How should I act? vs What should I believe?

In my recent readings of the Bible I keep butting up against these two questions:

  1. How should I act?
  2. What should I believe?

If I ask the first question, almost every passage has some advice (sometimes conflicting, but that’s wisdom for you). If I ask the second question, I sometimes get something, and most of the time I get nothing.

This isn’t new, either. The Old Testament is full of commands about how to live and not much about what to believe.

I’m not saying there isn’t anything that the Bible says I need to believe. There is much of that. I’m not drifting into some sort of formless post-Christian heresy here.

If I go to scripture and ask, How do I love God? There’s an answer for that. How do I love his people? Answer for that. How do I live in a world full of corruption and evil? Answered.

If I go to scripture and ask, Should I be into infant baptism? No answer. Should I believe in a rapture? No answer. What interpretive framework should I use to accurately interpret Revelation? No answer. All these points of data that we would love to have… no answer. Why is that?

I think what I’m saying is that the Bible’s theological framework is very sparse compared to ours. Where we tend to build theological walls, the Bible only really gives us a theological framework centred on Jesus.

He fulfils the Old and brings in the New. This is true for testaments and people.

* * *

As a postscript (I added this after publishing the initial post), yes, I am worried that I’m making a distinction without a difference here. The problem I’ve always had with orthodoxy and orthopraxy is I’ve always been told and assumed that they are different sides of the same coin. But when I looked at it again later I had to ask… how? How does being a paedobaptist or a preterist or any of those other Ps really affect your life? I mean, at that doctrinal granularity, it there really a difference one way or the other?

I mean, I know some people (obviously people who have a stake in the Tiny Doctrine game) will try to say these things do make a difference, and maybe on some indefinite macro level they do, but I’ve never seen it. On the ground, at congregational level, Reformed and Presbyterian and Baptist and Pentacostal and Anglican and Catholic are pretty similar. There are the faithful, there are the faithless; there are givers and receivers; there are blessers, there are cursers; there are consumers, there are producers.

So maybe, just maybe, if these doctrinal things don’t make that much of a difference… maybe they’re not so important after all? This isn’t science. Maybe it’s just not important that we define all the things.

I’m a jerk.

I’m self-centred.
I probably don’t care about you at all. If I do, it’s only a tiny bit. I most likely can’t even be bothered to post something nice on your Facebook page on your birthday.
I’m good at finding problems with things. I’m good at fixing them too, but again most of the time I can’t be bothered.
When you’re talking about yourself I’m waiting for you to stop talking about yourself so I can talk about me.
I don’t like personal stuff. I like “issues” because issues are easy to ignore.
I don’t care about starving children and war and famine. I’m told I should, but I don’t.
I will remember every slight forever, even the ones you don’t realise or understand.
I will remember every word of praise, because it confirms my own sense of self-worth, not because I value your opinion.
If you can wring a genuine moment out of me, it will be short and bracketed with some kind of deflective humour. I don’t want to get in deep with you, because I don’t want to get in deep with me.
Your baby is annoying, your art is juvenile, your opinions are worthless, your partner is stupid, your inner thoughts are boring and not worth repeating, and you’re difficult to not dislike.
I’m anti-social and introverted when I want to be. I’m social and likeable and talkative when I want to be. Which isn’t often.
I want to be a better person as long as it doesn’t take any effort.
I can’t finish what I start.
I haven’t had an original thought in years.
I don’t deserve happiness, so you don’t either.
I think you’re inferior. But I also think I’m inferior.
I’m a jerk.

Drobo vs TeraStation

I have a Drobo in my basement. It’s their NAS model, which is attached to my home computer via gigabit ethernet, not Firewire or USB. I’ve had a few months to use it now (or has it been more than that? I can’t quite remember). Let me make a few points:

  1. The plug-and-play nature of the Drobo is fantastic. Just plug in your drives, install the software and go.
  2. That you can use different size disks is also great. You can plug in SSDs, spinning metal, large, small, etc.
  3. The hardware seems rocks solid. It only goes down when power goes down. Any other CIFS/SMB/Linux devices never fail to connect. The lights on the front and the industrial design in general is really pleasing.

