Facing Down Leviathan

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (1)

In studying Scripture, I keep coming upon Nachash (Nahash). “Serpent” is one translation. Leviathan is another.

My image of the serpent in Genesis came straight from the pictures in the big, family Bible I first read when I was five. They were supplemented by others from Sunday school books and various paintings. All of them pretty much depicted a big snake with or without appendages. I had only a hazy image of Leviathan. The priest who confirmed me said, in response to my queries, “It’s a primordial hippopotamus.” I was unconvinced. Leviathan was a sea creature and hippos aren’t known for their ocean-going tendencies. Over the past few years, I’ve learned Leviathan, in size, is a more like Jörmungandr, the giant Midgard Serpent. He’s also utterly terrifying. God tells Job:

Orange-Leviathan_smallLay hands on him;
think of the battle;
you will not do it again!
Behold,
the hope of a man is disappointed;
he is laid low even at the sight of him.
No one is so fierce
that he dares to stir him up. (2)

The serpent in the Garden (Nachash in the original Hebrew) is Leviathan (also Nachash in the original Hebrew) in Job and Ezekiel and in many other places throughout the Bible.

But wait! This all actually has a point that is central to Loved As If in which I dive into theodicy and hope I don’t drown.

In a recently published article, my friend, Dr. Randall Smith, following St. Augustine, writes, “the really crucial moment in the story—the actual fall—occurs when Adam ‘deliberately decides—despite not being deceived—to disfigure by sin the spousal fellowship he and Eve had already been given by God.'”

How often have I passed over “Adam was not deceived” (3) because I was bristling about Paul saying woman would be saved through child birth. As I read Dr. Smith’s article, those four words finally resounded through me stirring up immense horror: “Adam was not deceived.” He knew better.

When God places Adam in the garden, He instructs him to “till it and keep it.” What isn’t readily apparent is that God gives Adam the same priestly charge He will later give the Levites who are to tend the Ark of the Covenant:

[B]ut appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it; they are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall tend it, and shall encamp around the tabernacle. (4)

I’ve seen many depictions of the Israelites in battle with the Ark of the Covenant. Usually the Ark is surrounded by a few Levites vested as per God’s instructions to Moses. But in reality, the Ark would have been surrounded by all the sons of Kohath (5), more than 8,00 men, ready to cut down anyone who came near. And the Kohathites set out in the midst of the hosts of Israel; the Ark is surrounded by warriors. It was just that precious. And so was the garden before it.

But Adam threatens not even the most minimal battle to protect it. So the serpent, Nachash, Leviathan, gets into the garden — as if Adam isn’t there. Nachash questions Eve — as if Adam isn’t there. Nachash beguiles Eve — as if Adam isn’t there. But he is there all the time.

Modern English doesn’t use a plural form of the pronoun “you” so we aren’t aware that in Hebrew, Nachash is speaking to both Adam and Eve when he asks: “Did God say, `[You both] shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And Adam is there when Nachash says: “[You both] will not die. For God knows that when [you both] eat of it your eyes will be opened, and [you both] will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (6) The English translation is painfully haunting when one realizes Adam might have pulled Eve away and whispered to her, ‘God will be along at the breezy time of the day. Let’s ask Him then.’ Instead, Adam remains silent and eats the fruit even though he knows Nachash is lying.

The fall involved neither sex nor eating an apple. The fall actually occurred because Adam decides he’s not facing down Leviathan. Adam balks at suffering and sacrifice. (So does Eve but I’m not telling that story here.) He knowingly chooses himself over God, his bride, and his priestly charge.

For long, I thought suffering came as a result of the fall. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love God. And I knew (because I had tried) that I couldn’t just will myself to stop loving Him. But I was appalled that God would allow suffering in my life. Suffering came as a result of sin. Why should I suffer for the sins of others? In my mind, suffering was a linear equation: my sin equals my suffering, the only variables were the sins I might commit. I truly felt that I and other innocent people ought to be exempt or at least ought to be given a pass after a certain amount of suffering. I was woefully ignorant.

Suffering was built in from the beginning. It was never something from which I or anyone else could be exempt. The original, deluxe, Imago Dei operating system that was the very life God breathed into Adam could not be fully actualized unless Adam laid down his life for the sake God, Eve, and the garden.

