Truth in Numbers: infinite or created

(system) #1

By Alexander Carpenter

I was on Thanksgiving break from Andrews about six years ago in Dayton, OH when I first read Ron Numbers. My pal's grandfather had died and we were helping to sort through the books. It was Friday night and I packed up volumes of Gerard Hasel, Heppenstahl, Ford, and Numbers - the shelves were like a visual representation of Bull and Lockhart's Seeking A Sanctuary. The owner had been one of those great Adventist medical professionals - caring for both the body and the mind of the church. That evening my friend gave me his grandfather's copy of Prophetess of Health and I read the entire book immediately. What I realized then about Ellen White applies to the issue of creation.

It's unfortunate that much of the discussion of the Ron Numbers interview has focused on off-the-cuff shots. But I think that Elaine's quote from Cliff's essay gets to a deeper issue between the "gap-ing" camps. Cliff and many creationists express shock that someone would believe in a God independent of the writings that we call the first two chapters of Genesis. They imply that to believe in a literal God requires a literal reading, or that God cannot exist independent of the text. In reality there are not manifestations of the divine outside of time and space that any human has ever reported. To modify George Berkeley: to perceive is to be. And as we know, human being is always contingent. Thus, what is so fulfilling about faith is that it floats free of time and space. To connect to the divine - alone and in community - is supernatural. Or as Tillich defines it, "the state of ultimate concern."

Thus any reading of scripture as revelation of God is limited because the reader exists within time and space. The fact is that the first two chapters of the bible are stories first. And all stories require interpretation. And all interpretation is context dependent.

Frankly I've found stronger foundations for faith than a literal reading of scripture. Now maybe I've read too much Derrida and Benjamin, but at some point one realizes that faith transcends my doubts about the creation account or anything else. I'm sorry Cliff that you find that suspect or credit it to some cultural laziness, but I believe that I endeavor to put my faith in something that transcends my faulty time bound readings of divine action. Each one of us understands our faith differently over time. Think back ten or more years. Belief changes and with thoughtfulness it is often for the better.

Both creation and Ellen White gives Adventists who think about origins - of the earth and of Adventism - a sense of meaning. Whether one becomes an Adventist for its geologic column or its Spirit of Prophecy or any other reason, one stays an Adventist because it provides meaning. But that meaning, that sense of existential position, is always shifting, and in significant ways the more one engages with diverse perspectives. All this is very dangerous to the shared meaning of the community because at some level each of our lives and existential meanings are tied together: a concern for our common good comes from our common beliefs. Most know that at some level we are always changing - sometimes big, but always little - and so folks require Archimedean points of reference - an interpretation of scripture, an experience, etc. The key lies in not mistaking a time-bound belief for a timeless God.

In conclusion, let me get back to what I realized about White and creation. In fact, no Adventist belief is True. Or any human idea for that matter. Everything is historical and gets its meaning via its function as time passes. When one is willing to go beyond belief into a relationship with the UNKNOWN that's when community matters most. Why? Because then we realize that we are in it together and our duty and ultimate priority then becomes building a common structure of meaning that treats beliefs, not as proofs of righteousness or mental toughness or loyalty, but as habits or tools for saving the world.

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