Genesis: The Movie

First, my thanks to Elizabeth for recommending this book!

Second, before I begin my marginal commentary in earnest, I should tell you how I came to possess a copy of it. It was in the sale bin at the entrance to the bookstore in St. Paul University in Ottawa some years ago, and the title, not to mention the image on the front cover, caught my eye. Naturally, I had to pick it up. (Back then I was also ready to buy a book at the drop of a hat.)

The edition of Genesis: The Movie (whose author, Robert Farrar Capon, is an Episcopal priest) which I will be using for this marginal commentary was published by William B. Eerdmans in 2003. Eerdmans, by the way, is a Christian publishing company which can claim to be truly ecumenical, and I have found pretty much every book I have read published by Eerdmans to be thought-provoking, intelligent, and helpful.

Finally, before we begin in earnest, allow me to make two editorial notes. First, in all of the passages from Genesis: The Movie which I subsequently quote, any words or passages in italics or all capitals are original, unless otherwise noted. I find that Capon so often uses unusual editing which under normal circumstances would need to be commented upon that remarking 'italics original' and the like just cluttered the quotation. Second, I have been writing 'Genesis: The Movie' as the title of the book throughout, but the punctuation is actually Genesis, the Movie. However, I'm too lazy to go through my post, long as it is, to change how I've written it, so you will have to live with that particular recurrent typographical error. Mea culpa.

I think the word that best describes Capon's approach in Genesis: The Movie is playful. In this, Capon claims to be following his inspiration, Augustine. He writes:
In preparing to write this book, I found my youthful infatuation with Augustine rekindled. In particular, I fell in love with two of his books that bear directly on my subject matter: his Confessions (Books Xi through XIII of which contain his commentary on the first three verses of Genesis), and his On Genesis to the Letter [De Genesi ad Litteram] (which covers the first three chapters of Genesis). ...
The eighteen months I spent on the road talking about this book [his forthcoming book on Genesis] were also the period during which I was soaking up what Augustine had to say about Genesis. His love affair with words — and above all, his sparkling conciseness in using them — reaffirmed my conviction that the best theology is always a game of playing with language until it becomes an image of the Word beyond words. Augustine is full of surprises. He doesn't give you just one take on a scriptural passage; he gives you two, four, or six — and then he tells you... that they're all acceptable. The more questions he could raise, the happier he was. He had a roomy mind.
In fact he was a bit like a man in a delicatessen, relentlessly shopping for items that might please his palate. For example, when he explores the Zabar's of his mind for an understanding of a passage, he often begins his sentences with the Latin word An (meaning "or" or "whether"). It's a word that can be translated many ways. "Or possibly" might do the trick; but so would "Or it might be that," or even the lone word "Item." But however you render it, you must respect his conviction that however many senses you might assign to a text, you don't have to discard a single one, provided only that you can hear a ring of truth in it. As E. B. Pusey noted in his translation of Augustine's Confessions, "Such is the depth of Holy Scripture, that manifold senses may and ought to be extracted from it, and that whatever truth can be obtained from its words does in fact like concealed in them." [pp. xiv, xvi] Capon's playfulness, as we shall see, is achieved by replicating the playfulness he encountered in Augustine's commentaries on Genesis in the Confessions and in De Genesi ad litteram. Genesis: The Movie is a much different kind of commentary than many which most students of the Bible are likely to find today. The massive commentary on Romans by Robert Jewett in the Hermeneia series (it weighs nearly two kilograms, or about five pounds, and runs to 1,140 pages!), for example, overflowing with comments on textual criticism, redaction criticism, and all sorts of other kinds of Biblical criticism the average person has never heard of, notes on what other scholars have said about this or that passage, is more typical of what a commentary on a Biblical book looks like. Few commentaries can be said to be playful. But perhaps one of the most helpful things about Capon's commentary on Genesis (specifically the first three chapters thereof) is that it is playful. Capon's approach is also crystallised in the image with which he opens his book, a drawing of cubes stacked into a pyramid. The number of cubes differs depending on how you look at the pyramid; it is difficult to explain, but fortunately, I found an illustration showing what I mean. (I should point out that illustration in Genesis: The Movie is one that, I presume, Capon himself drew). Capon's point is that both counts are correct, which has a great deal to do with his approach to Scripture. On the other hand, it may also be said that the reason both counts are correct is because the image is specifically designed for it to be so; is it, then, necessarily the case that we can proceed from what we can infer with respect to a specially-designed optical illusion to infer a similar principle with respect to other aspects of life? Anyway, on to more of Genesis: The Movie.
Playfulness, then, is one of the things I will be looking at in Genesis: The Movie. The other quality of Genesis: The Movie which I will examine is what Capon calls the 'ecology of opposites'. While I may (or may not) take a look at some of the opposing pairs which Capon (as we shall see) includes in God's ecology of creation, the most dramatic pair being 'life and death', of course, the pair which I want to focus on is 'good and evil'. For, while I will aim to soak in what Capon has to say about good and evil as part of the 'ecology of opposites' (it first being necessary for me to explain what Capon means by this), I am also deeply suspicious of viewing 'good and evil' as opposites, except in relative terms, for in my view, it is impossible for good to be opposed by evil, for, following Augustine, I view evil, not as substantial, but as, in effect, a privation or absence. Evil cannot be the opposite of good, on this view, for there is (literally) no thing for good to be opposed to. It may be that Capon himself takes the same line; after all, he is probably more familiar with Augustine's thinking than I am; but at least one passage early in Genesis: The Movie has sufficed to give me pause. It has to do with a discussion Capon had with his wife about the film American Beauty:
"That gives me an idea," Valerie said. "Remember what we used to do when we ran film-discussion groups at church? How we tried to pick out a character in the movie who represented the Christ figure — who depicted the image of life in the midst of death?"
"Yes," I said tentatively.
"Well, that's what I want to do right now. ... But it's the colonel's wife who's my best candidate for a Christ figure. As you said, she's dead for the whole film, and she has no apparent resurrection. But if you're going to talk about life in the midst of death, why can't I take her ongoing death as at least an image of new life? Sure, most people would say it was just her way of coping. But so what? Corpses don't cope; only people who are alive do. And anyway, she's the only one who understands everything that's going on."
"Understands?" I asked. "How do you figure that?"
