C.S. Lewis, Jupiter and Christmas

November 29th is the anniversary of the birth of C.S. Lewis. In his university lectures on the medieval cosmos, Lewis would sometimes refer to his own birthday, saying: ‘Those born under Jupiter are apt to be cheerful and festive, loud-voiced and red-faced.’ He would then pause and add, ‘It is obvious under which planet I was born!’ – which always produced a laugh.

Lewis did not literally believe in astrology, but he certainly admired the poetical use to which astrological symbolism could be put. ‘The characters of the planets, as conceived by medieval astrology, seem to me to have a permanent value as spiritual symbols,’ he wrote in 1935. In this article I want to show something of what he thought about the stars and planets not only in connection with his own birthday and ‘days’ in general, but also with an immeasurably greater day, the Feast of Christmas, the nativity of Christ.

From time immemorial and right through into the late Middle Ages, there were only seven known planets. Uranus was not discovered till 1781, Neptune in 1845, and Pluto in 1930 (since 2006 it has been classified as a ‘dwarf planet’). A planet is literally a ‘wanderer’. The planets are the wandering stars that take their own individual paths across the sky. All the other celestial bodies are not planets, but stars, either fixed in their own unique positions, like the Pole Star, or forming fixed parts of larger constellations. The seven medieval planets included the Sun and the Moon; the other five were Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The Earth was not considered ‘Planet’ Earth, but rather was thought to be the still centre of the turning universe.

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The planetary deities in the order of the days of the week.  Illustration from an edition of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.

It is from the seven medieval planets that we take the names of the days of the week. How Saturday, Sunday, and Monday relate to Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon is pretty obvious. The connection between the other four planets and the other four days of the week is slightly concealed from us who speak English because, for some odd reason lost in the mists of time, we use the Norse names for the relevant planetary deities rather than the Roman names. Thus Tuesday is named for Tiw or Tyr, the Norse equivalent of the Roman god, Mars (think of Martes in Spanish or Mardi in French). Wednesday is named for Woden, the Norse equivalent of the Roman Mercury (Miercoles / Mercredi). Thursday is named for Thor, the Norse equivalent of Jupiter or Jove (Jueves / Jeudi). And Friday is named for Freya or Frigg, the Norse equivalent of Venus (Viernes / Vendredi).

In the course of researching Lewis and the seven heavens for my book, Planet Narnia, I discovered a page of notes (see below) that he scribbled in the end-leaves of one of the volumes of his complete edition of Chaucer.  These notes, which Lewis made about Chaucer’s poem, ‘The Knight’s Tale’, from The Canterbury Tales, indicate the interest Lewis took in the poetic use that could be made of planetary symbolism.  Lewis admired the way Chaucer not only put the planetary characters into ‘The Knight’s Tale’ as actors in the drama, but also wove the relevant planetary influences into the plot. So, for example, the climax of ‘The Knight’s Tale’ happens on a Tuesday, the day of Mars, an appropriate ending for a story about martial knights.

lewis-on-chaucerLewis’s notes explain how it is that certain days of the week are connected to particular planets. He writes: ‘The first hour of every day belongs to the planet of the day: after that the others follow in downward order from him to the rest; then go on repeating.’

To understand what Lewis means by ‘downward order’, take a look at the diagram below, showing the seven heavens. The planet in the seventh heaven is Saturn. Below Saturn come Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon.cosmos

Lewis’s notes clarify why Monday follows Sunday in the order of the days of the week, even though the Moon and the Sun are not adjacent in the order of the planets. The Sun, being the eye and mind of the whole universe, was believed to rule the first hour of the first day of the week. After the Sun has laid claim, so to speak, to Sunday by ruling its first hour, it moves aside and allows Venus, the planet immediately underneath in the order of the planets, to rule the second hour of Sunday. Venus then makes way for Mercury to rule the third hour of Sunday, and Mercury then lets the Moon have a go. After the Moon has ruled the fourth hour, there are no planets lower down to take over, so the sequence starts again from the top, with Saturn ruling the fifth hour of Sunday, Jupiter ruling the sixth hour, and Mars ruling the seventh hour. At the eighth hour, it’s the Sun’s turn again. And, as the sequence continues, the Sun rules also the fifteenth hour and the twenty-second hour. With the day drawing to a close, the twenty-third hour of Sunday is ruled by Venus, the twenty-fourth hour by Mercury, and then Sunday’s twenty-fifth hour (as it were) is governed by the Moon, but since each day only has 24 hours, we find ourselves in a new day, whose first hour is Lunar, – hence we call it Moonday. And that, in a nutshell, is why Monday follows Sunday!

