- Job 1:1, 2:1-10
- Psalm 26
- Genesis 2:18-24
- Psalm 8
- Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
- Mark 10:2-16
It is not good that the man should be alone
When I left ECUSA for Eastern Orthodoxy, I was continuing a journey I’ve always been on. I was looking for the One Right Answer, good for All Time™. The modern sellers of Orthodoxy in America (equally ™) seem to push this. I’m not sure if this is the right way to use the term, but some friends of mine have been known to use the term “Byzantine Rite Baptists” – and I think it aptly describes these sellers. My experience was that they are as Literalist as the late Jerry Falwell. Their Orthodoxy is as coloured by their cultural assumptions and prejudices as my liberalism is. Their Christianity is as removed from that practiced in “The Mother Country” as mine is from 2nd Century Palestine.
But I tried, really… to live in the world they offered me: a God who never changes and who wrote the little spiral bound song book we used at every liturgy. It only works, really, if you don’t notice that “Those Orthodox over there” do it differently than we do. (Of course they do! We’re humans…) The Byzantine Baptists go rushing out to fix those folks over there. I’ve even heard one guy wanting to send American Orthodox evangelists to the Middle East to make our Elder Brothers and Sisters “do it right”! But my reaction was to see if there was a place where this might make sense.
It’s not good to be alone, though… so I do this with others – with you, today.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man…but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.
Does this passage startle you? Does it trip you up at all?
Pretend for a moment you are a biblical Literalist (buy into the whole Six-Day Creation and Young-Earth movement for a while). This passage – like everything in the Bible – is God’s story about himself to us. He is using Moses to write specific words on the paper. These are God’s words, through Moses, to us. Read these verses and what do you see?
Pretend you are a “Higher Criticism” sort, or a cultural critic of the text. Hold the text at arms length as far as revelation about/by deity is concerned. But the Bible tells us a lot about the people and cultures in which it was written. (Or, at least, a lot about what they wanted to say about themselves.) What do these verses seem to say about what these people thought about the God they followed?
God wants to make man a partner…
So God tries all the animals out…
They don’t work…
Hold these verses in your imaginary Literalist mindset. Did God make a mistake? Get suddenly distracted?
Hold these verses in your imaginary Higher Criticism mindset. Did the ancient writers imagine that God made a mistake? Did they imagine that God got distracted? Where they just weaving a story and used the pretty animals as a plot device?
Look in the Gospel…
[The Pharisees] said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.”
Jesus is engaged in a debate here within the Jewish community regarding the content and application of the Mosiac law. Of two great schools (or houses) of thought present in the Jewish Community, the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel, Jesus seems to be siding with Shammai here and in other places on Divorce: either no divorce at all, or else only for extreme issues. Paul seems to take this line as well. But notice what Jesus says… “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you.” Not because God commanded it thus but rather as a concession.
Use your Literalist mindset and tell me what that means? That God’s law was, from the very beginning, not a “Perfect Law for all time” but rather a process? If Jesus is, himself, God, what does that say about Moses making up laws that are concessions rather than God’s real commandment?
Use your Higher Critical mind and tell me what this might mean about the people or cultures that wrote the law? Rather than divine inspiration does it seem the law is a process? Is it possible that Jesus feels this way?
I’m not asking new questions really. The rabbinic sages taught that the New Creature of Earth (the Hebrew adama meaning, literally, “Earthling” rather than a name) was at first androgynous. The failure to find a friend from the Earthling among the other creatures led to God’s division of the Earthling into two beings, Man and Woman. But first God tried the Animals…
Is God testing things? Trying things out? Did God fail to understand that the Earthling, with reason, understanding and skill, might not be interested at all in the creatures who don’t have that? I mean a dog is incredible comfort… “Man’s best friend”, even… but not much comfort when mourning or when feeling randy, or even when looking for a night out on the town.
Really? Try all the animals first?
And while Jesus seems to take God’s omnipotence and omniscience as a given, even whilst siding with Shammai, Jesus seems to deny the text of the Scriptures. He indicates here (and elsewhere) that the law is a process, a dialectic, a give and take in to which we (humans) are constantly maturing. Paul seems to take this line as well. It’s not a once-for-all-time standard, a thing that leaves us stuck in the past. It is a law that evolves and moves with us through time and culture.
And the God who is described as a Jealous God is later called “Love”.
So for me, standing here in time and space, 2000 years and several cultures away from these texts, I’m left to wonder what God is saying to us or what God as learned in that time about humans. What does it mean to hold in tension these ideas about a God who changes and evolves (or, about an evolving and changing understanding of that God) with the ideas we like: permanence, unchanging, foreverness?
One of the things that amuses me constantly about modern atheists of the strident sort is that they want us religionists to all be of a stripe. They often create – and try to force all of us believers into – a straw man and then set it on fire. When we try to point out subtle differences in meaning and readings and understandings… they (the Strident Atheists) often turn into more literalist fundamentalists than Jerry Falwell ever wanted to be. And they presume to tell us, the believers, that we’re doing it wrong.
But we’ve not changed, I think.
It seems within our tradition that there has been, for some time, since the beginning of our tradition, really, some 3,000 years ago – and really, since Abraham (some 4,000 years ago) – a dialogue with this God we follow. It started with Abraham bargaining for Sodom: we are getting to know him and he is getting to know us. Judaism and Christianity seem to agree thus. The latter even going so far to say that God became one of us to experience this world, to do it, and live it.
The point of this meditation here, on St Francis Day, is not to cast doubts on the text or on the Literalist or Higher Critical readings of the text. Rather I want to open our eyes to the spectrum, to the depth and width of this religion we try to follow. It’s not textual: it’s contextual. We’re not in a place to pull out a text and say “this says X”. Rather we can pull out a text and say “This seems to mean this…” and then we must decide how to live that meaning.
Judaism has, within it, a community known as the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement.
Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern American-based Jewish movement based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983). The movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization.It originated as the radical left branch of Conservative Judaism before it splintered. The movement developed from the late 1920s to 1940s, and it established a rabbinical college in 1968.
There is substantial theological diversity within the movement. Halakha (Jewish law) is not considered binding, but is treated as a valuable cultural remnant that should be upheld unless there is reason for the contrary. The movement emphasizes positive views towards modernism, and has an approach to Jewish custom which aims toward communal decision making through a process of education and distillation of values from traditional Jewish sources.
Although the word “reconstruction” can mean something rather different in conservative Christian thought (which meaning I reject), I think of this community as – roughly – Eastern Christian Reconstructionim. What we say about the God we worship says a lot more about us than about Him. And we wrestle with that. As we seek to know and be known by that God, things with evolve and change – as they always have! But we do it together.
It is not good for the Earthling to be alone.