Grappling with the Old Testament & the Reality of Story Telling

The thing about story telling is, stories must always be told in the past tense (well, unless you are writing sci-fi, but those aren’t the kind of narratives we are referencing here). And, when we tell those stories in the past tense, because we are removed from the experience itself, we are able to see the important threads and risky business that was occurring while the situation was taking place.

For example, I visited Colonial Williamsburg this summer. My favorite part of the historical site was standing in her chamber room, on the top floor, gazing out the window into the town. The tour guide filled us with stories of revolutionists, people threatening to storm the palace while the governor packed up his things and slipped out the back door, never to return again. As I’m hearing this story, it all sounds really patriotic and fantastic, and the tour guide does a really nice job of including just enough rising action to result in a satisfactory climax, but I’m sure at the moment in which the events were taking place, it really wasn’t that exciting of a situation to go through–I’m sure, in reality, the governor was frightened, he didn’t know if he would end up alive (in retrospect, since we are telling the story in the past tense, we know that he does), and these colonists, while we glamorize their actions, in reality, they were probably really similar to those extreme Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton supporters that we make fun of today.

The same is true of every story we tell about ourselves. If you are a regular follower of my blog, you will know that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE hearing people’s love stories (it makes me feel better about my very non-existent own). We love it when we find a real-life Romeo & Juliet story, when two forbidden lovers end up together, or a good, old-fashioned Nicholas Sparks love story, where two people who come with baggage and a tragic backstory fall in the most intense love. These stories are so heart-warming to hear, but if we take ourselves back to the reality in which the events were actually taking place, I’m sure defying your parents and getting married young came with it’s sort of difficulties, and probably the reason the two Nicholas Sparks people ended up together is because they both are so broken. I meet people all the time and upon some reflection and calculations, I realize, “Oh so YOU were actually two timing your current husband”, “Oh, so YOU dated someone you worked with”, “Oh, so YOU married because there was a baby on the way” (don’t worry, I’m not judging–that was totally my parents). I mean, we all end up in the places that we are meant to be, and we all come with our own set of brokenness, but because we often tell these stories in the past tense, we often leave out the stress, the emotional break downs, the fear and sacrifice, the reality of what it actually was like whilst the events were taking place.

Something that has been really difficult for me as a logical person is the Old Testament. I’ve spent a good amount of time meditating, reflecting, learning how to live in the spirit of being a Christian, that I feel like I have somewhat mastered, but when it comes time to pulling out my Bible and reading Scripture (especially the Old Testament), I often run the other way and just pretend it doesn’t exist. I think many other hopeful believers experience this same cognitive dissonance. Like, I get that there is a Universal force, directing me down a certain path. I understand why we should be humble & kind, forgiving, and selfless, and that there are lessons to be learned from every experience I have. But, when I crack open the Old Testament, I question my faith, because everything just seems so unfathomable and illogical.

This fall, my Bible study is doing Angie Smith’s ‘Seamless’, and while I’ve read many of the stories over and over again, and heard them from a variety of perspectives, I’m now, again, being forced to sit down with the Bible, and read the Old Testament. Some of the stuff is still so unfathomable. Like, people really don’t live to be 120 years old like Moses, even in today’s day and age when our medical technology is so advanced. And, how could Sarah’s body possibly withstood childbirth at 90 years old? How did Jacob get beat up by God? Why were there slaves? How did these people travel so many miles with no cars? So, this time as I’m going through the Old Testament, I’m taking a new approach, and I’m trying to supplant myself in the reality of the stories that are being told.

