Saturday, April 27, 2013

Genesis 1:1-2:3... Seeing the light of day*

I was reflecting on Genesis 1:1-2:3 again today (and surprisingly found that I preferred the RSV translation in this case). Particularly my thoughts were around the meaning of the repeated refrain "And there was evening, and there was morning, [xxx] day". It is often telling to compare different translations, and verse 1:5 is a case in point, eg:

"God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day." [RSV]

"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day." [KJV]

"God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day." [NIV]

"God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." [ESV]

"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day." [ASV]

"God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day." [NET]

Of course, there are all sorts of discussions about the meaning of "day" in Genesis 1. There are at least two distinct and clear meanings in Genesis 1 & 2 (and neither of which equals exact 24-hour period):

  • "God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’" (Genesis 1:5; NIV) = the light period during a 24-hour period, as opposed to the dark period
  • "In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens" (Genesis 2:4; RSV) = indistinct period or point in time, not one 24-hour period
So what does God intend to convey to us when he says that "there was evening, and there was morning, one day" etc?

First, a few grammatical, structural and translation points to highlight:
  • The repetition in 1:5, 1:8, 1:13, 1:19, 1:23, 1:31 (and lack of use in 2:1-3) is surely significant.
  • In the Hebrew, the verb "to be" (eg "there was") is repeated twice, so literally RSV translation seems more literal than say the KJV.
  • Also notable in the Hebrew is the use of a cardinal number for the first day, but ordinals for the other days (which the RSV conveys; admittedly this is not straight forward and there is dispute here about how much to make of it).
  • Something which the RSV doesn't fully convey is the use of the Hebrew article only for the sixth and seventh days (cf ASV). This also is likely significant, pointing to climax.
  • "Evening" is mentioned before "morning" (often misquoted by people who say "morning and evening" instead).
  • "Evening" and "morning" may refer to points in time (ie nightfall/sunset and daybreak/dawn) rather than periods or durations of time.
Previously I had thought the meaning was about a "work-day", and God spoke here in a pattern and structure that people would readily recognise, working during the day and not at night (cf John 9:4). So God did his day's work, then night falls, and morning comes, ready for the next day's work. In this view the evening and morning do not refer to the time of the day of work that was just done, but rather to the sequence of events that follow that day's work. But there are some problems with this, and I am re-thinking. For one, it seems to be a common Jewish understanding (although I still need to research the Biblical perspective) that a 24-hour day starts at sunset and ends at the following sunset. This might give a sense that when evening came, the next day had begun, and so if that were intended, it would have been better sequence to say something like "The Nth day, then evening came and then morning came", but that's not how the text puts it.

So now I'm thinking that a better understanding may be to take the whole sentence "there was evening and there was morning, one day" to refer as a kind of summary statement of what just happened. Certainly the reference to "one day" or the "nth day" indicates what had just happened and not what follows (clear because in 2:1-3 the seventh day follows the six days, otherwise it would be the sixth day not the seventh). In  this case the coming of evening and morning also refer to what had happened rather than what followed. This seems consistent with the use of the cardinal in 1:5 as well as the definition of "day" at the beginning of the verse, and also the whole situation conveyed in 1:2-4. In 1:2 there was darkness which is followed by the coming of light, the same sequence of evening followed by morning (or daybreak).

This fresh (at least for me) understanding has a lot of potential richness associated with it. There is a theme of progression from darkness/night to light/day, with light and day being by far the better of the two. And with the seventh day of rest, there is no repeated refrain, and the implication of continuing day of rest, with no nightfall ever coming to that day. And so throughout the whole creation account, from the first declaration of a day, there is progression of improvement until reaching endless perfection (what was formless and empty becomes formed and filled, day after day, being good, then very good, then holy and finished). And this has wonderful resonance with the trajectories in Scripture of the day of rest (cf treatment in Hebrews 3:7-4:11),  of everlasting light/day in the new Jerusalem (cf Isaiah 60 especially eg 60:1-3, 60:11, 60:19-20, and where it is picked up again in Revelation 21:23-25 and 22:5), as well as other pictures in Scripture of day vs night (eg John 1:4-9, John 3:19-21, John 9:4, Romans 13:11-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:4-7, 1 Peter 2:9 etc).

