a being, rather than "being itself" (Tillich terms) This understanding is making God in our own image. God feels and thinks and makes decisions. It is understandable that humans would do this.

I find it not the most credible approach. Years ago I read Carl Jung's autobiography. His view of God was more in tune with Taoist thought, or what Einstein refered to as "Spinoza's God". God is the source of all. It matters not if we experience/label something as good or bad. God is the laws of science at work.

The insurance companies have no beef with this. If a house gets ripped to shreds by a tornado, it is labeled, "an act of God".

This is also why I have no beef with folks giving thanks that God spared their house even though God did not spare the neighbors house.

This is an approach to God that feels more mature, or as Paul might say, for those of us who are ready for "solid food".

If you find the view that God thinks, feels, and makes decisions to be helpful, knock yourself out. I have no quarrel with you.

I hope that in the year 2011, more and more Christians can come to accept that many Christians see things differently. Are we welcome at your table?

Aric Clark said...

@ Brian

A bible story leading to a discussion about the nature of God. That's about as good as it gets!

Agreed.

With you, Tillich, and others I can agree that God is the ground of being, the source of all that is, and in this sense transcends our comprehension - and certainly transcends limited concepts like "thinking/choosing/acting".

That by itself is just amoral deism "There is a god." The next question we ought to ask is what is the moral nature of the universe? We could answer three things - the universe and God are basically good. The universe and God are basically evil. Or the universe and God are basically indifferent. Any of these or some combination of these is possible and reasonable arguments can be made based only on observation of what is around us.

The Christian says - we have an answer to the question of what the source of being is like in the person of Jesus Christ. God is like that, and thus the universe God created is like that - like Jesus. How one decides to draw from this analogy varies - we can do so at a literal level "God is like a 1st century palestinian", a fairly abstract level "God is like a person" - or a really abstract level "God is loving"...

The authors of the New Testament when drawing from the example of Jesus to say what God is like said this - God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all.

Brian said...

Aric - The darkness/light issue you bring up from 1 John is one of the passages of scriptue that touches my heart in a powerful way. I work a lot with another 1 John text saying "God is love". Not loving, but love itself. Critics will often say "God is love but love is not God". That doesn't make sense to me. Love is God. God is love personified.

I suspect the universe is amoral. Morality is a human construct. It does not exist in the cosmos seperately from the observer.

This is why I choose a Christianity that is human centered, because (as Tillich taught) that is the only HONEST place to start. Revelation is the human experience of the Divine. Humans can only experience and communicate "God" through human means (social construction of reality).


This doesn't mean it is not "real". It is very real! (To better understand my views I'd have to get into Symbolic Interactionist theory. I won't bore you.)

Don't worry. I don't preach this way! I'm just enjoying good conversation with good folks. I proclaim and live as if God is love and light.

Aric - It is really nice to meet you. You have good insight!

Aric Clark said...

Pleasure to make your (digital) acquaintance as well Brian. I enjoy a good conversation. And 1 John is a cornerstone of my theology.

John said...

So having moved beyond the violent nature attributed by some writers of Scripture to our God, I ask why then is this story preserved in Scripture? What truths can it tell us through the ages about God?

I suggest that it is a parabolic lesson on the degree to which God abhors violence, that is after all why God set about to destroy Creation. And because God's love cannot be undone by anything we creatures do, the family of Noah, God's beloved, survives to continue the relationship between God and Creation into future generations, protected by God even though the earth itself is destroyed.

Those nameless faces metaphorically destroyed in the flood were literary devices, no more and no less important that the family of Job killed not for anything they did wrong, wiped out as a mere test of Job's faithfulness (can you say collateral damage). Biblical writers can be ruthless.

In this case perhaps the lesson is that God will protect and preserve God's beloved from ultimate destruction. After all the lesson is about Noah and God.

Just thinking out loud.

John

John said...

Gary,

Perhaps I was too quick to accept the story he told as true and accurate. Please let me know what Stout has miss-stated. Perhaps he took a little liberty when he claimed that not all species were limited to just two each in the ark. Though there were more than two humans on the ark.

But from my one-time listening, it seemed that Stout was precisely accurate - down to God's expressed need for a sign (the Rainbow) to help keep him from forgetting his covenant not to drown the world again, and down to slitting the throat of the sacrificial animals, and down to his promise to destroy the world by fire, and down to the promised banishment of the bad people to Hell for eternity.

