Monday, August 29, 2005

A Narrative Theology of the Spirit

Chapter One - The Spirit in the Story of God

Chapter Two - The Spirit in the Story of History

It’s all in the family. The story begins with a divine family – Father, Son, and Spirit who alone exist, but do not exist alone because they have each other. God, the divine family, wanted to share his love and himself with others and so he, by the Word of his mouth and by his creative Power, acted to make a new family for himself. He gave them a home – a garden on a planet in a universe specifically designed for them. And he gave them pets – animals and birds and fish of every imaginable shape, size, and color. And he gave them each other – a husband and a wife in a loving relationship of innocence and connection.

But the innocence would not last. A family crisis would erupt. It all started when an uninvited guest showed up in the garden, offering the family a better life, a way to make it on their own. “You don’t need your divine Father,” they were told. And, in part and in arrogance, they believed it. So they disobeyed in the silliest of ways, as children are known to do. They ate some fruit that the Father had told them not to. They chose to live independently of their Father.

The consequences were swift and severe. They lost the things they cherished most – their special connection with the Father and the conversations they had daily with him. They lost their special connection with each other, now blaming and arguing like never before. And they lost their special home, required to leave the garden behind and try to make it on their own.

In time, the family began to grow. As children and grandchildren increased, so did the crises. First came the sibling rivalry, and brother Abel was left dead on the ground. Then came Lamech who thought he was bigger and better than the rest of the family. And more and more, the cousins and grandchildren and eventually the whole family followed Lamech’s example, living independently of their divine Father.

Until another Lamech came along. He had a son named Noah. The family had gotten so disrespectful that the Father decided to take some drastic measures. He sent a flood that wiped everything out so that he could start with a clean slate, Noah’s family. They came through the flood, but it wasn’t long before the family was up to its old tricks again, this time building a tower that could prove its independence from God. So, God splintered the family into smaller factions, divided into language groups, each having its own set of customs and family traditions.

In the midst of all of this, the flood and the tower-incident, the Spirit of God was very involved. He was “contending” with the family. He worked like a conscience, convicting people of the error of their ways, allowing them to feel deeply the consequences of their actions, trying to convince them to return to the divine family. But ultimately, with a few exceptions, he was deeply grieved by the choices people made. They resisted and rejected him just like they had resisted and rejected the rest of the divine family, leaving him heartbroken. Nonetheless, like a superhero trying to stop a train speeding out of control, he was graciously retraining the evil in the world so that it would not be as bad as it could have been. And that’s the way it was for hundreds of years.

Until the Father’s voice was heard again by a man named Abraham. God told him that he would take this childless man and give him a family that would be used to reconnect the whole human family. Eventually Isaac came along, and then Jacob, and then his twelve sons. Throughout this time, the family grew so it could live in the land God had given it and so that it could be a blessing to all of the families on earth.

And that’s exactly what it was when one of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, ended up in Egypt on the short end of some more sibling rivalry. A famine hit the land, and because Joseph had tried to live a life of dependence on his divine Father, he ended up as the Vice-Pharaoh of Egypt. He had the power and authority to save Egypt, as well as his own family. But the downside was that the family ends up living in Egypt. Some four hundred years later, after much growth, they became the victims of ethnic cleansing, enslaved by the people their father once saved.

Until the Father’s voice was heard again by a man named Moses. God told him that he would take this adopted grandson of the Pharaoh turned revolutionary and use him to lead the people out of Egypt and into the land God had promised the family hundreds of years earlier. And that’s what he did, displaying his power and laying down the law along the way.

Moses’ leadership of the family gave way to Joshua’s. And following him came a series of regional leaders called judges, men and women whom God used to try and keep the family on track, living in dependence on him. Then came kings – the once humble family was becoming a mighty nation. First the famous ones like Saul, David, and Solomon. Under them, the family had never had it so good. But, like families are want to do, a civil war broke out. The family split in two. The northern group was called Israel, and the southern group Judah. Eventually, both would be invaded by enemy occupiers, their temples and palaces destroyed. After hundreds of years in captivity, some would be allowed to return to rebuild their cities and temple, but never again would they be independent.

