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Myth vs. Fact


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I’d like to recover myth.

Some regard the first few chapters of the Bible as history. Others regard it as myth. Those in the history camp fear that those in the myth camp are denigrating the truth of the Bible. They think the only way for those chapters to be true is for them to be historically accurate. Those who claim that the stories are myth mean to claim something far greater than historical accuracy. They claim that these origin stories tell us enduring truths about the nature of man and the nature of God, the nature of sin and the nature of innocence.

One of the tragedies of our modern era is that we no longer believe in myths. Instead we believe in scientific verities, cold and soulless facts. Myth has two features that facts lack: Myth encapsulates truth in story, and it addresses our hearts not just our heads. We need myth to help us understand the mysteries of the world we live in.

I love science. Anyone who has followed my blog knows that I am a fan of science and of scientific thinking. But science cannot capture everything. Even if it were able to do so, it’s voluminous collections of facts would still fail to move me the way a good story does. Science gives us control or—more properly—the illusion of control. We can make engines do our bidding. We can make computers do massive calculations on our behalf. We can dig great holes, launch great ships, capture the light of galaxies too far away for our minds to grasp the immensity of the distance. We can travel to other planets and shrink our senses down to the perception of individual atoms and molecules. Science gives us the ability to do all these things.

Wonderful as science is, though, it cannot give us control over ourselves—or if it does, we find the cure worse than the disease. We still have widespread conflict over paltry differences like skin color. We still have envy, greed, lust, pride, sloth, wrath, and gluttony. We can no more change our fallen nature than we can change our DNA or the color of our blood. We need truth that goes beyond the facts that science can teach us.

We need the delicate power and transformative whisperings of myth, of story. Look at how much of the Bible is couched in narrative. Feel the way it insinuates its way into your thinking and understanding, so that you become not just a consumer of a fiction but a partaker of truth, an imbiber of intoxicating revelation. This happens even without any appeal to the Spirit, whose mysterious instrumentality is to take the words of this myth and sow them like seeds into your heart, water and nurture them until they grow into a changed life.

We need myth because it is truer than history and more comprehensive than scientific fact. Myth helps recreate us. It instructs us in the ways of a universe otherwise impossibly strange, unaccountable to us, and indifferent to our sufferings. Myth is true, and the truer a story is, the more mythical it becomes, until it becomes a part of the great Story that God has been telling from ages past, a Story of Love and Death, of Pride and Sacrifice, of Grace and Judgment. True myth always illuminates the Story of God.


Values Clarification


I’ve been through half a dozen values clarification sessions in my life. I never liked them. For one thing, I never thought they helped clarify anyone’s values. Typically, the group is presented with a hypothetical scenario requiring the sacrifice of one or more members to guarantee survival of those that remain. Because the scenarios are always hypothetical, they always lack the real detail of a genuine situation. They force you to make decisions based on stereotypes when a real situation would require a much more complete and nuanced understanding. In addition, since no one really dies, the entire process is overlaid with a sense of academic curiosity that I find repugnant. We sit in our group calmly rationalizing the relative value of this or that human being based on gender, race, age, occupation, general knowledge, or usefulness to the group all the while knowing full well that the value of each one is incalculable. The values that become clarified are the values of those who devise the experiments.

God seldom asks or answers hypothetical questions. He has a way of asking very pointed and practical questions: Where are you? Did you eat the fruit I told you not to eat? Where is your brother? What do you see? Is the maker of the eye unable to see? Do you want to be well? What do you want?

One of the classic questions aimed like an arrow at Christians is this: What about those who have never heard of Christ? Are they condemned because of their ignorance? Behind such questions is a silent accusation of injustice. If God requires faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, then those who have no opportunity to hear of Jesus certainly cannot believe in him and must be condemned. This certainly seems unfair. Why would a just God condemn those who have not heard along with those who have willfully rejected Jesus?

The Apostle Paul tackles these question in the book of Romans. He makes clear that there is no such thing as simple ignorance. Instead, Paul says that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” He claims that “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” The visible and tangible world testifies to the invisible God. Of course, there are many today who claim that nothing can be known of God—not even whether he exists—based on examination of the natural world. But such claims are based on an incomplete epistemology, one that tends to emphasize method and ignore the knowing subject. Besides, Paul says of those who persist in godlessness that “their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” They become unable to know God through his handiwork.

Nevertheless, Paul tells us that we will be judged according to what we have done, not according to what propositions we have given mental assent to. Those born under the Law—Jews—will be judged by the Law. Those who do not have the Law will be judged without the Law. Paul’s position is that everyone—with or without the Law—has done things they know they should not have done. They have acted from selfishness, meanness, cowardice, or malice. Those without the Law will be judged by their own guilt and by their hypocrisy, since they have condemned in others what they themselves have done. This fact, that none of us lives up to our own standards to say nothing of the standards of others, is an important clue about our human nature. Something in us demands perfection, and we are not up to it. What is this something, and where does it come from?

So there are no innocents undeserving of condemnation. Yes, there are some who are ignorant of Christ, but their ignorance is culpable, and they will be judged according to what they know, not according what they do not know. But what of you, O Accuser? If you are really concerned about those who do not yet know Christ, are you spending yourself as Paul did to bring the knowledge of the gospel to them? Or do you seek to divert God’s attention from your own sin by accusing him of injustice? There are some who have not heard Christ, but you have heard. What will you do with what you have heard?

Clarify this.

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Name Above All Names


Almost everybody likes Jesus, even folks who hate God. Everybody wants Jesus on their side. Jesus saves. Jesus has a million friends on Facebook. Everybody loves Jesus as long as he stays in his place, doesn’t get too preachy, doesn’t try to reach anyone, doesn’t remind you of his Father. We still all would like Jesus to be king as long as he’s the kind of king who will do everything we want him to do.

Jesus is also a swear word, and somehow he acquired a middle initial: Jesus H. Christ. What’s the ‘H’ for? How should I know? Jesus means damn, means hell, means ouch. Jesus gets shortened to geez or even gee. He’s a gee whiz kid from the Land of Iz.

Jesus is the answer, but no one knows the question. Is it that question, where the answer’s 42? Or is it that question, “What am I to do?” We like Jesus ’cause he’s friendly and he heals us and he feeds us and he tells us funny stories like the one about the camel going through the needle’s eye. And he doesn’t give a damn about the pundits and the princes and the people with the power and the portly politicians who bedevil all the rest of us.

He’s a nice guy, Jesus. Sort of like you and sort of like me. He’s such a nice guy that he even lets us kill him, and he does it all to save us from the dreadful power of sin. And it’s awfully decent of him ’cause the taste of sin is sweet, and we love to feel its texture and we love it’s spicy scent. And we take a big swallow, and it goes down smooth, and it makes us warm and fuzzy—until suddenly it doesn’t. We love it to death, and it’s so hard to quit it, so it’s nice to have Jesus come and make it all better. He takes the bitter and leaves us the sweet. Oh, sweet Jesus!

What’s this we hear about every knee bowing? Every tongue confessing that Jesus is king? Oh, that comes later, so we don’t care about it. It might not even happen for all we know. So let’s eat and drink and party, for tomorrow we may die. And you don’t want to die without getting all you can. Jesus, what a life!