Making the Story “Relevant”

Here’s a good question posed in a recent comment by Mel:

…how can we make story – even one that isn’t always “factual” (aka not like a newspaper or history book) that was lived out by a people that are removed from us in every way be ours?

This is the The Million Dollar question.  Previously in that comment, Mel wonders at the seeming irrelevance of the story, considering that it happened so long ago and to other people.  This type of language often leads people to ask, “How do we make the Bible relevant?”  Here’s the thing, I don’t make the Bible “relevant.”    I don’t do this because it starts with the assumption that the Bible is somehow divorced from the Human experience and therefor needs to be tethered back to Earth so people can see Heaven in it’s pages.  One of the things that stands out about the Bible, however, is how incredibily rooted it is in the Human experience.  Any movie that is made from it’s pages, after all, would leave huges sections labelled “NC-17” because for many “family friendly” folks it’s almost too rooted in the Human Experience.  So, rather than “relevant,” I attempt to show that the Bible is applicable to our lives – separated by time, distance, and language though we may be.

To show this, let me use one of the passages most often used by peopel to show how the Bible cannot possibly be relevant in a world ruled by Scientific methodology – Genesis 1.

This first creation myth (gasp, choak, scream) is broken up into the Hebrew pattern of “6 + 1,” like the days of the week.  The cosmology demonstrated in the chapter is not scientific, nor should we expect it to be so because it was compiled thousands of years before the scientific method was invented.  In the cosmology of Genesis 1 the earth is flat, what we call the “sky” is actually a solid dome (literally, “bowl”) that keeps the waters of chaos from crashing down upon the earth and joining the waters of chaos that reside below the earth.  The Sun, Moon, and Starts are inside the dome (which means that Genesis 1 isn’t referring to what we call the Atmosphere) and are actually pinned on it’s inner surface.  This ain’t science.

‘Ah HA!” those who say the Bible isn’t “relevant” shout, “You’ve just proved our case, science is about truth and you just said that your Bible isn’t true!”

“But wait,” the so-called scientific-creationists cry, “You’ve just said that the Bible isn’t science and so you said that the Bible isn’t true.”

I say to both of them, “I don’t agree with your shared premise that the scientific method is the sole arbitor of what is ‘true'”  (Scientific creationists would say that they say the Bible is the sole arbitor of Truth – but by demanding that it can be squeezed into a scientific cosmology they do otherwise).

Let’s look at the Structure of Genesis 1 the way an Ancient Hebrew might have read it:

  1. Make a table with 4 rows and 2 columns.  Make the last row span both columns.
  2. In the last row write “rest”
  3. Open up to Genesis 1 and read the days of Creation (it’s actually goes into Genesis 2 – that’s OK, the verse numbers aren’t inspired – nor are the headings)
  4. In each of the days, write down what is created on that day.  Fill in the first column first – putting days 1-3 on the left and 4-6 on the right.
  5. Do you see any correlation on the rows?

When you’ve finished that, read on.This narrative sums up my point perfectly.  While there really is nothing “relavant” about a cosmology in which the earth is flat and surrounded by a solid bowl (we know that’s not the case), it is certainly applicable.  Why?  Because Genesis 1 (+some of 2) reveals that God structured Creation in such a way that “everything has a place and everything is in its place.”  The ancient Hebrews struggled for survival in Egypt, suffered civil war and foreign invasion, and were carted off into exile.  The simple message that God orders creation, without the need of others or pre-existing material, so that everything has a place would have been faith-strengthening.  I think it still serves that function today – revealing for us both the power of God and the wonderful order that has a place for everything under the Sun – even humanity.

What a wonderful counter to dystopian pessimmism.

3 Comments

  1. Mel says:

    My thought wasn’t really geared toward bible relevance. It was more toward your initial thoughts on how we as a people today don’t understand the concept of story (any story from homer to yesterday’s news) being useful. At least outside of good literature and all of the meaning you can derive from it. Too often it is really easy to view these stories as myths which we like to debunk as completely untrue tales (even if some truth is in them). This isn’t the case. But we as a culture often can’t get past this. Especially with the bible as the events are so removed (culture, time, place, etc).

    So to ask the question sort of a different way: how do we get people who don’t see story as functional passed a good read/fun stuff to change their perspective and embrace this one? (The “they” includes both us and other people as I know I myself have troubles with this sometimes.)

  2. Mel says:

    You want central to embrace and be imersed in the story. Which is good. Given our usual definition of story ( a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale) how does this work?

  3. wezlo says:

    Well, I think I do this in ways similar to the way that I deal with the first creation account. To show, again and again, that this really does describe the world in which we live – just from a perspective that we don’t typically think.

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