During these times, the Spirit of God would come upon people and enable them to do great things for the family of God. Just like he animated Adam with the breath of life, he would animate and empower other family members so that the life God intended them to live could be fully realized. He did this with the people who constructed the tabernacle, a special home for God among his children. At times, he did this with political and military leaders so that the family would be protected and respected.

He did this also with special individuals God would use in the life of his family. Throughout all of this, there was a series of people whose job it was to remind the family to depend on God. They provided a collective memory and conscience for the family. There were four of these kinds of people: priests, prophets, poets, and philosophers.

There were priests like Samuel who worked to preserve the family tradition. A way of worshipping God had developed for the family, a special means of relating to the divine Father. But as time passed and the family grew, they were always forgetting about God. So, the priest would try to show them why worshipping God God’s way was important.

The priests were aided in this by the prophets. The prophets were a strange group of people – diverse as any you could imagine. Some were long-haired hippie-types who put on quite a show, while other were well-connected to the political and the powerful. Some of the prophets got national attention while others were much more local in their influence. What all the prophets had in common, whether they were before or after the civil war or before or after (or even during) the captivities, was that they were calling the family back to the law God had given it. They wanted them to live in dependence on God. We often think of prophets as looking into the future and predicting what will happen. They do that in part, but these prophets were always looking back, wanting the family to return to its former glory of connection with the divine family.

I almost forgot to mention, and this is as good a time as any to bring it up, that occasionally, twice really, there was some big time activity of the Spirit. He didn’t do it often, but for Moses and Joshua, as well as a couple of prophets named Elijah and Elisha, the Spirit enable miracles to be done. We tend to make too much of these thinking that they are “supernatural,” but really, God being involved in the world he made seems awfully natural to me. Miracles are few and far between, but they show what the Spirit is capable of he really lets loose.

The poets gave voice to all of the real emotions that this whole ordeal evokes. Sometimes they were excited and celebratory. And sometimes they are dark and angry. Sometimes they are repentant and dependent. And sometimes they are simply confused. But in all, and this is important, whether the poet is a great king like David or some anonymous family member, the poets expressed dependence on their divine Father by honestly taking their feeling to him.

The philosophers also took an honest look at life. They explained for the family what life would be like if it was lived in dependence on God. And they also explained what it would be like if it wasn’t. Disconnected from him and his family, life would be chaotic and meaningless. But with God and connected to his family, it would be orderly and successful.

The Spirit played a critical role in this part of the story. Once again, he was nearly silent, not drawing attention to himself. Instead, his concern was that the family history, that being recorded, be recorded accurately. God knew that this family would be instrumental in reconnecting the whole human family, and so their story of conception, birth, growth, and maturity would be of great importance to everyone. The Spirit’s job, then, was to make sure that as people sat down to record the stories and the poems and the proverbs that had been told around dinner tables and campfires, that these stories remain true. He wouldn’t let them embellish the story with family triumphalism. He wouldn’t let them leave out any embarrassing details. He wouldn’t let them forget who the story is really about – the divine family who wants to share himself and his love with the human family he has made.

For generations and generations, people have found inspiration and instruction in the family scrapbook, the story recorded in the first half of the Bible. It is ours because the Spirit of God knew we would need it. But we would need much more than a book. And so the Spirit turned his attention to another family, just a couple really, not even married yet. But that is for next week.

(c) 2005 copyright Robb Ryerse. Please do not republish without permission. I am indebted to Brian McLaren's book, The Story We Find Ourselves In, for the priests, prophets, poets, and philosophers outline of the Old Testament story.


A said...

Dude, again, incredible. Beautiful. Dead on.

Our sermon at Fellowship this past Sunday was a Theology of the HS. It was done from a systematic perspective which crossed every "T" and dotted every "i". It was well done. But I couldn't help thinking about your first chapter, and look forward to this second installment. I really think you are on to something.

Robb said...

A, that really means a lot to me. Thanks so much. I appreciate your kind words and encouragement!

By the way, hurricanes don't hit Arkansas, do they? :gulp:

A said...

I wouldn't say they "hit" AR. We are far too far inland for that. We do occasionally get the residual rain if one hits Houston or Galviston TX and then comes up this way, similar to what Ohio will probably get from Katrina. No worries.

jdub said...

I must agree with A, a perfectly excellent follow-up to part-one. I enjoyed the bible, or old testament, being referred to as the family scrapbook. Very thought provoking as well as entertaining.