Are you suggesting that it was inappropriate for him to tell the story in such blunt terms, without any attempt to interpret into it a more liberal or more compassionate theology?

Aren't you the one who is so set on honoring the Word exactly as it is written and without overt attempts to interpret and without attributing to God compassion which God does not explicitly exhibit in Scripture.

Just asking.

John

David said...

I don't think I ever bought into the Noah thing, even as an impressionable youth. Especially the rainbow invention.

Has anyone checked out Carl Jung's Red Book? Pretty expensive, but can be had free here-
http://www.megaupload.com/?d=N7NLVXBE I can't read it, but it has cool images.

I don't know if the universe is immoral, but pain, hate, fear and the host of thing we term evil are wherever humans exist. I believe forgiveness, love and salvation are real. Life itself offers potential salvation. I decided this year I'm a "christian humanist". It seems more honest and challenging than agnostic or atheist. I forgive "regular" Christians their superstitions. Our common ends justify many means.

My word verification is latersin. I'll try not to follow that advice.

David said...

Well, I viewed the clip. This is my style, and why I had to duck out of being a Sunday school teacher.

David said...

Oh, the Red Book noted above includes a translation. Didn't note that before.

dcsloan said...

The scripture is ancient. It was written a long time ago and it was not written for us or to us. It was written by ancient people for people of that ancient time in an ancient language and in the context of an ancient culture. We are so separated from those people - by time, language, knowledge, technology, history, and what we consider normal experiences of our cultural conventions, cultural assumptions, cultural expectations, and cultural allowances and liberties - that coupled with our vast ignorance of that ancient cultural experience at the societal, individual and daily level, it is impossible for us to develop a comprehensive or even a skeletal understanding of the original literal and metaphorical and connotative meaning and the actual cultural influence and cultural impact of the scripture - and whatever message or context did exist cannot be recreated. The fundamental differences between then and now are incomprehensible and insurmountable. Whatever the scripture was - is gone.

We are on our own. All that matters is what the scripture means to us and not what it meant to the authors and the original audience.

Gary said...

John,

Stout does not believe the Flood is historical. As I understand it, none of you do because you don't believe in a God who would judge people and kill them when He thinks it is necessary. That puts you at odds with Jesus because Jesus considered the Flood to be historical.

John said...

Doug,

I don't know if I agree with you entirely. Much is inaccessible, but not all. And I think the Holy Spirit guides us, if we allow it to, toward an understanding of Scripture which brings us closer to God, and, I think, closer to all the people of God, even those who lived three or four thousand years ago. Does that mean that all that counts is what we see in Scripture today? To say so just doesn't feel right to me. I cling to the belief that in some divinely mysterious way there are some timeless truths in those ancient Scriptures.

John

dcsloan said...

The life we have today is so different from the way life was lived 2000 years ago that the way we perceive our existence is fundamentally different and irreconcilable with the way life was lived in ancient times.

For example, we have no ancient Jewish music. Studying the Psalms (Jewish hymn lyrics) and trying to discern original context is impossible. It would be like trying to discern the context of Handel's "Messiah" with only the lyrics and no concept of western european music.

While we can have an academic understanding of the ancient biblical languages, the cultural context of those languages - the metaphors, connotations, humor, satire, contemporary allusions - is so full of gaps as to make our understanding inescapably faulty.

The life we have is so very very different from that ancient life that we can neither conceptualize it nor empathize with it. We certainly cannot "see" life, "feel" life, or think as they did in ancient times. The experiences of our existence have so changed our perceptions as to make it impossible.

John said...

Gary,

The only person who God judged in the flood story is Noah, and he rekoned him righteous enough to save, notwithstanding the abominations which Noah would perpetrate later. Surely there were others who were at least as good as Noah before the flood. Perhaps not, but either way, we are not informed in the story that each of the destroyed humans were individually and personally judged. And what of the animals? Is God as you understand God, indifferent to the pointless and cruel suffering of animals - so indifferent that he would slaughter them all in a pique of fury against humanity?

At what point in the interpretive process are we permitted by your understanding to impute compassion to God?