jupiter

Jupiter enthroned in the heavens and the people on earth who exhibit the Jovial influence.  Woodcut by Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550).

Back to the date of Lewis’s birthday and his being born under Jupiter: we are all familiar with the idea of being ‘born under’ a planet. We tend to think of this mostly in connection with the twelve houses or ‘signs’ of the zodiac, as they correspond (roughly) to the twelve months of the year. If you are born in late November, like C.S. Lewis, that puts you in the house of Sagittarius, whose sign is a centaur aiming a bow and arrow. The planet responsible for ‘ruling’ that zodiacal house, according to astrological tradition, is Jupiter.  So Lewis was indeed ‘born under’ Jupiter, as he said he was, at least as regards the month of his birth.

As for the day on which he was born: 29th November fell on a Tuesday in 1898, so he was born under Mars as well as under Jupiter. I do not know the hour in which he was born on that Tuesday, but one supposes it to have been a ‘jovial’ hour. Lewis was a hearty, rubicund man who had a love of Jupiter (or Jove) throughout his life. He inherited these qualities from his father, for Albert Lewis was ‘often the most jovial and companionable of parents’, according to Surprised by Joy.

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Ruth Pitter

Lewis once declared that, if he were to marry anyone, it would be the poet Ruth Pitter (this was before he was surprised by Joy Davidman!). He wrote to her in 1954 remarking on her name: ‘I always thought that the Pitters (dies-piter and all that) descended from Jove through Aeneas and Brute.’ The name Jupiter derives from dies-piter, which literally means ‘shining father’, as Lewis would have known from (among other sources) Edwyn Bevan’s Symbolism and Belief, a book he rated highly.

Brute, or Brut, the first king of Britain in mythical history, was the son of Aeneas Silvius, grandson of Ascanius and great-grandson of Aeneas of Troy. In another letter of 1954, Lewis offers a little more detail about this mythical British or Celtic line ‘that goes back through the Tudors to Cadwallader and thence to Arthur, Uther, Cassibelan, Lear, Lud, Brut, Aeneas, Jupiter.’ It is amusing to find Lewis, the self-styled Jovial man, toying with the idea of marrying into Jupiter’s family by taking Ruth Pitter as his wife. And it is intriguing to observe that Lewis gives to the heroine of That Hideous Strength, Jane Studdock, the surname ‘Tudor’ as her maiden name. Jane and her husband Mark (a suitably Martial moniker) are to become the parents of a son who will perpetuate Jupiter’s line in modern-day England.

Version 2How apt, incidentally, that Lewis’s favourite Oxford pub, the Eagle & Child, home to so many meetings of the Inklings, was named for an episode in the life of Zeus, the forerunner in Greek mythology of the Roman god, Jupiter. Zeus fell in love with the beautiful child, Ganymede, and sent an eagle to snatch him up to Mount Olympus where he could serve as his royal cup-bearer.

