The big story

Photo by Brandon Siu on Unsplash, Poon Hill, Histan Mandali, Nepal

There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

Over the past few weeks, I have grown more and more aware how important the big stories that explain the world are. Many children’s Bibles attempt to provide an overarching Christian perspective to children who are too young to read for themselves. In relationships, the story that we tell ourselves about that relationship helps to define our interactions. If I feel like our history has been rough, it can make future conversations stilted. (As a side note, this is why forgiveness, trusting in God’s justice, and graciousness are so essential.)

I’ve been reading in my early morning devotions (book 1 has turned out to not be so devotional!) Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies. There are a few good sections, but most of the book covers various heresies that different gnostic authors taught. What stands out is how complex each heretic’s system is. They take all the evidence that they have (for example: there are 7 planets, the sun, the moon, and the stars; added up, this equals 10, and it means something) along with the biblical text, and they tell a convincing story. From our perspective, this is a bit odd, and yet for all their complexity, the problem is that they don’t have sufficient data. There are of course more than 7 planets in our solar system and there are many more moons that orbit the other planets. The ancients didn’t know that, and this means their system doesn’t even correspond with reality.

But this isn’t just the problem with ancient gnostics. In quite a different field, archaeology has similar issues. In order to be scientific and chronicle things properly, they can’t just dig up whole hills of ancient cities. (This was the mistake of early archeologists at Megiddo and Gezer). They dig up small quadrants and hope what they dig up will give them artifacts that explain the various cultures that used to live there. In some ancient cities archeologists still hope to find the archives, and this means their knowledge is only partial. Some archeologists are reticent to use the Bible to inform the narrative of the city, and would rather lean almost exclusively on the archeological data. The problem is how piecemeal it all is, and this means that the archeologist ends up needing to be quite creative to craft the bigger picture story that explains all of the broken pieces of pottery, the burn layers, and buildings.

Modern science runs into the same roadblock. They don’t know everything, but I think that they are the most unwilling to admit such. Modern science ends up relying on a story that has been developing since Darwin and probably before. The thing is that we have convinced ourselves as a culture that the current scientific story is the most logical when there are myriads of other ways to put together the data.

As Christians, we don’t live primarily by the creativity of the scientific community, the gnostic community, or archeological community. Instead, we live trusting in the grand story that scripture lays before us. The Bible is the authoritative account for how we ought to view the world and we must take care not to undermine it by holding to strongly to our current cultural stories. The most wonderful thing about the story of the Bible is that it transcends cultures and time. If we were to speak honestly, no one in the 3rd century AD would accept our modern scientific outlook. Yes, they might have had a few details off, but even with the corrections (that the earth and our solar system seem not to be the center of the universe), Darwinian Evolution would have been laughed off the stage. Survival of the fittest would have been ridiculed as inhumane (which it still ought to be ridiculed as such). The story of the scriptures, however, was welcomed by 3rd century peoples, by Asians, Africans, and Americans. By Mongols, people of the Sahel, Indians, Chinese, and the like. Moderns and ancients alike confessed and confess the gospel.

This is not to say that there the scriptures fully fit our logic. We live not only by sight but also by faith. But this doesn’t discount the truth of the story, in fact as we come to know the God of the scriptures, our faith is confirmed. The story of the scriptures display the glory of God. He created and sustains the world by the word of his power. He sent his son to redeem us from sin and death so that we can have fellowship with him. He is God with us. May we learn to love God’s work in history as we study his story in the scriptures and may we grow in our love, devotion, and worship of the ‘one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’

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