I am inspired to today to write a story, a corona virus story. My corona virus story, so far. Thanks to Karla Sullivan for the inspiration and prodding necessary to jump start that inspiration. I take my cue from her article on National Stress Month.
Fitting, right? She thought so, and so do I. We are in week four (or is it five?) of sheltering at home in Illinois, sequestering ourselves away from the viral outbreak that creeps like exponential statistics across the globe, a hidden threat that remains as a much a mystery as God.
Not that we don’t know a lot about it by now. We have clues to its origin. We certainly know the effects it has on people, some mild and annoying, some deadly and terrifying.
This novel virus emerges into a world filled with fake news, conspiracy theories, short presidential tirades (tweets) and unrelenting social media. It’s April, and we’ve had inches of snow twice in the last several days. People are talking apocalyptic (a little less tongue in cheek than usual).
Most of my story is internal, the thoughts (and recently feelings) of living through a worldwide pandemic in what seems like quasi-apocryphal social isolation.
I was reflecting before God this morning and praying when the following question arose in my head: whether it is more important to believe the historical fact of the biblical stories or to believe the stories themselves.
For whatever reason, the story that occurred to me as I was thinking about this is the story of Lot’s wife. After they left Sodom, a place that was known for its wickedness and sin, a place in which God could not identify even 10 good men, she turned back (against the orders of God’s angels that led them (delivered) them out of Sodom), and she turned into a pillar of salt.
Is there really a pillar of salt somewhere in the vicinity of Sodom where lot’s wife turned back? Does it matter?
As I was thinking about the question, it occurred to me that the story is what matters. Sodom is representative of depravity, wickedness and sin, the nature of the world around us in which we live, the state of a person who has not given himself or herself over in loving submission to the God who made us. God calls us out of that sinful state to follow Him. this is true whether Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt or not.
In the Midrash, Lot’s wife is identified as a Sodomite. Sodom was her hometown. We read in Genesis that Lot was slow in leaving when the angels warned him to get out. The Midrash suggests that Lot’s wife didn’t want to leave, and she left only reluctantly. The Hebrew word translated “looked back” implies a “wistful regard”. (See the Pulpit Commentary on Genesis 19:26 in BibleHub)
It seems that Lot’s wife really didn’t want to leave Sodom and looking back was as much an act of the heart (desiring to be back in Sodom) as a physical one. The application to us is that we should not be tempted to look back wistfully on the sinful lives we once lived. It’s like a dog returning to its own vomit. (Proverbs 26:11 and 2 Peter 2:22) Why would we turn back to the sin from which we escaped? And yet we tend to do that.
Returning to the point of the question that arose in my mind this morning, I am reminded that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness….” (2 Timothy 3:16) The Scripture is what is useful, not necessarily that the stories are true. The critical truth of most stories is contained within the story itself.
“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are the translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened…”
This quotation is from CS Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greeves: from The Kilns (on his conversion to Christianity), 18 October 1931. If you have read much of what I write, you would readily notice that I quote and allude to CS Lewis often. He resonated with me in college, and he continues to resonate. He is cited by more diverse groups of people, perhaps, that any person I can think of. He had a unique way of approaching things from fresh points of view, often pulling those fresh ideas from the dusty tomes of ancient literature. His concept of myth and True Myth is one such point.
Some might consider his frequent allusions to ancient, pagan myth heretical, and some might even confuse his love of pagan myth as New Age. I find him to be extremely orthodox in unorthodox ways, and I find his creative approaches to orthodoxy to be refreshing and thought-provoking.
We don’t have to look any further than the ultra-orthodox, Paul the Apostle, to find some common ground with CS Lewis. When Paul was in Athens, some Epicureans and Stoics he debated in the marketplace, brought him to the Areopagus to address a Greek crowd. In that address, Paul referenced an altar inscribed “To An Unknown God” and quoted Aratus, a Cilcian poet (Phaenomena 5): “in him we move and live and have our being”. (Acts 17:22-28)
Paul used the quotation from Aratus that was spoken by a pantheistic poet to convey a theistic principle about God. (See Acts 17:22-28 – Quoting the Philosophers?) On the one hand, Paul connected with the people “where they were” using language and references they understood to convey something about God. In one sense, this is how CS Lewis relates the ideas of myth and True Myth.
It’s interesting to me, as well, that Paul know enough about pagan poetry to quote Aratus. In Titus 1 (v. 12), Paul quotes a Cretan philosopher, Epimenides. Again, it’s striking that Paul knew enough about pagan philosophy (presumably) that he could quote Epimenides.
What CS Lewis says about myth is that it contains some elements of truth, which shouldn’t be surprising at all, as truth is universal and should, therefore, be something that is universally recognized. The difference between myth and True Myth is that all myth ultimately is just a shadow of the True Myth. All myth conveys truth through storytelling. True Myth isn’t just another story; it is The Story. It isn’t “just” myth, but reality – “it really happened” as CS Lewis says.
Job was a good, God fearing man who did everything right. He was hard working, conscientious and treated other people well. He was a good father and a good husband. He was a man of integrity with strong morals that he lived out; his word was his bond. Then tragedy and calamity struck. Everything was taken away.