Those who knew C.S. Lewis have often noted his joviality, though not always with a clear recognition of the significance the term had for him in his personal lexicon. Paul Piehler remembers ‘a plumpish, red-faced Ulsterman with a confident, jovial Ulster rasp to his voice’. Peter Milward recalls ‘a burly, red-faced, jovial man’. John Lawlor relates how Lewis’s ‘determined and even aggressive joviality was all on the surface: within was a settled contentment’. Peter Bayley describes him as ‘Jove-like, imperious, certain, absolute’. Richard Ladborough says he was ‘frequently jovial’. W.R. Fryer speaks of his ‘jovial maleness’. Peter Philip opines that ‘his manner was jovial when he was in a good mood, which I must say was most of the time’. Pat Wallsgrove likens Lewis to ‘a jovial farmer’. Claude Rawson writes that his nickname, ‘Jack’, was ‘well suited to his jovial “beer and Beowulf” image’. Nevill Coghill recalls that, although Lewis was formidable, ‘this was softened by joviality’. Douglas Gresham remembers his step-father as ‘jovial’. The title of Chesterton’s novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, might have been coined as a description of C.S. Lewis, notwithstanding his Tuesday nativity!

Version 2But though so many people use the word ‘jovial’ of the man, only George Watson, his Cambridge colleague, explicitly recognizes how important the planetary derivation was for Lewis himself: ‘His own humour was sanguine, its presiding deity Jove, and . . . he knew that it was’ (Watson, Critical Essays on C.S. Lewis, 1992, p3). Peter Milward goes further, making a link to Lewis’s fiction. Having emphasized Lewis’s ‘sturdily jovial manner’, Milward notes an important connection: ‘he was indeed a . . . jovial man; and these qualities of his I later recognized . . . in his character of the kingly animal, Aslan.’

Aslan, Narnia’s Christ figure, brings us to Christmas and the birth of the infant Jesus. In early January 1953, Lewis wrote to Ruth Pitter remarking on what he had seen in the night-sky during the recent Christmas: ‘It was beautiful, on two or three successive nights about the Holy Time, to see Venus and Jove blazing at one another, once with the Moon right between them: Majesty and Love linked by Virginity – what could be more appropriate?’ Venus signifies love, of course, and the Moon virginity. Jupiter signifies majesty or kingliness and, as such, was a very suitable symbol for Christ, the ‘king of kings’ (Revelation 19:16).

In attempting to read the significance of the Christmas stars, Lewis was modeling himself on the magi, the wise men who followed the star from the east and who came to Herod asking, ‘Where is he that has been born King of the Jews?’ (Matthew 2:2). There is a right and proper use of astrology, if it leads to the worship of Christ. That the stars speak of Christ is only to be expected, for, in the words of Lewis’s favourite psalm, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’ (Psalm 19:1).

Lewis was alert to the royal and imperial implications of Christ’s nativity.  Writing about Psalm 110 in his only full-length work of scriptural commentary, Reflections on the Psalms (1958), Lewis notes that this psalm is appointed to be read on Christmas Day in the order of readings given by the Anglican Prayer Book. He remarks:

We may at first be surprised by this.  There is nothing in [Psalm 110] about peace and goodwill, nothing remotely suggestive of the stable at Bethlehem.  It seems to have been originally either a coronation ode for a new king, promising conquest and empire, or a poem addressed to some king on the eve of war, promising victory.  It is full of threats.  The “rod” of the king’s power is to go forth from Jerusalem, foreign kings are to be wounded, battle fields to be covered with carnage, skulls cracked.  The note is not “Peace and goodwill” but “Beware.  He’s coming”.  Two things attach it to Christ with an authority far beyond that of the Prayer Book.  The first of course is that He Himself did so; He is the “lord” whom “David” calls “my Lord”.  The second is the reference to Melchizedek.

Lewis then proceeds to give a detailed disquisition on Melchizedek, the numinous priest-king mentioned in the Book of Genesis (14:18-19). Melchizedek becomes, in Psalm 110, a spiritual ancestor of the Davidic king. The psalmist says of the king, ‘thou art a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek’, a description which is taken up in the New Testament in the Epistle to the Hebrews and applied repeatedly to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 5:6; 6:20; 7:11; 7:17; 7:21).

There is one interesting fact about Melchizedek that Lewis does not disclose in his Reflections on the Psalms, though he undoubtedly knew of it, and it provides another reason for regarding this Christmas psalm as Jovial in its symbolism: the Hebrew word Melchizedek means both ‘my king is righteousness’ and ‘my king is Jupiter’.  (For more details on this fascinating link, see the helpful article here.)