Well, maybe more on this another day...!

* Had fun thinking about a post title, but hard to decide :) Some other contenders that may also see the light of day... "Plain as day", "Will you give me the time of day?", "As different as night and day", "From day one", "All in a days work", "Let's call it a day", "The good old days", "As honest as the day is long", "One day at a time", "Not enough hours in the day". Actually, even thinking about all these common English phrases sparks all kinds of thoughts about Genesis 1:1-2:4..!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Methodists and Church Buildings

Came across this interesting blog post about Pastors’ Salaries and Church Buildings. Brief but resonating. Here is some historical Methodist policy that he quotes...

It shall be the duty of every preacher belonging to this conference to use his influence against constructing expensive meeting houses.
[Source: 1816 New England Conference of the Methodist Church] 
Let all our chapels be built plain and decent; but not more expensive than is absolutely unavoidable: otherwise the necessity of raising money will make rich men necessary to us. But if so, we must be dependent upon them, yea; and governed by them. And then farewell to the Methodist discipline, if not doctrine too.
[Source: Discipline (of the American Methodist Church), 1784]

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J I Packer and Mistakes We Make in Seeking God's Guidance

I'd have to say that J I Packer is my long-time favourite Christian writer and teacher. Always one of the first people I'll check with if I can. And one of his most classic books I've had for a long time, and known about for longer, is Knowing God. But of course, I've never read it cover to cover :O! So today I was doing some more dipping into it, and read some of the stuff about discerning God's will, or getting guidance from God. I'm sure I've never read it before, but even more certainly there is great stuff to read there, lots of sound wisdom. Here is a section he wrote about "Six Common Pitfalls", or mistakes we often make as Christians, when trying to seek and follow God's will for our lives...
First, unwillingness to think. It is false piety, super-super-naturalism of an unhealthy and pernicious sort, that demands inward impressions that have no rational base, and declines to heed the constant biblical summons to ‘consider’. God made us thinking beings, and He guides our minds as in His presence we think things out – not otherwise. ‘O that they were wise…that they would consider…’ (Deuteronomy 32:29).
Second, unwillingness to think ahead, and weigh the long-term consequences of alternative courses of action. ’Think ahead’ is part of the divine rule of life no less than of the human rule of the road. Often we can only see what is wise and right (and what is foolish and wrong) as we dwell on its long-term issues. ‘O, that they were wise…that they would consider their latter end.’ 
Third, unwillingness to take advice. Scripture is emphatic on the need for this. ’The way of the foolish is right in his own eyes; but he that is wise hearkeneth unto counsel’ (Proverbs 12:15, RV). It is a sign of conceit and immaturity to dispense with taking advice in major decisions. There are always people who know the Bible, human nature, and our own gifts and limitations, better than we do, and even if we cannot finally accept their advice, nothing but good will come to us from carefully weighing what they say. 
Fourth, unwillingness to suspect oneself. We dislike being realistic with ourselves, and we do not know ourselves at all well; we can recognise rationalisations in others and quite overlook them in ourselves. ‘Feelings’ with an ego-boosting, or escapist, or self-indulging, or self-aggrandising base, must be detected and discredited, not mistaken for guidance. This is particularly true of sexual, or sexually conditioned, feelings. As a biologist-theologian has written: 
The joy and general sense of well-being that often (but not always) goes with being ‘in love’ can easily silence conscience and inhibit critical thinking. How often people say that they ‘feel led’ to get married (and probably they will say ‘the Lord has so clearly guided’), when all they are really describing is a particularly novel state of endocrine balance which makes them feel extremely sanguine and happy (O. R. Barclay, Guidance, p. 29). 
We need to ask ourselves why we ‘feel’ a particular course to be right, and make ourselves give reasons – and we shall be wise to lay the case before someone else whose judgment we trust, to give his verdict on our reasons. We need also to keep praying, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23f.). We can never distrust ourselves too much. 
Fifth, unwillingness to discount personal magnetism. Those who have not been made deeply aware of pride and self-deception in themselves cannot always detect these things in others, and this has from time to time made it possible for well-meaning but deluded men with a flair for self-dramatisation to gain alarming domination over the minds and consciences of others, who fall under their spell and decline to judge them by ordinary standards. And even when a gifted and magnetic man is aware of the danger and tries to avoid it, he is not always able to stop Christian people treating him as an angel, or a prophet, construing his words as guidance for themselves, and blindly following his lead. But this is not the way to be led by God. Outstanding men are not, indeed, necessarily wrong, but they are not necessarily right, either! They, and their views, must be respected, but may not be idolised. ‘Prove (test) all things; hold fast that which is good’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12). 
Sixth, unwillingness to wait. ‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not His way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come. 
[Source: Knowing God with Study Guide (1993), pp269-271.] 

