Jurassic Park Theology
Jurassic Park is the best movie of all time, forever and ever, amen. You certainly don't have to agree, but my tear ducts testify to how incredible JP is every time I hear Dr. Grant say, "They're moving in herds... They do move in herds..."
How many theological and community-related essays could I write about this movie? More than you'd care to read, I'll warrant. Instead, I want to bring you one thought that occurred to me while reading an interesting article today, and I'll tie it together with a clip from one of the most interesting characters in the film. Thanks for indulging my thoughts on consistency and dinosaur movies!
We live in a world built by giants who have gone on before us. I'm typing this blog post on a computer invented and refined over decades. I drove to work in a car that was built by robots and highly-skilled workers, each a product of one hundred plus years of ingenuity. We even owe our ever-widening literacy rates to Gutenberg, Frobel, and a host of others. In short, we stand tall today on the backs of the successes of others, many we don't understand.
This can definitely be a good thing. If I had to fully understand everything I used on a daily basis, I'd have to turn in my cell phone, air conditioning, and so much more. My life is simpler because there is much that I can use without fully understanding.
Yet this mindset can be a hindrance in many other facets of life. Accepting where we are without working through how we have emerged in this place can lead to inconsistency. I would argue that interpreting the Bible is not easy to do consistently in the best of circumstances, but even more difficult when we ignore the history of those who have struggled to understand it in the past. For example, in a world in which there are lots of folks raising chapter and verse to defend one point and decry another, perhaps it would be helpful to hearken back to another time in which similar arguments were leveled.
Spoiler alert! There are a heckuva lot of passages in the Bible about slavery. Israelites become slaves in Egypt. Leviticus talks about how buying slaves from other nations is fine. Prophets complain about becoming slaves to other nations. Paul gives instructions to slaves to obey their earthly masters. There's lots more, too. That's just a sampling.
In the 1800s, there was a pretty big debate going on in the United States about slavery. Some people said it should be abolished, others said it was necessary and right. The argument divided the nation, and many Christians used verses like Ephesians 6:5 to justify why slavery should be allowed. As a minister and a lover of peace, I would love to tell you that the country sat down, pulled out a concordance, and talked through the whole matter until everyone agreed. Unfortunately, instead we got a terrible war.
Therein lies a problem that I hadn't noticed until today. Most Christians never had to work out why slavery was against the will of God. We had a war, the Union won, and slavery was abolished. Since those battles, and with a lot of blood spilled since, our nation and almost all of our Christians have decided that, indeed, God is against slavery. But we never had to work out how we know that.
Here to drive home this point is acclaimed Chaotician Dr. Ian Malcolm:
Thank you, Dr. Malcolm. I'm glad you didn't get eaten. The point I'd like for us to focus on from the clip is where Dr. Malcolm explains, "I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here... It didn't require any discipline to obtain it."
Those verses about slavery that so many preachers hammered into their parishioners and politicians used as platforms weren't stricken from the Bible. We simply don't talk about them anymore. That's a problem because there are wars of words being raged today abut a myriad of topics, but too often we forget to learn from the battles of the past. Which brings us back to inconsistency.
This is no silver bullet, capable of stopping every theological fight in its tracks. It's simply an invitation to remember that humility is a key part of any discussion about the Bible. Men and women who were 100% certain that God was on their side have been proved wrong in the past, and that should give us each pause in asserting that our own way of thinking is the only way worth believing. Personally, I've fallen into this trap too many times, and hope this reminder will be ringing in my ears the next time I'm tempted to use a verse as a weapon in an argument instead of as a lens to better understand God.
If I am a Christian who believes both that the Bible is a critical part of following Jesus and that slavery is wrong, I need to seriously engage how those two realities interact. I can't be satisfied with relying on the work of those who went before me, because much of that debate was written in blood more than calm theological reasoning. I don't want anyone to point to my beliefs and say that they didn't require discipline to achieve. I want to wrestle with difficult questions, and, in so doing, emerge on the other side with a stronger faith.