July 16, 2009

The History of God: Myth, Truth or Both?

The books 1 and 2 Chronicles deal with the history of God from the time of the creation to the 6th century B.C. The genealogies don't mention Cain and Abel but do mention Seth. The reason for this is because it intentionally focuses on the lineage of Abraham, who is considered “the father of faith” for Hebrews, Christians and Muslims.

You see the same selective history with regard to the Southern Kingdom, Judah, vs. the Northern Kingdom, Israel. Though there were 19 kings in both the Southern and Northern Kingdoms, the Chronicles focus on the Southern Kingdom which is where Jerusalem was established as a capital by David and where the Hebrew temple was built. All in all, you see that there is a thread of history which becomes the main focus and this relates directly to the redemption of mankind. The literal translation of the Hebrew name Chronicles is Divrei Hayyamim, meaning "matters of the days." The book literally chooses “what matters” historically, to focus on. People’s lives are summarized in a few sentences as they relate to this thread of redemption. 1 Chronicles 2.7 describes how Achar, or Achan, was more interested in silver and gold than the true and living God. 1 Chronicles 4.9-10 describe a simple prayer by Jabez, which revealed his deep faith in God.

The True Myth

Aside from the scriptures, you find many ancient myths and legends that contain aspects similar to the Judeo-Christian redemption account. The documentary film Zeitgeist tries to use these examples to prove that Christianity is just another false legend, like all the other ancient myths. But great minds such as J.R. Tolkein (Lord of the Rings) and C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia) have argued the opposite, that these ancient myths point to the one “true myth,” the truly incredible manner in which God has pierced through the time-space continuum to impact the world and its history.

C.S. Lewis was challenged by fellow Oxford peer J.R. Tolkien and friend H. Dyson regarding this very subject of ancient myths and ended up becoming a dedicated Christian three days later. Lewis had told Tolkien that myths were "lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver." "No," Tolkien replied. "They are not lies." “Tolkien explained to Lewis his belief that “the story of Christ was the true myth at the very heart of history and at the very root of reality.” (J. Pearce, J.R.R. Tolkien: Truth and Myth) The word "myth" is defined mainly as a "falsehood" or as "an archetypal story." In this article it refers to the latter.

One of the overlaps of myth and religion is the idea that there is a process of revelation, unique from the process of pure analytical thinking. Because science cannot explain this phenomenon, or other spiritual phenomena, this does not mean these things are not real. It may just mean that God is simply operating on a whole different level, soaring above our limited four senses (Isa 55.9). This idea offronts the prideful human intellect, but once you consider that it is in fact true, it makes humanistic pride and reasoning appear quite foolish in comparison to the higher wisdom of God (1 Cor 3.19). C.S. Lewis described his own spiritual revelation and salvation in his book Surprised by Joy. He was riding in his brother’s motorcycle side car on the way to the Whipsnade zoo when the following occurred:

"When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. Emotional perhaps is the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake." After his Conversion, Lewis allowed his creative mind to become a channel for God’s redemptive truths. Christian History magazine listed him as one of the 10 most influential Christians of the 20th century. The following quote sums up his ability to put complex ideas into poetic and easily understood form: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”


One thing Lewis saw clearly was the fact that we humans are born with unique longings. Lewis thought the German word Sehnsucht summed up this mystical reality. Sehnsucht means "longing," or in a wider sense, "intensely missing." In his classic bestseller, Mere Christianity, Lewis describes this sense of longing as a kind of heavenly GPS that God has endowed us with: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Solomon also hinted at this ineffable something found inside all of us: "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecc 3.11b NIV)

Heaven, the Kingdom of God, a Place Called Home

This other “world” Lewis described and that we all long for is none other than Heaven, also known as “the Kingdom of God.” According to scripture, this world and this earthly life are but mere shadows of our true home which is in the presence of our Creator. According to Jesus Christ, the essence of Heaven and eternal life is simply to know God (Jn 17.3). The intimate experience of God, in reality, is intense pleasure, as the Psalmist wrote: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Ps 16.11 NIV) According to Moses, God’s glory is His goodness, and it’s so intense, we humans can only experience a small taste of it without becoming completely overwhelmed (Ex 33.18-20). In his insight, Lewis saw that ancient myths were simply an attempt to explain and regain that which was lost in the Garden of Eden: “Myth does not equal the non-historical; myth equals the non-describable. The outline of the mythological story is analogous to the metaphor in poetry. …The distinction of mythology and history must be a result of The Fall.” (Carnell 124-5; cf. Perelandra 45)

Lewis said he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia because he felt this style of narrative was best suited for the understanding of God's redemptive process. Unlike The Chronicles of Narnia, the names and events in the chronicles of scripture relate to historical people and places. King David was a real King through whom God established a real kingdom, both physical and spiritual. This is one of the highlights of 1 Chronicles. David had wanted to build God a house, a physical temple in Jerusalem but God basically said “No, instead of you building a house for me, I will build my house through you; I will establish my spiritual, eternal kingdom through your family.” (1 Chron 17.1-14) David was overwhelmed; the man who wrote hundreds of songs was speechless. “What more can I say? You know what I am really like, Sovereign LORD.” (2 Sa 7.20, 1 Chron 17.18)
David was aware of his sinful nature and was filled with awe that God would bring redemption and the Messiah through his family line. But this is exactly what happened. After David was established as king, his family dynasty continued to reign in Israel through a total of 19 successive kings. Even after the captivity in Babylon, the lineage of David’s family continued and is traced to Jesus Christ (Mat 1). Though Jesus Christ has fulfilled the spiritual aspect of the Davidic Covenant, to establish an eternal kingdom, this is still incomplete, as the doors to the kingom are still open and people are still being saved. Additionally, the nation of Israel has yet to fulfill the territorial aspect promised to David: “And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning” (2 Sam 7:10 NIV). A sign that this will eventually be accomplished is the manner in which Israel has been miraculously spared from aggressive warmongers since its independence in 1948, among other things.

The books 1 and 2 Chronicles describe historical events that have happened while the prophecies in the scripture describe predicted events, which to this day continue to unfold. These prophecies are signs that the Judeo-Christian God is the one true and living God. There are no real comparisons in terms of the quantity and quality of prophecies in any other religion in all of history. Isaiah 46.10 describes this unique aspect of God’s inspired word: “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'”
Do you believe history can affirm the existence of God? What do you think about the term "true myth" used by Tolkien and Lewis?

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