There has a been a vibrant conversation this week about whether God is in control of the weather. (see what I did there?) I have learned a lot from the people who believe that ‘he’ does send, direct, and control things like hurricanes. They are sincere in their belief and many have really thought about how to reconcile the tensions that come up in the discussion.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a threshold that the conversation stalls at. There is just a moment when these two ways of reading the Bible seem irreconcilable. I am not intending to ‘bridge the gap’ but I do think that there is a way to help those who think that God sends hurricanes to see how those of us who don’t still read the Bible.
I want to talk about Hermeneutics (the way we read the Bible) and specifically the Second Naivete. Here is a 9 minute video by Image of Fish that explains this well. Here is a quick summary for preaching the text this way.
My thesis is this: when we come to passages like Jesus calming the storm, it is impossible for us in the 21st century to read it or understand it as people did in the 1st century. The pre-modern mind had a different relationship to story, idea, text, and experience than we have. So even when contemporary believers attempt to have a pre-modern reading of the Bible, they can not. When they try to reconcile their world and experience to the world and experience in scripture there is an inherent gap. That gap must be bridged or accounted for or it becomes prohibitive. The tension represented by the gap becomes untenable for one’s faith.
Here is how I read the storm stories in Matthew 14:22-23, Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21. I believe that the event really happened and the disciples really experienced that moment. I take it by faith. Now I have said before that the point of the story is not for me to walk on water or for me to tell storms to be quiet. The point of the story is to hear the word of Christ to ‘be not afraid’. It this sense, I think that the important part of the text is not physics (how did Jesus walk on water) but poetics (what is the message). The problem for some modern readers is that if Jesus did not literally walk on water then they can not literally be not afraid. It is a 1:1 rational. I get that. and I will even concede that to them if they will talk to me about hermeneutics.
But – and this is a big but – it is quite a leap to move from the disciples’ experience of Jesus calming a localized storm on a sea while he was incarnate, to the contemporary believer watching satellite footage of last week’s hurricane on the Atlantic coast and asserting that God is ‘in control’ of the weather. That is an irreconcilable set of assumptions.
When Jesus was incarnate he calmed a storm one night does not equal God sent Hurricane Irene.
Some people have a real problem giving up a naivete or even wrapping their head around it. I had an amazing conversation with a Bible College student about Emergence Theory and the first 3 chapter of Genesis. When I explained how I thought the importance of the text was not a literal report of those first 6 days (or why in one story man is created after plants and in the second story it is before – Gen 2:5-7) but the truth about HOW God works with God’s creation to bring about a new and preferable reality. This person got really annoyed and said “then why even read Genesis at all if it is not real?” I explained that it was real. That really is how god works with humanity and creation.
After a while I said, ” you are like the person that finds out that there is no Santa Clause for real and that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th and says “then Christmas doesn’t mean anything- it is not worth celebrating”. You would be wrong. Christmas is the most beautiful thing in whole world. It is the message behind it (the poetics) that give it it’s meaning.
I know that reading the Bible while being aware of the gap (between the pre-modern world and our contemporary mind) can be jarring and disorienting. I get why not everyone will want to do it. But I also think that it is far better than the other option which is to insist on fabricating a pre-modern reading when one does not have pre-modern mind. It just can’t be done with integrity. It is better acknowledge where we are at, admit that things have progressed & changed, and to authentically engage the text from our radical and particular located-ness.
Next time: I will address how much more FUN it is to be a Christian once you embrace the hermeneutical gap!