And that’s why Christ is the new Adam. He doesn’t flee suffering. He faces down Leviathan though He doesn’t want to die. He goes to the cross and reboots humanity. His reboot isn’t an undoing of suffering and sacrifice. Instead, Christ restores us to our original factory settings so that we might operate from the Imago Dei, so that we might truly sacrifice and suffer instead of simply hurting in confusion, so that we too might face Leviathan and lay down our lives for our friends. Christians can now suffer as God had always intended, as Christ did, as Adam did not.

We won’t always see that our suffering accomplishes anything. When suffering includes a linear equation, that’s only a hint of its fullness. It makes sense that a father would sacrifice himself to save his child. But when we’re in pain or foregoing something we want or need for the sake of another, we don’t always know how God is working our suffering and sacrifice into the entire program. Then again, it’s difficult to understand how Adam’s actions can affect all of creation. But for many, it’s just as difficult to understand how a few lines of code can wreck a computer. Yet most of us know what a computer virus can do.

In the end, for all our babble about self-worth and self-esteem, we can’t really imagine our immense value. When Paul writes, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God,” (7) it’s hard to see how “the glorious liberty of the children of God” will restore creation. Just as it’s hard to accept that “creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope.” (8) Our brains are groggy from living in a world that only recognizes fairly simple mathematics. The immense creativity that allows creation to wait “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (9) demands well-developed imaginations and hearts.

Christians can catch a peek now and then. Some more, some less. We can trust that creation is waiting for the Adam Christ restored in all those who follow Him to do what the original Adam did not do in the garden. We’re not to chase suffering. Masochism is of Nachash and has no place in the Imago Dei operating system. For the same reason, we are not to sacrifice out of pride. But a lot hinges on us. The restoration of all of creation longs for our “glorious liberty.”

We obtain that liberty by following Christ, the new Adam. We obtain it by accepting the suffering and sacrifice God allows into our lives. We unleash it’s immense power when, through the grace of God, we say, ‘This time, I’m facing down Leviathan.’ I can’t yet say, with some of the saints, that I rejoice in suffering. But I know, when we suffer with Christ, the uncorrupted Imago Dei operating system becomes fully activated and finally, we begin to grow into what God created us to become from the beginning.

(1) Genesis 2:15 (RSV)

(2) Job 41:8-10 (RSV). Image source.

(3) 1 Timothy 2:14 (RSV)

(4) Numbers 1:50 (RSV)

(5) Numbers 3:29 (RSV)

(6) Michael Barber, Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today, Emmaus Road Publishing (January 1, 2006). Genesis 3:4-5 (RSV)

(7) Romans 8:21 (RSV)

(8) Romans 8:20 (RSV)

(9) Romans 8:19 (RSV)

Five Minute Friday: Open

Usually, the Five Minute Friday prompt segues into something I’ve been thinking or writing about. This week, I’m recovering from a sinus infection, my head feels soggy, and nothing comes to mind. when I feel this way I’d usually skip FMF. Not this week. Let’s see where this goes…

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Often, I’ve been admonished that I must have an “open mind.” Usually, I’m being told that my faith and morals are close-minded, old-fashioned. I’ll usually ask, ‘Open to what? Everything? Anything? Even those things that will destroy me and make me less the person I’m working to be?’ The answers I receive range from head shaking to ‘You’re weird.’

God has blessed me with an impish mind and I wonder, what if I asked, Are we open to suffering? Are we open to sacrifice? Are we open to asking God to take the things we really don’t want and use them for His glory even if it hurts?

19 stitchesWhen my god-daughter’s little sister stepped into broken glass, she would allow no one to pour peroxide over the bleeding mess. Her mother was unwilling to suffer the howls and tears. Fully dressed, I climbed into the tub held the child’s foot, said, “This will hurt,” and poured on the peroxide. It was apparent, hers wasn’t a shallow cut. We rushed her to the emergency room for stitches.

She wasn’t my child and that probably made it much easier. But I had to be open to suffering (and ruining my skirt) for the child’s good including her anger because I did hurt her. I know so many who are angry with God because he allows suffering. Often, I think we are closed to Him and closed to understanding that He will allow us to suffer because sometimes (perhaps often) suffering is the only way to determine if we’ve just got a shallow cut or need stitches.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Five Minute Friday: When

When grand things happen, when someone offers me great kindness, when someone sacrifices for me, when someone unexpectedly thinks of me, it is like warm water on frozen fingers. I feel an almost physical pain. I want to hide. Often, I do. If hiding isn’t possible, my interior autopilot engages: my actions are appropriate but far from authentic.

