Saturday, December 31, 2011

Of Monumental Pursuits and Facebook Conversations

I got into a FB discussion yesterday, which I probably should not have done. For one, it was about a topic that is hard to talk about in the first place, as the average churchgoer today doesn’t get into the Bible any deeper than “Jesus loves you. Now go give the poor some food.” This is a good message, but if we don’t dive deeper, it’s a message that is misunderstood.
For another, not everyone would be committed to the message once they do understand it, and unless one has completely resigned oneself to live in accordance with the Scripture, then arguing scriptural points is really futile. The only thing it does is make people mad and entrench them within their pre-commitments.
Even worse, FB isn’t really a good place to have the discussion, as it doesn’t provide the space for something that needs more time to discuss, nor are such discussions usually looked upon as appropriate in the forum.
Even worse than this is that it was a comment about a toy; but it was a comment that implied something philosophically and theologically important (of the utmost importance actually) in the attitude it conveyed, even though that was not the surface intent.
Because of this, against my better judgment, I entered the conversation anyway (so much for any wisdom people were under the false impression that I had), and proceeded to muddy the waters even more than they already were.

You see, I am an awful writer. If you’ve read anything I’ve written on this blog or in my books, you already know this. My thoughts are not well expressed and they are quite disorganized at times. So I’m not really the best person to explain something. I wish I was. I wish I had better skills in the area, but I just don’t. I’m at peace with that, but it makes for some difficult discussions when you’re trying to give people what is true and you want them to see that you are trying to love them by doing so, and instead they just think you’re a confused jerk. I’m not saying of course that everyone would appreciate what I am actually trying to say, but that it would be nice for people to at least understand what was being said before they write off what I’m saying. In fact, I explained to my wife what I was trying to say and then I read to her what I wrote on FB, and she said she totally understood what I was saying when I explained it to her in person, but that it sounded completely different when I wrote it on FB, so there you go.

So we were discussing the nature of homemaking as it pertained to this particular toy, and those with whom I was discussing the subject felt that homemaking is not an essential part of the woman’s role in life. In fact, it was said that it was not a calling at all. So I attempted to explain why it was an inherent part of who the woman is as co-creator with God and doing good in the world, but that soon was heard as “women are only good for housework,” or “women can do other things besides housework, as she does in Proverbs 31,” or “pursuing art is not the opposite of family,” etc., as though what I was saying had anything to do with limiting the woman to just housework alone. Because of my inability to express what I want to say well, I often feel like Billy Budd in most of the conversations I get into, and this one was no different, but I’m not writing this post to whine about it, but to try to clarify what I was trying to say, as I think it will benefit anyone who reads this in one way or another.

So because I think the subject is so important, this is a little background to what I was trying to say:

In Genesis 1, God creates. He doesn’t just create humans, but the environment that will sustain human life. So the act of divine creation is one where both human life and the environment that supports the thriving of human life is created and sustained. God does not just create humans in a spaceless vacuum, where the humans would just die out as soon as they were created. He creates both human and human environment.

However, Genesis 1 & 2 tells us that God will maintain creation (i.e., of both human beings and their environment) through the very humans He has made. Hence, He installs them as His images, i.e., those who represent His creative victory over chaos by sustaining creation through reproduction and maintaining the environment that allows for human life to continue. In this way, the man and woman become co-creators with God, as they are the instruments through which God continues to create and support the existence of human life upon the earth.

This is the nature of God’s order. It is who the humans are as humans, and their genders express the two different ways that God will continue to create through them. It is interesting, however, that when we see the primary gender in creation, it is the woman. It is she who is necessary in Genesis 2. It is also she who is said to have given birth “together with YHWH” in 4:1. Yet, we are told that she gives birth because Adam knew his wife, Eve, so obviously, the man is involved. Yet, YHWH is said to be the one who creates together with her in order to show that the humans are co-creators, not Creators. This sets up their genders as expressions of their humanity in so far as they seek to organize their gender roles around their human role as co-creators. Hence, creation for us is both about creating humans and making and sustaining the environment that supports human life. For the woman, this means she gives herself to becoming a vessel through which God creates human life and seeks to maintain the home environment as a safe and healthy living space. For the man, it means he allows himself to be used as an instrument of God to make human life and also creates a living space, usually in the construction and maintenance of it, as well as defending it from enemies, in order to keep it a safe and healthy living space. Both genders use their creative strengths to become primarily co-creators in the world.

Now, in comes the serpent with another vision of humanity in Genesis 3. The serpent then tells the human couple, speaking primarily to the woman, that they don’t need to be co-creators when they can be Creators. They can use their creative abilities in the way they see fit. There is no need to use them primarily for the purposes of human creation and preservation.

The couple adopts his vision for a moment, only later to realize that they have been deceived. Humans are not made to be Creators. Humanity dies if it goes down that path. Hence, the human couple dies that day. But God sets up a contrast between two different kinds of people in the world: those who become co-creators by using their creative abilities to accomplish God’s task of maintaining human life and creation and those who seek to become Creators by using their creative abilities in whatever way they see fit. These are the two seeds that are in hostilities with one another in 3:15.