"She understands the way God understands. Like God, she just puts up with everything. She takes the messy lives of those around her into her death and lets them be, just as God takes all the sins of the world into his death on the cross and lets them be. Her son seems to have faith in her forgiveness when he commits his father to her care. But about her husband, we just don't know: the movie gives us no image of faith on his part. [The colonel, interestingly, is earlier represented as a Christ figure in Valerie's discussion.] That does't matter, though. Whether he comes to faith or not, she still understands and forgives. All of which is made clear by her final scene in the movie. She's sitting at the foot of a staircase, head bowed and ears covered by her hands. And when the gunshot goes off, she doesn't even move a muscle! If that image doesn't point to 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,' I don't know what does." [pp. 20-1] Having almost literally just finished reading a book called The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil by philosopher Brian Davies, I believe that I am in a better position to appreciate Capon's position throughout Genesis: The Movie. But I must admit that, supposing there is indeed value to seeing the colonel's wife (and going only by what Valerie Capon is recorded as saying about her) as a 'Christ-figure', I find such value hard to see, difficult to credit. While, for instance, it may be true that it is the living and not the dead who cope, it appears to me to pass beyond what can reasonably be said to be an analogy of Jesus' ministry. Surely he cannot be said to have been merely 'coping'. On the other hand, for an analogy to 'get at' what it is trying to communicate, how exact must the analogy be? Yet if we are looking for exactitude, it may be said that Jesus, like the colonel's wife, is not once seen to raise a hand to stop violence from being done; indeed, he successfully prohibits violence only once, when he tells Peter to put away his sword (but again, not until after Peter has cut off someone's ear). That said, the only time violence is directly committed in Jesus' presence by one person against another is the occasion when he voices his protest, and it is when violence is committed against himself that he says, 'Father, forgive, &c.' All the same, exactitude is not what we should be looking for in analogy. It may well be that the colonel's wife is suitable as an image of Christ precisely because of her unsuitability. As for God 'letting things be', there is a certain something to be said for that, in that God, as the Creator and sustainer of all creation, must, in some sense, 'let all things be', but it must also be said that this does not exactly do justice to the many passages in Scripture which consists of God expecting that we change for the better, of promises in which God will change things for the better, or of encounters with Jesus in which others are changed for the better - many more, it must be said, than intimate that God 'lets things be'.
'Letting things be,' is, I think it is fair to say, one of the principal ideas of Genesis: The Movie, and to the extent that space permits, it (generally as part of Capon's 'ecology of opposites'), along with the aforementioned playfulness, will be what I focus my attention upon.

First, some playfulness, and the basis of one of the images which runs throughout Capon's book, the passage in which he introduces the idea of God's 'morning' and 'evening' knowledge of the act of creation.
[L]et me go back to the passage that I quoted from Augustine's De Genesi ad Litteram... at the beginning of this book. It was from Book V, 36; ...
How then were things that did not exist known to God? And on the other hand, how could he make things that were not known to him? For he did nothing in ignorance.
... [Augustine's] two questions here are... part and parcel of his enchantment with God. He totally believes that God makes, and he totally believes that God knows before he makes, but, like all the best theologians, he can't resist playing with the consequences of that faith. Theology for him is no deadpan enumeration of bright ideas; it's the fun he has with the pillow talk of the Trinity. ... Just remember, his answer to both questions isn't just straight talk about God; it's theology as solemn high larking around:
NOTA ERGO FECIT, NON FACTA COGNVIT. [Just to be clear, the passage as it appeared in the text of De Genesi ad litteram did not look like this; it is an emendation by Capon for emphasis.] ...
HE MADE THINGS HE ALREADY KNEW; HE DIDN'T WAIT FOR THEM TO BE FACTS TILL HE KNEW THEM. Accordingly, before things happened, they both were and were not; they were, in the knowledge of God; and they were not, in their own nature. And for this reason that day was made... by which these things might become known in both modes: both as they are in God as as they are in themselves. In the former, by a morning or daytime knowledge; and in the latter, by an evening one. ... [This is Capon's own translation of the Latin, most of which, obviously, I have omitted.]
This is such a marvelous object lesson in theology as wordplay... that I can't resist taking you on a little excursion into the significance of the words NOTA, "things known," and FACTA, "things made."
Augustine is aiming at two truths here. The NOTA stands for God's universal, intellectual grip on creation as it exists in the endless Today of the Trinity's exchanges with each other. It's a knowing that holds all things, seen and unseen; and it holds them not only as they exist physically in their own natures but also as they exist inchoately in God as their Beginning. ... This inchoate knowledge is God's morning knowing, his knowledge of creation in the "dawn" of the eternal Today. ...
Consequently, even though the world that God knows in his beloved Son consists of nothing but creatures who come into being and pass away, God's knowledge of that world is just as beginningless [sic] and endless as the Word who is its Beginning. His knowing of it isn't a gradual thought-process by which God creates the world, but an eternal grasp in which he holds it. ...
The FACTA, on the other hand, stands for the world's physical grip on itself — which God also holds in his eternal knowing. This is God's evening knowledge of creation, which is just as beginningless and endless as his grasp of the NOTA. And it's just as universal. ... [I]t encompasses all the changes and chances of history as they are held in the evening of God's endless Today.
... [E]xistent or non-existent in their own being, [all things] are fully known and fully real in the divine Mind. In other words, Augustine gives us one creation known by God in two modes — by a matutina knowledge and by a vespertina knowledge — but both are within the simul et sempiterne, the "at once and forever" knowing of God. The Trinity are just Know-It-Alls from the Beginning. [pp. 34-6] We shall see in a moment that this image of 'morning' and 'evening' knowledge in the mind of God is one of the things that inspires Capon to speak of an 'ecology of opposites'. Capon's playfulness, meanwhile, is made quite clear by his punning at the end of our passage: 'The Trinity', he writes, 'are just Know-It-Alls from the Beginning.' I should mention that Capon cites the passage he quotes here from De Genesi ad litteram earlier in the book, where he points out how impressive it is that, in the Latin, Augustine is able to say in six words what takes him eighteen to express in English: 'Nota ergo fecit, non facta cognovit' versus 'He made things he already knew; he didn't wait for them to be facts till he knew them.' Not only is Augustine's mode of expression impressive, but the idea is, too. The one sentence is, you might say, the answer to both of Augustine's questions; that is, 'How were things that did not exist known to God?' and 'How could he make things that were not known to him?' Capon concludes, following Augustine, that all that was, is, and ever shall be, is known in the reciprocal exchanges of the Trinity in the everlasting Now of God.
On we go, then, to Capon's first elucidation of what it means for God to 'let things be' via the 'ecology of opposites'. He introduces the idea by using as an image how computers store information to clarify the NOTA/FACTA concept.
Accordingly, I think that the computer offers a fair analogy to what Augustine calls God's eternal holding of creation in the NOTA, the "known things" that he hears in the speaking of his eternal Word. But, more than that, the world exists as an ecology of opposites in this "computer" of the divine Mind — in the Information that the Word gives to the Father. And the world, as it holds its own being in itself, exists in that same ecology.
