TMOC: The Task
(This is offered as a proposal for the second chapter of our book.)
If someone tells you Jesus was perfectly reasonable and consistent in His Hebrew logic, you would probably take that on faith. If we explain something of His reasoning from the known culture and history of His people, showing what shaped His decisions, then you can have a shot at replicating that reasoning and consistency in your own life.
The biggest problem we face in understanding the mind of Christ is the vast pile of mythology arising from the distinctly Western approach to reading the Gospels, and indeed, the whole Bible. Thus, we have an embarrassing aura of false piety obscuring His actions and words as they happened, plus a wide gulf of cultural misunderstanding keeping us from seeing those words and actions in their proper context.
The Bible comes to us as the record of revelation God gave to the Hebrew people. The record itself indicates a wealth of information not included, so we have to trust He would not allow the most important narratives to be left out. At the same time, He preserved sufficient scholarship and evidence we can reclaim some of the background against which that narrative is offered. It’s patently silly to assume the mere words of the record, passed through multiple parties and filtered through many different languages and translations, can somehow stand on their own. Yet this is the very false instinct under which many Western Christians labor. The result is turning some things completely upside down.
God is not hindered in His divine work of revelation and redemption by this, but it certainly keeps us from maximum participation in that work. If you want all God has to offer, it’s on your shoulders to care enough you would study materials which enlighten you to the difference. Here we would offer a bare bones outline of the vast differences between common Western assumptions about the Bible and what the book actually intends to get across.
The Bible begins with certain intellectual assumptions, concepts not subject to debate. God is the Creator of all things, and as such, cannot be presumed confined inside that Creation. Whatever is outside the reality we experience is incomprehensible, but we get indications it is there, and some shadowy grasp of how that matters to us.
Right off the bat, the narrative warns us this reality is broken, not what God intended. Immediately the people in the story lose something so precious, it’s impossible to explain. Instead, we see the results, in terms of a complete loss of perspective. God notes their actions changed because their understanding was broken. Thus, humans are as completely fallen as the rest of Creation. God will not leave things in this condition, but His remedy is not directly obvious. The way back to the Garden is guarded by something incomprehensible to fallen humanity, but that’s not to say it’s forever closed.
In the symbol of the Flaming Sword is the penalty of sin: death on this plane of existence. Redemption requires a certain amount of recognition in the human soul. If you simply stumble under that sword, you gain nothing. But if you seek out that sword knowingly, it changes the results. You can’t go back to eating from the Tree of Life until you stop eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and undo the damage from that taste of forbidden fruit. Quite simply, that forbidden fruit is the human decision to disregard revelation in favor of human reasoning.
How we come to understand that is the rest of the story. At some point God chooses some people with especially fitting backgrounds to reveal bits and pieces of how to face that Flaming Sword. He creates an entire nation with a peculiar intellectual background foreign to us today, and builds the character of that nation through some experiences by which they learn to understand His path back to the Garden.
This was an opportunity too good to miss, but that nation simply frittered it all away. The story is long and sad, showing how God could create a nation best equipped to understand His revelation, then give them everything they could possibly need to live that revelation. There were times they came close to the ideal, close enough to change world history, but they lacked staying power. Through the broad collection of failures, we learn humanity cannot adapt without a direct act of God to change the individual human character. The last dying gasp of this nation was to give birth to the One who would exemplify what was possible when that human character was subjected to the divine character.
In essence, God restored what was lost in the Garden. The path through the Flaming Sword now has meaning to us. Here in the story of Jesus, we see a single human who embodied as much of God’s revelation as any human can know. You have to get to know the man in order to take full advantage of this revelation. You have to understand Him in the context of His own nation, the failed experiment where God pointedly showed how man simply cannot do it, even under ideal conditions.
Our problem, then, is to reclaim some understanding of those ideal conditions. Jesus reaffirmed the importance of those conditions, and so did all His followers. Those conditions, that context of life, by its nature is the revelation we now offer to the world.
(Don’t let me plow too far ahead without comment from those who wish to participate. If something seems belabored, or needs clarification, I may not know until you tell me.)
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