Hence, we come to Genesis 4 & 5, where the two types of people are contrasted. In Cain’s line, the line that represents those seeking to become Creator, we are presented with people who primarily create through architecture, societal structures, music and entertainment. Their secondary use of their abilities is family, and that is shown by the fact that they do have a child or two, but that is not what mainly characterizes the goal of these people. It is seeking life through their own creations rather than through God’s, whether that includes children or not. In fact, this group is enclosed at the beginning and end of the genealogy with murderers in order to show the anti-creational/anti-life nature of seeking to become Creator. Hence, they represent the serpent’s seed, because the serpent itself represents chaos/non-creation in terms of human life.

In contrast to this group, we have the line of Seth that represents the woman’s seed (i.e., the seed of creation/co-creation) that seeks to use their creative abilities to accomplish the divine task of maintaining human life. Hence, they are only characterized by having children, and each one is said to have, not just a child or two to keep one’s name going, but “other sons and daughters.” This phrase is repeated with each person. Their genealogy is enclosed by Adam, who was made to be co-creator, and Seth, who was made in the image of Adam, a signature that he represents that humanity in that role. He himself also continues life as the replacement of Abel, who is seen as righteous in contrast to Cain. The genealogy ends with Noah, who will preserve human life by having children, finding favor with God, preserving humanity through the flood, and receiving the procreative command to co-create human life and maintain the environment that would support it after the flood.

This doesn’t mean that co-creators don’t do other things with their creative abilities. It just means that their primary, and most important task, is found in being co-creators, whereas, the primary and most important task among those who seek to be Creators is using their creative abilities as they see fit, even though they may secondarily use them for purposes of creating and sustaining human life. So it is a battle between what is primary and what is secondary in terms of what is emphasized and pursued as the governing task to all other pursuits.

This theme continues, not only throughout the Book of Genesis, but throughout the entire Bible. This is the struggle all humanity is in. It is a struggle between those who would become co-creators and those who would become Creators. It is a struggle of humility before deity with arrogance as deity, self sacrifice toward God versus self worship toward becoming a god.

Hence, when we see the roles of men and women later in the New Testament, what is described as “good” all has to do with family, whether it be to one’s individual family, or the larger family of God within the Church. “Good” has to do with becoming co-creator and allowing God to use one as a vessel to create humans and to maintain the environment that supports human life. This is accomplished both within the microcosm of the individual home (thus, the home is ordered with the man at the head of it to protect it both spiritually and physically by giving himself up for its well-being, and the woman as the one who oversees the maintenance of the household, giving herself up to be co-creator with God [1 Tim 2:15; 5:9–10] and maintain the environment by being a worker at home [Titus 2:3–5; also see my comments on Proverbs 31:10-31 in my post entitled, “Where Motherhood and Careers Do Mesh,” to see there that Scripture is not saying that the woman does only this and nothing else]).
On the macrocosmic level, the humans become co-creators within the church by subjecting themselves to God’s message of salvation (i.e., that which creates new human life) and maintaining the familial environment that supports that new human life (i.e., through teaching and spiritually guarding the Church by ordering it in accordance with what supports and nurtures that new human life). Hence, gender roles within the family are expanded into the Church as the Church itself is an expansion of family and the original purpose of humans to take upon the role as God’s images, i.e., His co-creators.

Hence, “housework” is really the maintenance of the created environment. Doing housework rids it of filth and disease. It allows children to thrive in a safe and healthy environment. It is the work of co-creation. It’s not some menial task that is designated to the woman because she is some lesser being. She is a supreme being among creation. She creates together with the Almighty, and it is through her homemaking that chaos does not take over the home, as the man has his jobs that seek to do the same. What I’m saying is that we have been taught to see these things as worthless when in fact they are some of the most important things we can do as people. They are acts of creation. They are the primary way we use our creative abilities, then, because our primary role in life is to become co-creators. This is difficult for us because we have for so long learned from the dual tutors of our rebellious disposition toward God and our culture to seek our own paths to express our creative abilities rather than subject those abilities to the work of God in His epic determination to create and maintain creation through us (rather than apart from us). Hence, something like housework cannot be divorced from procreation because they are two sides of the same coin that both enter into a relationship agreement with God to perpetuate human life upon the earth.

So this is what I was trying to say, even though apparently I am the worst communicator in the history of written communication (and probably in other forms as well). I admit I am disorganized in my writing, and this leads to a confusion created mostly by me. However, this is also not a well-known understanding of the Scripture. Plenty of scholars note the contrast between the two lines, but most layman have never heard of this and it just sounds weird to them (as all things that do not accord with our thinking and lifestyles do). So I likely will not try to enter such a discussion on FB again. (Although I do have a long standing goal to try to be “defriended” by someone at least once a month.)

My point was to try to express that whatever nurture we can give a child to become the co-creator he or she was meant to be is a good thing, and should not be seen as something insulting and degrading, especially when it is the greatest thing a human can ever do. It is, in fact, doing good versus doing evil by primarily (not to be read as “solely”) seeking to become co-creator by the work of creation via procreation and preservation of the environment in its maintenance, and is what we should be all about. Anything else we pursue should be seen as secondary and really should feed into, rather than away from, our primary purpose as co-creators.

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