... The NOTA and the FACTA may be held by him [God] in one grand byte of "morning-evening" knowing — a single packet of divine Information in which even opposites like being/non-being, life/death, and good/evil are intrinsic parts of the ecology of creation. But ever since the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we've fought against that ecology. What God has joined together, we've tried our best to put asunder. What he sees as a harmony to be cherished by "letting it be," we've heard as a discord to be abolished at all costs. Instead of accepting the ecology of good and evil as God does (barring the rare instances of his divine intervention), we've spent almost all of our history trying to improve the good — and trying to abolish the evil altogether. [p. 38] I'll have more to say about whether I think the idea Capon describes here, the 'ecology of opposites', is even so much as aptly named, for I have already questioned whether good and evil ought to be regarded as opposites. I would also suggest (since I doubt that I will cite any passages herewith that discuss being per se) that 'being' and 'non-being' not necessarily be regarded as opposites, for, strictly speaking, 'non-being' is not something with which being can be opposed. Had God not created (had, to use Capon's terms, Creation remained as NOTA), there would not be 'being' to oppose to 'non-being'; likewise, since God created (Creation has become FACTA), there is no 'non-being' with which to oppose 'being', for the law of the conservation of mass has this impact on ontology: now that there is 'being', now that there are things made of matter, things that have 'being', it is impossible for there 'not to be' (even though individual things may pass away), because matter is recycled. I may die, but the elements of which my corpse is composed will eventually become part of some other 'being'. Of course, as Scripture says, 'heaven and earth will pass away', but my point stands. Once the universe no longer 'is', there will be nothing to oppose to the 'nothing' that will result. Confusing, right? That's ontology for you. Anyway, that's enough commentary for now, but it must be said that I have hardly done justice to Capon's take on what went wrong. Suffice it to say that it is a striking statement.
With our introduction to the 'ecology of opposites' done, I think we would all agree that it's time for more playfulness.

Capon, writing about Genesis 1.1-3, quotes from Augustine's Confessions (XII, 8; trans. by Capon):
For you, Lord, made the world from unformed matter; which you made out of nothing into an almost-nothing, from which you might then make the great things at which we children of men marvel.
As a cook, I can almost see the three divine Chefs at work in the heavenly Kitchen. It's practically as if Augustine has God the Father saying, "First, I shall take an infinite bowl of nothing. Then I shall have my Word knead that nothing into a next-to-nothing which, while it's no longer nothing, is not yet anything in its own right. But then, to complete the dish, I shall have my Spirit bake that almost-nothing in the oven of her brooding until it finally becomes something to behold. It will be delicious!" God's cooking show, you see, is the Seinfeld of eternity: he can make an entire series out of nothing. [pp. 55-6] Not having a Latin text of the Confessions (although Capon provides the Latin, with what I presume is the punctuation he has included, although it could be that of the edition which he consulted), I can't tell how accurate a translation of that particular passage this is (i.e., 'For you, Lord, made the world, &c.'), although the translation I have in my possession of the Confessions, the Penguin Classics edition translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin, reads: 'For you, O Lord, made the world from formless matter, which you created out of nothing. This matter was itself almost nothing, but from it you made all the mighty things which are so wonderful to us. [XII, 8, p. 285]' Capon may be playing around, and playing quite well - this is the first time I've seen Creation ex nihilo compared to Seinfeld, for instance - but he's also making a point, about the modes of God's knowing (which he addressed earlier); The stage in which matter is 'almost-nothing' allows, for Capon, two more sets of 'opposites' ('nothing' and 'almost-nothing', 'almost-nothing' and 'creation'), another mode of knowing - 'mid-day Knowing', Capon calls it - and lots more to say about the creative role of the Trinity (Capon having long pooh-poohed the idea that it is necessary to abide by the kinds of conclusions reached by most Biblical critics about the creation narratives in Genesis).
More playfulness; it would seem for Capon, while commenting on Genesis 1.4 ('And God saw that the light was good'), that the highest praise God can give creation is to call it 'delicious':
[This verse] says he [God] saw it was good. G. K. Chesterton, with his flair for making light shine in darkness, once said that the sun doesn't rise because it has to; it rises because, as God watches it set each evening, he says, "That was nice; do it again." God, therefore, is the eternal Beholder of creation. He is the Watcher and the Holy One of the book of Daniel, viewing the film of creation right along with the rest of us. He is the divine Spectator of the world he's created. God looks at everything in admiration; and whatever he admires, he simply lets be.
The world is to God as wine and chocolate are to us. Creation isn't something God needs; it's something he likes. He doesn't say, "I need the world." That's a statement that would get him off the train of delight many stops short of "I love the world." Therefore, the world is not something God has to have; it's the overflow of the totally unnecessary love of the Trinity as they tell each other how delicious they find things. And it's precisely that deliciousness of things in the sight of God that's the taproot of our existence. We're all fine wines in God's cellar. He has all of eternity to give us the aging we deserve.
So here God simply looks at the very first thing he's made — the created light that is the image of his only-begotten, uncreated Light — and the final thing he chooses to say about it is simply, "Delicious! Tôbh! Kalon! Bona! Good!" He runs the world, you see, not by a plan that makes it behave but out of his heart's desire to see it do its own thing. No matter what creation does with its freedom, he sees in that freedom only the goodness that it has in the Word who is its Beginning — and the goodness to which that Word restores it as its Ending. [pp. 60-1] This is well and good, but I think that Capon contradicts his own broad-mindedness here, to a certain extent. I think he and Chesterton are right to say that a more amicable (literally) perspective is to say that the world and all that is therein moves because God delights in its being and motion; but setting aside the question of whether God 'delights' in creation in the same way that we do (for our delight, after all, is a product of our bodily nature and our sensory capacity) - which Capon would anyway pooh-pooh, I'm sure - it is worth remembering that this is, to quote Patsy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 'only a model'. It is, if you like, the obverse of the coin, the reverse of which is the insistence that the world 'behaves' in such and such a way, which can be observed and measured. A good look at this kind of thing is the epilogue of The Discarded Image, by C. S. Lewis. Indeed, my insistence that this is so is, in my view, no different than Capon's insistence that the fact that the entirety of history is held eternally in the Mind of God does not contradict the freedom of creation to get along 'being'. I am also not sure what is 'unnecessary' about the exchange of love in the Trinity. I understand that Capon, for all his delight in anthropomorphism, would want to avoid imputing any 'necessity' to God (by which I mean there being anything that God must do by virtue of circumstance or nature), but if I may venture to make the suggestion (Trinitarian theology alert!), it seems to me that if there is anything 'necessary' about God, it is the reciprocal exchange of love of the Trinity. Put crudely, the Father cannot but love the only-begotten Son, who cannot but love the Father, while the Spirit cannot but be the love by which Father and Son love one another. On the other hand, we are 'unnecessary', in the sense that God was not obliged by nature to create the world and all that is therein; that was an act of sheer gratuity, or, better, grace.
