[in a letter to my daughter]
You asked recently if “the Creator” was the same as God, and my answer was “in a way, yes.” I simply want to point out here that there are some differences between what I understand about the First Nations’ concepts and the Biblical. Correct me where I am wrong.
Although Christianity is a relatively “new” idea in this part of the world, only here supposedly for some 400 years, the assumption is that the Native spirituality is older. But even you count only from Abraham, the faith of the Bible is a religion which spans 4,000 years, and its concepts go back to the very creation of mankind. More than that, in a Book which spans 1500 years in writing and a variety of authors in different conditions, there is a fascinating consistency of thought.
I remembered one time I was taking a friend of yours and you to the reserve a few years back, and I was trying to tell you that there is a profound kind of love that two persons can have without it having anything to do with sexual and that it was a Covenant – or Blood Brother – love. Neither of you were much interested at that time.
It is at Covenant, or the Native Blood-Brother, where the two sets of spirituality join together and yet also stand in stark contrast to each other. The main place where all of this takes place is in the very ancient and world-wide concept of the Blood. Although defined in the Bible, the basic concept is the same no matter if in Africa or North America, Europe or Pacific islands – that is, before the modern age took over, where so often forgotten are the roots of different customs which we still do, such as shaking hands upon greeting.
The Bible doesn’t even get past the first chapter without already making the Hebrew reader very much aware of the central place which Blood will have throughout the Bible:
God said, “Let Us make man [adam] in Our image, after Our likeness [damah]: and let them have dominion…” So God created man [adam] in His Own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. Genesis 1:26-27
The words in the brackets are words whose root is the Hebrew for Blood: “dam” (short “a” sound, not long sound). The Hebrew could not even say the word for “humanity,” “adam” (also the man’s name), without being conscious of the centrality of Blood to our existence.
Blood, of course, is not limited to humans, so when God said,
For the Life [Soul] of the flesh is in the Blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the Blood that makes atonement for the soul. Leviticus 17:11
He was identifying that Blood has a very deep connection to “life” – a state of being which science cannot define but is found everywhere, even in the animals. As the bracketed word identifies, the Hebrew for “life” is also the word for “soul.” What is the “soul”? It is everything which makes you who you are. It is something which lies at the very core of your being.
The idea of Blood-Brother, or Covenant, depends heavily on this understanding. In Blood-Brother, as the two bleeding open wounds are joined together, the understanding is that core of each’s being (soul) is now completely merged with the core of the other person’s being (soul). There is now only one in the place of the two. That is why a woman with native background in my last congregation told of how when her grandfather died, she mentioned to one of her “uncles” – Blood-Brother to the grandfather – that she no longer had any grandfathers left. He was greatly offended, because as Blood-Brother, he was her grandfather.
The Genesis passage above, however, identifies something more than merely a general idea to the “soul” for humans: We were specifically created in the “damah” – Blood-Soul-Life-likeness – of God Himself. In our creation we were connected to the very core of God’s being, something which was never said of any other creature.
It is here where I believe Native spirituality and the Biblical part ways.
In Genesis 15:7-21, God cuts Covenant – Blood-Brother – with Abraham in a ceremony which was recognized at that time as vowing one’s own death should he break Covenant at any time. God demonstrates His desire not just to guide, watch over, protect Abraham; the ceremony declares that it is God’s intention that Abraham should share in the very core of God’s being, His “soul.” I have never come across any indication in Native spirituality where the Creator would take irreversible steps, even vowing His death, to share in the very core of His being with a human. I have never come across any Native idea where the Creator would literally die for humans. Perhaps there is, but I have never seen it.
Instead I see in Native spirituality what is common in many religions, where the Creator, or God, is benevolent and concerned about humans. But He is always at a distance from these creatures. Never do you find the total intimacy and the absolute self-giving even to death which is contained in the Core-of-Being Blood-Brother.