0 really withdrawnI am a delayed reaction person. I need time to process, time to let kindness and love and concern seep into my soul. And then I need time to respond. Often I wonder if friends think I’m rude or weird. You may hear “Thank you” today and thank you again next week because your kindness has dredged up the gratitude I long to express. I may not write a thank you note today. But it will come when your love gets down inside me and the words come to my fingers.

For me, when is like wait, an unexpected Yes. It’s rereading my university acceptance letter alone in the bathroom, or waiting weeks to use my first credit card because I was certain they made an error. When shatters my expectations. My first response is to cringe until I’m sure it’s not an attack. The way I respond when I experience the many whens is one of the frequent subject of my prayers. And I’m getting better. Today is when I can write about my struggles with when.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

The Drop Box: Loving Abandoned Children

I was an abandoned child. The minister did not err in taking me into his home. He erred in claiming me as his property. But there are those who care for abandoned children and while doing so, love them and respect their dignity as unique beings, made in God’s image. The Drop Box is the story of one such man. I look forward to seeing it.

Five Minute Friday: Keep

Another excerpt from Loved As If. The FMF prompt coincided with some of today’s writing so I gave myself 5 minutes and here are the results.

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And then there are all the things you’ve kept safe for me. You’ve kept my laughter and silliness. You’ve kept my swagger and wonder. You kept my hunger to learn and grow and become more. You’ve kept my joy. You preserved my tears, the real ones, the tears that connect to my soul. Not the ones that spilled over so the hurt would stay safely behind the high walls of the dam. Not the ones that never touched my heart but fell because they were expected or were the only way I had to get people to pay attention. And, Lord, You preserved my innocence. Four years after discovering the first wisps of its existence, my innocence is still so new, it’s existence still so overwhelming. How did You keep it? I know that’s one of those answers I won’t have this side of heaven. That’s okay. You just keep the answers for the time when I’ll have no more questions.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Excerpts: More On Happy Endings

I want a happy ending like in the fairy tales I so love: And they lived happily ever after to the end of their days. But I still wonder what that means. Does nothing bad ever happen again? Do the characters never again face evil? Does all the suffering end when the prince sweeps up the virtuous, ill-used, impoverished girl? Fairy tales are supposed to end with happiness for those who’ve been abused, those who’ve struggled, but happily ever after still leaves me asking, What happened next? My experience is more like Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid — the actual story he wrote, not the Disney version:

Daughters of the airThe little mermaid drew back the crimson curtain of the tent, and beheld the fair bride with her head resting on the prince’s breast. She bent down and kissed his fair brow, then looked at the sky on which the rosy dawn grew brighter and brighter; then she glanced at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes on the prince, who whispered the name of his bride in his dreams. She was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in the hand of the little mermaid: then she flung it far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the drops that spurted up looked like blood. She cast one more lingering, half-fainting glance at the prince, and then threw herself from the ship into the sea, and thought her body was dissolving into foam.

The sun rose above the waves, and his warm rays fell on the cold foam of the little mermaid, who did not feel as if she were dying. She saw the bright sun, and all around her floated hundreds of transparent beautiful beings; she could see through them the white sails of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal eyes. The little mermaid perceived that she had a body like theirs, and that she continued to rise higher and higher out of the foam.

“Where am I?” asked she, and her voice sounded ethereal, as the voices of those who were with her; no earthly music could imitate it.

Among the daughters of the air,” answered one of them. “A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being. On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny. But the daughters of the air, although they do not possess an immortal soul, can, by their good deeds, procure one for themselves. We fly to warm countries, and cool the sultry air that destroys mankind with the pestilence. We carry the perfume of the flowers to spread health and restoration. After we have striven for three hundred years to do all the good in our power, we receive an immortal soul and take part in the happiness of mankind. You, poor little mermaid, have tried with your whole heart to do as we are doing; you have suffered and endured and raised yourself to the spirit-world by your good deeds; and now, by striving for three hundred years in the same way, you may obtain an immortal soul.”

