Saturday, April 10, 2021

An Overview of the Story 2

 ... continued from here


For this reason, our first fly over Scripture will have a lot of Christian glue in it. As Christians, we tend to stick the stories and teachings of the Bible together in particular ways. For example, although it may seem obvious to us, we consider the second half, which we call the "New" Testament, to be the fulfillment or consummation of the first half. We call the first half the "Old" Testament. 

You can see even in the way we have named these two halves that we would say the first half is somehow incomplete without the second half of the story. In theory, someone could label or glue them together differently. For example, a person who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah might see the second half as a kind of appendix telling about a Jewish group that got it wrong.

2. A story typically has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. The beginning of the story sets up some sort of situation or problem that will play itself out in the rest of the story. The ending then sees that situation reach some sort of resolution or destination for the initial situation in some way. The middle of the story is the process of reaching that ending point.

In the story within the Bible, the story starts and ends with God. God is the main character. The story begins with creation in Genesis 1 and it ends with new creation and "forever" in Revelation 22. Mind you, the books of Genesis and Revelation were not written at the same time. Hundreds of years separate the two "scrolls." The people who wrote the words in these books down had no idea these two scrolls would one day be bound together. God knew, of course.

Many Christians would see Adam as the culprit who sets up the biblical story to play out the way it does. Adam and Eve create the problem at the beginning of the story that the rest of the plot is trying to solve. They "sin" in the Garden of Eden. Humanity was meant to live forever from the very beginning, but Adam disobeys God and all is initially lost.

Speaking of glue, most Jews at the time of Jesus probably would not have focused on Adam in their telling of the story. At the time of Jesus, most Jews would probably have started the story more with Abraham, who first appears at the end of Genesis 11. What Christians tend to see as a subplot--the story of Abraham and his literal descendants--is the main plot for a Jewish reader who may or may not see Jesus as the goal of the story. 

In the Christian telling of the story, Jesus is the solution to the problem set up by Adam. Jesus is the "last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus is the climax of the story, the goal toward which the plot is moving. Everything in the story before Jesus is headed toward its fulfillment in him. 

3. One way to tell the overarching story from a Christian perspective is thus to give a story in six "acts." Again, this is the way we are telling the story, gluing the material in these books together from the outside looking in. They were all separate scrolls originally. Someone put these scrolls together and bound them in one big book. If we are to believe in the Bible, we have to believe not only that God directed or "inspired" the writing of them but that God also directed the later collection and putting of them together as a whole.

The first act is the creation, just as the final act is new creation and "forever." Then the second act sets up the problem of the story, the sin of Adam and the situation in which humanity now finds itself. We find ourselves separated from God. We find ourselves encumbered with evil and suffering. We find ourselves surrounded by death. The world is not yet at God planned for it to be. 

Part of the final act is not only eternity, but the final resolution of the problem. In this sixth act, humanity and the world become as God planned for them to be. This resolution of the plot involves both the judgment of humanity but also the salvation of many from that judgment. Judgment and salvation go together because salvation in part is escaping the consequences of the Judgment. 

The middle of the story is thus the movement toward this ending point. If Act I is the creation and Act II is the problem created by Adam and Eve, Act III gives the Old Testament, the time when God works with one specific people group, Israel, to begin to reconcile the world to himself. God reveals himself to this people. He makes a special arrangement or "covenant" with them. This first covenant looks forward to a more complete or "new covenant" that God will make with all humanity through Jesus.

Act IV is the turning point of the story, the point where God actually comes down to earth as a human, as Jesus. Jesus comes to fix the human problem. Through his death and resurrection to life again, Jesus defeats all the forces of evil and suffering in the story. He not only defeats death, but he defeats the strongest villain in the story, the Devil. Jesus satisfies the order of things and makes reconciliation with God finally possible.

Finally, Act V is somewhat unexpected. The Jews might have expected Act VI to be part of the initial coming of Jesus or at least to follow immediately after his resurrection from the dead. Instead, we have two thousand years of intervening time, the age of the Church. About two-thirds of the New Testament is about the beginning of this part of the story. The earliest Christians had no idea this part of the story would last so long.