That’s the good. Now for the bad:

  1. The Drobo is slooooow. The read-write (especially with redundancy) is painfully, horribly slow. I understand that there’s some overhead, especially when dealing with discs of different types and sizes, but I’ve literally never used a RAID so slow. And I’ve used a lot of RAIDs. Besides, I have 8 of the same HD inside mine.
  2. The software blows. Absolutely ridiculous. It takes a massive amount of time to load on my relatively modern iron, and the window itself seems mired in molasses. The network drive connector does not seem to be able to connect half the time (even when the Drobo is detected and all okay), and every action performed on the Drobo takes forever. Polished-looking but absolutely horribly performing software.

Now at work (having learned from my home life), we purchased a Buffalo TeraStation. Pros:

  1. Comes with the HDDs pre-installed. You don’t have to worry about different sized drives and whatnot when the HDDs are pre-installed.
  2. Is blazingly fast. This is also a NAS on gigabit ethernet, nothing fancy, but the read/writes are insane on this thing.
  3. Much more configurable. For instance I have mine set up as a RAID 1+0. It has access restrictions, user accounts, all that jazz.
  4. Cheaper than a Drobo, once you consider that you’re getting the drives with the enclosure.

Now for some cons:

  1. Much more configurable. I can imagine a beginner absolutely glazing over at some of the functionality.
  2. Not particularly attractive. No nice green lights. Industrial design from the grey-printer phase of the 80s.
  3. The software blows. I mean, if you think Drobo’s management software is bad, wait until you see Buffalo’s. Again, the software matches their functional aesthetic without actually functioning. Some user studies would help here. I honestly have no idea what half the software is supposed to do. Also, the management console opens in a browser, so why have the management software at all?

That said, I’d buy the TeraStation over the Drobo in a heartbeat for home use. It’s a much better solution, much faster, and frankly it doesn’t matter how it looks when it’s sitting in my basement.

Tweets – 2012-06-21

  • @aliciamcauley I'd prefer to live in place that's sweltering one moment and then absolutely freezing the next. #
  • I'd never say that women aren't funny. I would, however, say there are very few female comics I find funny, and that's not "women's" fault. #

Tweets – 2012-06-20

  • @RogerExhibit The Lost World the novel or The Lost World Of Genesis the theological study? #
  • When criticising others' grammar, the probability of making a grammatical error rises to 1. #
  • Another day, another Kindle book. #
  • @RogerExhibit Ah, yes, that's not what I was referring to. I have also never read it, if you can believe that. #

Doing violence to the text… with theology

I’ve written at length about scripture before, especially the ways we can do violence to the text.

Still, I don’t think my previous post goes far enough. I’m coming to wonder if one of the primary ways we do violence to the text is with cultural and (this is hard to write, but couldn’t it be true?) theological imperialism.

That is to say… can we ask more of the text than it is prepared or was intended to convey?

Take for instance the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and verbal plenary inspiration in a bundle. Not simply the classic sola scriptura, that scripture is the final authority on doctrine and salvation (that’s not something I wish to argue with), but the sort of hyper-sola scriptura that I find all too common these days, that says, in the words of that great oracle, Wikipedia, “it is self-authenticating, clear to the rational reader, its own interpreter, and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine.”

This almost certainly can’t be the case. The first and most troubling problem with this statement is that scripture itself does not demand it. You would think, if the Bible was to be a self-authenticating, self-interpreting book, someone, somewhere in the Bible itself would demand that scripture do either of those things. Same thing with verbal plenary inspiration: It’s an invention, by humans, to hold scripture to a higher standard that scripture holds itself. Again, if the Bible is supposedly inspired this way, should it not insist at some point, that this is the case?

I think we tend towards this self-interpretation especially by imposing doctrines on Old Testament narrative texts, especially in Genesis. We find it uncomfortable to say that God changed his mind (multiple times with Moses and threatening to wipe out Israel), or didn’t know something until it happened (when he tested Abraham with the sacrifice of his son), or even when he presents himself as the most powerful God of many gods (right at the beginning of the Ten Commandments and in many other places).