The little mermaid lifted her glorified eyes towards the sun, and felt them, for the first time, filling with tears. On the ship, in which she had left the prince, there were life and noise; she saw him and his beautiful bride searching for her; sorrowfully they gazed at the pearly foam, as if they knew she had thrown herself into the waves. Unseen she kissed the forehead of her bride, and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether. (1)

The little mermaid receives not what she wants, the love of her dear prince. She’s given what she needs: the gift of tears, the community of the daughters of the air who recognize her striving and welcome her to work along beside them, and the hope of gaining a soul so that she can mount up to heaven. She is adopted into a world she never imagined when she sacrificed everything to be with the prince. Life continues after the happy ending. Toil continues but hope flourishes. She learns that “if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another harder and better one.” (2)

(1) Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid, http://hca.gilead.org.il/li_merma.html

(2) C.S. Lewis, The Horse And His Boy

Five Minute Friday: Wait

Yesterday, I wondered why I had not received the Five Minute Friday email. Eventually, I tracked down the prompt (for another week). Well after I published my post, I remembered that the day was Thursday not Friday. It happens. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
yea, wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:13-14)

0 Lord_Ill_WaitI used to play Ouija board Bible. I’d randomly open the Bible hoping God would give me a message. Actually, I hoped for the specific messages I believed God ought to give me. Ultimately, I realized I was using the Bible as a spiritualist used a Ouija board, to try to peer into the future and be assured that the good things I wanted (to be reunited with my family) awaited me.

God may have read my script but He never followed it. Frequently, repeatedly, my Bible opened at Psalm 27. At times, I’d scream out, “But I have waited! I’ve waited all this time. When? When? When?” Eventually I just stopped using the Bible as a crystal ball. If God wanted me to wait, I’d wait. But I had grown to hate the word.

A few years later, when I told an acquaintance of my hatred of the word, she responded: “Wait is a great response. It means ‘yes’ but not at this moment. It means, You may have some cake after dinner. Or, You may go out and play when I’m finished and can go with you.”

More than ten years later, I’m still waiting to be reunited with my family. I know it probably won’t happen this side of heaven but I don’t mind waiting anymore. Because wait does mean, Yes. Wait asks me to trust that in the fullness of time, when God knows it’s best, I will experience a reunion that far exceeds the ones I used to imagine. For a long time, I’ve wanted to go home. God asks me to wait not because He delights in withholding from me or torturing me. He asks me to wait because He is preparing a glorious homecoming for me.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Five Minute Friday: Share

At church on Sundays, I usually lower my voice an octave so that it blends in with the voices of al the other singing in the pews. I have a lovely voice, a trained voice, but I remember voices that screeched, boomed, or bellowed above every other voice in the congregation. I recall being embarrassed for those who possessed such uncontrollable voices. The jarring notes still resound through me.

Few who meet me would imagine how shy I am. But there are those who know me quite well who have never heard me sing in my normal range, never heard me speak French, don’t know that I really love math. Often it’s very hard for me to share myself, who I am, with others.

And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”(Mark 4:21-25)

The Gospel I read today reminds me, again, that the gifts God has given me are not to be hidden away. That is my goal for 2015, to make sharing all that God has given me a habit. Even if my voice travels into the coloratura range — that’s the voice God has given me. Even if I make occasional errors in pronunciation — how else can I become genuinely fluent? Even if my nerdiness is revealed — I doubt I’ve done a great job hiding it anyway. It’s hot and stuffy under the bushel. Please Lord, teach me to share and shine.

As Winds That Blow Against A Star

Now by what whim of wanton chance
Do radiant eyes know sombre days?
And feet that shod in light should dance
Walk weary and laborious ways?

But rays from Heaven, white and whole,
May penetrate the gloom of earth;
And tears but nourish, in your soul,
The glory of celestial mirth.

The darts of toil and sorrow, sent
Against your peaceful beauty, are
As foolish and as impotent
As winds that blow against a star.

Joyce Kilmer

Suffering: The Questions I Fail To Ask

0 eager schoolgirl with hand raisedAs a child, when my teachers asked a question, my hand always shot up first and waved furiously in the air. Since I loved studying and was usually several weeks ahead with my homework, I really did know the answers. At times, teachers refused to call on me so that other students might have a chance. I even argued with the substitute who replaced our regular algebra teacher in the middle of the term. And I was right. She had an odd habit of giving us the problems that were already answered in the back of the book so I was able to prove my contentions. I was a truly annoying student.