Clearly this story is about God's own repentance, away from destruction and in favor of his beloved creatures; about the promise not to permit such blind destruction to happen again. However you view the historicity of this Babylonian Flood Epic which has been incorporated into Hebrew Scriptures, is it not enough that I find a way to teach this story as reflective of lessons in repentance, compassion, and in God's covenant making and covenant keeping.

Do I really help the transmission of the Gospel by focusing on the story's gruesomeness, or by focusing on God's own violence as set forth in the story, or on the continuing threat of divine destruction implied in the rainbow covenant? I think God will forgive me if I am too filled with compassion to think that is not the lesson God has in mind here.

John

Brian said...

I believe there is some solid evidence that there was a giant flood that destroyed civilizations. This would have been experienced as "the whole world". Those who survived would have told the stories in their own cultural context. It has been noted for a long time that the similarities are striking between these flood stories. It is only reasonable that the cultures would use their understandings of the world and deities to make sense of such things. (Biblical Archeology Review is a fine magazine written to be understood by many.)

Like the ancients, we know that one day the earth will be hit with fire from the sky.

Doug - I hear what you're saying about scripture. I have no beef with it. But I will say that there is great work being done in biblical archeology that helps us to gain deeper insight. You are right that we'll never really know what it was like to be them, but I feel drawn toward trying to hear their stories.

I love scriptures and I love God. I probably come across as a hard-hearted man on the screen, but my heart is soft. (Some would say my head is soft!)

I suspect Gary had his mind made up before he watched the video. I won't judge him because I would feel the same way if I participated on fundamentalist forums.

John said...

Brian,

My (uneducated) suspicion is that the flood story was incorporated into Genesis during the Babylonian captivity, when the writers of Scripture were fully exposed to the Gilgamesh epic and were inspired to see within it authentic truths about the relationship between God and humanity. (Does any pre-exhilic Hebrew writing mention Noah or the Flood? I don't know the answer to this.)

As for Doug's concern about our 'disconnect' from the stories of Scripture due to the age of these traditions, I am willing to accept that most of the stories from Scripture were already ancient when they were first written down - so that those who wrote them down were as removed and disconnected from the original context as we are. Nevertheless, the truths were still present in the stories to those writers, and are still available to us today. My faith convinces me that part of the work of the Holy Spirit in preserving Scripture is to preserve and lift up those stories which contain significant spiritual truths, stories which will continue to speak through the generations of God's people. By the same token I reject the notion that they are just a random collection of good stories and moral tales.

John

Brian said...

John - I think you're probably right about the flood story (and other ideas) coming from interaction during the exile. I recall my Old Testament prof suggesting that Judaism, as we'd recognize it, didn't really begin until after the exile. There was Israelite religion, of course, but it wasn't Judaism as we'd recognize it. This is a theory, not a fact.

I also agree with you about the stories coming from antiquity. That excites me. The phrase I sometimes use is that these stories, "creep out of the primordial forest". I try to imagine the thrill of hearing these ancient stories come to life through the telling around the night fire. They were ancient before they were written.

You're right. These are not just random stories. They have had meaning for "us" since deepest antiquity. They still do!

A favorite teacher once suggested to me that the Bible is not so much a place to turn for answers as it is a place to turn for community. The Bible is where we gather. We re-tell our stories and in the retelling, we find ourselves to be part of the unfolding story.

You are very educated John. So is everyone. We are just educated in different things. That's why we need each other. (That probably sounded preachy.)

John said...

Brian,

Perhaps "uneducated" was the wrong word. I didn't mean to be overly modest, just to acknowledge that I have no formal seminary training or credentials to warrant giving my humble opinions on matters of theology any great weight.

But thanks for your kindness.

John

John said...

I challenged Gary to detail where David Stout was inaccurate in his telling of the story - and have yet to hear a response.

I also challenge Gary's assumption that David Stout understands the flood story as pure metaphor. While I do, I am not so certain that Rev. Stout does - though he may - what he believes about the story's historicity is really irrelevant to the point I think he's trying to make.

For me the point of his story telling is not to challenge the historicity of the events so much as to challenge those who claim Scripture must be interpreted and taught with a rigid adherence to the literal language and details. I think he got the details right, and the sequence right, and he even got the context right. His reading was an accurate interpretation of the story - especially if one is claiming that literality is the primary requirement in the interpretive process. Couple that requirement together with a narrow view of election and Stout's reading becomes disturbingly acceptable.