More of God delighting in creation (during Capon's commentary on Gen. 1.6-8, the creation of the firmament), in a passage worth quoting at length:
[Previously], I raised the question of whether this second day is to be seen as inside the "one day" of God's eternity or outside it as an actual day of time. And... my answer was that we can take it either way — or even both ways. So I made my choice and decided to get on the train that took this second day to eternity rather than time. In other words, I did what Augustine did... I interpreted that day (and all the succeeding days) not as a reference to the physical creation but as repetitions, under the guise of successive days, of the "one day" on which God creates a world that exists entirely in his Mind. When I did that, my train of thought began to move.
Its first stop was chapter 2 of Genesis. I got off for a moment, and I saw the unquestionably physical world there not as an inferior piece of business that God made "down here" but as the temporal expression of a world that God eternally holds "up there" in the exchanges of the Trinity. But then I recognized that even a time-bound world could be seen as a sacrament, a real presence, of the eternally playful world that God already enjoys in the conversation between the three Persons. So I got back on and took the train to its final stop. As it rolled on, the world no longer appeared to me as a chore that God once did and got bravely past. Instead, I saw the physical world as a delightful embodiment of the divine Whimsy — as a fillip, an effervescence of the endless joy of the God who has always been creating every minute of both worlds. In a word, it became for me what Scripture says it is: the apple of God's eye.
And there at last was the station my train of thought pulled into: the image of the apple of an eye. Let me unpack for you some of the parcels it delivered to me. [Alas, even Capon succumbs to using the word 'unpack' to describe the process by which an idea or image is elucidated; at least he has the decency to complete the metaphor by telling us that he 'unpacked' the image as a series of 'parcels'.] On the platform (in Deuteronomy 32, the "Song of Moses"), I found this at verses 9-10 (KJV): "For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye" (italics mine). And in Psalm 17:8, I found this (KJV): "Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings" (italics mine). [Just so we're clear, the 'italics mine' in this passage is original to it.]
But on closer examination, I found still more imagery. In the Hebrew of Deuteronomy, the words of that phrase are ʼishôn ʽenô, meaning "a little man of his eye"; in the Hebrew of the Psalm, they're kʼʼishôn bath-ʽayin, which means "as a little man, the daughter of an eye"; in the Greek, the words are koran ophthalmou, a "maiden," a "damsel," the "young wife" of an eye; and in the Latin, they're pupillam oculi, the "little doll" of an eye. In the simplest sense, of course, all those images were poetic ways of referring to the pupil of the eye. But the most fascinating thing about them was the human experience that led to their being seen that way in the first place.
When I stand in broad daylight and look into my wife's dark pupils, I see two miniscule reflections of myself — two tiny Roberts. And I see them dancing like puppets in the slight movements of her eyes. But then, remembering that her eyes are entrances to her mind, I see something more. I begin to understand them as an image of the way she holds me in her love. In other words, my being now appears to me not as it exists in my mind but as it is in her mind. In my own memory, of course, I still possess my being in myself — but there, the glory of my goodness and the shame of my sins are hopelessly entangled. In her reflections of me, however, I see the glory vindicated and the shame forgiven. In short, I see myself reconciled as the sweet apple of her eye.
If I go one step further and apply that image to the reflections of the whole world in God's eyes — where what stands before him is his beloved Son by whom all things are made — I see that in God's sight it has never been anything less than a redeemed creation. From the first "Good!" he says over the light at the beginning of chapter 1, to the last "Very Good!' he says over everything at the end, that world has always been the apple of God's eye. It doesn't need to find its own way home; it has been at home all along. And in the eyes of the Trinity, that apple has always been "Delicious!" [pp. 71-3] This passage is, I think, certainly one of the most excellent in the whole of the book. I would take it as an antidote to both the view (held, e.g., by some Christians) that creation is a muddled mess and the best God can do is to put it out of its misery, and to the view (held, e.g., by some, such as Clive Doucet [although I did not have space to comment on it in my marginal commentary on his book]) that believing that God is 'a priori', external and before (as it were) the created order, of necessity results in the first view. Both are distorted understandings of what God is like and how God creates, sustains, and views the world. Whatever my quibbles with some of Capon's ideas, I'd rather board his train of thought when it comes to how God envisions the world ('Delicious!') than almost any other I can imagine.
Moving along, we come to some of Capon's commentary on the 'third day' of creation (as he would put it, on the NOTA as they are in God's mind) that is worth commenting upon. On the third day (Gen. 1.9-13), you may recall, God creates vegetation and differentiates between land and sea:
Needless to say, the ecologies have been going along swimmingly ever since the beginning of the film of Genesis. But just so you won't forget the opposites that have so far surfaced in the Trinity's Conversation, let me give you a résumé of the ones we've already seen. In the Beginning, there is God and nothing. Next, there is the nothing and the almost-nothing, and after that there is nothing and something. Then there is darkness and light, the separation of the waters below and above the firmament, the naming of the light day and the darkness night, and the evening and the morning of day one. Finally, when God calls the firmament "heavens" there is the implicit ecology of the heavens and the earth and yet another evening and morning at the end of the second day. But however contrary to each other these opposites may be in themselves, they all co-exist, simultaneously and harmoniously, in the eternal Today of God. ...
Still, with the advent of the vegetable creation we see for the first time the ecology of good and evil, of life and death. Understandably this may strike you as far-fetched. For a very long time, biblical interpreters have imagined that good and evil are implacable enemies, and that death (at least human death) came into the world only as a punishment for sin. ...
But right on the face of this third day — with its invention of plants bearing seeds — something more complex is being said. The "evil" of the seeds' corruption and the new life that comes out of their deaths point to God as the party responsible for the introduction of death into a world which has not fallen. ... [D]eath has been the engine of the world's life from the beginning. It's never been absent from the creation God loves. And thus when the Beginning himself appears as the Incarnate Word in the death and resurrection of Jesus, he's not doing something new; he's just reiterating the same old story he's told from the start. Every death in the world has always been a sacrament, a real presence, of the rising from the dead that the Word has had in mind all along.
