I am looking forward to Phillip’s further posts on the Promethean schema for understanding modern history from the Enlightenment onwards. I hope he will take time to discuss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is an important text in this paradigm. (Of course, the text itself is also indebted to Milton’s Paradise Lost).
Being a classicist, I am familiar with the Greek myths. Indeed, one of my modules during my final year of undergrad was called “Gods and Idols”. This was a cross-disciplinary approach to religion in the Greco-Roman world, including the triumph of Christianity in late antiquity (although some Christians would call this the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity of Christianity).
In later years as I came to explore the context of the Bible more and move away from some of the evangelical and fundamentalist views and methods I once held, the mythic elements of the Bible came to mean more to me. Please do not mistake my meaning here: myth does not necessarily mean “false” in my idiolect (and I hope in what remains of decent academic prose).
CS Lewis, influenced by JRR Tolkien and other Christians he knew, came to understand myth as a means of communicating. Christianity was the “myth that is true”, to use CS Lewis’ famous phrase. As I came to see the Bible for what it really is, a collection of texts composed at different times in different genres and contexts, but providentially inspired and guided by God , I came to see its real beauty as literature and a source of reflection about life.
The Bible is not the Qur’an – it is not dictated by God. That being said, it does record direct words of God spoken at real times in history, whether through dreams and visions or by other encounters. Indeed, Christ’s words are the words of God: for Christ is Yahweh in the flesh. He is the God of Israel, come down from heaven and incarnated.
When one really thinks about what the Bible is telling us, one begins to perceive how overwhelming its message is. It should not surprise us that some of the Bible’s writers should use poetic language and mythic narrative structures. Others chose to use more straightforward narratives. Neither is better than the other.
As we reflect on the significance of what has been revealed to us and what we ave experienced in our own lives, we can find ourselves trembling with awe – if not physically, then inwardly in our spirits.
In light of this realisation, we can understand certain episodes in the Biblical narrative a bit better. If we think about the descent of God to Mount Sinai, we can understand why the Israelites were terrified of hearing his voice, even down at the base of the mountain, standing beyond the sacred cordon.
Imagine if the Disciples had really understood that the God of Sinai was sleeping next to them in the boat as they crossed the Sea of Galilee or walked ahead of them, surrounded by the crowds that pressed around Him in Capernaum and on the road to Jerusalem. This realisation came in greater force after the resurrection. It’s power pulses through the reader of John 1, who sees the veil lifted and glimpses the glory of the Son of God.
Our language is not sufficient for such descriptions, and we cannot look long at such light. Think again about Isaiah standing before God and the seraphim – his words of woe as he realised before Whose throne he stood:
“Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!”
This perhaps is one of the reasons why I spend my time pondering the Apocalypse, the unveiling of Christ. It is another way of contemplating His glory.
The world has abandoned such thinking. As Phillip carries on his discussion of Soviet Russia and the West, I dare say he is thinking about the loss of the supernatural mindset, the mythic mindset, as materialism has infiltrated our nations.
Perhaps one way forward is to be quite frank with our neighbours. They want to see Prometheus succeed in his fight against Olympian tyranny. Well, the tyrant is not the God of Israel – but they should indeed look for a mountain occupied by spiritual hosts – and consider who liberated mankind from the shadow of that mountain – where His glory shone and the resurrection was seen.