The Soul in Cyberspace

While going through some old files, I discovered a handout dated 2004. I, along with several hundred other pastors gathered at Parkside Church in suburban Cleveland, OH, received it as part of the registration packet for Alistair Begg’s annual Basics Conference. After reviewing that canary yellow circular again after all these years, I felt compelled to pass on to you the “meat” of it, excerpts from Douglas Groothuis’ The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker, 1997). I trust you will find them both relevant and insightful as the author makes his case for the old-fashioned, printed book.

The Excerpts:

“The stewardship of the senses is no small matter in our information-overcrowded world. Our perceptual and intellectual capacities are limited; we cannot possibly handle the ever-increasing quantities of information with sufficient wisdom. Therefore, our sensibilities serve as our filters and our guides. They are the editors of the soul and direct our orientation toward good or evil. As Simone Weil said, “If we turn our mind toward the good, it is impossible that little by little the whole soul will not be attracted thereto in spite of itself.” Jesus also underscored the importance of developing appropriate sensibilities when he declared: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23). Good eyes behold truth and enlighten the soul. 

Christians and Jews are “people of the book” because they believe God revealed his truth to the varied writers of Scriptures through words that ought to be conserved, understood, and obeyed. Throughout history, the books of the Bible have been meticulously copied, recopied, and preserved so that the faithful would have the Holy Scriptures at their disposal. Of course, the Scriptures are not deemed holy simply because they are inscribed words, but because they are God’s inscribed words to us. 

However, the very form of the book, its conditions of sentience, are not incidental to how we orient ourselves to reality. The nature of the book itself and how we read shapes our souls. 

Neil Postman argues that American culture has been molded by the book in an unprecedented way. The American veneration for literature produced what Postman calls the ‘typographic mind.’ This mind pursues logical coherence and intellectual depth;  it is impatient with superficiality, but is willing to endure long and complex arguments for the sake of finding truth. For these reasons, Postman called the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America “The Age of Exposition.” He says:  Almost all of the characteristics we associate with mature discourse were amplified by typography, which has the strongest possible bias toward exposition: a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response.

Such mature discourse is rare in our agenda of incivility and intellectual impatience. Much of the blame, as Postman and others have argued, can be placed upon television, as we mentioned in chapter one. When a culture moves from typography to an image-based medium as its dominant and normative mode of expression, the very concepts of truth, reason, and evidence undergo a profound shift. Joshua Meyrowitz, a professor of communication at the University of New Hampshire, comments about his students: “They tend to have an image-based standard of truth. If I ask, ‘What evidence supports your view or contradicts it?’ they look at me as if I came from another planet.” Why is this? “It’s very foreign to them to thinking in terms of truth, logic, consistency and evidence.” Might this same erosion of the idea of truth and the ideals of logic, evidence, and consistency be perpetuated in cyberspace? 

…the effect of words on a screen-whether written or read-can depreciate the depth and gravity of language itself. Since I do not turn any pages, but instead scroll through the material, I may lose the sense of linearity reinforced by the book and other printed matter. The screen has less involvement with physical history than does the book. I can easily move about a text electronically without fingering pages. I can “call up” a screen that records my previous work or something I have downloaded. Yet the screen text does not bear the marks of the physical world and the human touch. No pages are worn, no hi-lighting appears, no distinctive smells are evident. The screen is clean, always the same; it has no history and little personality. It is a receptacle for text and images, but is imprinted by none of them. Without power, it is a mere blank, a dead conduit. 

The computer screen-despite its myriad enchantments-may not be a hot house for the soul. The book, that stubbornly unelectric artifact of pure typography, possesses resources conducive to the flourishing of the soul. A thoughtful reading of the printed text orients one to a world of order, meaning, and the possibility of knowing truth. The computer screen, despite its allure, often lacks the resources for making the truth lodge deeply in our souls. 

 -Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary. 

Knowing Noah

NOAH-Movie-Poster

Note: All Scripture quotations from the ESV, unless noted otherwise.

