Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Douglas Clark's Article on Spectrum Website

The Spectrum website posted an article that is interesting about the recurring theme in Genesis of accounts of human foibles and divine correction, the salient points are excepted here:

Collapse, Correction, and Rescue: A Deluge of Questions
By Douglas R. Clark

Genesis 6–9 is part of what scholars call the "Primeval Prologue," Genesis 1–11, which differs somewhat from what follows in Genesis 12 and beyond with its universal perspective and "prehistorical" flavor. A remarkable collection of accounts about divine origins of the earth and human faith and foibles, Genesis 1–11 proposes five cycles of collapse, correction, and gracious rescue, the fourth of which is the Flood Story. These can be represented as follows:

  1. Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. All was "very good" until Adam and Eve collapsed under the temptation to arrogance in the face of God’s command about the tree. The corrective measure involved death on the day of eating the fruit, but God kindly intervened, rescuing the pair for reasons known only to grace.
  2. Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:1–16. Cain succumbed to the rash decision to murder his brother, an act that did not result, as we might expect, in the punishment of "life for life," but in hard labor and exile east of Eden. Graciously, God protected Cain’s life with a visible mark, allowing him to marry and raise a family.
  3. Lamech and his wives in Genesis 4:23–24. While the cycle of collapse, correction and rescue only partially unfolds here, Lamech ascends to arrogance, taking on himself the right to murder in revenge for an injury, thereby violating also the principle of "limb for limb." Neither expressions of punishment nor gracious intervention appear in this cycle.
  4. Noah and the flood in Genesis 6–9. Because of disastrous and disgusting moral human collapse, God brings about the corrective response of a massive inundation intended to wipe out every living thing, only to intervene graciously by saving people and beasts in the ark of safety and pledging no repeat performances like this one—ever.
  5. The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Arrogance again figures in the downfall of humans as they try to rise to the heavens. God confuses their language, thus preventing further construction of both the tower and the hubris it represents. Grace comes not so much in this story, but in the subsequent appearance of Abraham in Genesis 12.

The Flood Story thus does not occur in a vacuum. In context, it represents an increase in the intensity of human collapse to the point of a totally engulfing storm of evil and guilt. It reflects a rise in corrective punishment with the watery burial of everything known to humans. It also conveys increased divine favor, driven only by grace knows what, to rescue, redeem, and reclaim humanity and the world.

I like the concept but it has inserted a few things which aren’t really in the stories rather they are insertions placed in the story by various traditions. For instance in the Adam and Eve story Clark says:

The corrective measure involved death on the day of eating the fruit, but God kindly intervened, rescuing the pair for reasons known only to grace.

This is not found in the story. They are expelled from the garden. The verse was never meant to imply that they would die on the very day they ate the fruit. If it did then God would have lied to Adam and Eve. The concept of God lying to people is something that the author of Genesis would never have considered to be an appropriate interpretation. The point of the story is man fails but God does what He says He will do. The only viable interpretation is that the translation of “day” is idiomatic for “when”. So we don’t have a story with unexplained grace we have actions, with results and consequences. Indeed instead of gracious rescue the stories tell of consequences but the consequences do not show abandonment by God. God remains active even when the people fail.

Clark is more accurate in number 2:

Graciously, God protected Cain’s life with a visible mark, allowing him to marry and raise a family.

You can see why in some ways that Clark wanted to rewrite the Adam and Eve story. It is a little harder to say that God graciously kicked them out of Eden so that they would no longer have access to the Tree of Life. To the traditional Christian it sounds better that God had promised to kill them on the day they ate the fruit and then He graciously decided not to kill them just to expel them. Why the idea of a God saying sin and I will kill you is more attractive to most Christians I don’t know. It is I suppose the siren call of traditionalism as put forth in the penal theory of Atonement generated in the latter part of the Middle Ages. Where the God who promises to kill you is gracious if instead He kills someone else, someone innocent, and let’s the guilty go free. Naturally to make such a travesty seem acceptable the vague story of Creation is the place to start. Fertile ground for speculative additions that it is.