For death as it appears here is not a curse but a blessing. True enough, we humans may see it as a robbery of life, a fatal abolition of our being. But that's only because we rejected God's hands-off management of the ecology of life and death at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Refusing to see our mortality as a boon, we decided to use our own hands-on mismanagement and fight it as an enemy. I'm not saying, of course, that we're meant to rush to our deaths at the first opportunity. ... [But], by God's eternal Purpose, every living creature does die sooner or later... . [pp. 89-91] On the one hand, I think Capon makes an excellent point about our view of death; on the other hand, when he writes, with respect to his concept of the 'ecology of opposites', that 'this may strike you as far-fetched' , I am inclined to reply, 'Yes.' I'll look at what I think is problematic with Capon's concept of the 'ecology of opposites' (including describing, briefly, what I think is an improvement on the idea), and then I will state what I thought worked well about his discussion of death (if I may say so, already I think Capon has a much saner view of death than, say, Ernest Becker). First, the bad news. I think that Capon's 'ecology of opposites' is a bit of a muddle. Consider, for example, the list of opposites he provides above (at the beginning of the passage quoted in this section: 'God/nothing'; 'nothing/almost-nothing'; 'nothing/something'; 'darkness/light'; 'below/above'; 'heavens/earth'; and 'morning/evening'. I was about to acknowledge that Capon might not have been thinking in terms of opposites when he composed this list when I looked back at what he wrote preceding the list, and in fact he provided the list, as he says, so that we wouldn't forget the opposites. The problem, in my view, is that although most of these may be viewed as opposites in the sense of being 'contrary or radically different in some respect common to both, as in nature, qualities, location, direction, result, or significance' (to use one definition of 'opposite' on; the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary confirms this definition), they are not significant with respect to Capon's argument the way, say, the opposites of 'being/nothing', 'life/death', and 'good/evil' are. I have already shown (I hope), above, that it is not really apt to to state that 'nothing' is the opposite of 'being'; still less is it to consider 'nothing' the opposite of God. Moreover, these other opposites which Capon names - 'morning/evening'; 'day/night'; and the like - have no significance as opposites in themselves; their significance as opposites is figurative or metaphorical - in a word, symbolic. 'Darkness' and 'light', for example, are contrasted in the gospel of John (e.g., 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it [Jn. 1.5].'), and elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Ephesians 5.8-14). But the significance of darkness and light in these and other passages is not, you might say, intrinsic, or essential, or natural, to darkness or light per se. It is a metaphor, a way of communicating a complex truth indirectly. We can see that the significance ascribed to darkness or night (i.e., that it is a 'place', you might say, of wickedness), for example, in John or other Biblical texts is symbolic because darkness can also be used as a symbol of something good, such as the 'dark night' we looked at in John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul. From all this, we may say that most of the opposites found in the first creation story (which Capon is taking as NOTA, things as they are known in God's mind), being opposites only in terms of place or time, are of minimal significance for Capon's ecology of opposites. Indeed, going by how some are conventionally opposed as metaphors, we would have to say that they are used to reinforce the essential distinction between good and evil (if not life and death) which Capon takes to be false. So Capon's case for an 'ecology of opposites', at least in the manner in which he presents it in Genesis: The Movie, rests on the opposing pairs of 'being/nothing', 'life/death', and 'good/evil'. Enough, I think, has been said about the contrast of 'nothing' with 'being' to show that this pair of opposites doesn't really contribute to Capon's 'ecology', so we are effectively down to 'life and death' and 'good and evil' as opposed pairs of any significance. But, as we shall see, Capon's discussion of death, quoted above, shows that it is not of itself opposed to life. Above, I quoted Capon saying that 'death has been the engine of the world's life'; I omitted much of his illustration of his point about death, but suffice it to say I think he makes a good point. Even though it is worth mentioning that the reason biblical interpreters have concluded that death is an implacable enemy is because there are biblical texts in which it is considered as such, Capon still has a point when he says that death is the engine of life, or that death may be viewed as a blessing, or that it is evidently purposed by God (on the other hand I think it is a bit much to call deaths 'sacraments' or 'real presences' of resurrection). Indeed, generaly speaking, our morbid fear of death has led us into all kinds of catastrophe at the personal and social levels. If we accept Capon's view, I think we would say that the ecology of life and death is not, then, so much an ecology of contrasts or opposites, but an ecology of a complementary pair, for there is no life without death, nor death without life. Doing so, however, means that we are another step closer to being able to say that Capon's 'ecology of opposites' is not a valid image of creation, or at least not an image of any great significance. For of the three primary opposites with which Capon began, two, in my view, have now been invalidated as substantial contributors to the idea of an 'ecology of opposites'. The opposing pair of 'being/nothing' is a non-starter, while life and death are complementary, both in an unfallen world (as Capon himself emphasises) and in the fallen world of our experience; they are, you might say, opposites, but not on the universal level or as they are conceived in God's mind. This, then, leaves good and evil as the last opposing pair which provides any support to Capon's idea of an 'ecology of opposites', and while I have already indicated briefly that I don't think it is much of a support, either, I will at least comment on it at greater length. The improvement to Capon's 'ecology of opposites' would be mainly to rename it an 'ecology of complements' (to coin a word, if it does not already exist), and to reconceive the elements of such an ecology (that, it must be said, is beyond the work of this marginal commentary).
On to good and evil as Capon conceives them as part of the 'ecology of opposites':
[L]et me go back and delve a little more deeply into the ecology of good and evil as it exists in God. The Old Testament is of two minds on the subject of God and evil. On the one hand, you can find statements like the one in Habakkuk 1:13: "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil" (KJV). But then you can also come up with Isaiah 45:7: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things" (KJV, italics mine [Capon's]). However, God does more than speak with a forked tongue. The Bible sometimes takes his ambivalence about good and evil still further and protrays it by using two different characters to represent the one God. But for that statement, I owe you a bit of explanation.
In Greek syntax (and in other languages as well), there's a figure of speech called hendiadys (Hen means "one," dia means "by means of," and dys means "two.") It's the linguistic trick of using two things to signify one thing. For example, when you hear an ancient author say, "They dined with cups and gold," all you're meant to understand is that they had gold cups on the table.
The best illustration, however, is in Jesus' parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:21, 23). In those verses, he has the master say to each of the two slaves who trusted his gift of the talents, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter into the joy of your lord." If you listen carefully to that, you'll see that the master isn't praising two different qualities (goodness on the one hand and faithfulness on the other). Rather, by repeating the one world faithful later on, he makes it clear that faithfulness (and not goodness) is the only thing that enters into his judgment. "Good and faithful," therefore, simply means "very faithful."
And we ourselves do this all the time. If I tell you I'm good and tired, you don't conclude that I'm first bragging about my virtue and then complaining about my exhaustion. You realize instantly that all I have in mind is the single truth that I'm ready for bed. (Try this for yourself with "sick and tired," or "good and hungry." In both cases, the first word simply intensifies the second. Hendiadys — saying one thing by means of two — is as natural to us as sneezing.)
But it's in the Old Testament that hendiadys has its most fascinating innings. In the book of Job, Satan is right up there in the heavenly council chamber of God himself. But more than that, I think he actually represents the "other side" of God's Mind. After all, it's God who lets him destroy Job's flocks, herds, and children; and it's God who allows him to give Job a near-terminal case of boils. In the book of Exodus (32:1-14), it's Moses who gets to play God's alter ego. While Moses is up on Mt. Sinai with the Lord, Aaron and the people make a golden calf and worship it. And the Lord says to Moses, "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation." But then Moses, in a daring speech, reminds the Lord of the damage he's about to do to his divine Reputation. "Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?...Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven." But then comes the punch line, which I think proves that this dialogue was internal to God: "And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (all quotes KJV).
