November 30, 2008

God's Intercession with Humanity

On a scale from one to ten—one representing the collective power, wisdom and knowledge of a dozen worms in a can, and ten representing the same attributes for God—where would human beings rank?

Think about it, because I want to make a point.

I’ve asked this question to numerous people of faith and they’ve replied with answers that average just north of two—not very high on the scale. If you concur with their assessment, let me suggest the following. After you’ve watered your lawn one afternoon, go outside once it's dark and peer into the grass with a flashlight. There you'll see an occasional glint of light, and when you do, stop. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that you’ve discovered an earthworm. If you’re not squeamish about such things, grab it quickly and put it into a can. Don’t worry. It won’t bite.

Now here is the tricky part. Once you’ve gathered several earthworms, set the can down and preach the gospel to the residents inside. They are, after all, God’s creatures, too, and deserve to hear the good news.

What’s that you say? Worms don’t communicate with humans? That’s not necessarily the case. You can engage in a rudimentary form of communication with a worm and here’s how. Let’s say you want to express the need that they return underground. Look for another worm in the grass and simply step close to it. The vibration alone will alert the earthworm of potential danger and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it reenters the hole from which it emerged. And there you have it, a basic exchange of ideas, including: 1) a message delivered, 2) a message received, and 3) a response to the message.

I know what you’re thinking: That level of communication isn’t sufficient. Besides, worms have no idea what our world is like and therefore have no basis for understanding the gospel. How could we, for example, teach the Parable of the Good Samaritan, when they can’t possibly know about Samaritans, or a place called Jericho, or the concept of thievery?

If that was what you were thinking, then you’re absolutely right. But here’s where I make my point. If God is so great that compared to Him we’re worm-like in intelligence and glory, how much more difficult must it be for Him to tell us about His world and the thoughts of His heart?

There's a brilliant novel (one I’m still writing) entitled Exalted Man. The narrator of the story happens to be deceaced, which hasn't diminshed the fact that he's quite pompous. In one passage he’s asked the question: What’s it like, this reality where the dead exist?

And he answers this way.

I mean no disrespect, but I might as easily describe Newtonian physics to a water bug. If you’re familiar with holy script, you have, no doubt been tantalized by hints of an elegant calculus central to immortality. (Consider, for example, the opaque references to time found in the Bhagavad-gita or the Bible). But do not assume God’s written word—His talk of commandments and heavenly reward—to be a comprehensive, or even precise, rendering of truth. Compared to our Maker, mortals are little more intelligent or self-aware than so many cans of worms. How might anyone, therefore, expect the Great I Am to speak of eternity in a manner to be comprehended by human minds? To assume as much is both arrogant and outrageous, when in fact, God condescends and relates to mortals as a wise man to a litter of puppies.

Hear this and ponder its implications: The texts you deem sacred—the law of Moses and Christ’s gospel, Gautama’s eight-fold path and the suras of Muhammad—are primers only, a collection of ABC books, as it were. You will, at some point outside of time, be allowed a clearer view of the truth, but for now it’s far more complex than you can even imagine.
Is it possible that the words, “And God said, Let there be light: And there was light,” only hint at an elegant calculus behind a Big Bang? I’m not belittling the scriptures. In fact, there is nothing I’ve read (and I read a lot) that rings as true and inspiring to me as Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Yet, doesn’t it make sense that if an infinitely wise creator spoke to us, He would—out of necessity—simplify the complex truths of His life, so that we, as spiritual kindergarteners, could understand them?

I have a good friend who recently complained to me about the teaching of evolution in schools. The complaint surprised me and I asked why he was so concerned. He said evolution was clearly erroneous, since the Bible said so. I told him that the Bible said no such thing, that in fact Genesis records God as saying: Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life. Did you catch that? God let the waters bring forth creatures. Doesn't that suggest a process-driven creation and not a single event?

I'll never forget my friend’s reaction. He said, “Well, if evolution is correct, why don’t we see elephants in trees?”

My heart stopped and I was overwhelmed with sadness. When we take the scriptures too literally and become apologists for their content, we twist our notions of truth into a tortured conformity that rejects so much of what can be useful. Once a dogmatic appeal to the Bible is seen as virtuous and an open mind as the devil's temptation, learning ends. It's a situation I wish we could avoid.

By the way, do you want to know how I replied to my friend? I said, “We do see elephants in trees…but we call them squirrels.”

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