Sunday, January 20, 2013

Life of Pi Theology

(spoilers). There's a profound truth in the ending of Martels 'Life of Pi', which the film thankfully keeps. Most of the book is devoted to the story of Pi's survival at sea in a boat with only a tiger for company, after his boat with a cargo of circus animals sank. There are various fantastical elements to the story, and when Pi finally reaches safety, his story isn't believed, so he tells another one. This is altogether more brutal and grim. The final chapter is an interview with insurance agents, trying to get to the bottom of what happened.

Pi "So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you, and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals of the story without animals?"
Mr Okamoto "That's an interesting question"
Mr Chiba "The story with animals"
Mr Okamoto "Yes, the story with animals is the better story"
Pi "Thank you. And so it goes with God."

All very postmodern: if it doesn't make any factual difference, lets just believe the story that makes us feel better. Truth is based in the reader/hearer, not the author/facts.

I'm in the middle of prepping some teaching material on mission, which involves going back to the Bible narrative and re-telling the story from the mission point of view. I don't think that's doing violence to the plot or direction of scripture, though inevitably it emphasises certain parts, and passes over others. As someone who's fired by mission, am I being truthful, or just telling 'the better story', the one which I can personally connect with, at the expense of accuracy?

On a different topic, Steve Chalke put a large quantity of cats and pigeons in close proximity a few days ago with a piece explaining why he now thinks committed gay relationships are ok, and that the church should affirm them. There are some interesting statements in there - e.g. that 'inclusion' is at the heart of Jesus message (yes and no, and probably not what we mean by 'inclusion'), and you can read this either as a well-reasoned piece explaining his conclusions (if you agree with him) or a warping of the scripture account to affirm homosexuality (if you don't). This might be a 'better story' - it makes the church less offensive to gay people, and there has been a lot of support for Chalke from within the church - but is it true? And how much does that actually matter?

Chalke argues that we've revised our interpretation of scripture over things like slavery and the role of women, generally against the tide of what scripture says, so why not over this? His motivation is explicitly pastoral:

Why am I so passionate about this issue? Because people’s lives are at stake. Numerous studies show that suicide rates among gay people, especially the young, are comparatively high. Church leaders sometimes use this data to argue that homosexuality is unhealthy when tragically it’s anti-gay stigma, propped up by Church attitudes, which all too often drives these statistics.

I believe that when we treat homosexual people as pariahs and push them outside our communities and churches, when we blame them for what they are, when we deny them our blessing on their commitment to lifelong, faithful relationships, we make them doubt whether they are children of God, made in his image.

So, I face a hard choice; a choice between the current dominant view of what scripture tells us about this issue, and the one I honestly think it points us to.

Here's the struggle: we want both the 'better story', and the true story, and if the two appear to be in conflict then which one do we tweak? The companion piece to Chalkes in Christianity magazine, taking the opposing view, reviews the same Bible texts and comes to very different conclusions. Greg Downes argues that his is the 'better story', one reached by holding fast to Bible teaching:

There are many Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction who have embraced another path – the countercultural and costly teaching of the Bible, and perhaps for obvious reasons, choose, by and large, to remain anonymous. They too have a story to tell, and often it is one of discovering that applying the teaching of scripture to their lives has become Good News to them. This is not to say it has been without pain and sacrifice, but in the midst of this, they have come to discover a redemptive gift. We need to salute these brothers and sisters as the courageous overcomers they are, and examples to all of us of sacrificial obedience.

Pilate asked: 'what is truth'? The truth is that Jesus, and God's dealings with us, are both the true story and the better story. In postmodern culture we are more likely to opt for the better story and sit light to truth. 'So it goes with God'? No, God is not the God of our own imagination, he is the Truth, but he is also the Way and the Life. God's truth is freeing and life-giving. But if we decide in advance what we think will be freeing and life-giving, then that's our story, not His.

1 comment:

  1. This might be a 'better story' - it makes the church less offensive to gay people.
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