Hollywood’s upcoming Noah (March 2014) is good reason to speak of the actual historical, biblical character. If the trailer is any indication, the movie production could very well be a huge success. The formula is well-tested and proven. Take an impressive story, enlist actors and actresses the likes of Crowe, Hopkins, Watson, and Connelly, shoot on a timeless, almost transcendent set, create brilliant special effects, engulf it all with a huge, soul-entrancing, symphonic soundtrack, and you will draw a crowd. The urge to see the movie will undeniably be irresistible. At the very least, both Jews and Christians will be compelled to experience it. To be honest, I must confess to being somewhat intrigued, and may even shell out the ridiculous ticket price on a future date with my wife.

However, as any biblically-shaped, discerning Christian knows, Hollywood is not in the truth business. There’s simply no money in it. But not only is truth a hard sell (if I may put it that way), Hollywood must not be expected to accurately portray redemptive history. To do so is as naive as it is unrealistic. Considering the natural state of men who hate God and despise His authoritative Word, hoping for a faithful Sunday School lesson at the local Cineplex Odeon is dreadfully unrealistic, if not ridiculously silly. So when another blog reports that Noah is inaccurate and contains “bizarre, unbiblical aspects,” I am more than inclined to believe it; the short video promotion plainly displays its weirdness.

God is the Main Point

So, what’s Noah really about anyway? At the risk of oversimplification, I suggest the biblical account is not about Noah at all. It’s actually about God. It’s not that Noah is irrelevant. He’s just not the point. Instead, in Noah’s segment of Genesis, and on the set of post-Edenic earth, God continues to reveal Himself. In so doing, He manifests two glorious attributes.

By the Flood, God reveals His uncompromising holiness. Near the beginning of the chapter, Genesis 6 announces humanity’s depravity. Moses writes, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen. 6:6-7). Indeed, the earth “was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11).

As it was, so it now is. Undeniably. The earth is filled with violence! But I digress. In Noah’s day, God saw the corruption of creation. He saw that what He had declared “very good” (Gen. 1:31) had become very bad. Immediately, the Scripture tells us God spoke to Noah, saying “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen. 6:13. Italics added).

God’s Wide Judgment Exercised

The Flood is thus an act of divine judgment. Throughout redemptive history, God consistently reveals Himself as One who manifests His holiness by judging corrupt flesh. In Ezekiel, the prophet speaks against the nation of Sidon, foretelling of its divine “judgments.” These judgments came as “pestilence,” “blood in [her] streets,” and a “sword upon her every side” (38:22-23, NASB). Why? God explicitly, and simply, tells us: “Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I execute judgments in her, And shall manifest my holiness in her” (28:22). In his Epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). The very death of Jesus Christ, the bloody and merciless slaughter of The Lamb, was itself a demonstration of God’s righteousness (Romans 3:25). And, of course, there is yet to come a final unleashing of divine judgment. Christ will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, and those He knows from those He doesn’t, throwing the chaff into the Lake of Fire forever (Revelation 20:11-15). This is the God of the Bible. This is Noah’s God. He reveals His holiness by judgment and wrath. But there is more! Much more!

God’s Particular Mercy Extended

By Noah’s flood, God also reveals His particular and glorious mercy. Pay careful attention here. God’s actions refute the false “Wideness in God’s Mercy” teaching so prevalent in today’s pluralistic marketplace of religion. If wideness, or inclusiveness, describes anything, it’s God’s judgment, not mercy! The Scriptures already cited make that crystal clear. But now, fix your eyes on the boat. For in the deluge of fierce judgment is a refuge of sweet mercy!

You know what happens. I need not tell you. God commands Noah to make “an ark of gopher wood” (Gen. 6:14). Every creature on board – Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, along with “two of every sort [of “every living thing,” “male and female”] – were rescued from the watery wrath. I can only imagine the ark was chock full, filled with the blessed objects of divine, definite, but exclusive, narrow mercy. Outside the ark, death reigned as millions upon millions of living creatures – men, women, children, and every other living thing – died. They bore the full brunt of God’s just judgment against the “wickedness of man.”

But wait a minute. Does Scripture not say, and thus God Himself not say, that He would “bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh” (Gen. 6:17)? Indeed it does. And He did. It is written, “Everything that is on the earth shall die.” God “determined to make an end of all flesh” (Gen. 6:13). Evidently then, “all” doesn’t always mean “all,” since Noah and his passengers were excepted. To be sure, the end of all kinds of flesh had come. But some – a very few in number by comparison – remained. God kept them, and only them, from His torrential, seemingly unending, downpour. God kept His word. He destroyed all flesh, notwithstanding the life-boat. He “did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah…with seven others” (2 Peter 2:5). We must let Scripture define its terms. “All” does not necessarily mean “each and every,” for God mercifully and purposefully commanded Noah to bring into the ark with him “two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life” (Gen. 7:15). This mercy, though narrow, is definite. It is particular. And it is real; it actually rescued.

The Redemptive-Historical Context 

I suggest to you that the significance (or theological function) of Noah’s Ark is two-fold. First, while it demonstrates God’s righteousness, it most certainly displays His faithfulness. Let me briefly explain. Before time began, God promised “the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2). A few chapters before the Flood, in pronouncing judgment upon the serpent in the Garden of Eden, God promised the serpent He would “put enmity between [it] and the woman, and between [its] offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise [its] head, and [it] shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). “Her offspring” here is Jesus Christ. He would one day defeat the serpent (i.e., Satan himself), bringing “the hope of eternal life” to all mankind. So, no ark, no Jesus. No Jesus, no hope. The ark preserved humanity, or a remnant thereof, in order that one day, “when the fullness of time had come, God [would send] forth his Son, born of woman…” (Galatians 4:4). Her offspring would indeed, bruise the serpent’s head! What was promised in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament.

Second, the ark is but a shadow, a dim shadow, of a far greater reality. In the grand scope of redemptive history, the ark anticipates a greater rescue. To be precise, Noah’s ark foreshadows the Person & Work of Jesus Christ. As the ark saved a few persons from divine judgement, Jesus would one day deliver many “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Luke’s words on the matter are sufficient: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to [the two apostles on the road to Emmaus] in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). In other words, the entire Old Testament, of which Noah’s epic is part, speaks of Jesus Christ. Graeme Goldsworthy writes:

“It is clear…that Jesus and the apostles regarded the whole of the Old Testament as testimony to the Christ; it is all about Jesus. Thus we conclude that there is no dimension of the Old Testament message that does not in some way foreshadow Christ” (Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics, 251).

Therefore, to divorce the Noah narrative from the Christ event is to dreadfully and tragically miss its chief end. We must understand that the Bible is not a collection of unrelated narratives. It is, rather, one grand narrative in which God’s redemptive purpose culminates in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Any retelling of the part without due consideration for the whole is thus completely inadequate; the shadow fails to be, indeed cannot be, the thing itself.

Fix Your Eyes on the Substance!

And what of the thing itself? The Person and Work of Christ is worthy of countless books and blog posts. But consider this: Noah’s ark saved a few people. And it also delivered representatives of every living creature upon the earth. But as the thing itself, the antitype, the Person and Work of Christ was designed to accomplish much, much more. It is far too simplistic, if not minimalistic, to confine the effects of the cross to humanity. If the design of the cross was limited to sinners, it would be an unspeakably glorious thing. The work of Christ would in no way be diminished. To redeem His sheep, chosen before the foundation of the world, is unquestionably, in and of itself, worthy of an eternity of praise. However, as the ark delivered a portion of creation (“two of every sort”), the Ark who is Christ inaugurated a covenant in which all things are being made new. The New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21-22) will be a place where, unlike the present earth post-flood, only “righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Until then “the creation waits with eager longing” to “be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). The shadow fails by epic proportions to be the thing itself! The ark served its purpose. It delivered a fallen creation. But by His death and resurrection, Christ redeemed the entire cosmos, having set the stage for the final “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The ark did not, nor could it, make all things new. But that is precisely what God began to do in Christ (2 Corinthians. 5:17). The work of Christ has gloriously cosmic consequences!

What’s Noah about? I’m certain Hollywood won’t tell you. So, I say, don’t wait for the movie, friends. Read the Book, the whole Book!