Sometimes I hear people insist that Jesus was the Son of God, or God fully embodied as a human. And because God, to be God, must know everything, therefore Jesus must also have known everything. About everything. Including his own forthcoming death and resurrection.
Let’s play with that idea. Let’s imagine that we have a time machine. And we can go back 20 centuries, and listen to Jesus talking to the crowds that have come out to hear him.
He’s standing on a hilltop.
“You think that this rock I am standing on is solid,” he tells the crowd. “I tell you, this rock consists of billions of electrons and protons -- far tinier than a mustard seed -- which are not things at all, just positive and negative electrical charges, which you don’t know about yet, which can only be defined as probabilities. In fact, there is nothing under my feet, and nothing under you, except what you imagine is there.”
Fast forward a few decades. (Our time machine has split-screen capabilities.) The disciples are trying to reconstruct what Jesus taught them.
“He said there was nothing under him,” they recall. “We merely believed there was something solid there.”
So someone wrote: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can tell a mountain, 'Move,' and it will move, because there’s nothing there to move.”
Back to the real-time screen.
Jesus sits by the lakeshore. His disciples have gathered twelve baskets of leftovers after a picnic for 5,000 people. Jesus idly scatters some bread crumbs for the fish. A few crumbs don’t sink.
“See these crumbs?” he says. “They stay on top of the water because of surface tension. This stuff that you call water is actually composed of molecules, which you don’t know about yet. Molecules cling together, and because they’re more densely packed in a liquid than in the air or in the crumbs, they repel foreign objects.”
“What did he say?” the disciples wondered, later.
“He said water will hold us up,” one of them suggested.
Or, perhaps, Jesus and his disciples pass by an olive tree. The tree looks sick. “Ah,” says Jesus. “This tree has an infestation of nasty little black olive-bark beetles. The stupid things burrow under the bark and lay eggs, which hatch into larvae, only 3 mm long – you’ll learn about millimeters someday -- which excavate tunnels through the tree’s cambium layer, which conveys nutrients up and down the tree like a pipeline. They have so little sense that they destroy the pipeline and kill their host.”
The disciples recalled later that Jesus seemed to have cursed an olive tree, and it died.
I’m not making fun of Jesus. Rather, I suggest that even if Jesus had infinite knowledge, the people of his time had no way of understanding him.
Evolution, planetary orbits, DNA, vaccinations, and nuclear physics are not separate from religious concerns, just because the Bible doesn’t mention them. Nor is the Bible irrelevant because it doesn’t spell out scientific realities.
It’s up to us to determine what kind of knowledge is empirical, what kind is the product of a particular time and culture, and what to do about each kind.
Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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At least nobody denounced last Wednesday’s column as sentimental mush. Although Randy Hall did wonder about my emotional well-being: “I sense a bit of melancholy within you as you write of fall and impending winter. I, too, tend toward melancholy that is strongly affected by weather and my surroundings. A lot of ‘self talk’ is involved in propping myself up as I recall the goodness and blessings of my life. Then sometimes the ‘down’ periods can be a wonderful teacher.
“I'm reminded of a quote attributed to Englishman Horace Walpole: ‘The world is a comedy to those who think; a tragedy to those that feel.’ It seems that you, like me, have a foot in each. Thus, we laugh and we cry. And that's okay.”
David Gilchrist’s response to the seasons used to be “AMEN! … when neither brain nor fingers were quite as sluggish as today! But I don’t feel much differently now, though this year we had winter when Ontario had mid-summer heat; and now they are in deep freeze and we’re getting fall weather! And I love to drive through Northern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick in October.”
Bob Rollwagen also commented on the beauty of autumn: “We live in a wonderful place. I try to enjoy each season by participating in the opportunities it provides. The colours are blazing this year, and this weekend provided blue skies and comfortable hiking temperatures. What a world we would be living in if all nations could do this without the distraction of human power issues.”
Tom Watson resonated with Ecclesiates: “Ah, the seasons come and the seasons go, each giving away in its turn to the next. Same, as you suggest, with human life. It's a bit over a year since my wife Janice died, and during the passing of that year a number of things have happened, including the birth of two more great granddaughters in the past three months. It's a reminder that the old continually give way to the young -- each in its own time, each having its own season.”
Allan Baker: “Thanks for the poetic reflection on the seasons of life. Let’s continue to celebrate the season that we are living!”
John Hopkins wrote, “Your well written article on the seasons of the year brought back such poignant memories for me. It moved me to sit down and pen something similar for my grandsons to read. Your words so often speak volumes about the human condition of love. Thanks.”
Ezra Pound’s poem about winter’s miseries brought back some memories to John Shaffer: “In the 1970s I was a bus driver in Nome, Alaska, and one day, in blizzard conditions, I had to drive the round trip to the high school with a school bus. What was normally a brief trip took hours as I could not see out the front window. I had to open the door to determine if I was still on the road. The students applauded me when I delivered them safely to town.”
John also responded to Ruth Buzzard’s praise for the road out to Bella Coola: “My wife has announced that we will not be driving the 18 percent grade to that community. I learned about it while reading ‘Crusoe of Lonesome Lake’ by Leland Stowe, the story of Ralph Edwards and his family who were pioneers in the area later opened up by that road.”
Would I write this paraphrase of Psalm 34 the same way now as I did in 1993? I don’t know.
1 Hallelujah! I am safe and sound! Thank you, God, thank you!
You brought me through my troubled times,
You rescued me when I had given up hope.
2 You too can put your faith in God.
When you're down and out, and feeling low, when tears burn your eyes,
bring the bitter thoughts that keep you awake at night to God
and feel the sweet relief of sleep.
4 For I called out to God, and God answered me.
I needed deliverance, and God delivered me.
5 If you put your faith in God, you can shine like the morning sun;
you need never be ashamed of who you are.
6 I was a hopeless case, a despairing dummy.
But God heard me, and made something of me.
7 Those whom God protects live in a bubble of brightness;
whatever happens to them cannot soil them —
whatever befalls them, their inner beauty shimmers.
8 Turn to God, and see for yourself.
Put your faith in God, and find yourself.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,”an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony”-- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet