Chapter Eleven: From Ugliness, Beauty Emerges
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (First Corinthians 13:11-12)
When playing Dungeons and Dragons (and other games in imaginary worlds) players can choose their own gods. Their choices usually are made based on which god can best benefit their character’s goals and meets their character’s view of reality. The choices are plentiful. Evidently, there is an entire book of viable options. Players who choose to play thief characters choose gods that look favorably on that sort of behavior. Warriors’ gods look like comic book super-heroes. Characters concerned with wizardry pick the god who most meets their magical needs. Characters interested in fertility choose goddesses that look fetchingly fertile.
In these fantasy worlds, where might makes right, and deities are simply exaggerated replicas of imagined goals, nobody in their right mind would choose the God of Jesus.
The way we make meaning in our world has a direct impact on how we are able to understand and communicate the reality of God.
McLaren, in “We Make the Road By Walking,” emphasizes this strongly. Some in our Bible Study group get a bit distressed, for example, when he re-words the biblical text to make his point — myself included.
But that’s the point, actually.it is very important to remember that the story of God’s action with humanity has a great deal with the ability to the humans of the time to wrap their heads around the Divine mystery that is God.
It is very important to remember that the story of God’s action with humanity has a great deal with the ability to the humans of the time to wrap their heads around the Divine mystery that is God … at least in a way that can be communicated to people like us who carry an entirely foreign set of meaning-making insights.
This insight leads us to ask about biblical texts which attempt to emphasize the importance of “set-apartness” or “holiness” with language that was common in the prehistoric world of Deuteronomy. Did God really tell the Children of Israel to re-enter the promised land with instructions to slaughter every man, woman, and child who lived there in peace? Is a practice that we would call a war crime today okay if it was done by God? Or in the name of God? Or by someone who says that God told him to do it? On some mountain top without witnesses to verify the instruction?
Or was this story the best way to communicate in the world of that day, the normal practice of ethnic purity of the day to represent an idea about the importance God places on a single-mindedness of focus?
Does it make any difference that soon after Deuteronomy reports that all the current residents of the Promised Land were exterminated we read a few chapters later that those same residents were still in the land, in whole cities, in fact, and would continue there for generations?
How important must it have been, then, that Jesus has a conversation with a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15) since the Canaanites were one of the seven civilizations specifically named in Deuteronomy? And that this conversation with the Canaanite woman hinged on the expanding ministry of Jesus to those beyond the 12 Tribes of Israel.
Jesus “undoes” the story of conquest by reinterpreting what makes one “holy” or “set-apart.”
And this blessing of the extended, boundary-breaking inclusion of God’s Good News is symbolized by the feeding of the 4,000 here in this same chapter. This time, unlike the feeding of the 5,000 Jews earlier in the Gospel which resulted in twelve left-over baskets of Jesus-blessed bread, THIS feeding is in a less Jewish section of the land and results in seven baskets of leftovers, coincidently, the same number of “tribes” slated for extermination in Deuteronomy.
Out of the ugliness of the extermination-based perception of holiness in Deuteronomy, comes the beautiful, inclusive, surprisingly open gift of holiness in the ministry of Jesus.
What the people could not communicate with terms of mercy in the bronze age, the people of Jesus were able to understand under the Roman Empire. Now, citizenship, set-apartness, and exclusive loyalty was based on actions and citizenship rather than lineage and bloodline.
God did not change, but the people’s understanding of God’s call to single-minded loyalty certainly did.
GeekedOutSoul.com Kid-Friendly postings
John Stonecypher has a great blog with a variety of resources. Tap into his “We Make the Road With Kids” series. Families may want to adopt his weekly family study disciple and style.Here are links to the first thirteen chapters.
- Awe and Wonder
- Being Human
- A World of Meaning
- The Drama of Desire
- In Over Our Heads
- Plotting Goodness
- It’s Never too Late
- Rivalry or Reconciliation?
- Getting Slavery Out of the People
- From Ugliness, a Beauty Emerges
- Stories that Shape Us
- The great Conversation
Bible Projects Genesis (Part Two)
History Channel's Beginning
The first seven minutes of the History Channel’s “The Bible” cast an interesting framework around the creation story. (My inner skeptics notes that the narrator has a Scottish accent while those of the actors seem British.)