Now I want to take you back a few thousand years. Maybe twelve to fifteen thousand years. The humans in the Mesopotamia Valley are starting to get organized. They are building communities, rather sparse communities but communities no the less. Instead of traveling from place to place, surviving by hunting and gathering, they begin to settle in one place and begin to grow their own food. They have leaders and followers. They begin to ask questions that humans have always asked and they begin to develop rudimentary cultures. And they did what every culture does. They began to tell stories and the stories began to develop into myths.
Myths are imaginative traditions about nature, history, destiny, gods and man. They often provide explanations for things that otherwise would not have an explanation or would otherwise not make sense.
And so here we are on the plains of the valley, twelve thousand years ago, sitting around the fire that keeps them warm and keeps the scary animals away. Several families have shared a communal meal from the same fire. During a pause one little boy asks his wise father; “Daddy, why do we have to die?” The dad takes a long drag on his pipe while he thinks. He wishes he could do what daddies do in the future and say, “Son, tomorrow we will make an appointment with Pastor.
But alas there was no pastor or priest so he took a second long drag trying to think of an acceptable answer. And finally he did what people without television did in those ancient times. He told a story about how humans defied God by eating from a tree that they were not supposed to eat from. Part of being human is asking ultimate questions. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Why do we suffer? Why do we have to die? Who and what is God?
And so the stories were told and retold and told again often
taking on components of other stories and mythological symbols of other
traditions. For example, the serpent or snake was a symbol of eternal life. As
ancient people watched a snake lose its outer skin, they believed that the
snake had been reborn. They must have wondered; “Why God would make such a special
creature crawl on the ground?” Something must have happened. There is a story
in there somewhere.
You might find it interesting to know that the East was
always considered a symbol of rebirth. Why? Because the sun that died in the
west was reborn over and over in the east. There must be something special that
happens on that side of the world. Were Adam and Eve punished when they were
“banished to the East” or were they given another chance?
These stories will mean nothing unless you try and get into the world of the storyteller. Remember, these are the same people who thought the earth was flat, that there was a dome that covered the earth, that there were holes in the dome to let the rain through and that the stars were actually the light from a god’s eyes that shone through the rain holes.
Myth was and still is common in every culture. Many of the mythological stories of the ancients were very similar in different parts of the world because they were dealing with many of the same unknowns. The responses are both reflection of their ignorance and their wisdom of the day. They help us learn about the ways of a people and their important concerns. They help us understand how a culture can evolve and change as time goes by and more information is available to them. The Bible offers some of that information that is especially helpful because this was a people and a culture that was intentional about having an intentional relationship with that power, that energy, we call God, though they have very different names for that.
But we need to be careful when we try and find answers and divine direction from these stories. They are stories, after all, from people who thought the earth was flat, the snake lived forever, and if you ate the forbidden fruit you might have to live on the East Coast where the sun is born again.