There was no post on a book chapter on the authority of the Bible on RHE’s site on Monday but I still have something to say on why the usual story of salvation does not fit at all well with the actual biblical content. As I was thinking about it, I remembered one “modern” author who, in my opinion, when he was reflecting on the content of the scriptures, got the story and its end game pretty close to right!
Those who are familiar with my work know I begin with a specific understanding of the story of God.
In the last post on this subject I frustrated a few people by hinting at the outline of the redemptive story as containing four words, beginning with the letters C F R and R. For anyone who has never studied with me this made no sense; to those who have read my material and/or taken my courses, these letters probably keyed in the brain with the words, Creation, Fall, Redemption and Response.
What’s the Story?
The Bible tells the story of a good creation, created to be ruled by good human “gardeners” who instead of patiently learning from the voice of God in the cool of the day, went their own way and sought to rule creation with their own feeble wills as though they were each the center of creation without their creator’s insight and strength. It tells the story of a sorry, shocked and angry God who began at once to restore the creation he had made with those same human creatures still at the very center of creation as candidate kings and queens of all the world but deeply confused and in need of redemption, broken as they had become.
The whole Bible after Genesis 3 is the slow, hard but sometimes joyous story of how God brought some of his human creatures around to willingly serve him again as the project managers of creation. In his great love and mercy, God even finally became a human being to perfectly respond to God’s own call for redemption. Both before and after that key event, God had determined to use humans as his agents of reconciliation and renewal so that the redemption of all creation has always depended on the faithful responses of humans, imperfect though they may be.
I asked my readers to put all this into a sentence in contrast to the dualistic counter-gospel which I framed as:
“Jesus died to save my soul so that when I die, I can live forever with Jesus in heaven.”
Most of us who are “churched” learned some version of this meme by the time we were in second grade. It was passed on to us from parents and Sunday school teachers and pastors: “When we die if we are good we go to heaven.” Or, “if we believe in Jesus, when we die we will go to heaven.” And while it may actually be accurate to say we go to heaven immediately after we die, in the end, heaven is not our home; we are just sojourners there, passing through. Why? Because we were made to be the lords of the earth.
Who Got It Right?
C.S. Lewis, in his children stories, the Chronicles of Narnia, comes very close to capturing this biblical idea although he does borrow from Plato (shudder) for the mechanics of it all at one critical point toward the end. Lewis imagines a creation full of worlds, not all in the same universe, but each in its own cosmos, some worlds, old, dead or dying, some new and young but all usually inhabited by people. In one world, however, the world of Narnia, many of the animals can talk. These sentient beasts get on quite well in their country but only if the “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve” sit on the Narnian thrones. If the line of human kings and queens were to fail then all would be wrong and would go wrong in Narnia. And in the end, after “The Last Battle,” at the end of Narnia, those who have been its heroes who have made things right over and over again, throughout the ages, all find themselves back in the real, I would say, the redeemed Narnia, because for humans, to be home is to be in creation, with sky, trees, brooks, mountains and hills. For humans, grass and flowers and well-built homes, plazas and coffee shops is heaven! For humans, heaven is things being good and right on earth.
When Lewis wrote the Narnia stories he painted a picture of reality which is in sharp contrast to the one we grew up with, the “die and go out of the world” narrative. His vision was, when we die we go even “farther up and farther in” to the world over which we were created and redeemed to have dominion, a world which cannot be right unless and until the redeemed of the Lord inherit it, claim it as their own in the name of their High King.
Yes, the High King, of course! As Lucy Pevensie says at one point to the high king, the lion, Aslan, “The point was never Narnia; it was you, Aslan! We wanted to come back to Narnia so that we could be with you!” Because, of course, the redemption of creation story which unites our entire Old Testament and the message of the New is the message of the high king, the king of kings, Jesus. Lewis, of course, never says it in so many words but our Jesus is their Aslan, murdered and left for dead on the stone table of the law so that all creation, whether in symbolic, mythical Narnia or in a very real England, might be made right by that most precious blood ever shed. Aslan is exactly Jesus and Jesus, Aslan. The Pevensies had no other way, Lewis suggests, of getting to know the creator/redeemer-king in England and so they got to know him in Narnia. And things cannot be right with us humans unless we are right with our high king.
Paul had declared “all scripture useful” and when you read that old testament story within a Narnia-like meme, where the creator loves his creation and wills that when it fails it shall be redeemed, then the Old Testament with its concern for how you grow fruit trees and what to do if your walls are “unclean” (i.e., have mildew) makes sense because the law and narrative and song all reflect God’s love for the creation which will someday be fully redeemed when “the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve” are once again kings and queens of creation under the direct and loving vassalage of the king of all his kings and queens.
It is when we know that God never gives up on anything he created that the story of Samson, murdering Philistines with a jaw bone starts to make some sense. And the Shullamite maid, choosing her shepherd boy over lascivious old King Solomon then has everything to do with Jesus dying to save, not my immortal soul but my whole, full, feet and hands with opposing thumbs, moving, choosing, loving, life, not so that I can join Jesus in heaven forever but so that on the great, gettin’ up mornin’ I can join Jesus’ retinue as we all come down to live on a redeemed earth! The Neoplatonist redemption story which steals Christian words to point us in the wrong direction has nothing to do with any of that. It can never be related to all the Old Testament mud, blood, hair and breasts!
When we embrace the narrative of the older covenant in our new one as Lewis does in his children’s stories then, when Paul proclaims a restored creation in Romans 8:18-22 and when John foresees the city which is the bride of the king, coming down with that “Lamb” right in its center in Revelation 21, we have no trouble at all with the “plain meaning” of the text and we are in no way tempted to read Romans 8 or Revelation 21 upside down. Paul in Romans 8 means that all creation is the inheritance of the children of God and that the earth itself looks forward to its restoration when we kings and queens of creation will come into our full, earthly inheritance and will sit on the real thrones (which Lewis posited in his Narnia at a place called Cair Paravel).
(Does it not strike you as passing strange that a fairy story by an Oxford don comes closer to the biblical story than does our usual way of reading the Bible?)
We live out of our story of God. We make little decisions and big ones too, based on the great story. Does it make a difference how we understand the story? Does it make a difference which story we understand?
It makes all the difference in the whole wide world.
Any thoughts? How does one great story or another make a difference in your life?