Saturday, April 07, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (6)

Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, who have attempted to put together possible timelines of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances to his disciples over the period prior to his ascension.

As anyone who has attempted this will tell you, synthesizing four Gospel accounts and the summary Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15 is no easy task. There is simply not enough information provided to dogmatize about some of the details. Some calculate 10 appearances, others 12. Most don’t speculate.

One thing nobody can reasonably fail to notice about the appearances is this: however long each may have been, and however many of them there may have been, there is still an awful lot of time unaccounted for in between appearances ... the better part of forty days, in fact.

Where did the Lord go when he wasn’t with his disciples? What did he do? How might we picture him spending his time?

The Holy Spirit is silent and we are wise not to speculate, but it seems rather unlikely that he returned to heaven “unofficially” prior to the ascension accounts. Nor, despite the fact that we know he upholds the universe by the word of his power, does it seem likely the Son of God did any more or less of this than usual, or that such activity required his undivided attention. We are told that he ate and drank after rising from the dead, but there’s no reason to imagine three meals a day were necessary for him, or that sleep was necessary.

That’s a lot of time waiting to return to his Father, with every reason to expedite that joyous event … unless the periods in between appearances were primarily for the sake of his disciples: to allow them time for the reality of his return from the grave to sink in (for some, like Thomas, this took longer than others); to let them meditate on the consistency of his resurrection with the Old Testament scriptures; to give them a chance to consider what might come next; in Peter’s case, to sort out some outstanding business — basically, to allow his disciples to adjust and process what was happening at the pace they were able.

That sort of grace and patience would certainly be consistent with the way he works in our lives, wouldn’t it?

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If your instinctive response to the following is “Grow up and get over it”, you might find it useful to read up on the subject of shyness. We’re not going to get over it, though many of us learn to manage our discomfort.

Forbes claims at least half the population is introverted to a greater or lesser degree. At the far end of the introversion spectrum, perhaps 15-20% of us are extremely shy, awkward or experience notable discomfort in social situations.

Even in my fifties, when I stroll into a place of business and some cheery high-schooler bears down on me to “help me find something”, I have to fight the impulse to head for the hills. So when I find myself compelled to pass through a line of smiling, well-meaning official greeters just inside the front door of a new church, I visibly cringe. I may actually dawdle in the car to avoid having to experience a Sunday morning robo-welcome.

If I had to guess, the writer of this article is probably extroverted. He’s rightly concerned that churches be welcoming places, but his definition of “welcoming” is very different from mine. I am absolutely delighted to be able to slip unnoticed into a new situation until I am able to get my bearings.

Further, some aspects of church life are best managed organizationally. Others are better managed organically. Caring for visitors, I think, falls into the latter category. Give me an impromptu exchange with a loving, attentive individual operating under the direction of the Holy Spirit over a starched, mechanical welcome-by-committee any day of the week.

Even if they throw in a complimentary gift.

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Bring back the no-prize, I say.

Jordan Peterson has compared the compilation of the Bible, with its multiple authors and editors, to the sort of shared universe for which Marvel and DC Comics are famous; places inhabited by hundreds of characters managed by different art, writing and editorial teams planning and executing collaborative story arcs over decades.

Some may cringe at the comparison — superhero comics are not exactly literature — but having sold them for a living many years ago, I cringe less than most. The comparison is at least worthy of consideration.

Historically, superhero comic publishers, notably Marvel, have attempted to keep what they call “continuity” intact for their readers by assigning their more hyper-vigilant nerd editors to police it; painstakingly and repeatedly pointing out to creators that Peter Parker’s aunt is called May, not Mae, that Daredevil has been to Los Angeles many times and would not behave like a bedazzled tourist, and that Jimmy Olsen’s hair is red.

All well and good, but Peterson has clearly never followed comics too closely. The shared universe model reliably produces so many obvious errors and contradictions that even in Marvel’s early days, editor-in-chief Stan Lee would offer what he called “no-prizes” for the best after-the-fact explanations from readers for his mountain of accumulating discontinuities. Today, shared universes have largely lost their appeal. The current generation of editors (mostly young women) finds even the pretense of consistency too laborious to take seriously.

“Just like the Bible,” some wag will say, noting that scripture too has its share of apparent contradictions. But as someone with a fair bit of experience with both the word of God and comic book continuity (a strange combo, admittedly), I can confidently say the difference in consistency between the two is a matter of multiple orders of magnitude. Peterson’s comparison just doesn’t hold up.

From time to time, there may indeed be difficulties reconciling one inspired author to another, but the vast majority of inconsistencies alleged to exist in scripture arise from failure to pay sufficient attention to the text, from ignoring context, from demanding figures of speech be taken literally, from the passage of time and the difference in cultures from East to West, from failure to do research, and many other factors. Any mature Christian who takes a quick browse through a Googled list of “contradictions” will be shocked to find how many of them he can explain without even reaching for a concordance or consulting GotQuestions. Those that remain are evidently insufficiently daunting to shake the faith of the millions of believers who browse the pages of holy writ on a daily basis and pursue genuine answers far more often and with far more diligence than the skeptics. When scripture doesn’t seem to add up, the problem is usually you or me.

On the other hand, the vast majority of continuity errors in comic book universes turn out to be just that — mistakes.

In fact, what impresses me more with every pass through scripture is not the remaining questions some of its minor details occasionally generate, but rather a sense of almost unbelievable unity — theologically, thematically, morally and intellectually — from one end of the Bible to another, an unprecedented and humanly-impossible continuity Peterson also tacitly acknowledges.

Apart from the Holy Spirit, there is no logical explanation for this. A legion of the world’s most attentive nerds cannot replicate it.

Even when you promise them no-prizes.

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