SABBATH: A Trust Story

Thanks to all of you who contributed to the discussion from my last blog post.  Most of you talked to me or messaged me in private and I appreciated all of your perspective.  Some of my favorite conversation from multiple people spoke of how feelings and emotions helped you know that you are alive.

I think that I am going to start blogging more and more about some of my thoughts on theology and biblical interpretation.  My main goal with this blog has been to keep people (especially our supporters) updated on our ministry.  This will remain one of my primary concerns.  However, I also feel the need to keep my blog active, as people quit visiting a blog once it becomes dormant.  I have always stayed away from matter of theology and teaching because I have not wanted to seek out controversy.  Yet, what has happened instead is that my blog has been a few things: first of all, it has been forced at times as I've felt as though I "have to say something" versus "having something to say".  Secondly, it has not been a true reflection of myself as God has created me to be; I am a teacher and a theologian at heart.  Finally, my blog has disappointed some, who have expected it to be more theological and provocative, just based on knowing me personally.

That being said, I will continue to keep you updated on our ministry throughout my postings here.  I will also attempt to use much tact and grace in my theological musings.  Knowing my history, I will fail miserably and will continue to grow in that.

So, with no further ado -- let's start in the beginning.

"In the beginning, God created..."

The Bible begins with a creation story that we read in the first chapter of Genesis (tailing into the first few verses of the second chapter as well).  The story has a few notable characteristics.

The refrain of God seeing the goodness of creation.  Over and over again, God sees that creation is good.

This refrain seems to create a crescendo of sorts -- culminating in the creation of man; as God looks out over everything He has made, He sees that it is VERY good.

The first part of this creation poem (this is an ancient, chiastic, Mesopotamian poem) mirrors the second half.  On the first three days, God separates (light from darkness, waters above from waters below, land from sea) and the next three days, God fills what He has separated (place of light/darkness is filled with sun, moon, and stars; place of waters is filled with birds/fish, land is filled with beasts/humans).  Day One corresponds to Day Four, Day Two to Day Five, and Day Three with Day Six.

As you examine the above paragraph, it becomes strikingly clear that this poem is not about HOW creation happened (evolution v. creationism), it is about WHAT happened and WHO did it.  The days are called days; yet we, as a human race, have only measured a day one way -- the movement of the sun -- which isn't made until the fourth day.  How then, do we know that the first three days are even days?  This leads to another observation...

The other refrain ("it was evening and it was morning") is backwards.  Is the author trying to grab our attention?  Is he trying to say something about the way we understand a day?  Our existence?

Speaking of this latter refrain, it is missing from the seventh day.  Why?  It's almost as if the seventh day never ends; it just hangs out off the end of the story as if it goes on into eternity.

The story seems to be about creating and resting.
The story starts with a sense of nothingness.
"Now the earth was formless and void (tohu va'vohu)"  tohu va'vohu in the Hebrew means "chaotic nothingness".
The story ends with a sense of nothingness.  God rests and does nothing.
The story is definitely about something being GOOD.

How do we pull all of these problems together?  In ancient eastern literature, authors did not have propositions.  The western world introduced us to propositional thought.  The ancient eastern world told stories as an art form.  It was a way of conveying truth -- not through proposition, but through self discovery.  They buried truth as a treasure within a story.  Finding truth was always work for the hearer/reader.  You had to go find it.

In order to lead the hearers on this treasure hunt, the ancient authors used tools to help give clues to the treasure hunter.  One of the most commonly utilized tools of their day (especially in the Scriptures) is what we call "chiastic" literature.  The story ends up being split in the middle with the first half mirroring the second half.  This creates an ABC CBA or even an ABC ABC structure (Genesis 1 happens to be BOTH; in content, as we have already seen, it is ABC ABC [Day 1 corresponds to Day 4, 2 to 5 and 3 to 6]; however, in amount of content, it will be ABC CBA [Day 1 is a baby paragraph, Day 2 is a mommy paragraph, Day 3 is a daddy paragraph, Day 4 = daddy, Day 5 = mommy, Day 6 would be baby, except for the creation of mankind, which happens to be the point of the poem]).

Once one has found the chiastic structure, they are able to find the center of the poem -- this is important, for the center of the poem will be the buried treasure for the hearer.  If one counts Hebrew words, they find that the center of the poem happens to be the Hebrew word moad (translated "seasons"; Day 4).  This happens to be one of the Hebrew words that we will translate "sabbaths" -- which is exactly what God does on the seventh day.

So, how do we use this eastern treasure to pull together all of our observations from before?  Why is moad the buried treasure for the hearers? 

Who are the hearers?  They are a recently rescued nation of slaves who have, for 400 years, been making bricks.  They have been told that their entire value and worth is wrapped up in what they are able to produce (bricks).  This God comes and the first story He tells them is a story is an invitation to take a break -- a Sabbath -- and rest.

He insists that creation -- themselves in particular -- is good.
He invites them to stop working and trust that they are loved, valued and accepted just because of who they ARE -- not for what they DO.
He tells them that this seventh day rest has no end, but that it goes on forever.

God invites the ancient Israelites to see the world through a new set of lenses.  He invites them to believe that He sees them as GOOD -- made in the image of the Creator.  He tells them to quit trying to find their value in what they are able to do and produce.  But instead, they should stop working and REST.