Given Gary's fundamental demand for interpretative literalism and his narrow view of election, I find it interesting that Gary rejected Stout and his reading of this story.

Ignoring Stout's clever delivery, I am curious to know from Gary's view what is wrong with Stout's reading? If delivered in an authentic voice would it be acceptable? Acceptable for children? If not, then why not?

John

Gary said...

Stout's reading was fine. But I don't believe he believes the Flood actually happened. Might not believe Noah was a real man. If I'm wrong about his views, I assume he has access to this blog and can tell me.

Moses wrote the Book of Genesis. And Moses was not in the Babylonian captivity. So much for that theory.

The underlying issue is the character of God. Will the God of the Bible judge sin and kill people, and send them to Hell? The Biblical answer is yes. And it is repeated from Genesis to Revelation. That makes Him a God that most of you want nothing to do with. So, you have to pretend that the Bible doesn't really mean what it says. It's allegorical, not literal, you say.

Jesus, Paul, and Peter all believed the Flood was historical. I think I know what's coming: Those were uneducated, unsophisticated, men who did not understand the facts. Really? Then why do you claim to be followers of Jesus? Why pretend to follow someone who knows less than you do?

John said...

Gary,

So you ARE comfortable with Stout's reading, you just don't trust his undis loses theology (or perhaps his tongue in cheek delivery).

Well, there you have it.

John

John said...

Sorry, undies loses = undisclosed.

John

David said...

"undies loses"

He, He. Wouldn't that disclose a bit?

The secret word for today is "frucked"

Paul D. said...

"Moses wrote the Book of Genesis. And Moses was not in the Babylonian captivity."

Gary, surely you realize anyone who has seriously studied the Biblical texts and their origins (aka experts) thinks otherwise. Exactly what language did you think Moses wrote Genesis in, anyway? Hebrew was not a written language in the 15th century BC.

"Why pretend to follow someone who knows less than you do?"

Are you being disingenuous? Surely Jesus and the apostles can be considered experts in matters of faith and the gospel without being experts in history, archaeology, linguistics, or the sciences. Are you really arguing that the Apostle Paul's epistles are only valid if he knew more on every subject in the world than you or I do?

John said...

Paul,

I find myself wanting to defend Gary here, not because he is right, but because I selfishly want to keep Gary talking reasonbly and sharing his fundamentalist point of view with me about those topics he is willing to debate. I fear that to challenge him on this will only drive him into apoplexy.

I presume Gary's belief in the Mosaic authorship of the Torah is an article of his faith. For Gary it appears that Jesus said so, and so it must be true because Jesus only spoke truth, and the full truth, because Jesus knew all truth and only truth. The idea that Jesus was not all knowing during the whole of his earthly life would be unacceptable for Gary. The idea that Jesus was subject to the normal human limitations on his physical, emotional, and intellectual growth, development, and learning is also unacceptable. For fundamentalists Jesus was at all times fully God and he was fully human in flesh only.

Surely Gary can and will defend himself in the way only Gary does. But to challenge him on this will only back him into a corner and cause him to bear his fangs. If you want to engage Gary, instead of just exchanging shouts, I suggest being selective in choice of battlefields, listen to his point of view, give up the notion of changing his mind, and bring bandaids.

John

Gary said...

Paul D.,

One of the many things that we disagree on is what an "expert" is concerning Scripture and history.

I think Moses wrote the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, because I believe that is what is taught in the New Testament. Jesus affirms it in such passages as Luke 24:27 and John 5:46. And, according to Jesus, Abraham affirms Moses authorship as well in Luke 16:29,31.

Why would you believe what Jesus said about faith and religion when you don't believe Him about history. You wouldn't. You're just fooling yourself to think you would. As Jesus said, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe , if I tell you of heavenly things?" John 3:12.

Bill said...

Continuously evil is the description given of the people of Noah's time as well as intermarried with fallen angels. We have no way of understanding the context of that world and yet it is written with no thought to paint a pretty picture. I much prefer a Holy Book full of contrast and seeming contradictions, God must be behind it.gesis@9777