Monday, January 10, 2005

Animals and instinctual knowledge

Following God by Virtue of the Absurd

Perhaps you’ve heard about wild animals fleeing the deadly tsunami before it struck Asia and Africa. By now the stories are near legendary. According to one account --

In Sri Lanka and Thailand…elephants [ran] for the hills up to an hour before the tsunami bore down on the coastal lands…

In Sri Lanka’s second largest wildlife preserve, Yala National Park, people...observed three elephants running away from the shore area to higher ground an hour before the tsunami hit.

There were other reports that elephants in Thailand carried tourists…to safety before the coastal areas were inundated.

And elephants weren’t the only animals seen turning away from the shore before the tsunami hit. Birds, monkeys, dogs and other creatures were all reportedly acting differently on the morning of Dec. 26.

Ravi Corea, president and founder of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society, notes several accounts of strange animal behavior in the minutes before the tsunami hit the region.

He said a friend saw some bats -- which are nocturnal and normally sleep upside-down during the day -- very active about a half hour before the wave came. Another of Corea’s friends who lives in the hills told him his two Doberman Pinschers refused to go for their daily jog along the beach about 90 minutes before the tsunami.

The implications are fascinating, that the animal kingdom has potentialities that we are not yet sure of – inherent capacities related to instinct and preservation.

But does this mean anything for humans? When I read this report, I was reminded of what one rabbi said regarding humans and the fall.

This rabbi said that before the fall, humans had an instinctual knowledge of good and evil, much like a cat...which refuses to eat something poisonous to it, not out of rational knowledge, but instinct. Likewise, before humans took of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil,” or the implicit rationalizing of good and evil, their awareness of evil was instinctual and preserving. But after taking to themselves knowledge of good and evil, their basis for relating to good and evil was then intellectual process.

In other words, humans took to themselves rationalization, where instinctively following truth and good was no longer at the front: humans now must mentally “know” and rationalize concerning obedience...

Of course, we can see how this is used against the human race: all humans have to do commit evil is rationalize it, explain away and re-define the terms; conversely, all humans have to do to not follow the Spirit is to pretend they have no basis for it, no rational basis that is.

We were created to instinctively turn from evil and follow God, but we fell from this ability in the “knowledge of good and evil.” Since then, the tale of human temptation has been a story of rationalizing obedience to God.

And, of course, this is the road to disobedience!

I don't know how often I have heard modern Christians use rationalization as a basis for following God, for discerning God's will -- reducing God to a business model or projective spreadsheet, or something that accords with societal or conventional “wisdom.” Popular Christian counselors often say that God must fit with “common sense” or it’s not God talking! God must easily “open doors” or He isn’t calling!

But there is a much higher plane open to humans.

The animals that fled this tsunami roughly illustrate something we lost, something about our potential in relation to God. In grace, we can come to the place where we are led by the Spirit of God far beyond rationalization. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God,” says Scripture. And this: “We know that we know…this is how we know that He lives in us – we know it by the Spirit He gave us.”

There is a path of knowledge open to us, a path far higher than the rational tsunami that sweeps through modern Christian homes! There is a holy, intuitive knowledge through divine relation -- the Holy Spirit creating in us instinctual relation to good and evil.

Related to this concept, Kierkegaard said that Abraham believed God by virtue of the absurd.

Abraham believed God by virtue of the absurd!
Think of what this means for a second...
Abraham counted what God demanded as absurd in human terms, yet thus he believed, and followed!

The divine Word came: “Abram!” “Leave your comfortable home on the shoreline of Ur, for the high ground of the desert, the high ground of promise!” “Abraham, sacrifice your son, your only son Isaac, the son of promise!”

Abraham, because of divine relation, said “Yes!” and became the father of all true children of faith.

Abraham was willing to relate to God as a true child, a child who does not rationalize but leaps into the father's arms...knowing she will be caught: spirit once again the basis of relation to God...flying high above the deadly dryness of cultural, rational and “common sense” process.

Think of Sarah, seeing such demand, such faith…and laughing! But she too accepted the calling through tears and trial...and became a true mother for us all. So absurdly and divinely, Abraham and Sarah brought forth many nations...holy light for generations, children as the vast, unnumbered stars in the velvet sky...

And this by absurd, instinctual relation to the Holy God!


Prayer: God, teach me this kind of relation to You; teach me to know You in the Spirit, to follow You according to your breath and will. Grant me instinctual knowledge of good and evil; guard my mind when I would rationalize obedience or disobedience. May I be a child who follows You by virtue of the absurd! Keep me to yourself alone; hedge me by your Spirit, and grant me to be this true child, a true follower of You -- a faith-child in a new generation of righteousness! Alleluia! In the name of Jesus the Christ, my Lord I pray, Amen.

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