Friday, September 02, 2011

Conflicting stories of creation

The scientific account is of destruction, extinction and re-creation or recycling-- true of stars, elements and species. Finally this story of death and physical suffering reaches the point where humanity arrives on the earth; and suffering and death continues.

The Christian account is of an ideal world and perfect humans subsequently corrupted as a result of human rebellion against God: through sin, death entered the world.

How can both accounts be true?

School level maths shows us how to measure complicated things by resolving them into two dimensions. The kicked football rises in the air and then falls as gravity pulls it down; it also moves horizontally towards the goal. You can arrive at the true account of its path by studying it in its two dimensions, and then putting the two together.

Perhaps the same is true with these stories of our origins. These complementary accounts can both be true, each filling out the gaps in the other.

The book of Jonah as an example of 'Christian Storytelling'

Park for a moment the question of whether Jonah is a novel or a true account. How does it do as a story?
1) It talks about God, but it does so in a consistent way. God isn't jammed in as an afterthought. He is part of Jonah's worldview from the beginning.
2) Jonah is a plausible human character. The comedy of this book comes from the humanity of Jonah trying to cope with the determined mercy of God.
3) The book is open-ended, leaving Jonah sulking even while God appeals to him. It doesn't see the need to press home the moral lesson.
4) The book is quirky and unexpected.

How does it do as a model of 'Christian' storytelling?

1) You don't have to believe in God to enjoy it. All that's needed is that you believe in Jonah: Jonah the human being who believes in and has to cope with, his God.
2) It's a lot of fun.
3) It's fresh, not the predictable re-telling of a morality tale.
4) It does pose the reader big questions: what if God is like this? What if he spoke to me? What am I to make of this story?

Update: Interesting though this may be, it believing it can kill you. In 2014 an Iranian psychologist called Mohan Amir Aslani was hanged by the state. His offence? Teaching that the story of Jonah in the Qur'an may have been symbolic, not literal.