I also happen to think that the serpent who tests Adam and Eve at the tree in the third chapter of Genesis can be seen as an instance of divine Hendiadys. What God allows the snake to do there is for all practical purposes what God accepts as his own Will. And he gives that pemrission just to make clear that it's only "left-handed" management of good and evil, and not "right-handed" mismanagement of it, that can successfully bring off God's ecology of good and evil. The same goes for Jesus' meeting with the devil at the beginning of his public ministry (Matt. 4:1-11). In that strange encounter — presented as a conversation between two persons at cross-purposes with each other — we see a "testing" (and a hendiadys) that was already present in Jesus' human mind as a result of his familiarity with Scripture. The devil quotes "messianic" passages from the Old Testament, and Jesus replies with simple, "commandment" passages from the same source. The test, therefore, was for Jesus to decide which of those two options (conquering hero or suffering servant faithful unto death) would best suit the Messiahship he would eventually manifest in his own death and resurrection.
And if God can thus use hendiadys to show that good and evil are mysteriously compatible with each other in himself, I think it's quite clear that God is just as responsible for evil as he is for good. There's no doubt, of course, that some of the evils in the world are attributable to human agents; but all of them, in the last analysis, are also God's fault. ... [E]ven human sins like rape, cruelty, and murder are ultimately God's responsibility as well. He may advise sinners not to sin; but on the whole, he does a poor job of stopping them once they decide to go ahead with their unfortunate plans for the season. Sin too, then, happens under the aegis of his hands-off management of creation.
... If God has the whole world in his hands, his hands hold both the glory of its goods and the grime of its evils, whether they're natural or moral. He invented the ecology of good and evil when he made free creatures. He sustains the ecology of good and evil by letting them do whatever they want with their freedom. And in the end, he takes even the sins which violate that ecology into himself in the death and resurrection of his Incarnate Word: "He made him who knew no sin to become sin for our sakes, that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21, RFC [the passage was translated by Capon]). Once again, good and evil are not problems to be solved; they're mysteries to be embraced by us — just as God has embraced them both from the foundation of the world in his beloved Son. [pp. 92-4] No, no, no, no, no. On the matter of the 'ecology of good and evil', I part ways with Capon, for I think he is wrong. There are a number of points about this passage, from the trivial to the important, with which I am in dispute. We'll look at them in order of importance from least to greatest. The first is with his statement that 'Hendiadys... is as natural to us as sneezing.' Speech, and especially using figures of speech, does not 'come naturally', the way, say, sneezing does. But let's let that one go. The second is with one of his illustrations of how we use hendiadys every day. 'If I tell you I'm good and tired,' he writes, 'you don't conclude that I'm first bragging about my virtue and then complaining about my exhaustion.' At first I was going to quibble with his use of 'virtue' as synonymous for 'good' (when 'virtuousness' and 'goodness' are distinct, although related, concepts), but it struck me that Capon does not seem to account for God's commands vis à vis virtuous behaviour in his discussion of good and evil, so I question whether he takes the idea of virtue into account (meanwhile, a recent book by N. T. Wright, After You Believe, demonstrates that both Jesus and Paul had a lot to say about the necessity of practicing virtue and developing Christian character). Third, using hendiadys to refer to something much larger than a figure of speech (that is, the character of God in the Bible) is, I think, a bit of trickery. Certainly when Capon introduces hendiadys he defines and illustrates it correctly: 'cups and gold', 'good and faithful', 'good and tired' are all examples of hendiadys. For good measure, let me cite the definition of hendiadys from the Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory: 'hendiadys (Gk "one through two") A figure of speech in which one idea is expressed by two substantives, as in "gloom and despondency" or "darkness and the shadow of death". (p. 375)' The leap from hendiadys as a figure of speech to Capon's 'divine Hendiadys' is, I say, a leap across an impassable categorical chasm. Everything we can say about God, of course, is ultimately analogical from our own experience and is, to a certain extent, categorically illegitimate, for there is no category by the name of 'God' into which God can be sorted in order to compare God's attributes with ours, but, lacking any other means of talking about God, we must use analogy, metaphor, &c - in other words, figures of speech. The problem is not so much that Capon wishes to use a figure of speech to describe God, it is that the figure of speech he thinks illustrates something about God is incapable of being used in the manner in which he wishes to use it. By definition, a hendiadys is able to express only one idea by means of two substantives, and you will notice in all of the examples provided (both by Capon and by the Dictionary), the terms are not contradictory: 'cups and gold', 'good and tired', 'gloom and despondency', and so on; but what Capon wishes to do is to stretch the function of a hendiadys beyond reason - to make it means what he wants it to mean, rather than allowing it to do its own thing. For even if we were to accept Capon's 'ecology of good and evil', it could not be that God's 'dual nature' be expressed by means of hendiadys, because hendiadys expresses only one idea, and that by means of distinct yet related terms; using 'good and evil' as a hendiadys is nonsense, for what one idea would it then communicate? It is, moreover, evident that the kinds of ideas communicated by means of hendiadys are not on the same level as what Capon is arguing for. Put another way, even if we were to agree wholeheartedly with Capon's conclusion about God's relation to good and evil, and his interpretation of, e.g., Exodus 32.1-14, or of the Temptation in the Wilderness, it would still be inappropriate to account for God's behaviour by means of hendiadys. (Indeed, if anything, Capon's 'divine Hendiadys' is more like 'divine Multiple Personality Disorder'.) Finally, we come to the thing itself, Capon's 'ecology of good and evil'. On the one hand, Capon does have a point that, the world as it is having been created and continually being sustained by God, God is, if you like, 'to blame' for it. And although Capon's take on human evils poses some difficulties, it is true that you don't see God doing much about them (if, that is, you are expecting God to strike evildoers with lightning or something). Yet in Jesus' public ministry, he calls on his hearers to repent (not exactly 'letting things be', in my view), and both Jesus and Paul call for a new way of life. And what then are we to make of God's commands for holiness in the covenant with Israel (to which Capon himself refers on pp. 191-2)? Indeed, even if we grant that God 'lets things be', it would seem that there are two orders of behaviour, from what we can see of Scripture: God lets things be, but we, due to our nature, have to work at being virtuous (and, indeed, cannot attain to it without God's grace). One of the difficulties with Capon's take on human-caused evils is that, while God is responsible for creating creatures capable of such viciousness, it is not he who directed them to be vicious. Put another way, we don't accept it when people try to justify their viciousness on account of the way their parents (the people who begot them) treated them - although psychology teaches us that our bad behaviour as well as good is as much due to the family system of which we were a part as anything else - so why should we fob the blame off on God for what we do wrong? It may well be, as Capon would probably say, that God's responsibility for human evil does not contradict our responsibility for it, and true it is that, as creator and sustainer of all things, God is, in a sense, implicated in all we do, for good or evil, but that is a different kind of claim than saying that evils resulting from human agency are God's fault as if he were a cause of the first order of such evils. Moreover, as theologians such as Augustine or Thomas Aquinas have written, and as has been confirmed by some (but not all) philosophers, it is at least credible to say that evil per se does not exist; that is, it is not something that can be said to be (see, e.g., pp. 143-8, 177-80 of the aforementioned The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil) in the sense, that, say, you or I can be said to be. This does not mean that there are not evil effects, but these are either the result of defective wills (as when I determine to do something harmful to someone else) or defective natures (as when a cancerous growth becomes malignant). All that is to say, assuming my arguments are legitimate, is that, while God is responsible for creating and sustaining a universe in which his creatures suffer from evil effects, he has not created and is not sustaining a universe in which there is evil; put another way, 'evil' is not one of God's creatures. Thus, in my view, the last opposing pair of Capon's 'ecology of opposites' is found wanting, for there is not 'evil', in the strict sense, to which 'good' can be opposed. (Again, just so we're clear, I'm not saying that there are not effects, either of natural or human causes, which are evil; I'm saying that there is not evil per se.) The 'ecology of opposites' can be maintained, but its significance with respect to God's creation of all things is much diminished.