Jesus Christ, the king of kings and lord of lords, the divine Word by whom all things were made, spoke the planet Jupiter into being on the fourth day of creation (Genesis 1:14-19). Lewis in his commentary on the psalms is not, of course, arguing, or even suggesting, that Jesus was actually ‘born under Jupiter’, as he jokingly told his university lecture audiences that he himself had been. But from all that we have seen of his interest in the planets and his love of Jove in particular, I am sure he would have considered the idea highly appropriate.

They Come in Pairs (No, this is not about Noah’s Ark)

I’ve been inspired recently by posts from Dr. Creig Marlowe on the site www.hearthevoice.com and some comments I heard recently by N. T. Wright.  There is some new thinking here for me, but as Ecclesiastes reminds us: “there is nothing new under the sun.”

It has to do with a series of binaries in Genesis 1.   Here is a list:

1.1       heavens and earth

1.4       light and darkness

1.5       evening and morning

1.9-10  seas and dry land

1.14     sun and moon

1.27     male and female

Now there may be other binaries here in Genesis 1, but these are the ones I want to focus on.  “Formless and void” (tohu wavohu) comes to mind as a distinct possibility.

creation Adam and Eve

These binaries form complementary pairs which are not only created by God but participate with God in the next steps of creation.  In a way they become co-creators with God because they provide the raw materials for the coming days of creation.  There is a logic to the days of creation which you have probably already noticed.  Days 1-3 provide the raw materials and realms into which the creatures of days 4-6 live (I use the term “creature” here not so much as a living thing but a thing which is created):

Realm                                      Inhabitants

Day 1   light                                  Day 4   sun, moon, and stars

Day 2   sky and waters             Day 5   birds and fish

Day 3   dry land Day                Day 6   land creatures and humanity

This structure is intentional at several levels but it does show order coming from chaos, countering the formless and void state described in Genesis 1.2.

Dr. Marlowe is correct that some of these binaries form a hendiadys (literally, one through two). A hendiadys is an expression of a single idea by the use of two words often connected with “and” or some other conjunction.  “His legal case is not black and white” uses a hendiadys.  “Black and white” is not describing the color of the case but essentially that the facts of the case are not clear.  In Genesis 1.1 “heavens and earth” describe not so much two things but one for which there is no Hebrew word “the universe.”  “Heaven” means everything above your head and “earth” means everything below your feet, in a sense then everything.  That is why we translated Gen 1.1 in The Voice: In the beginning God created everthing, the heavens above, the earth below . . . ”

Here again is our list of binaries with a suggestion of how to see the hendiadys.

1.1       heavens and earth = the universe

1.4       light and darkness = the progression of time

1.5       evening and morning = a day

1.9-10  seas and dry land = the earth

1.14     sun and moon = signs and seasons (again, the progression of time)

1.27     male and female = humanity

In each case God, as it were, turns to the created thing to invite it to work with him in the ongoing task of creation.  So, for example, God says to the earth to bring forth vegetation, plants and seeds (1:11-12). He says to the waters/seas and the skies: bring forth fish and birds (1.20-23). Then God says to the land: bring forth land creatures of every kind (1.24-25).  When God says, “let us make humanity . . . ” people have wondered about the “us.”  Is God speaking to and for the Trinity?  Not necessarily.  That certainly is one way Christians have read the text.  Given everything that has gone on so far in Genesis 1, however, I think God is speaking to the created order itself.  The “us” would include God, the sun, moon, stars, waters, seas, dry land, and other land creatures.  Human beings are made up of the same elements as the stars, the earth, and all the critters.  Now, I’m not arguing that we should have a scientific reading of Genesis; what I am suggesting is that there is an internal logic to the creation story of Genesis 1: God creates something and then uses that creation to create the next thing. In this way all things are dependent and related. Genesis 2 reinforces this when it says that God sculpted Adam/humanity from the earth/dust and breathed in him the breath of life (2.7-9).  So Adam is made up of previously created elements along with the divine breath.

