For Part 1, click HERE.
Genesis 1 describes the creation of the physical order. Genesis 2 recapitulates the pattern of Genesis 1 as it describes the creation of the social order. Genesis 3 describes the intended founding of an ethical order. It was here that sin entered into the world, and with it, the distinction between clean and unclean. The failure of Adam to rightly divide between light and darkness in the ethical realm transformed darkness from a mere absence of light — a riddle to consider in order to gain wisdom, or a slumber to be succumbed to for the purpose of renewal and procreation — into a refuge for corruption. Ethical darkness became an inability to discern the truth despitethe presence of light. This subsequently defiled the social order (Genesis 4), and ultimately destroyed the physical order (alluded to in Genesis 5). These chapters describe the fivefold biblical covenant as an ascent followed by a descent, a journey recapitulated in the praxis of the High Priest on Yom Kippur but with a positive outcome: a covering of the sins of the world for one more year.
How did the sin of one man corrupt the entire world? It tore down — relativized — the boundaries fixed by God and created inordinate unions in their place. Vows deemed holy — nakedness before God in worship and before one’s wife in marriage —were rendered unclean by Man.
It also established its own separations that instigated chaos. Things which had been complementary were now in opposition. Things which had been only consumers now joined the ranks of the consumed. The ties of blood became acts of bloodshed. The mediating priesthood was dissolved through intermarriage with rebellious kings. Consequently, the waters above and below were reunited in a microcosmic cataclysm that destroyed “all flesh.” Forming and filling became deforming and emptying. Except for selected representatives of the old world, the Word of God returned to Him void.
The law of God was a riddle upon which the Man was to meditate in order to discern the character of God. The Truth Himself makes darkness His covering (Psalm 18:11). But darkness appeared as light, offering death disguised as life. The Father in heaven offers His children bread and fish but disguises them as stones and serpents because He is raising men. He calls us to develop wisdom that we might look upon the heart of things as He does. To achieve this, we must first perceive the veiled goodness of His character in our trials (Romans 8:28).1 Joseph perceived the love of God before he discerned the hearts of his repentant brothers (Genesis 50:20).
All of Creation is under a veil, groaning for a day of revelation and vindication, when words spoken in secret and deeds done in darkness will be under the spotlight and broadcast from the housetops.
This “day” began with the incarnation of Christ. Israel’s lunar festivals signified a time of partial light, a landscape of stars and shadows which pointed towards a coming dawn. That Mosaic veil was not the fear of death but an Abrahamic slumber, Israel as the firstborn Son withdrawing to the mountainside for an “all-nighter,” wrestling with God until dawn in preparation for His most important work (Genesis 32:24; Luke 6:12-13).
Daybreak finally came in Jesus’ ministry of apocalypse, an unfolding, unstoppable onslaught of revelation. In Him, the mystery of God is revealed (Colossians 2:2), and the veil is removed from our eyes (2 Corinthians 3:13-14). He was hidden in the Temple but found like a long-forgotten scroll. He was hidden in the waters but came up again like Jonah. He was hidden in the earth but rose from death like a planted seed. He was hidden in a cloud but revealed again from heaven in a sign that the old order was finished forever (Matthew 26:64; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Revelation 1:7). The entire World was judged in one Man (John 12:31).
In every instance, the light of the world made Himself absent that He might be present in a more effective way. His burgeoning acts of advent — of parousia — continually shine in greater and greater realms and will continue to do so until the ultimate dawn (2 Peter 1:19).
Those who never saw Jesus were more blessed than those who did because they discerned Him with different eyes. That perception is possible only by the Word of God, as a lamp shining in a dark place.
The evil one has a double-barreled strategy for the expulsion of this light, a two-fold tactic which has remained consistent through the ages. If he cannot snuff out the witness of the Word altogether, he will replace it with a counterfeit.
For Adam, this counterfeit was the testimony of the serpent in Eden, the world’s first false prophet. For Israel, it was syncretism with the gods of the Canaanites. For the Jews after the exile, it was the Oral Law fabricated by the Pharisees that claimed to expound the Scriptures but eventually eclipsed the Law and the Prophets.
Rome was guilty of similar sleight-of-hand, replacing the words of God with the traditions of men. God sent the Reformers to tear away the veil, and a harlot much like first century Jerusalem was exposed to the world.
But after 500 years, another contrived night has fallen like a veil over our eyes. The Scriptures cannot be removed, but they can be misinterpreted, disparaged, and ignored. Even when the Book is open our minds remain closed. The Western Church suffers from various levels of Bible suppression, from Bible ignorance,through Bible avoidance, right up to conscious Bible evasion.
Only slightly renovated, these are old lies proffered as something new, and the rivers of life from the brightest centers of biblical thought and ministerial training now run with Wormwood once again. The biblical stairway has become a dark tower, a haunt for scavengers and creatures of the night, a dark doppelgänger of what God intended.
On Level 1 of this Babel Academy, the local church congregation itself is an unwitting counterfeit, desperate fools misled by ravenous wolves who bait them with isolated Bible texts doled out like fortune cookies. Their cargo cult Jesus never says anything that might cause anyone to turn back from following Him.