Many people have asked me, ‘If God is so good and loving, why does He allow such awful things to happen to good people?’ How my hand itches to fly up into the air. How I want to cry out, “Ooh! Ooh! I know the answer!” An acquaintance once insisted that since I have suffered so much, if I couldn’t convince him that God is loving, no one could. Once upon a time, I loosed terrible tantrums at God because of the evil He allowed in my life. But those times seem to be past. I seem to have got it. So I ought to be able to write a clear, neat paragraph that explains why God allows suffering. I ought to be able to condense all I’ve learned into a few words.

But, after writing many pages and discarding them all, I realized I was stuck. I just couldn’t find the right words. Perhaps I’m finally learning that I don’t know everything. And too, some questions ought not receive neat, off-the-cuff responses. So I’ve sat on my hands these past few months (with an occasional, ‘Don’t You see I’m not writing, Lord?’ tossed out when I’m feeling particularly impatient) and waited. And longed to be that well-prepared, annoying student again. And waited some more. And finally realized I was bored waiting.

Since writing wasn’t working, I decided to work on improving my French conversation so that I might score higher on a proficiency exam. I’d like to become a certified translator. And I’d love to be as comfortable using French as English. After all, I spoke French before I encountered English and still read it. Since there are many free, online opportunities, I may as well avail myself of them.

And, for good measure, I decided to review Algebra II and Calculus to prepare to take a couple of Statistics courses. For me, university was like a world cruise. It whet my appetite and left me hungry for much, much more. There are so many subjects I want to study in greater depth. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other free online offerings make the internet a giant garden bursting with boundless opportunities to learn.

baby crawling & reaching 3Then, this morning, after praying the Angelus in English* my mouth suddenly curled into a happy smile as the image of a baby flooded my mind. He scooted himself forward, stopped, supported his upper body on one arm and hand and lifted his other hand to a toy that was just out of reach.

That’s how he learns to walk, I silently told my Friend.

His voice spoke within me: Why do you not ask, ‘How can parents be so cruel as to force a baby to learn to walk’? You can see how much work it requires.

I nodded. Another image filled my mind: A girl sat at a table learning to spell a list of words. A fresh, warm breeze through the open window stirred the curtains and beckoned her to come and play.

Again, He spoke: Why do you not ask, ‘How can her parents force her to learn’? Spelling is difficult for her, she’d rather be out in the sunshine.

Again, I nodded. A third image filled my mind: I was quickly donning my purple mohair coat as I instructed my assistant on the work they ought to begin after everyone ate dinner. The voice of another co-worker ordering food came to my ears; my stomach growled. I caught up my dance bag and hurried off to class.

I was 28, I mused to my Friend. And up each morning at six so I could get to my 7 a.m. dance class. Then skipped dinner every evening to go to another class and afterwards worked ’til 9 or 10.

His voice spoke again: Why did you not ask, ‘Why torture myself for three hours, six days a week’? Why did your co-workers think it an admirable thing to go to two classes?

I loved dancing. It was worth it, I replied definitively.

Then, I was aware of many souls reaching for heaven. It was hard work. They were each willing to suffer in order to make their goal. Life sent all sorts of suffering and hardship their way; they didn’t choose what they would suffer. But they did choose whether they would participate and reach heaven or rebel and miss out on the real purpose for their lives. And, like a baby forgets the discomfort of learning to walk, they each forgot their suffering once they were with God.

So now, I must remember not to answer but to ask questions I so often neglect: Why would reaching heaven be any different than learning to walk or spell or dance? Why should I expect that being transformed from animated earth into the fullness of Christ would be easy? Without pain? Without suffering? Why would the patterns of my life, or any life, suddenly reorganize themselves so that I can avoid the discomfort that will allow me to become what God created me to be? When He did not exempt Himself but rather, did it the hard way, why would God exempt me? If He did exempt me and I never became like Him, would that not be truly cruel? If God takes all the pieces of my life, all the brokenness, all my errors and failings, all the sins committed against me, all the sins I, myself, commit, and uses all of it — the good and the bad — to make me like Him, if He gives me the eyes to see it, why would I waste my energy fuming at Him because it’s not according to my script?

* At 6 p.m., I pray l’Angélus en Français.

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