Act VI thus begins with the "second coming" of Jesus. In Act VI, Jesus completes the mission that he started with his first coming. He brings judgment to those who have not given their allegiance to him, and he brings salvation from judgment to those who have confessed him as their Lord. For those who have confessed him as the Christ, as their "anointed" king, Act VI ends with a blessed forever. They not only escape the judgment, but they are transformed into the humanity we were always meant to be.

4. This is the way Christians generally understand the overarching story or metanarrative of Scripture...


Martin LaBar said...

Not all Christians would put it this way. Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, leaves out the third act:

Ken Schenck said...

I've noticed that some jump from Genesis 11 to Jesus. :-)

Bob MacDonald said...

There's a problem with temporal sequence in the story as presented. I think, as the poet George Herbert puts it, 'We count 300 and we misse, there is but one, and that one ever'. This is I hope a Christian perspective that will not degenerate into imperialism. I see the denial of temporal sequence in the Psalms, for instance. Psalms 33:6
In the word of Yahweh the heavens are made,
and in the wind of his mouth all their hosts,
16th century translators phrase creation as if it were in the past. But it isn't. It is present. Even the first word of the Bible is debated - why doesn't it begin with aleph, because aleph gave way to bet, and the verb is in the construct - in the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth. We too have our story in 'presence'.

I had submitted this comment, painfully, on my phone, but it didn't take - it just disappeared. Hopefully this one won't. Otherwise I will need to participate by post rather than by comment. I look forward to where the conversation goes. I appreciate the discipline that you put into your work. In all things, though, I am concerned that we clean our glasses and open our ears. Christianity has broken because it took too much for granted.

Bob MacDonald said...

Jeremiah's recognition of the problem with the story of creation (as we call it) is told with characteristic sorrow in Jer 4:23-25.
I saw the land, and behold, formless and void,
and to the heavens, and their light was not.
I saw the hills and behold, quaking,
and all the hillocks, dwindling.
I saw and behold, there was no human,
and all the fowl of the heavens have fled.

So he makes this story 'timeless' - present to him -
I saw and behold, the plantation in the wilderness,
and all its cities were broken down from the face of Yahweh, before his fierce anger. S

It is easy to see this in our time as well. But even though it is that very unhappy prophet Jeremiah who tells us this, we need not despair.
Because thus says Yahweh, Desolate, will be all the land,
but a consuming end, I will not make.

Another place we can see the timelessness of creation is in Proverbs 8, the role of wisdom.
Happy a human that has heard of what is mine,
to be alert at my gateways day by day,
to watch from the posts of my doors.

Yes, we in the human world, do have temporal successions, but there is something mysterious about the way that the voice of the children of humanity being delighted in by the personified wisdom before the beginning:
gamboling in the world of his earth,
reveling with the children of humanity. P

Of course there is a hint of the lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world here too in verse 23, a single thought, to be sung without pause.
מֵ֭עוֹלָם נִסַּ֥כְתִּי מֵרֹ֗אשׁ מִקַּדְמֵי־אָֽרֶץ
From everlasting I have offered libation from the beginning, out of the precedents of earth.

Ken Schenck said...

Fascinating stuff Bob. What do you make of the Sabbath as an end of creation in that sense?

Bob MacDonald said...

The 7th day - a sense of completion. Did you ever see the film Le huitième jour? (Not to be missed - it's a wonderful exploration of care.) The sabbath is not yet fully available according to Psalms 95 - and reflected in the letter to the Hebrews. Both these suggest to me that we are thoroughly in the 6th day when the first human is still being created. Can we be in all days at once? Let me just keep my ears and eyes open for words that force me back into the sequential mean of 7. (It's 3 and a half of course - 42 months, 42 stops in the wilderness.) All these numbers suggest play with language.

There's lots of places we can go with this - many readings of a sequence of days, many senses to be drawn out, not 'one meaning' to hold power over others.

And as far as story goes, I think I would like to focus on creation as temple,
"And let them make for me a sanctuary,
and I will dwell among them." (Ex 25:8)
and draw the story into worship because of that very idea of care, the character of the one who is who was and who is to come (Psalms 146).