Clark has done well in pointing out to us the replication of the idea of man’s sinfulness and God’s character which does not abandon the sinner. That of course is the focus of Genesis as we move into the promised nation who will in time bring forth the promised Messiah and the reconciliation of all things as the Bible in small steps leads us through the journey of learning about God and ourselves.


al said...

Reading between the lines and in context of the great controversity between God and Satan I conclude: Time goes on and Satan influences the vast majority of people to follow his ways. Satan then demands that God turn over the world to his full control. God allows Satan to have the control he demands, but God provides a haven for the few who still acknowledge Him as their God. And so the great flood came, when once again God took a step back, withdrawing His stabilizing power from the earth. Once again Satan has his chance to step in and fill the gap left by God and once again Satan shows he's not up to the task. The earth goes into convolutions and breaks apart. The fountains of the deep burst open and a great flood cover the earth. The earth tilts ready to spin out of control. Satan can't save any of his followers but God shows He can save all who put their trust in Him. God intervenes and brings the chaos to a stop. Humiliated by his failure, Satan once again blames God for the destruction and at the same time has succeeded in causing people to disbelieve in a world wide flood.

bob said...

Hi Ron...
I agree with you that Clark's essay is good food for thought and discussions. At it's core however, this whole flood story, and it's typical tellings by many Christians (incl. we Adventists) leaves me with a sobering and depressing problem. We've talked about this before a couple weeks ago, but it would appear that when all else has failed, God, as the story is rendered, resorts to violence to "solve" His problem.

Now there are all manner of people and excuses lined up to defend and excuse God for doing this. He had no choice; He gave plenty of warning; He's God so can do what He wants; who are WE to question God; and so on.

And the story is retold in many ways and many circumstances. And we reach the end of scripture and once again God has this problem of wickedness and "solves" it by burning the wicked: surely an act of violence however one looks at it. One gentleman in our SS class this Sabbath (he happens to be a prosecuting attorney for the state!) defends God by saying "there just comes a time when God has to 'take out the trash' and move on."
So I have to ask: how has this strategy worked out for God?? If violence really WAS the solution, seems there would logically come a time when violence is no longer necessary -- if indeed it ever was. But the bible is a succession of stories of violence; including a violence met upon God Himself - in the form of His Son - and "ending" with the burning of the "wicked" as a sort of "final solution"... But why was not the FIRST act of violence able to accomplish this result? And what confidence can we have that somehow THIS last spasm of violence will somehow END violence once and for all?

Seems to me the flood solved nothing. Yes, there were seeming recalcitrant wicked and we killed them. But read on and we find they pop right back into place with the upcoming story of Babel. Why does violence not solve the problem? To be sure, in the short run it did seem to have a positive effect: fewer "bad" folks, less "sin" -- but in effect nothing changed. And the cycle repeats over and over again as we read through scripture. Violence "works" but only in the short term. Our own history of the flow of world events shows us this too doesn't it?? Huge and major problems between nations flare up in violence and war. Even when one side wins decisively, has that somehow "solved" the problems which plague our human interactions? If so, certainly there's been ENOUGH violence already hasn't there? And we should NOW be living in peace!

So God has a huge problem on his hands it seems to me. To the extent that He seems portrayed as willing to solve His problems with us with violence, He merely furthers the cycle of violence on into the indefinite future. All grace becomes is God's temporary restraint in acting violently. It seems clear that under these circumstances then our motivation for behavior is fear -- no matter how badly we want to believe it is "love". In fact, to give these violent acts the motivation of "love" is profoundly troubling on many many levels. And for me is inherently absurd in the ultimate analysis. For in the end, all we are really doing is serving God because He is more powerful, He has the "bigger guns" and we sure do remember what happened to those last rebels who dared to flout His "authority"...

So, is it possible that the story of the flood is told for that very purpose? To illustrate that violence does NOT solve, ultimately, what it is about the human condition that is the source of our problem? This realization might then prompt us to wonder how all these stories are supposed to convince everyone of the futility of violence in the long run?

Anyway, good blog.....