By Bob Flynn
I marvel at the gospel writers who were writing about what they believed was a time like no other time when the sublime walked among them, talked to them, ate with them, yet was beyond anything they could understand. No matter how much inspiration and insight into holy matters God gives you, you can only express it in the ordinary limited language that you and your audience understand.
How would you describe the birth of such a person? If I could I would want to write the story the way Luke wrote it, knowing that was also the way others wrote about the birth of their gods. The Hindu god Vishnu descended into the womb of Devaki and was reborn as her son, Krishna. Did Nicodemus know that story? Buddha chose who his mother would be. He entered her womb from the side in the shape of an elephant.
Islamic literature, including the Koran, contains several miraculous births, including that of Jesus. Sufism states that the poet Kabir was born of a virgin widow who was a Hindu. The Egyptian god Horus, was created by parthenogenesis, asexual reproduction in which embryos occur without fertilization. The word comes from two Greek words, partheno “virgin” and genesis meaning “birth.”
Greek and Roman mythology tells of many gods born of a god and a woman including Perseus, Ion, Romulus, Asclepius, Helen and Leda. Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus claimed to be born of god and woman. How many ways can you write about a unique birth when unique has no good synonyms but only descriptions such as “the only one.” And unique permits no modifiers. But my intent would be the same as Luke’s and theirs.
How would you describe the resurrected Jesus walking among them, and then leaving this world? It would depend on your intent, what you wanted the story to say and how to say it in the simple language of people who fished, farmed, and herded animals, most of whom couldn’t read and didn’t know the words used in the royal courts. The Gospel writers’ first audience believed the world was flat, heaven was above and hell was below. Wouldn’t you write that Jesus ascended into heaven, although Bishop Spong has pointed out that if Jesus ascended at the speed of light he would not yet have escaped our galaxy?
The first audience knew there were three dimensions. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that Einstein pointed out that there was a fourth dimension: space/time. Now physicists believe there are 14 dimensions. That’s further than my imagination can stretch, although I know that some creatures see or hear dimensions that most humans don’t. Scientists with powerful instruments see and hear things of which most of us have little understanding. They also declare the existence of things they can’t see because they have to exist in order for our understanding of the universe to work. Are they real?
They walk by faith, and so do we.