The Business of Keeping the Saints in the Dark
Let there be light! The first recorded “spoken” words of God. Curiously, even this creative decree was a deed whose fruit required an appraisal.
God judged the light and separated it from the darkness. As the cardinal act within a newborn heavens and earth, this ruling endures as the heart of every subsequent event, every word, enterprise and reckoning in the biblical canon.
The darkness itself was not appraised, since darkness is only the absence of light. But neither was the darkness eradicated. Rather, the light was named Day and the darkness was named Night. Naming not only establishes relationship but also office. In relation to the earth, Day and Night are proper nouns for the presence and absence of light. Like the Aaronic Urim and Thummim, they possess binary roles — positive and negative — in a single process.
As it is with the names Father and Son, these names describe a relationship. Neither makes sense without the other. The Father is only a father because he has a son, and the Son is only a son because he has a father.
However, unlike the Father and the Son, Day and Night are mutually exclusive. Every day is a ministry of hiding and revealing. On Day 1, Day and Night were thus not objects in themselves but axes of perception.1Indeed, the grammar of Genesis 1 is the language of perception. The sun and moon are identical in size to the human eye for service to the social order, but differ in size for their offices within the physical order.
At this stage, without the created — mediated — light of the sun, moon and stars, the only light was the light of God. The works of God were hidden and then revealed once again with the advent of the light on the second day.
Each of the first three days of Creation brought a fresh rite of separation. Each division formed an additional domain within the united whole, like rooms in a house. Each new realm possessed a new function, like organs in a body. It is no accident that after Genesis 1 this word for “separate” is not employed again until the description of the veil (Exodus 26:33), and then not again until the Lord’s command that the bodies of sacrificial birds should be torn open but not completely divided (Leviticus 1:17; 5:8).
The next use of the word reminds us that there are two kinds of division, one positive and one negative. After the sin of Nadab and Abihu, the Lord said to Aaron:
“Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.” (Leviticus 10:10).
The distinction between holy and common is a division of office, like that between night and day, land and sea, man and woman, or in this case, between priesthood (bread) and kingdom (wine). The law given to Adam in Eden was a similar distinction, a sacramental representation of the relationship between humility before God (the tree of life) and exaltation by God (the tree of judicial wisdom). Like Night and Day, submission and dominion are diverse but indivisible. Neither makes sense without the other.
Everything is God’s, but in a special sense, that which is holy is God’s and that which is common is not. The same distinction exists in vessels and amenities set apart for use by royalty and officials and those for the use of ordinary citizens. But the ultimate goal of Christ’s ministry of redemption is to make everything holy. For Israel, this meant that the inscription upon the headpiece of the High Priest would be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the ordinary pots in the Temple would be as precious as the bowls before the altar (Zechariah 14:20).
In an existential sense, the circumcision created Israel by setting Abraham’s household apart for royal use. The nation was sanctified, that is, claimed as a special possession for God, while the other nations remained common.
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 7:6)
It was not a sin to be a Gentile, any more than darkness is more sinful than light, since the roles of Jew and Gentile comprised a relationship, a temporary bipolarity. Neither made sense without the other. Under the earthly ministry of Christ, the abolition of one effectively abolished the other. In AD70, both demarcations finally became obsolete in God’s economy (Hebrews 8:13). But until then, Israel was to play a central role in the purposes of God as a priestly microcosm of the world.2For more discussion, see “Cosmic Language” in Michael Bull, Inquiétude: Essays for a People without Eyes.
This also means that being circumcised did not inherently render one clean before God. Applied only to males, the circumcision was a social distinction rather than an ethical one. Whether evil was committed under the moon or under the sun, by a Jew or by a Gentile, it remained evil. The reason men love darkness is that their crimes remain hidden. This moves us from the distinction between holy and common to the division between clean and unclean.
Circumcision conferred a unique social identity upon the nation of Israel but the law of Moses conferred an office. The distinction between holy and common now not only separated Levi from the other tribes relating to civil function, but the priestly vows created a similar distinction among the Levites regarding liturgical duties. Each level in the hierarchy of holiness — a sacred ziggurat, a stairway to heaven — was a microcosm of the previous one. However, whether murder was committed by a priest or a commoner, it was the same sin. The difference was in the level of accountability and the strictness of judgment. The greater the light, the greater the exposure to judgment. The ministry of the Aaronic lineage meant that God could temporarily overlook the sins of those who lived in darkness, the nations on whose behalf Israel mediated with sacrifices of blood and praise (Acts 17:30).
Likewise, among the animals, for Israel there was a new distinction between the clean and the unclean, and among the clean there was a distinction between the common (those which could be eaten) and the holy (those which were not only acceptable to Israelites but also to God).
Thus, a positive duality was built into every aspect of the created order, a diversity of office, but sin introduced a negative duality, a dichotomy between the true and the false. Counterfeit and camouflage were invented in Eden.
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 despite the presence of light. This subsequently defiled the social order (Genesis 4), and ultimately destroyed the physical order (Genesis 5). The first chapters of the Bible 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.
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. Ultimately, 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).3For more discussion, see “Seeing in the Dark” in Michael Bull, Inquiétude: Essays for a People Without Eyes. 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, 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). He Himself was the veil torn in the Garden, the temple encompassed by Gentiles in the Land, the entire World 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 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 congregation itself is an unwitting counterfeit, desperate fools misled by ravenous wolves who bait them with isolated Bible texts doled out like fortune cookies. A 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, authoratively and inerrantly to every believer all the time. Rather than imparting an understanding of the ways of God, dreams, visions and prophecies expose a profound ignorance of His Word. “Words of knowledge” betray a tragic lack of discernment. Despite all 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 yards of study and meditation. Word and sacrament are eclipsed by the tongues and testimonies of men.
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, and 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, who has now 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, at the 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, Barth, Bultmann or even the Inklings, as if the pure essence of the Bible could be distilled from its raw state and preserved for less awkward consumption in tomes of jargonous, abstracted “theology” or marvellous 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 a carefully constructed forest 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 flatter those on Level 5 with promises of insight and mastery. Moreover, the inhabitants of the entire tower are malnourished and the world outside is starving.
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. (Job 32:8-9)
This essay is the opening salvo from the forthcoming Dark Sayings: Essays for the Eyes of the Heart.
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References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Indeed, the grammar of Genesis 1 is the language of perception. The sun and moon are identical in size to the human eye for service to the social order, but differ in size for their offices within the physical order.|
|2.||↑||For more discussion, see “Cosmic Language” in Michael Bull, Inquiétude: Essays for a People without Eyes.|
|3.||↑||For more discussion, see “Seeing in the Dark” in Michael Bull, Inquiétude: Essays for a People Without Eyes.|