I have recently been reading the book The Lost World of Genesis 1 (which is an awesome book and may inspire a blog post or two when I’m finished) and my mind has been on all things ancient and mythological. We’re all pretty familiar with the ancient myths and gods from Greece and Rome but there are some crazy stories that go back to ancient Babylon and Sumeria. Ancient creation accounts usually involve some violent battle among the gods from which the Earth and humanity come into being.
You know, one god will rip a another god in half, use the tears to form rivers and oceans and other pieces to form the earth and sky. Shortly after that same god will kill another god who’s blood is mixed with clay in order to make humans.
It’s like UFC with no refs and no tap-outs.
The ancient stories of the gods seem to always be power struggles. One god fighting another with the defeated god being humiliated in one form or another. The ancient world understood the workings of the world in this fashion. Most things, good or bad, were caused by some of the gods fighting or struggling to exert their power over their realm. God’s also came to stand for the success or failure of a particular city or nation. If your city was conquered by somebody else, obviously your god was weaker and lost the battle.
Ancient gods were associated with power. If I defeated you, your god was weaker and my god was stronger.
Take for example the biblical story of David and Goliath. Goliath spends his time insulting the God of the Israelites because he believes (or needs to believe) that his god is stronger and will allow him to win. Which, because of his size and strength, has probably been true up until that point. David shows up, gives Goliath a mouthful about insulting YHWH and uses his sling to bring down the mighty warrior Goliath.
Who’s god is stronger now? Obviously, the Philistines have no choice but to run away in terror.
I love thinking about how people in the ancient world thought and acted because it reminds me we are not as far removed from our ancient ancestors as we like to believe. If you really think about it, today we operate in much of the same way. We fight and argue for the superiority of “our” God to show others as weaker and insignificant just as much as they did. For example, I used to really be into apologetics and arguing for the validity of God, Jesus and the resurrection, and even dipped my toes into the evolution vs. intelligent design stuff. I found some solace in being able to argue for and defend the rationality of my faith. I began to build my well reasoned, easily defended tower of faith. However, I soon began to realize that I could very easily be walling myself off from others. It could get pretty lonely in my tower of reason. It was easy to defend, but it was hard to let people in.
Now, many churches are deep into fights and defending their stance on all sorts of issues. In many instances, the walls are getting thicker and the door locks stronger. Many well meaning Christian’s have also engaged legislation and politics to demonstrate or enforce our belief in God’s will and power. The side effect, however, is a lot of people are starting to feel less welcome. Or, people are feeling so safe in the “towers” they’ve constructed they become dangerous and take advantage of others they’ve pledged to protect. Often, our towers of rational faith are getting taller. But, in many churches, the pews are emptying…and it’s getting a little lonely in there.
What changed my mind though is that when we look at the story of Jesus we see power demonstrated in a completely different, some might say irrational, way.
Instead of well reasoned arguments, Jesus breaks bread with those he disagreed with (pharisees and sinners alike).
When asked who his neighbor is, Jesus says it’s someone who his peers would disagree with morally and theologically (hint: the Samaritan).
When asked about the amazing construction and God’s blessing of the temple, Jesus says it will all be torn down.
When unjustly nailed to a cross, Jesus hung there and died.
Jesus demonstrated that true power is not about arguing your point, humiliating the other person or being able to defend your position. Jesus shows us that true power comes by being humble, defending the oppressed and restoring community. For Jesus, demonstrating God’s power is not about building a seemingly rational tower that will ultimately fall prey to the passing of time.
It’s about building a seemingly irrational table.
A table that everyone is welcome at, regardless of status, doctrine, gender, race, creed or type of sin. Like the apostle Paul says about God, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corintians 12:9). It’s not in demonstrating how intelligent, rational, strong or sensible we can be that we demonstrate and proclaim God’s power. It’s in our weakness, our failings, our humility and selflessness where God’s true power shines through. It’s in the honesty of a broken life, lived together in unity with other honestly broken lives that God’s power shines through. God’s strength and power was proven in his weakness. Jesus’ arguments were made in ways the world would consider foolish. His death as recognized at a dinner table with twelve clueless, sinful, soon to be betraying and deserting disciples becomes the mortar that holds the spiritual temple of the Church together.
Jesus argument was his life and his proof was in his death and resurrection.
That can hold us together better than any tower or argument ever can.