And of course, in the Bible, the Creator will die and die for the sake of very rebellious creatures at that [Romans 5:6-10]. This is not a New Testament manufactured idea. Based on Genesis 15, in Zechariah 11:10-13 not only is there the prophecy of the breaking of the Covenant with Abraham’s “peoples,” but also when it would occur – when Jesus is sold for thirty pieces of silver and the money is thrown into the temple “for the Potter” [See Mathew 27:5-8]. It is the context where Jesus voluntarily went to His death for the sake of all People. Again, I know of no Native stories which identify that the Creator died in an agony which had been deserved by humans.
In the New Testament, God proves His intent on sharing the Core of His Being with humanity – in Jesus, we see the visible demonstration of His concept of Covenant: God and Man are actually joined together in the one Person. Jesus is literally walking Covenant.
However, it is not as if each one of us will now become the unified God and Man that Jesus is. St Paul is very clear: to be in Covenant with the Creator, you have to be in THE Covenant, Jesus – or as he is fond to put it, “in Christ Jesus.” This is why Jesus can be so stark about His position in the universe: “I am the Resurrection and Life” [John 11:25-26] – He does not show us, “have” it, lead us to it, but rather He IS the Resurrection and the Core of God’s Being (Life, Soul). And for us to have these things, we must have HIM.
That’s why He can say without batting an eyelash, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” [John 14:6]. This is not arrogance but the reality which comes from what He is as the walking Covenant. It is the reality of God’s ultimate design of becoming intimate and personal, not merely to a large group, but to each individual of us. Jesus is the personal link that directly connects us to the Core of God’s Being – access to the Creator is offered on a one-to-one basis, not for a special few, but for every one of us.
This intention of God is very evident even in Genesis 17 when the Abraham now does his share in committing to Covenant through Circumcision. God commands that those who enter this intimacy are to include the 8-day-old child who has no ability to prove himself as worthy, but is totally helpless before the Lord; and the slave who has no control over his life, but is hopeless to change his circumstances – these “helpless and hopeless” are specifically commanded to be included into the intimacy of the individual with his Creator.
Every generation, every infant, every slave was to come to understand that God is the One Who insists on this closeness, individual by individual, each by a specific unmistakable act whose evidence of this connection cannot be removed. In the New Testament is the command to be baptized, every single one, not as a mere group action. True, there is no physical mark now like Circumcision had in the Old Testament, but the spiritual mark is just as indelible, and is just as visible in the spiritual realm.
I guess that is part of the balance of Covenant as well – not only am I connected to the very Soul of God, but that He is connected to my Soul as well. That sounds good at first, but the more I think of it the more difficult it becomes. Down in the deepest parts of my Soul are the things which I try to keep the most hidden – so often despite my bravado, these are the places of which I am ashamed: my weaknesses, my rebellions, my angers, my failures, even my hatreds of myself.
I fear the Creator getting too close because I know that there are many, many others who are far more worthy than I – they are strong, confident, capable, mentally agile, leaders – those of whom the Creator would be proud. But not so much as with me. In my times of frustration, I can’t help but wonder if He would not rightly reject me. Many times, I don’t think that I am good enough, or accomplished enough for Him to bother noticing me. Sometimes when I pray I wonder why He should even pay attention to me.
This is where the idea of Him being the One seeking out Covenant with me just feels awkward and unreal. Why isn’t He busy with those who are far more capable as me? As a pastor, I see so many other church leaders who are successful and capable, and I, I’m just here plugging away just barely holding things together. What have I got to offer to Him?
Yet He seeks out the oneness with me. He tells me that He always hears my prayers, in fact, the Holy Spirit dwells in me to make that communication happen. He is willing to always be present whenever I come to Him for Holy Communion – just for my reassurance, not His.
But He also does not want me to keep all the crap inside of me. He speaks of repentance. You know that our baby change table is right by the kitchen, and therefore the used diapers go into the waste can under the sink. You also may remember how many times opening the waste’s cabinet door can be an experience far from pleasant. There are times when it doesn’t matter if the waste can is not full, the garbage is going out NOW.
That’s what repentance does – it takes out the garbage. It removes the stench of the past which can even become unbearable. It removes the clutter which at the least still isn’t worth holding on to. Like the garbage in the outside bin, it isn’t left there either, but rather is completely taken away – I never have to deal with it at all again.
