With permission, I am posting an email I recently received. It’s fairly long but very much worth reading. In sharing this post, my hope is that this 1) spurs dialogue, 2) elicits your thoughts, ideas, and quasi answers, 3) encourages the reader in their faith journey, and 4) personally blesses the person who sent me this email. If I may, I’ll just call this person “Jane.” I’ve enboldened her questions in bold so that they stand out. There’s no need to address every question but perhaps to approach the ones that resonate with you. I look forward to reading people’s contributions and I’ll eventually post my response to this person as well. What we’ll likely discover is that people will have different views and ideas…and that’s OK.
[beginning of email] I missed church two weeks ago and listened to your sermon online. I find myself very uncomfortable with attempts to explain what happened in the Garden of Eden and concepts like “the fall” and “the curse”.
Actually it’s not the concepts I have problems with, it’s the details. The concept of the suffering inherent in life being not something that God does to us but that we do to ourselves is one I can wrap my arms around.
The detail of an angry (disappointed?) God the Father punishing women forevermore with painful childbirth because Eve ate the forbidden fruit just seems way too human for me. Is God just a person, writ large?
The story of the fall and the curse seems like a very likely product of human beings trying to make sense of their lives and their encounters with God. If you could look at that story’s DNA, I think it would be human. Of course we have to explain things in a way that makes sense to ourselves, and God is likely too complex for us to understand well or to explain, so Genesis gives us a nice story to try to explain what might be at work when we see a divine and perfect God create an imperfect world. But I guess I’m asking, do you really believe there was an Adam, and an Eve?
I’m currently reading the book you recommended: Letters to a Skeptic, although I’m in the very early going. I just read the chapter where he probes the question of whether or not God knows what we are going to do before we do it. I know this guy is very well educated and maybe I’m out to lunch, but this seems like a completely wacky, unproductive effort. Like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Does God experience time like we do, linearly with the past first, then the present then the future? Physicists tell us time is just another dimension; Stephen Hawking has spent a fair amount of time trying to understand why time only runs forward; theoretically it should be like any other dimension—we should be able to travel back and forth along time.
OK, pretty esoteric and I don’t claim to understand it, but really, is God constrained within his own creation? Doesn’t he more likely stand outside of it?
Maybe time is laid out for God like cards spread across a table and he sees it all at once. Maybe the whole of existence throbs with life and any good we do in the world today changes all of history and the future at the same time. Maybe creation is like a huge organism trying to purify itself, and time has no real meaning. Or maybe it’s nothing like that, but it’s surely not so simple a 6th grader could fully explain it.
This is my very big resistance to attempts to interpret the Bible: it’s like people trap God in a little Bible-sized box, and then argue about what’s inside. Searching for another analogy, like using a dollar bill as your only input about Geo Washington and spending a lot of time and energy arguing over what’s in that portrait and what it means.
It just seems so tortured, and futile, the attempt to get it all to make sense and be consistent with itself and with what arguably God has placed in our hearts.
And add to that the context you talked about when mentioning how wives were viewed at the time and what Paul was saying when he said to love your wives. The context is important, and today’s context is different. Plus, Paul is not divine; when God knocked him off that horse did he change Paul’s entire brain? Or did he say, “Hmmm, I could use that guy”, and convert him, and what we’ve got is still old Saul, with his own strengths and weaknesses, but a Saul that is convinced of Christ’s divinity. Or is he, as Paul, infallible?
Do we just assume that whatever decisions everyone whoever got his hands on the bible–the people who decided what was canon and what was heresy, the scribes who made “improvements” and errors which rolled into today’s bible, and the original authors– were guided by God to make no mistakes?
Overall, the anthropomorphization (spell check has no suggestions) of God is a huge problem for me. I hear over and over “God wants such and such”, “What is God’s plan for my life?”, “God saved us from the tornado”. (Beats “God helped us win the Super bowl”, I guess.)
Does God want things? Does he plan things? Those are things humans do. If God saved me from the tornado, did he also choose to wipe out my neighbor’s family? Does God save and choose? Or are am I alive and my neighbor dead because the tornado touched down over there and not here. Does having babies hurt because their heads are just so dang big?
I feel like the safest way for me to approach the Bible is at 20 feet, like a Seurat painting, to get the big picture (love one another, don’t judge), rather than verse by verse.
OK, you’ll be glad to know I’m out of steam here. I eagerly await your response, or the response of David or whomever you might see fit to bump this to. I KNOW you are a busy, busy guy and I am patient and not in crisis so no rush and I hope this isn’t just too much! You can direct me to a book if you prefer.
With gratitude for your willingness to help me on my quest, “Jane”