The final binary “male and female” deserves special attention.  Male and female make up one thing, humanity, and this humanity reflects the image of God.  But it is in their differences, their complementarities that male and female reflect the imago dei.  Male has no greater claim than female on imaging God.  It is in their union together and distinctions from one another that God’s likeness is on full display. We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to  assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process.  Here is the commentary embedded at Genesis 1:27 in The Voice:

The crown of God’s creation is a new creature, a creature that can sound the heartbeat of its Creator. That creature, made male and female, reflects God’s own relational richness. The human family is to join God in the ongoing work of creation. The earth below and the sky above with all their inhabitants are too beautiful and too good to be left alone. They need the tender care and close attention that only God’s favored creature can give.

In Genesis 1:28ff. God blesses the humans and gives them the prime directive: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.  In other words, humans are now directed to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation.  God no longer creates ex nihilo.  He uses preexisting elements and persons in order to fashion the next generation. Through the sexual union male and female become one flesh and life as we know it goes on.

Want to read more from this author?  Want to know whether Jesus had a violent streak or whether he sacrificed in the temple?  Want to know more about the Jesus’s wife fragment? Go to his website: www.davidbcapes.com

 

“In pain you shall bring forth children”

I’m now convinced of the obvious: that bringing forth the next generation is the most difficult and most important job on the planet.  

One of the consequences of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil–something God directed them not to do–was that “in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16, New American Standard Version).  The passage is complicated, but most of us think we know what that means: that labor and delivery are going to bring immense pain and in some cases death to the mother.  At one level, that certainly seems the interpretation, but there may be more to it.childbirth

 One night we were interviewing Rabbi Harold Kushner on a radio show I co-host, “A Show of Faith” (950 AM KPRC). At the time Kushner was the most famous rabbi in America known best for his book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?  On this night we were interviewing him about another book he had written, How Good Do We Have to Be?  The topic of conversation turned to the Genesis passage about pain in child-bearing and Kushner made an interesting observation.  In good rabbinic style he said the Hebrew word often translated “pain” in Genesis 3:16 is the same word used in Genesis 6:6 to describe God’s grief and pain over the sorry state of humanity.  You remember: God was so upset he lamented the fact he made humanity in the first place. 

So here was Kushner’s interpretation: the real pain of child-bearing is not the 18 hours of labor (though painful, that pain is soon forgotten in the joy of birth), the real pain comes in the fact that after 18 years of love, teaching, nurturing and raising your children to the best of your ability, they turn against you, disobey you, disappoint you, end up on drugs, end up in prison, etc.  In a sense we share in our Heavenly Father’s pain when we bring forth children who go astray and do not remember us and our sensible teaching.

 Let me add another insight.  Because the two have become one flesh (Genesis 2:24), both man and woman, husband and wife, share the same pain.  The pain of bringing forth the next generation is not unique to women.  Women may experience it more acutely, but men experience it as well.  Medical science, of course, may intervene and lessen the pain experienced by a woman in childbirth, but it is unlikely to be able to stem the tide of pain to fathers AND mothers when children go astray.  Like the other consequences of the first couple’s disobedience (domination, death, work degenerating into toil), both men and women share the same fate.

Most parents will experience significant periods of pain as their beautiful babies become adolescents and adults.  I’ve spent many hours listening to parents whose children have hurt them deeply.  And there are no easy solutions to this.  There’s no perfect strategy to parenting.  Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that it is a universal experience, and even more, to know that God felt the pain first. 

In The Voice we tried to express this universal, more nuanced aspect of Genesis 3:16.  As we worked through this text, I was interested to note that in the King James Version the Hebrew word is not translated “pain” but “sorrow.”  I think the KJV had it right.  Here is how we rendered it in dynamic translation:

            God (to the woman): As a consequence of your actions,

            I will increase your suffering—the pain of childbirth

            And the sorrow of bringing forth the next generation.

