-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is the third post in a series.Here are the first two if this is your first visit:
I took German to an intermediate level in college. My final project in that class was to translate a German text literally from German to English, then to a readable translation. I chose Genesis 1. I was comfortable with the English version, and could practically say it without reading.
Let's look at verse 1:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth.
I literally had a mini-crisis of faith when I first began translating, because Martin Luther wrote the first verse like this:
Am Anfang schuf Gott Himmel und Erde.
Don't worry, I plan to translate.
Literally it translates: "In the beginning, created God, the sky and earth."
I was interested in the German word for "heaven." I wanted to add something new to my vocabulary. Then I stared at horror, and the pieces came together. Martin Luther did not translate from the Latin Vulgate, which was the standard translation back then. He used Greek and Hebrew texts. He was pulling from the closest source he could find, and the word he used was sky.
Up until that specific point my creation theology saw "heavens" as only the Divine place for God. That could be anywhere. I did not see it literally in the sky. The obviousness of it all was what really scared me. Of course heavens meant sky. How many authors in the 18th-early 19th century wrote about looking up towards the heavens? It scared me because if I could miss something so obvious, what else was I missing?
When I eventually took Hebrew four years later, one of the first verses I looked up without being asked was Genesis 1, and of course the same word came up- roughly translated to "skies."
בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.
At this point, I knew what I was going to find. Honestly, if I had found something else it would have only confused me. To many in the early Bible times, they saw their gods as literally above and below. Their power was tied to natural acts, and they couldn't see those kinds of actions removed from a guy literally throwing down storms. The earth shook? They believed the gods below literally shook the foundations to smite or punish. A terrible storm tore through a town? To them, that was a god coming down and ripping up the town.
Those who read the Hebrew Bible, believed God was in the sky. Besides scripture literally saying God is in the skies, we have three huge clues..
By the time I was born the language of God had changed. People didn't readily say God was above, and we were below. Instead, congregants focused more on God being everywhere. That's why it shocked me to know "heavens" in Genesis 1:1 was literally the skies. Heaven, as I had understood it my whole life, wasn't above me.
Deeper waters coming: This is one of the reasons why we can't have a literal bible. Some of the things the bible literally says is putting us in very uncomfortable places. When Galileo said we were not the center of the universe, it led to a Roman Inquisition! He spent the rest of his life under house arrest just for refusing to back down from that belief.
Now his case was obvious. The Roman Catholic Church flat out stated the problem. The Bible shows the Earth to be the center of the universe, and he was saying something different. When it comes to the moon landing, we are dealing with something more subtle.
People could choose not to believe Galileo, or remain ignorant of what he said hundreds of years before. You can't ignore the television. Stepping on the moon, and broadcasting it to the world forced congregants to reconsider the Bible. Notice I wrote "congregants." Ministers and theologians had already been looking at the Bible from a non-literal view. Pretty much the Holocaust forced people to think about scripture differently, and some amazing work had already been written from post-WWII to the moon landing. Now Churches were forced to consider it too. The moon landing could not be put under house arrest.
Just to bring it all back, and let you know where God is, read the last part of this prayer by St. Patrick:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Born over a thousand years before Galileo, St. Patrick shows us where God has always been when we can't take a literal Genesis 1:1. God is everywhere. God is in everything. As science and language change, God does not.