Saturday, May 15, 2010

God Didn't Say It, I Won't Believe It

While attending my mother's church for Mother's Day the pastor made an interesting comment which I kept playing back in my head. "If God didn't say it, I won't believe it." This phrase reveals two things about these believers and their view of God: they only follow Divine revelation, and that Divine revelation is limited to one book, The Bible. There is no need for any more revelation because everything we need to know about life and the cosmos is contained within the Bible. On a spiritual level I would find this intriguing if they approached the Bible as some Jews approach the Torah using Pardes, a form of exegesis to unraveling the Divine Revelation contained within the text. Pardes is an acronym for
  • Peshat (פְּשָׁט) — "plain" ("simple") or the direct meaning.
  • Remez (רֶמֶז) — "hints" or the deep (allegoric: hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense.
  • Derash (דְּרַשׁ) — from Hebrew darash: "inquire" ("seek") — the comparative (midrashic) meaning, as given through similar occurrences.
  • Sod (סוֹד) (pronounced with a long O as in 'morning') — "secret" ("mystery") or the mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation. (Wikipedia)
Each line in the text can not only contain multiple meanings but if I remember correctly Jewish lore states that at Mount Sinai each of the 600,000 men of fighting age were given a different interpretation of the Torah. That adds up to a staggering amount of different interpretations to the hidden mysteries contained within the text. But this answer wouldn't fly in a mainstream Christian church. There is only one answer and one "official" word of God: The Bible (although the translations do vary). And if it doesn't support their theology then you're reading and interpreting the scripture incorrectly. So what then becomes the arbitor of truth? To me, the statement sounded more like, "if the Theology doesn't support It, I won't believe It". What is the danger of continuous and progressive revelation, why does revelation have to stop with just the Torah, just the Bible, or even just the Qu'ran? (What about revelation contained within a flower?) Why must the universe which is capable of producing nearly infinite (if not infinite) variations of everything that we feel necessary to reduce the creative Word, the Logos, The Breath of God to a single book? Take the Beatles song "Yesterday" for example. This one song has entered the Guinness Book of Records for having the most cover versions of any song every written at well over 3000 versions. Why did we allow for all these other heretical versions to crop up, how are we going to choose the correct version? The easy answer would be the original is correct, but what if the original Word of God (getting back to the topic at hand) clashes with our theology? In the end WE choose what beliefs to follow, we decide what is truth regardless if God said it or not. In the end We decide what is considered the Word of God.

Are we not able to evolve and progress without the Word? If God stopped speaking to mankind shortly after his chat with John the Revelator then what about democracy, universal human rights, the free market, modern science, and other modern man-made systems? Are these doomed to failure because God did not speak of these in his book? I know some apologetics like to say that science, democracy, and other modern inventions are found in the book but this is eisegesis. If we are to truly follow what God says in the Bible and exclude everything else we would find ourselves incompatible with the 21st century: Christian women would have little to no rights, Christian children would be centuries behind other children in math and science, and Christians would form communities closed off to outsiders. I'm not out to bash Christianity but if you are to believe the Bible is the ONLY thing one should believe, uphold, and teach to future generations then eventually this form of Christianity will die out. (I have yet to read Why Christianity Must Change or Die by Bishop Spong but I'm assuming some of this is in his book.)

So why would God (however you may describe the word God) limit revelation to a single book? I believe that God is constantly being revealed to every person, every second of every day everywhere.

77 Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.

Split a piece of wood; I am there.

Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."

Gospel of Thomas, Logia 77

I can not envision that the universe as the creative force would stop creating, breathing, speaking, is-ing. How can one be in a relationship with Jesus Christ if only one person is doing the speaking? You can try to rationalize God's silence, in the personal relationship which many Christians claim to have, anyway you want but I know that if I gave my wife the silent treatment we'd be off to marriage counseling in a week. Without constant contact, interaction, and communion with one another we can't grow or evolve to meet our true potential, which is why this phase strikes me as odd. How do Christians balance the personal relationship they claim to have with God while claiming revelation has been closed for centuries?


Doug B said...

It seems to me that the Bible has been interpreted and reinterpreted to accomodate the advance of knowledge. Some even see a precise correspondence between the Mosaic account of creation and modern science - despite the fact it never seemed obvious in days of old. I think this constant reinterpretation is what takes the place of additional revelation. And I think it is silly.

Sabio Lantz said...

For a tribe to stay together, they need a banner, a building, a book or something they share as a sign. Inventing Pardes as a way to keep the book but allow variations in interpretation is clever. As you hint, the next better step is to allow text from other traditions (secular and sacred). And the final best step (most difficult for most), is stop claiming that a god speaks through your approved texts -- admit that it is people. Making something sacred is making it out of bounds for real doubt, dialogue and change.

Unknown said...


Nail on the head! Exactly. But then the question arises what do we consider sacred, if anything at all? Or do we put everything into question thereby accepting the impermanence of our universe? Although I can accept it, this seems too chaotic for most people who yearn for stable ground.

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