Other religions recognize the extreme danger of the Creator getting too close. It would mean that God would be connected to the junk and crap in which too often and too easily we are involved. His purity would be tainted by such close association with us. It is best to keep Him at a distance, with perhaps the occasional touching of our souls, but only after we have been cleansed enough. But Covenant – Blood-brother – doesn’t do that. The connection is always at its deepest and is always there, in every circumstance, in every attitude, in every act whether selfish or not. The guilt and the shame must and does rub off on Him, even when He is not party to do such things.
I know of no such equivalent in Native spirituality where every individual of the tribe – no matter who that person is, no matter what spiritual condition of that person, no matter what that person has, is, or will do – is to be joined even in his shame to the Core of the Creator’s Being to this depth.
But the uniqueness of the Bible (Old Testament, no less!) is
He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:3-5
Where else would you find the Creator subjecting Himself to this, but in the Bible? It is one thing to want to be close to the Creator, but it is an entirely more powerful thing to be told that the Creator has not stumbled at being deliberately this close to us.
And again, here is the added confirmation that this is the heart of God:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? I Corinthians 3:16
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own. I Corinthians 6:19
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My People.” II Corinthians 6:16
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27
In every direction you may turn within what the Bible describes as God’s yearned-for relationship with us, there is an intimacy which is not matched by any other religion that I know of. When I was in college, I devastated my own faith. I wondered what made me a Christian. Was it merely happenstance of birth in which I was born into a Christian family, in a nominally Christian country? What if I were born in a different setting with a different religion surrounding me – would it matter? I didn’t know what to believe.
I looked at other religions in order to understand them, where they were coming from and where they were going spiritually. And I looked at Christianity. There are positives and attractive elements in the other religions, but I found unequaled was the historicity of the Bible; that its prophesies made hundreds of years in advance of their fulfillment were unmatched by any other religion; and that the standard was to be total fulfillment of every prophecy. In fact, any inaccuracy in any prophesy would cast doubt on God’s Word. Such inaccuracy could only come because the prophet was getting his material from some other source – His own mind, or Satan, or the demands of his hearers, but not from God. God would not tolerate where people could never be sure whether the prophet was really speaking God’s mind – that’s why the prophet had to be permanently removed [Deuteronomy 18:20].
I saw the Bible address head-on the evil in the world, and also provide the way out from the power of evil (although not easy – it requires a cross, God’s as well as my own). I saw a personally involved God, not called in by humans, but involved because His powerful love made Him join us at the level of human flesh (as predicted in the Old Testament). I had to wrestle with the reality of the Resurrection. I had to confront the historicity of Jesus’ life – did it really happen, but if not then how does one account for what has happened subsequent to His “life”? I had to deal with how accurately the Bible – as mentioned above in regard to Covenant and broken Covenant – described what Jesus would be about long before He walked this earth as well as afterwards.
Much too often I found that the discrepancies found in other religions as opposed to the Biblical were less reliable and much too far from what the Bible’s solutions to the needs of mankind. I gave the questioning which I had, the time needed to feel confident that the conclusions I reached were well-thought out. I am a Christian by decision and conviction, not by happenstance and circumstance. I am convinced that for me to join any other religion would require me to give up far more than any supposed benefit I would receive.
Yes, that’s me, not you. But are you willing to give it that kind of thought and research, or will you simply chase after what has the appearance of attractiveness? Remember that if you are truly dealing with the Creator, then you did not create Him, and therefore you do not get to define what He ought to be. If He is indeed the Creator, then He created you and you then must conform to His intention for making you – which according to the Bible is a plan filled with incredible joy, purpose, and value, as well as responsibility, honor, and partnership with Him, all of which will never run out. But it does mean that you definitely seek to walk with Him rather than to walk away from Him.
Well, this is a conversation I wished I could have had with you, but I guess this is actually better. This gives you the chance to think about what was said, to challenge me, and to give yourself the context and the time to weigh what what I’ve tried to get across.