He tells them, over and over again, that the story is good.
And He invites them to trust the story.

Quit trying to appease an angry God.
Quit trying to impress and please and become and do and prove yourself.

Why does each day end with "it was evening and it was morning"?
For a Jew, the day begins at sundown -- not at sunrise.
The rabbis teach that this is because God wants your day to begin with REST and not PRODUCTION.

You are invited to trust the story and see creation differently.

It will be incredibly important that we start the story HERE and not with the fall.
To start with God's goodness and not our crappiness.

But more on that later :)

** I am obviously pulling much of my material from Rob Bell in sources like "Everything is Spiritual" and "Beginning in the Beginning".   I also pull a lot of thoughts from Rabbi David Fohrman.  I am indebted to the work of countless other people that I have researched endlessly over the years.  This is not my own.  There have been some dominant voices that have given rise to many of my thoughts and I will work hard to give credit to those voices in my posts.


Feeling the Intellect

I have spent my whole life thinking.

Thinking is my drug of choice.  When I'm scared or confused or in trouble, I often find ways to run to my intellect and "think it through".  I have always tried to find my identity in my ability to think.  I have tried to prove that I matter and validate my self-worth in how I manage to use my mind.

God has been trying to teach me something about emotion and feeling this year.

And it's driving me crazy because He's not trying to teach me in my 'mind'.  He's trying to teach my heart -- my insides -- something.

In the past, I have always created a safe place for me to exist.  I create a world where I control the information -- both given and received -- and how it is being used.  When life throws me a new experience, I have always immediately attempted to perceive it, understand it, and explain it.  This process has always allowed me figure how the experience philosophically interacts with my worldview; I file it accordingly, pillage its resources (i.e. information), and move on.

This has affected my relationships in life.  For some time, I have been aware of my subconscious desire to keep people and relationships at arms length.  I do this for a few reasons.  First, it's safer; more distance means less impact.  Secondly, doing this allows me to maintain perspective.  If I can keep you at arms length, I can continue to monitor, analyze, learn and respond based on my reasoning.

I love you, just don't get close to me.
I can't study you if you are up close.

I have also been aware (intellectually aware, mind you) of the challenges this posture of life presents to me.  I have evaluated my life like a lab report and made the appropriate, logical changes.  I have found that one of the ways that I best serve the Kingdom is for me to become a part of the team and find the right places to question the status quo.  I am a question-asker.

I have done this with theology and God Himself.  I have realized that I love the drug of thought.  It feeds my soul and gives me the false sense of "closeness" to learn and have God blow up my mind and understanding over and over again.  

But God has recently begun pulling at my security blanket of understanding.  For the first time in my life, I have pursued deep and meaningful relationships in my ministry.  Without realizing what had happened, I found that I had backed myself into a place where I was emotionally connected to people that I was investing into.  I found that their struggles and pains are much more than simply problems to be evaluated, critiqued and adjusted.  I have found that even in the midst of my perfectly functional explanation, I still hurt.  I share in their pain.  I continue to think of a good friend of mine who talked about how relationship is messy, because it invites me to deal with their dirty laundry.

And I'm exhausted.
(NOTE: This is not to say that I am "down" or depressed.  On the contrary, I feel very spiritually healthy and a little bit "alive" through this whole experience.  I believe my exhaustion is largely mental and connected to my inability to file the experience in my mental cabinets.)

My family has become the long process of applying and being licensed for foster care.  I did this for what I would have called compassion and wanting to pursue a heart that beats like God's.  However, I came to that conclusion based on intellectual evaluation of my theology and a deep questioning of whether the status quo of my life was consistent to my stated belief.  I found that I wanted to do more, I made the appropriate changes (based on much prayer), and executed the plan.

What I didn't see in my plan was how much the pain of children would mess with my heart.  The suffering of innocent people looks at my understanding and my theology and my philosophy of restoration/redemption and it laughs -- it mocks -- my intellect.  It continues to point out the blatant limitations that fall upon my detached understanding of reality.

There are no profound observations at the end of this post.  Just a few questions.  And I know that the irony of this situation is that I'm trying to glean information in order to understand the very heart that I said was obviously bigger than my mind.  I understand the irony -- and yet this is the only way that I know how to live.  It is how I've been made.  So, I've become willing to admit that my worldview is limited and in need of other people and I'm wondering if you might be willing to humor me for a moment.

As a means of introspection: How are you wired?  How do you see the world?  What are the limitations that you've encountered in how to relate to all the stimulus around you?  Could God be trying to teach you something right now?

But most importantly, I wanted to ask a question of those people that DON'T see the world like I do -- in fact my opposites (who probably don't read my blog, so this may be a pointless endeavor).  For those of you who love to engage feeling and emotion:  What are the positives of your experience?  What do you enjoy about feeling and emotion?  How does it speak to you and what does it accomplish in your life?

I'd love to hear some feedback from you, because it may help me understand my own experiences that I try to avoid for much of my life.  I also feel as though there is much I have yet to unpack.  This is the tip of the proverbial iceberg for my life.  I am excited to see what God can redeem in my heart and look forward to the things He's trying to teach me.  Help me!  Give me your insights!