We have to somehow reconcile this account of Yahweh’s seemingly capricious nature, where Moses has to argue God down from the ledge, so as not to see his reputation destroyed, with our more sophisticated and nuanced understand of God as revealed later in scripture. We can do this by viewing this whole production as sort of a stage play that God plays out with Moses (rather unfairly to Moses, it would seem: Who would want to have to bargain with a God that just decimated the land of Egypt?) while the real God is behind the scenes as omniscient and omnipresent and omnipotent as always. But that seems a lot of trouble for no real reward.

Maybe it’s easier to say that God reveals himself this way for a reason, and that he chose to do so in a particular polytheistic context and culture is more important than trying to square away all the theologies. That is to say, God is telling a story, and that story is not about our modern theology of God. Instead it’s about conveying something to the children of Israel. Perhaps that something is that God is more powerful that whatever gods may be, regardless of whether those gods actually exist. Or something else to that effect. What if God’s intent in telling the story is more important to them (and to us!) than obsessive-compulsively reciting doctrinal propositions?

I’d hold that this reading of scripture is more faithful to the text than a reading that tries to shoehorn something in there that doesn’t really belong.

Then we have to wrestle with more of Genesis that seems terribly quaint, now that we have science and a view of natural processes that seems designed to exclude a creator altogether. A seven day creation? A world-wide flood?

This is where cultural imperialism comes in: We seem to forget that the scripture were not written to us though they may have been written for us.

I know that we have doctrines (creationism; so-called “literal” interpretations of Genesis) that seem to be the most faithful understanding of scripture possible–after all, if scripture interprets scripture, and if scripture is self-authenticating, there’s nowhere else we can turn to understand these passages–but I’m inclined to believe these doctrines are modern inventions by modern humans with modern worldviews. In that way we have done violence to the text, by imposing our own scientific and material worldview on a passage that clearly asks for no such thing and in fact demands otherwise.

I’m not going to go into a deep discussion about how I think about the creation and the flood and so on (let me just say that I do believe in a literal six day creation period, but I also believe the earth is very old, and that our current scientific paradigm of evolution seems a good way to explain life on earth). But I think it’s important to know how the ancient Israelites would have understood this text, especially when it comes to the idea of “creation”. After all, when God reveals himself to a particular culture, he sets out to reveal himself, not correct their science. Or even give the a concept of science in a culture that would have none. God isn’t trying to be incomprehensible.

The ancient Israelites would have understood the idea of “creation” very differently from us. We seem mostly preoccupied with material origins (our ontology is primarily material), while the ancient Israelites lived in a pre-scientific world that was concerned with functional origins. That isn’t to say that God isn’t involved in material origins, how the universe came to be and such. Scripture is clear that anything that exists exists because God caused it to exist.

However Genesis 1 & 2 give a very structured account of how God sets up a system that functions with mankind as his vice-regent and then on the seventh day enters his temple, the cosmos, to assume control of normal operations. This plays very much into the Israelites’ (and other ancient near east cultures’) cosmology, or their concept of the cosmos.

The point isn’t that the Big Bang did or did not happen. Presumably it did (or so we think, currently). That’s an entirely different discussion from Genesis 1 & 2 and would not have seemed entirely important to ancient Israel. They really did think the earth rested on pillars, that there was a great sea above the dome of the sky, which was hold back by an entirely solid firmament, etc. God didn’t see fit to correct that idea. He instead used that idea, that cosmology, to illustrate a point that Israel would have found much more salient: God is in control, he makes the world function, and he does it all for the benefit of mankind.

Ancient Israelites wouldn’t have cared (or wouldn’t have understood) how old the earth was. They wouldn’t have been interested in whether or not God created light in transit, created the earth to look frighteningly old for some reason, whether fossils and strata were created during the flood or not, etc, etc. That’s not the point at all.

If God were to write us a Genesis 1 & 2 today, I can almost guarantee he would write it a different way. After all, we understand science, and we care very much more about the physical, material origin of the universe than we do about the functioning of it (which we, rather oddly, call the “natural” world, apply laws to, edge God out of, and live our lives as practical deists). But he didn’t, and I’m pretty sure he won’t.

That said, the point of Genesis 1 & 2 is still valid. The universe that we see, functioning the way we see it, has purpose. It exists for a reason, it had a beginning, and it will have an end.

That reason, we find out, is God’s glory. And isn’t that, after all this talk, the most important thing?