In the course of America’s 244 years, only 27 times have we amended our Constitution. By design, it is difficult to set the table for support of an amendment. But eventually, questions arise that are so compelling that an amendment is the only solution. Even so, amendments do not change who we are, they only enhance our understanding of who we are.
Something similar occurs with our identity as Christians. We have a belief system that is to us what a constitution is to a nation, defining who we are and how we live. So what happens when some issue or question surfaces with such compelling force as to leave us wondering? Can we amend a belief that seems to need amending to fit our worldview? What does this mean about my faith?
I am sure you have heard many times that the early church faced just such questions, such as when, for example, Samaritans wanted to become Christians without first having to become Jews. But did you know that the story behind Genesis involves changes within a belief system? Well, it does — and knowledge of it can be of value for believers today.
We are so conscious of Genesis being old that we seldom, if ever, think of it as one time being new. But of course, everything that is old, was at one time new.
So the scholars who study these things tell us that the first eleven chapters of Genesis reflect some of the ancient Near Eastern religious beliefs: Life has a spiritual and a temporal dimension; deity exists and interacts with humanity; humans were created from soil; humans reflect the image of deity, etc. These beliefs are contained in those chapters.
But amendments were made regarding other beliefs. One dealt with the nature of deity. In those days, deity was defined as “gods and goddesses.” In Genesis however, the gods became the one true God.
How did this come about? An idea comes to mind and takes shape. Some brave soul shares it and others listen: Maybe there is only one God rather than all these quarreling gods and goddesses. Eventually, it gains momentum, becoming a part of the Genesis belief system. Yes, I believe this is how “revelation” happens, and it does involve God.
We are naive if we idealize this process, seeing it as joyous time celebrating a sudden revealing of a new understanding of God. We are aware of humanity’s fear of big changes. Imagine the anxiousness involved when the idea of one God surfaced, challenging the grandparents’ belief in gods and goddesses.
Think of the Reformation, when thinkers were condemned as heretics and burned at the stake. Think of the ridicule and the crucifixion (which was tantamount to a lynching today) of Jesus because of his amendments to the belief system of the day. Why would we think things were different with the story of Genesis? Surely it was a difficult, despairing struggle, over years, decades and perhaps even generations. Yet today, it is a core belief of Christians.
If we believe that God matters, we will always seek a clearer understanding of God. This seeking, this mission impossible, nevertheless becomes a holy mission. We will sometimes get it right and other times get it wrong. Is there a Christian who does not smile, remembering past beliefs? I shudder at some sermons I once preached.
At issue in this holy mission of interpreting and describing the God of the universe is this question: If our faith rests solely in God, what then is the fear of amending our beliefs? Fear is an enemy of faith.
Craig Tally is a minister in Joplin. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com.