The reality of the Bible is that, it is written by, and happened to, humans. People like you and me. People who are broken, whose nature is to be selfish, competitive, jealous. Take Jacob for example. He was most certainly not the most moral person. He slept with more than just his wife; he tricked his brother, Esau, into giving over his birthright, and then stole his identity to manipulate his father on his death bed. I mean, Noah gets drunk and takes his clothes off. These are real people, doing real things (not some magical, super hero, “I am the most angelic person ever” kind of life). The people who wrote the Bible are people who maybe have lapses in spelling, their sentence constructions mediocre (I’m always judging writing), their view of the world biased. Of course, as the story goes, God gave the words TO Moses to scribe, but those words still had to go through a human channel. As a writer myself, I definitely have encountered spiritual experiences, where I read back what I wrote, and have NO idea how I came up with those ideas–that those ideas had to have come from a Higher Power (take Happily Never After, for example. I take NO ownership of those words). But, because humans are built to be distant from God, while the stories themselves are certainly God’s words and instructions, perhaps the stories are also a little skewed by the reality that it was humans who actually put the words on paper.

So, going back to the ages of these people (which seems to be most hopeful believers’ argument against the Old Testament)…

I love Al Gore’s documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, because it’s so not about global warming, and all about his political career. My favorite part? Al Gore stands on a cherry picker in front of a graph, displaying the drastic increase of carbon emissions over the last few years, all the while, telling us about his credentials, how he basically came up with all these ideas himself, blah blah blah. Now, it could certainly be true that global warming (now called ‘climate change’) is a real thing that is happening. It could also be true that there are more people populating the earth, so more witnesses to see and be victims of the really bad hurricanes and tornadoes, and that our instruments to measure these things have gotten more sophisticated (like, have you seen that copy machine in Mad Men? I can’t imagine other machines in the 60’s were really that efficient–how did we even send a man to the moon?…). So, the coast certainly could have experienced the same amount of weather tragedy 500 years ago, but since there was no one to witness it, there was no one to keep track of it. And, the atmosphere could certainly have risen in temperature 100 years ago, but we didn’t have as accurate thermometers, so no one would have known…

And, it could be true that Moses lived to be 120 years old, and that Sarah had a baby at 90. Or, it could be that the way people measured time all those years ago is different than the way we measure time now, so Moses actually only lived to be 89, and Sarah actually had her baby at 40 (plus, since that part of the world doesn’t have seasons like Colorado does, I’m not sure how you measure time at all), which is much more believable.

And hey, anything that gets you to believe works, right?…

(Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments section).


1 Response

  1. Thank you so much for your article, it was really delightful to read and it hit on so many points that I’ve pondered myself, that I felt very. That is not a typo, I did feel very. I couldn’t decide if I was very pleased, or happy, or excited, or enthused, but I was very. When you touch on Colonial Williamsburg and Genesis, you can expect a very response from me. Well, now you know. Smiley, happy emoji. I hope you can forgive any grammatical and/or spelling mistakes. If there are any, I prefer to chalk it up to my own personal style.

    First, I simply had to respond because this article is right up my ally, on top of that I visited Colonial Williamsburg during that character forming period of my life when I was 10-13 years old (I think I was 11), and it brought up nostalgic, happy memories for me. When I’m smiling, be it from happy history thoughts or reading delightful writing, I can’t resist wanting to respond. This is not a critique of your article at all, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve pondered these same questions and, like sunshine, wanted to share my thoughts.

    I want to share my views on the age question in the Old Testament, but in order to do that I need to skip forward to 1900 and talk about the discovery of radium.

    Radium gives us seemingly boundless nuclear power. Before its’ discovery, there was no scientific basis for Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin, and every evolutionist that has followed in his footsteps, has based their theories on a long, long time line of millions and millions of years. When Darwin first posited his theory, no one argued against him on biological grounds, because they thought that was entirely unnecessary as the world couldn’t possibly be any older than 50,000 or 60,000 years based on the current hard data of the time. Lord Kelvin, that’s Kelvin as in the temperature to which he gave his name, made this argument first, and as the leading physicist of his time, that was the end of the debate. Darwin’s book came out in 1859 and was considered bunk until about 1900.