Having at least made a case that Capon's 'ecology of opposites' is not as significant as he makes it out to be, I will finish my marginal commentary of Genesis: The Movie by looking at a few playful passages from the second part of the book, when Capon looks at Genesis 2 and 3 (the Garden and the Fall). Obviously Capon continues to uphold his 'ecology of opposites', and it would be better for you to read his book in full and make up your own minds as to whether he's right or not than simply take my word for it.
What the Director shows us here is the Lord God getting out of the car [earlier Capon compared Gen. 2.4-6 as a bridge across which we move from creation as it is known in God's mind to creation in time] to dabble in the mud made by the fountain that watered the face of the dusty earth. All the English versions (following the Hebrew) say that God made man of the dust from the ground. But that dust is now mud, and Augustine (like Jerome) is inordinately fond of saying that God made man de limo terrae, from the "slime" or "clay" of the earth. In effect, then, the Director gives us God's act of creation here as play rather than work. She films him more as a kid making mud pies than as a laborer sweating over a project. In fact, what she most wants us to see is that the human race will be the crowning expression of the divine Fun of the Trinity. I know. I've mentioned that at great length earlier in this book. But in a world seriously short of fun, it's just more fun to keep repeating it. [p. 199] Well, you can't argue with that. Capon is right to insist that we read the creation stories with an eye for the delight, the joy, that God takes in creating, and the fun of it all. It is certainly a pleasant change of pace to regard them in that light rather than go into the 'creationist/science' debate, which Capon has been able to avoid thus far but later has to address, although you will have to read his book to see for yourself. Speaking of delight, Capon mentions C. S. Lewis earlier in the chapter from which I took this quote (on p. 198; he does so because he chooses Anthony Hopkins to be the voice of the Narrator of the 'film' of Genesis, and Hopkins played Lewis in the film Shadowlands), and I think a book which would serve as the perfect accompaniment both to Genesis itself and to Capon's book is Lewis's Perelandra. Perelandra, or 'Voyage to Venus' as it was first known, is Lewis's take on what Paradisal life would look like in an unfallen world.
And now, a rant by Capon on the problem with the idea of the immortality of the soul, with which I heartily agree; I'll confess now that I'm ranting by proxy, here (except I haven't seen the episode of Ally McBeal to which Capon refers):
True enough, the notion of the deathlessness of man's soul has now been around so long that most Christians think it's biblically revealed truth. But it's not. The Old Testament knows nothing of it; and the Good News of the New Testament can be better proclaimed without it than with it: it just waters down the resurrection of the dead and makes Jesus a Santa Claus helper rather than the Incarnate Lord by whom all things are made. Jesus is the Word of God, for crying out loud. He makes all things out of nothing in their beginning; and as the Resurrection and the Life, he raises all the dead from the nothing of their death. Nothing is his favorite material. So if you've been deluding yourself with the notion that after your death you'll only be half-dead (that is, dead in body but not in soul) — or if you're afraid that if your soul dies, God won't be able to help you — just stop all that anti-Gospel nonsense. We believe that Jesus is God Almighty in Person. We most emphatically do not believe that he is some quasi-spiritual mechanic who will, a week from some Tuesday, bolt your immortal soul back onto a resuscitated corpse. Jesus himself is your resurrection and your life right now. He's got better tricks up his sleeve than reassembling your parts.
Still, I have little hope of convincing the general public of that. I once saw a Christmas episode of Ally McBeal on television. It was about a minister who "lost his faith" when his wife was shot by a mugger. He felt he couldn't preach about Christmas because he missed his wife so much that he no longer believed in the immortality of the soul that God promised in the birth of Jesus. All the "comfort" he'd ever given to bereaved parishioners ("The soul of your loved one still lives on") had turned to ashes in his mouth. His crisis of faith, though, was resolved when all the cast members assured him they still thought the immortality of the soul was the true meaning of the Nativity, so he should just bite the bullet and celebrate Christmas for Christmas's sake.
I muttered my way through the whole show. To me, it was just one more tacky proof that the church has allowed the immortality of the soul to pull the teeth out of the Gospel's mouth. It confirmed my abiding suspicion that as a priest, I could sooner propose getting rid of Baptism, the Bible, the Creeds, the Eucharist, and even the church itself than breathe a word suggesting that maybe the soul dies with the body. The troops have become so enamored of its deathlessness that they'd only conclude (as the minister's official board did) that I should look for another line of work. But for my money, if that's the church's idea of the consolation of the Gospel — well, by George, the quicker it turns to ashes, the better. It's theological schlock, not Christian faith. If you don't like hearing that, I'm sorry. But as I've said many times from the pulpit, I wasn't ordained to make you happy. [pp. 210-11] The episode in question (entitled 'Nine One One') is from the fifth season of Ally McBeal — ohmigod! JOSH GROBAN is in it!!! Why didn't I know of this before?!?!?! Josh Groban! He's sooooOOOoooOOOooo dreamy. No; I jest, I'm not really enamoured with Josh Groban. But it is an eerie coincidence that he played a part (as the son of the minister in question, in fact) in a Christmas-themed episode of Ally McBeal, and went on to record his own Christmas album. Or something. Anyway, I don't have much to say about Capon's rant here except to say, 'Amen, preach it, brother!' And that I'm going to cherish the line 'I wasn't ordained to make you happy'. I'm going to use it some day while preaching. Some day.