Despite all this, we confess and we believe that children are a gift from God.  We confess and we believe that it is our greatest and most important life’s work.  For a time they are ours to love, to care for, to protect and to teach.  Then, we commend them and their future to the grace and guidance of God.

In the beginning

It is a time of new beginnings: in the secular world a new year has begun, in the academic world a new semester has begun, and in my world a new class in Old Testament survey has begun. So we begin with the beginning, in this case a meditation on the beginning, with some contemporary sidetracks in [] and some personal reflections that go well beyond survey classes..

The beginning lays the foundation for all that follows. But we must read the beginning from the point of view of the author, who was not there in the beginning, but who has an interest in the beginning. “When God began to create the heavens and the earth . . .” (CEB) there are two things: God and matter. In the beginning matter was a mess, a swirling unformed mass of all that is, useless for anything – but it was matter and it is there as the curtain goes up. We have to go to Hebrews to discover that God created the matter, for that does not interest our author (and may be outside his philosophical comprehension). What is important to him is that it is matter, for unlike the nations around them, they Hebrews, including our author, do not believe that matter was divine. This is not the body of a mother goddess, or any other deity, but just stuff, undifferentiated stuff, and God is present with that stuff: a divine wind sweeps across the deep darkness.

“And God said . . .” God is pictured as a king and the king speaks (the court will appear more clearly in the royal “we” of Gen 1:26); when he speaks things happen. It is not that there are no intermediate agents. But the agents are not important (and in the Hebrew world might have been worshipped if described, just as we worship images, powers, scraps of cloth, and even sports). They rush from his presence to carry out his will, but it is his will.  Our author is also not concerned with how God created – his worldview does not need the debates about science and Scripture that have often occupied us (I have tried to diagram the worldview model that our author is using in my commentary 2 Peter and Jude, and plan to publish another version in my Biblical Theology of the General Epistles, since it is used by 2 Peter) . For him the point is that God created, that only God created and that there is only One who is God, whatever agents or means that God may have used.  That God forms a world capable of being inhabited – that is catalogued in a three-day structure.  That God, in a second three-day catalogue, fills the world he has formed with animate creatures, starting with the heavenly bodies and ending with the creation of humanity.  No tree god, no sea god, no sun god appear.  The one God made it all. He does create humanity in his image, which means as a viceroy to oversee and run the world he has created. But the human being remains a viceroy; he/they never receive(s) independent “title” to the world. Whether the human being in Eden or Israel in Palestine, it is God who retains title. God even retains title to the life of the human being, for in the so-called second creation story we discover that the human is mortal but receives a “sacramental immortality” through the tree of life, as John Goldingay has pointed out. That human being rules all, rules as male and female (there is neither dominance nor subversion until late in Gen 3), but does this under God and is depended on God, including being dependent for life itself.

However long the human beings, that is, the two of, live in this dependent relationship, whether it be eons or centuries or years, that is not a concern of our author. His concern is that this dependent relationship did not last forever, or, perhaps, that it was not the present situation of the human race.  Genesis says that the human being chose independence, chose to take over rule for themselves. “I can make independent judgments – I can say what is right and wrong, what is good and bad. And I believe that this tree is good, even though you said it was bad.”  We have of course been judging ever since. We make judgments about what is right and wrong in the world, and we make judgments about our fellow human being, whether they are right or wrong. We have, in the words of Genesis, become like God, or at least we have made the attempt.

And so, if in the beginning God created, and if in the beginning human beings attempted to take over God’s role and throw off their dependence, then in the beginning (or at least as the story of the  beginning plays out) came alienation and violence. That is content of the rest of the “prehistory” of Genesis (as I call Gen 1-11). But of course there is another side of the story as well, for the One God will call the creation, and especially the human creation, back to himself. He will – in the end – not use violence, but instead absorb the violence of others and so break its power. Indeed, in the Christian story when the God-King returns he speaks a word rather than flashes a sword, for as in Genesis his word is enough, and by his word he reorders and re-creates the world. But that of course is the end of the story, not the beginning.