    Enter radium. Radium was the previously unknown, hard data that could explain a long time line. Essentially, radium was the power source that could make evolution possible where before it had been laughable. So, evolution, almost by default, became accepted science, the science in fact. It’s a theory that was thought up before we knew about genes, before DNA, before the intense complexity of the single cell was discovered, and before we’ve discovered what the nucleus of the cell is even to this day. And, the only thing about evolution that has been proven is that the timeline is not, in fact, impossible. This is a brief, over-simplification I know, but if you will let that slide and humor me, I’d be much obliged.

    What does this have to do with the age question in the Old Testament?

    Living in a society that views history through evolutionary lenses, we can’t help but interpret things that way. For example, in evolution, we are trained to think that, as the years go by, generation after generation is becoming better, more perfect, both genetically and intellectually. More evolved. We hear a lot about progress and progressivism. So we have a tendency to think that the people who came before us were somehow inferior to ourselves. Why did those people in the 1300s die of the Black Plague? Were they stupid? Did they not know how to bathe? Did they think it was evil spirits instead of tiny microscopic germs? Whether we actually think that 1300s people were stupid, dirty or superstitious is beside the point. The point is, that’s where our questions go. That’s what we jump to. They must’ve been inferior, because we are more evolved.

    No. The only difference between our age and that of the 1300s is that we have more material knowledge. And, in a world with both a spiritual and material realm, I think it’s possible we live in an age with considerably less spiritual knowledge than the 1300s. As you pointed out, the people in the Bible are poignantly and recognizably human, with all the strengths and all the failings of other humans in our own day and throughout history.

    I’m getting there, I promise!

    So, what if we view it the other way? What if, instead of evolving, we are devolving? What if, instead of becoming perfect Nietzschian gods, we are in fact fallen and continue to fall with the years? It makes sense; we see it all around us. Purebred dogs are my favorite example. Purebred English Bulldogs are horribly shrunken monstrosities compared with their 19th century brethren. I heard a heartbreaking story that I will not share about how they are barely able to give birth to new puppies. Medically, they are very expensive and it takes a lot of time and care to keep Purebred English Bulldogs alive. Another favorite story was about gene-splicing ancient Egyptian grain, found in the famous burial sites, with modern grain to simply strength it against new kinds of genetic breakdowns. The old grain was genetically more complex; it had genes upon genes that the new grain did not, meaning the new grain was far less robust and much weaker.

    When thinking about why are there different races of humans, I have applied my own personal theory about DNA. If the oldest DNA was the most complex, then it would make sense that eventually the DNA became thinner and thinner and specific genes became more and more pronounced. Eventually, you end up with many different races of people. Evolutionarily, that doesn’t make sense at all. It makes more sense that we started out with many and became few, through survival of the fittest.

    If the oldest DNA was the most complex . . .

    The pre-flood world does not concern me. It is before the “modern”, post-flood world, and I don’t know how the ecosystems of that earlier time would’ve functioned, and I don’t think I could find that out if I were as smart as Isaac Newton. Perhaps, like gravity, the answer will come from the trees.

    But if previous generations had stronger DNA, it does not seem impossible to me that they may have been capable of living longer, and more vigorously. Even today, there are news stories of a few women, here and there, who have given birth over the age of 60. We have heard news stories of people living over 100 years, and some living to 120 years, and that’s with 5000 years of devolution.

    Many things in the ancient world are discounted as inaccurate nowadays. Military historians simply can’t believe that it was logistically possible for ancient societies to muster armies in the hundreds of thousands, despite generally reliable eyewitness sources saying that’s exactly what great empires like Persia could do. I think it’s arrogance on our part, but perhaps that’s too strong. I doubt people 500 years ago would’ve thought the widespread use of the internet possible. 1 or 2 people in that time might have thought something like the internet possible, but that’s an entirely different matter.

    You’re a dee-lightful writer and I hope you can sense the enthusiasm in my response. Thanks for writing that article and full-steam ahead!

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