Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gospel Scholarship: Order out of Chaos

Gospel Scholarship: Order out of Chaos

"Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?" Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?" (Isaiah 51:9-10).

This verse discusses, among other things, the Creation of the world and how God brought order out of chaos. We will see how the ancient Middle East believed the earth was formed. This article will also show how this Creation motif is re-lived and renewed in the story of the Exodus, the atonement of Christ, and the ordinances we receive.

Isaiah's words reflect the ancient belief that God formed the world out of Chaos:
"And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2).

Here we see that there IS an earth already available for him to work with. There is no ex nihilo creation, or creation from nothing. However, this earth is "without form, and void" or is not organized yet. The earth is steeped in darkness and covered in water.
For the ancients, nothing was more chaotic than darkness and water. Before creating life, God must eliminate chaos by bringing forth light. This light is not the sun, moon and stars, for those are brought forth on the fourth day (vs 14-19).
Instead, on the first day, light was called forth, ordered, and divided from the darkness. The chaos of darkness is not destroyed nor eliminated, but is diminished and held at bay (vs 3-5).

Next, the waters had to be tamed. On the second day, waters on earth were separated from those in the skies. And on the third day land masses jutted up into the air, forcing the waters into the oceans, seas, and rivers (vs 6-10).

As with the darkness, the waters were not destroyed, but controlled. Isaiah's above quote mentions a dragon, or sea serpent, which in the ancient beliefs was slain or defeated by God, in order to bring order and create the earth.

In some traditions there were two dragons, male and female. The Lord defeated one in the Creation, and will defeat the second one in the last days. Isaiah also foresaw this event:

"In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea" (Isaiah 27:1).

Leviathan and Rahab are sea serpents. They caused the waters to be chaotic. In forming the earth, the Lord was able to control, but not totally defeat the monster(s) until the end.

Confusing? Puzzling? Let's let the scriptures explain:
"And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was there place found anymore in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:7-9).

As with the ancient tradition, the serpent, or Satan was not completely defeated until the end:
"And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years" (Rev 20:2).

In LDS theology, Lucifer sought to replace both Christ and God, recommending a replacement plan that did not require a Suffering Savior nor agency, but would force a chaotic salvation on all (Moses 1:1-4, Abraham 3:23-28, Isaiah 14:12-20).

So, in the beginning, God had to defeat Satan (Adversary) and his chaos in order to form the earth. But he did not totally destroy the chaos, as it was necessary for earth life. Half of the earth is bathed in life and the other in darkness. Water still covers most of the earth.

While a group of elders traveled down the Missouri River, Wilford Woodruff spotted Satan raging upon the waters. The party pulled to the bank, and Joseph Smith asked God the meaning of the vision. The answer is found in Doctrine & Covenants 61.

The Lord preferred them to slow down and preach along the way, because the "the inhabitants on either side (of the river) were perishing in unbelief (spiritual darkness)" (61:3).

The Lord allowed them to travel by river, because he wanted to reveal to them an important concept: "there are many dangers upon the waters and many more hereafter" (61:4). The Lord "decreed in mine anger many destructions upon the waters, especially these waters" (61:5). Here we see Satan connected to the chaos of the waters of the Missouri. The Lord still allows the chaos its place. Still, "he that is faithful among you shall not perish by the waters" (61:6).

The Lord explained that the waters were blessed "in the beginning" or in the Creation as he brought order to them. However, they would be cursed in the last days, even as John the Revelator prophesied. Interestingly, the Missouri River is especially noted as cursed. Here we have the greatest curse/chaos located on the edge of Zion.

In fact, modern revelation tells us that the line between chaos and order will be very visible in the last days. "And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must need flee to Zion for safety." In fact the only people not at war, a man-made chaos, will be those in Zion (D&C 45:68-69).

Satan, the Dragon, will rule the hearts of many, filling them with rage and chaos. Those who turn fully to Christ will go to Zion, rejoicing for the peace and order it provides (D&C 45:71).

There has always been a delicate balance between order and chaos. Lehi explained to his son Jacob that "opposition in all things" is necessary for life to exist. Without it, there is no agency and free will. Nor is there a need for a Savior and atonement to save us from total chaos: Perdition and Outer Darkness, death and hell. We do experience temporary chaos in life, in order to learn, grow, and have personal choice. In the premortal existence, we experienced the chaos of Satan's rebellion, where 1/3 of the host of heaven followed the Dragon (Rev ) and were cast out of heaven. The dark womb and chaotic waters that break forth in new life, creates order from birth. In this life, we struggle with unanticipated events and entropy- the natural flowing of energy and systems from order to chaos. Things break down, requiring us to use more energy to restore order. Even the sun is expected to burn itself out in a few billion years, collapsing into a dark chaotic mass.

God brings new order to those things that accept his infusion of light, life and order. Just as Christ calmed the Sea of Galilee and ordered the waves, "Peace, be still," he can bring order out of our lives. He has formed several levels of heaven (1 Cor 12:1-4) to give each of us blessings according to the level of order and chaos we choose to live with. For those who abide a celestial law or level of order will receive a celestial glory (D&C 88:22-32).

Our sins separate us from God, because in sinning we embrace chaos and darkness. In embracing the atonement of Christ through faith and repentance, we accept order and light. Faith in Christ allows God to defeat the Dragons and Leviathans of life and bring forth in us a new Creation as saints and children of God.


James A said...

1 Small correction. It looks like (1 Cor 12:1-4) should be (2 Cor 12:1-4). Great blog!

James A said...

A small correction (1 Cor 12:1-4) should be (2 Cor 12:1-4). Great blog!