But the beginning tells us about the tensions of our world. We want to take the world for ourselves, either individually through capitalism or collectively through socialism. [The politics of the right often re-enact Gen 3 in individualistic terms, while the politics of the left do it in collective terms; both have this or that correct, but are wrong in their core assumption of human sovereignty; even Karl Marx was, in some ways right, but without God he could not go back to the beginning, so ends up with humans trying to play God, which results in violence. He seems to know, as we would expect from a man of his age, Paul’s principles, “From each according to his ability to each according to his need,” but he does not have Paul’s Spirit to work out those principles, and without the divine Spirit he gets humans playing God, with predictable results. The right side of the spectrum does no better.] But God has not given up title to the world, for he made it and it is his; we possess nothing, for we are at best viceroys, not kings.  Both of the “isms” (and reds and blues and quite a few other “isms,” slogans, and political principles) belong to the principalities and powers that Paul says rule this present age. Our other human tendency is to deify the world, to make it independent of God. So we speak of Mother Nature or just Nature or natural laws as if they existed or could exist without the creator. [Next time you want some fun, listen to a scientific naturalist, such as Richard Dawkins and see how long he speaks before verbally “deifying” one of the natural forces he believes in.]  Furthermore, because human independence leads to alienation and violence, we see our security in violence or the threat of violence, whether it be our personal security in our personal armament or our collective security in our collective armament systems. [As the Psalmist would say, there is mocking laughter from God and his agents when he hears the words “national security” uttered by some human being in some nation of the world.] We pretend we can be safe and yet live independently of God, that is, independently of the dependence in which he created us and for which he created us. This tension, of course, will be worked out in the rest of Holy Scripture, both in terms of the result of human independence and in terms of God’s solution in bringing human beings back to dependence, which solution ultimately uses a cross and an empty grave.

In the beginning of my day I want to go back to the beginning. The most important things that I do take place in my study. I do Morning Prayer, which places me under Scripture in dependence on the One who is creator.  [My wife and I complete the day with Evening Prayer, the other half of the Daily Office. We will to end our day under the authority of God and in dependence on the creator.]  After prayer, I sit in apophatic meditation, hands open on my lap. I release all to the creator; I grasp nothing for myself. I sit silently in the presence of the One who is, letting go of all images and letting the sharp arrows of love and dependence pierce “the cloud of unknowing” (although often the struggle with my “monkey mind” takes up all too much of the time). Hopefully, this will not just be a pious start to my day but will shape my whole day and how I live every moment of it. Hopefully, I am being transformed into the viceroy (or to use other biblical language, “slave of God”) I was intended to be. All too often the process is too slow (in my eyes); I again grasp for security in something other than him. But in the timing of God, whether it be the timing of eons or of years or of days, I believe a new creation is taking place in me.

In my class we spend a long time in Genesis, or so it seems in relationship to the time that we spend on the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. (There is a bit of hubris in pretending that we can adequately grasp the vastness of the Hebrew Scriptures in one semester, but we do the best we can.) In my life I try to constantly return to Genesis, to retake, by the power of Jesus my King and through the Spirit, the position God created me for. I have not yet arrived “in the beginning,” but Jesus my Lord tells me that I will. I hope to come closer in this life, but in the re-creation of the world, in the resurrection, in the renewal of this earth, I know I will, for in my resurrection I will be part of the new beginning that my Lord has already in part begun.

Why did God create the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

A friend of mine recently asked me this question:

I’m often asked questions like this: why did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden if he knew that Adam and Eve would disobey him? I’d be interested to know how you answer that question.

Here is how I responded:

You ask an important question, a question theologians, philosophers, and believers have been puzzling over for hundreds–if not thousands–of years. There is much we do not know about that time, so whatever we say about it must be held humbly. People of good faith debate whether we are to read Genesis 1-3 as literal history or as a metaphor broadly of who created us, why, who were are as human beings, and what has gone so terribly wrong. Regardless of how you read it, there is a looming question: why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden if he knew that Adam and Eve would disobey him? Continue reading

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