On Level 2, the Bible is practically obsolete since, despite blatant self-contradictions, God speaks directly, authoritatively, and inerrantly to every believer all the time. Rather than imparting an understanding of the ways of God, purported dreams, visions, and prophecies expose a profound ignorance of His Word. “Words of knowledge” betray a tragic lack of discernment. Despite the Apostles having been steeped in the Scriptures from childhood (even King Solomon was required to copy out the Torah by hand), apostolic gifts and “anointing” are a coveted commodity, often serving as a shortcut to maturity, avoiding the hard years of study and meditation. The tongues and testimonies of men eclipse Word and sacrament.
On Level 3, the teachers claim to believe the Bible, but they speak in a foreign tongue. Their words are authentic, calling, catalyst, community, dialogue, educate, emerge, empower, enrich, incarnational, leadership, meditative, mindful, missional, paradigm, positive, posture, proactive, program, reconnect, resource, sentness, space, strategy, workshop… Disconnected from the imaginative world of the Bible, their muses are erudite novels, self-improvement books, management tools, and Middle Age mystics. The sacraments here are fair trade coffee, boutique beers, and a pretentious selection of teas.
On Level 4, the fundamentalists believe the Bible but rarely comprehend it. Reduced to a manual of lessons for living, literal supplants literate. Fear of heresy has become fear of the text, which is only a tool to support what is already “known,” so there is no growth in discernment. This is Grandma’s home cooking, cooked personally by Grandma, and she has been dead for many decades.
On Level 5, conservative theologians peddle application as if it were interpretation. There is real food here, but it is wheeled out of a clinic on laboratory trolleys and served cold in indigestible slabs by linguistic technicians. Their method is that of an autopsy — analysis in carefully isolated chunks and devoid of any literary sensibility. Nobody really knows how to connect dem bones, and thus nobody really gets to hear de Word of de Lord.
On Level 6, the palace rooftop, is the Babel Academy’s inner sanctum and boardroom, the self-styled nerve center of biblical knowledge and society for progress in biblical understanding. However, answers to the deep questions are sought in the Church Fathers, the Reformers, a Barth, a Bultmann, or even the Inklings, as if the pure essence of the Bible were distilled from its raw state and preserved for less awkward consumption in tomes of jargon-filled, abstracted “theology,” or marvelous Christian fiction. Although they know God, they do not honor His Word. They are futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts have been darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fanboys, and exchanged the glory of the Word for crusts and dregs, stale leftovers from some really big eaters.
The members of this tightly-guarded domain maintain a veneer of competence via carefully constructed forests of theological treatises and dissertations, journals and occasional papers, in which they focus on minutiae so refined that in reality they know everything about nothing. While the common man has been led to believe that a deep understanding of the Bible is beyond him, theological academia has become a small-time racket for uninspired intellectuals and their extraneous fixation with extrabiblical trivia. This hermeneutical industry is a covering of fig leaves, a fruitless tree, a Man behind a curtain where the secret things of God should be.
These elites are entirely unknown on Level 1, ignored by Level 2, irrelevant to Level 3, despised by Level 4, and incessantly flatter those on Level 5 with promises of insight and mastery. The inhabitants of the tower’s every storey are malnourished, and the world outside it starves.
If any brave soul does make it into the inner sanctum, he discovers an empty room. There is no food at all, just the dry, telltale signs of countless food fights over the centuries. Such inconvenient visitors are sworn to secrecy as a condition of release, pledging to keep the dream alive. They are turned away disappointed and disillusioned.
For now, we dwell in a world where nothing is as it seems. Utopian lies exalt themselves against the knowledge of God while the Word of God is despised and condemned, and His faithful servants are ridiculed and vilified. Lawmakers use their power to destroy rather than protect. Evil is good and good is evil. And only those whose eyes are opened by God are enabled to perceive the heart of the matter through the inky clouds of camouflage and confusion. The poor in spirit are the rich. The priestly are the true rulers and the tyrants are the servants of sin. Those who are naked before heaven are robed in righteousness on the earth while the stars of the earth are wretched, naked, and blind.
The good news is that we still have the answer at our fingertips. We might be surviving on crumbs, but our God offers us meat and wine. He desires that we become wise judges who divide light from darkness, exterior façade from interior motives, joints from marrow, spirit from flesh. We must discern the hearts not only of ourselves and other individuals but also divine the unseen animus of families and tribes, nations and empires, ideologies and the daily news cycle spin. In a world where infanticide is “health care,” promiscuity is “love,” tyranny is “equality,” Islam is “peace,” and righteousness is “bigotry,” true theology cracks the riddles of God in order to thwart the lies of the devil. Ours is the ministry of apocalypse.
It is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty,
that makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what is right.
Mike Bull is a graphic designer in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in Australia, and author, most recently, of “Dark Sayings: Essays for the Eyes of the Heart. This post originally appeared on his blog, HERE. This essay is the opening salvo from Dark Sayings: Essays for the Eyes of the Heart.
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|1.||↑||For more discussion, see “Seeing in the Dark” in Michael Bull, Inquiétude: Essays for a People Without Eyes.|