Bill Donahue and Leadership that Kills Community

I came across a brief but helpful blog post on dangerous kinds of leadership, "Leadership the kills community". It is by Dr Bill Donahue, a Christian who works in the area of developing leadership. Here is a copy of the four types of deadly leadership that he mentions...

Blinded by Vision
A vision is only as good as the reality it produces. Leaders obsessed with an ideal picture of what “could be” fail to embrace what is. They live on vision fumes. Teammates and followers become frustrated, and trust in the leader vaporizes. It’s reminiscent of Bonhoeffer’s dictum that “he who loves his dream of community more than the community itself destroys the latter.” We could paraphrase: “He who loves his vision more than the people to whom he is casting it, alienates them.”  It is easy to idealize a neighborhood community, for example, and ignore its socio-economic realities, relational challenges, stages of life issues, and leadership needs. 
Pre-occupied with Structure
When the model becomes the master community life’s a disaster (a cute rhyme but a deep truth). I have witnessed this in too many churches led by model-driven (versus value-led) point leaders and pastors. This happens when we forget a mantra we used at Willow for years: The structure serves the people; the people don’t serve the structure. 
Decidedly Irresponse-able
Any initiative requires strong leadership from the point person designated to carry out the venture. He or she is the voice for the initiative and the guide to others seeking to build it. But there’s more. A leader who shuns the input of others and fails to consider their collective wisdom and insights is no longer response-able, leaving followers disconnected and devalued. 
Focused on “Self”- Improvement
The inclination to use people instead of empowering them kills any community. When a leader makes decisions out of self-interest or self-promotion others lose respect for the leader and passion for the mission fizzles. Group leaders design meetings to meet personal needs or interests; staff members focus mostly on numbers and events; senior leaders make decisions to enhance their platform or promote their materials, often at the expense of the community they are called to shepherd.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

J C Ryle on Zeal (Jealousy) for God

I was reminded today of this old quote by J C Ryle, from Practical Religion, about have a zeal or jealousy for God..
Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire, which no man feels by nature--which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted--but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called "zealous" men.
This desire is so strong, when it really reigns in a person, that it impels them to make any sacrifice-to go through any trouble-to deny themselves anything--to suffer, to work, to labour, to toil, to spend themselves and be spent, and even to die--if only they can please God and honour Christ. 
A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies—whether he has health, or whether he has sickness—whether he is rich, or whether he is poor—whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence—whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish—whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise—whether he get honour, or whether he gets shame—for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it--he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray. Yes: if they are extremely poor, on a perpetual bed of sickness, they will make the activity of sin around him slow to a standstill, by continually interceding against it. If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will do the work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill (Exodus 17:9-13). If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of ‘zeal’ in religion.