All the stars in heaven

credit:Tourism NZ

A lovely, smiling couple of young people tap on my door holding what could only be a Bible. They were Asian and so I would have expected them to be holding the book of the writings of Confucius rather than the history of the Hebrews, but what else have I got to do for the next half hour? I might just learn something interesting.

They were from a Bible study group up in a nearby suburb, so they informed me (from which I concluded that I was being assessed for my potential to join their group to help defray the cost of hiring the hall and to take my turn at bringing supper). Then the man asked if I knew there was also a female God? Points for originality in an opening gambit, where was this going? I wondered. They might just be weird enough to be interesting. “Why no, I didn’t’ know that”, I replied. Two delighted Asian beams told me I had given just the answer they wanted. Step 2, ‘now we have three question for you, ok?’

‘Ok, give me your three best questions; game-on.’

They produce an electronic tablet of some sort, not an i-pad though, I noted, although I know little about these things, which had a question 1 written on it: ‘do you believe in GOD? (in red and underlined).“Well, I replied, that depends on your definition of God, doesn’t it?” Confucius reigned on the young faces before me. Not the expected response at all. It was supposed to be yes/no from which they had two pre-planned paths to lead me to the good news about this female god (they should have said goddess, but I can overlook that with English being a second language).”The person who created you and us and all thing on earth and all stars in sky” they countered, tag-teaming to recover their composure.

That was their big mistake. When some stranger answers a fundamental question of faith with an even more fundamental question of faith, and all you wanted out of this meeting is to get a new member for the Bible study group to help defray costs and take a supper turn, then the red flag should go up on their electronic tablet. It should say to them: ‘this is the moment to cut your losses and exit stage left.’ I am sure an i-pad would have had that function. “Well”, I continued, “if you are talking about God as a physical person, a him or her in the sense that you and I are hims and hers and you think that this him and/or her, if that’s where you are leading with your opening gender-specific gambit, created humans and animals and all the stars in the sky and all the things on earth, then no I do not believe that such a gender-specific person exists. So, they switched; God was now a spirit not a him or her.  Ok now we are getting somewhere even though it seemed to have drifted away from the ‘female God’ opening gambit, but I let it go, for now. Then he showed me the references to the plural ‘us’ when God talked about creation in Genesis. I am totally with them on all that. Yes, I do acknowledge all the Biblical pluralities in reference to multiple gods and have no argument with that although a little surprised that a Bible study group that normally sticks rigidly to the monotheistic creed would keep pointing it out. But he jumped on to other references. There were lots of highlighted underlined verses bouncing between different books in their Bible to continue references to multiple gods as well as to Genesis 6 which said ‘The sons of god resorted to the daughters of man and bore children by them’. That raised an eyebrow, I cannot recall that verse ever being discussed by the priests or brothers in my catholic upbringing. Genesis 6 intrigued me though and seemed worthy of further discussion.

Then, before we could clarify that, he quickly shifted back to his plan, backing up to the start of the Bible, Genesis. Then with excitement he points out ” Look Adam and Eve have two son, Cain and Abel, but Cain kill Abel then Cain have wife!!! Where come from Cain wife?’ He blurts with frothy excitement. ‘Then Adam is not first man, just first man who know God!’ I see, but what I am really interested in is Genesis 6 and this claim that sons of God mated with human women, can we discuss the implications of that a bit more? But no, he is away again flicking through the tabbed pages to show me other great stories in the Bible and was not willing to be side-tracked by the goings-on between sons of God and daughters of men.

So, I reeled him in with ‘so who do you think wrote all these stories in the Bible? It is, after all, only two or three thousand years old.’ Confucius again reigned briefly in his eyes. Then he replied, “No, no, Moses write of course. Moses write five book of Torah” (‘you annoying man’ said his eyes). “Well, there is some dispute with that, with Moses having been dead before some of the incidents in later books of the Torah, but setting that aside, even if it was written by Moses, that was still only 3,400 years ago, and humans have been on earth some 200,000 years, the earth has been around 4.5 billion years; so, if Moses was the author, then he was writing about stuff that happened a long, long time before he was born’. He looked at me, clearly wondering if I was a tile short of a mah-jong set.

“So anyhow let’s get back to Genesis 6” I suggested. The frustrated young man asked “why?” why, when he was explaining things for me, did I keep jumping back to Genesis 6 and making Confucius? For the simple reason my friend, that until you can explain what it means by ‘the sons of Gods resorted to the daughters of men and bore children by them‘, we can go no further. That is a brick wall; you do not pass go, you do not collect two hundred dollars until this is resolved between us.

Again, he tries to switch back to the plan. “Look Genesis say, day 1 God create the light make day so that is sun made, ok?” (yes, my enthusiastic young friend, that would be the sun), “then day 4 God create two light, sun and moon ok?”  (if that is what it says). “BUT (he leaped with joy at having sprung his trap) how can be two sun? first sun make day 1 and day 4 make number two sun. How can be?” Ok, he has now completely lost me, and I am weary of this, I step it up a bit. “So, now that we are talking about suns,” I replied, ” there are not just two suns but many hundreds of billions of suns. We are a small planet in a solar system located in the far corner of a Galaxy, the Milky Way which is only one galaxy in the universe, correct? And God created all this?” He seemed a little bit annoyed at this topic shift, but he agreed. “So, Magellan got in a boat early in the 16th century” I continued, “and sailed continuously to the horizon not knowing whether he would fall off the edge of the planet or hit the sky like a brick wall but, in fact, he came back to where he started. So, if you and I, John, (I had extracted his Christian name by now as John, presumably in honour of the Baptist) set off in a spaceship travelling faster than the speed of light and kept going, avoiding collisions, would we eventually hit a cosmic wall, fall off the end of space or come back to where we started?”

In my peripheral vision I see the young woman moving discreetly stage left, this shouldn’t take long now. The young man is slumping, “I don’t know; too many big; too many headache.” Of course, my young friends, the universe is huge and we are but one planet in the solar system of what is known as a dwarf sun, a minute speck in the far flung corner of an unspectacular galaxy containing tens of billions of stars, which itself is just one galaxy among a hundred billion galaxies (give or take) so answer me this: would the God who created all those hundreds of billions of suns and trillions of planets only put life on one planet? Ours? “Yes?” he whimpered. “No, no, no my Good News friend. God would have created more life than us somewhere in the universe, surely? And so, is it not possible that other life has journeyed through the universe before us and that we were visited by a far more intellectual species in the past? And if so do you suppose those alien visitors might have had some connection to Genesis 6?”

At the mention of the ‘alien’ word there was a weird blend of horror, despair and resignation in his eyes. She had already started to move. One final look telling me that I was clearly a lunatic and he followed her. They did not actually run, not in the classic Greco style, but a very quick shuffle probably covers it. Exit Stage left. “Where are you going? We didn’t get past question one. We haven’t even started on the New Testament.”

What I would give to be at next week’s Bible Study meeting in Roslyn.

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