During his commentary on Genesis 2, Capon takes what he calls a detour to talk about his practice of referring to other parts of Scripture while commenting on particular verses (or visualising the 'film' of Genesis, as the case may be), and compares it to waxing a car:
When you polish a car, you don't first wax the whole vehicle front to back and then make a second trip to buff it up. You wax and buff one section at a time, and you're free to deal with those sections in any order that strikes your fancy. Most people start with the engine hood because it's easier; but if you want to begin at the rear end of the car and work your way to the front, who's to stop you? The car's original finish (pun intended) is already under your hands no matter where you begin; and the beginning of the manufacturer's creation of it is just as present to you as the end. Therefore, a linear approach to the job on your part is fundamentally irrelevant. And so it is with the Bible: the order (or disorder) of your polishing makes no difference because, wherever you wax, you're highlighting something that's already there.
But there's more to the image than that. The experts who wrote the instructions on the can of polish all agree that while you're progressing, you shouldn't use longitudinal strokes of the waxing pad. Instead, they tell you to use a circular motion: round and round and round, carefully repeating yourself till you've covered the whole section. And they make that suggestion because going in circles is more likely to prevent "holidays" in your application of the wax. So too with the car of Scripture: its finish is best enhanced by preachers who apply the carnauba of their comments on it by making them over and over, not by taking a single pass and letting it go at that.
In any case, what I've been doing in this book is very much the same thing. I've been trying to restore the original shine of the Bible, taking care that no spot fails to get a generous coat of its concordances with other spots. So I'll admit that I've dealt with some parts of the biblical car out of sequence. Earlier, I polished the hood over its engine (creation in the Mind of God, Genesis 1). But when I reached the roof over its passenger compartment in Genesis 2 (where the ʼadham sits for his trip into the City of the Garden), I couldn't resist taking you back for a look at the work I'd done on the engine hood. Likewise, in the midst of polishing the roof, I took you forward for a glimpse of the shine I want to put on the trunk lid (the book of Revelation) under which the City will ultimately be stowed.
I suppose I got this habit of leaping around in Scripture from Augustine: he was never afraid to buff up a passage he'd previously polished while he was working on a later one, and he was equally fearless about shining a future passage in the midst of a present one. But I think the main reason his mind flitted about so easily was his inveterate love of teaching. A good teacher is always convinced that his students will get more out of hearing him say something again and again than they would out of trying to follow the logic of a linear argument. Augustine doesn't give us the beginning of the story only at the beginning and the end only at the end; he continually gives us both everywhere.
I agree with his approach entirely. So as you watch me polish the biblical car, be patient with my repetitious circling. I've been doing it that way for ages, and I don't intend to stop now. In the fifty-three years I've kept harping on the Good News that Jesus takes away the sins of the whole world — and that the "whole world" includes absolutely everybody. Some people wince when I hammer that home with a list of folks they'd just as soon not look at forever (Osama bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, Vlad the Impaler, and their brother-in-law); but at least I've faithfully applied the Gospel wax. Sooner or later, they may even help me buff it up.
But since I'm a teacher at heart — and since the Bible's teaching is far less plausible than many of my students think it is — I have no more fear of reiterating its mysteries than Augustine did. [pp. 231-3] I don't know how it didn't occur to Capon to refer to Karate Kid at this point: you might say that the repetitive circling which is the best way to read Scripture is how we start to learn how to read it aright. Wax on, wax off. I'm not sure how much of Capon's circling around from Genesis to Revelation has been quoted in this marginal commentary, but I think I see why it was I stopped reading this book halfway through the last time I tried to read it. It is not only the Gospel that Capon has been harping on in Genesis: The Movie; he has been harping on his ecology of opposites, and, not havng thought much of it the last time around, I got fed up of reading about it again and again. In any case, this passage is fun because the concrete image of 'how to read the Bible' which Capon provides is exemplary. As much as I may disagree with the conclusions Capon reaches, his treatment of Scripture, following his exemplar Augustine, has been a wild ride. As for what may be taken to be a controversial statement (you know, the whole 'the "whole world" includes absolutely everybody... [including] bin Laden... Hitler... and their brother-in-law' thing), I think that we have to insist with Capon that this is so. Jesus didn't come to take away the sins of a select few, he came, as it says, to take away the sins of the whole world. Moreover, as the piquant reference to 'their brother-in-law' indicates, it is not only villains upon whom we are swift to pass judgement, but folks whose sins hit 'closer to home'. What is more, had people like bin Laden or Hitler, say, (dare I add, people such as ourselves?) been more expansive in their conception of who 'counts', we would see much less violence in the world. But if we're going to leap about Scripture, what shall we say about the fact that it is on the lips of Jesus, the one who came to take away the sins of the world, that we find the greatest number of sayings about judgement (both positive and negative)? As C. S. Lewis writes in the introduction he wrote for a translation of the Epistles by J. B. Phillips: 'All the most terrifying texts [come] from the mouth of our Lord: all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St. Paul. [Letters to Young Churches; London: Geoffrey Bles, 1947; p. ix]' Yet what I think is worth taking from what Capon is that it is a damn good thing that it is not up to us to decide who's 'in' the kingdom and who's 'out'. But now we're getting away from fun. Wait - I have it. Obviously in light of Capon's making reading Scripture out to be like polishing and waxing a car, what we should do is have churches sponsor bikini car washes! Anyway, I also think Capon is right to note that in order to learn something, we need to practice it - in other words repeat it or rehearse it - many times. If I may put it like this, Joseph Goebbels' infamous remark to the effect that a lie told over and over again until it is believed to be true paradoxically holds the key to how we grasp the truth. You might say that we have to hear the truth over and over again until we know it to be true.
In many places Capon writes that he thinks he may have exhausted the patience of his readers, and I think I have reached that point - you are probably shouting at your computer screens that I passed that point somewhere around 'This edition of Genesis: The Movie'. I will end my marginal commentary on this book, therefore, with some mordant commentary by Capon (on p. 248) about biblical criticism (in the fashion typical to him, Capon is talking about some other part of the Bible, in this case the serpent's lying speech in Genesis 3, during his commentary on part of Genesis 2).
[W]hen Eve quotes God in her answer to the snake, she puts in something that hasn't been heard on the sound track of the movie. She adds an eisegesis of her own to God's command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: "neither shall you touch it." ... [T]hroughout her entire answer, she's telling the serpent about things she simply wasn't around to witness. In verse 17 of chapter 2, where the Lord God commands Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve was just a rib in her husband's side. Accordingly (thinking as a movie director would), I would have to assume that Eve acquired her misinformation about not touching it from her husband — possibly in one of their after-supper talks. To be sure, the Director of the biblical movie doesn't burden herself with any such scene; but if you want to indulge in the fussiness of imagining it, I think you have two alternatives. You can blame the "no touching" command on Adam, thus making him responsible for misquoting God; or you can chalk it up to Eve, making her guilty of misquoting her husband. In either case, though, somebody committed the crime of eisegesis. Maybe biblical criticism was the first sin after all.

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