Monthly Archives: June 2011

Biased Storytelling

What do you think about David’s victory over Goliath? Was it miraculous? Was it a show of God’s power? Or was it just a sign of strategic thinking? I think you can guess my stance based on how I phrased the question, but whether or not you see my side of some of the following bible stories, the point I want to make in exploring these stories is that we typically view them through personal bias… and because the bible itself has a thesis, we generally phrase them in alignment with this thesis that God is great and powerful and everything inside the scripture just goes to prove this.

1. Daniel and his friends go vegan: In the book of Daniel, we’re given the story of Daniels’ three best friends who decide to give up meat because it has been offered to idols first. After some time, they are found to be healthier and stronger than all of the men around them that have been eating this idol-blessed meat. This is told in the context of a miraculous outcome, not only in the bible but in the Sunday School classes of my youth, even though today it should be less surprising with our current knowledge of nutrition.

The book of Hebrews makes it clear that eating meat offered to idols is not defined as sinful for everyone, and with what we know about chemistry, offering meat to stone or wood figurines doesn’t physically change the substance of the food. Nor does a diet of vegetables and water make a person less healthy than a person dieting on meat and wine. But we still seem to have learned a valuable non-lesson from this story, and many Christians today believe that any food is healthy so long as it has been blessed by God through prayer.

2. Jesus’s political high and low points: Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, hailed by palm leaves and cheering. Less than a week later, these same people wanted him dead (even more than they wanted Barabus, a hardened criminal, dead). This could only be through an agent like Satan or his devils convincing people to change their minds, right? After all, no one could change their opinions in such a short time!

Actually, new information could do the trick just as easily. You may remember that Herod tried to kill Jesus as a baby. Herod was not historically the King of Israel, but rather sitting on the throne as a steward to the crown. According to the narrative in the bible, Jesus was from the line of David on both sides of his family; the bible makes it clear that he was supposed to be the king. Thus, it makes sense that Herod would try to kill Jesus as a baby not because Satan drove him to it but because he wanted to protect his very prestigious position.

So what does this have to do with Jesus’ week in Jerusalem? Well, it was the capital city (where the palace was located), so if Jesus (the rightful king) was entering the city on a donkey, it was likely because he had come to reclaim the throne. It quickly became apparent that Jesus had no ambition to take over the government, and that is probably what quickly soured the crowds (Herod was long gone, and the Romans ruled – this wasn’t exactly a favorable idea to all of the non-Romans living there).

3. David takes a lesson from Sun Tsu: Actually, David predated Sun Tsu (circa 500 BC), so the legendary war strategist may actually have learned a lesson from David. This shepherd boy was small and physically weak – especially compared to a giant and incredible warrior like Goliath – but took him down with a stone hurled from a sling. The story goes that he turned down the king’s armor and sword, and instead went with this silly little sling and 5 smooth stones and used it to defeat a man was was considered undefeatable.

Why do I mention Sun Tsu here, the author of The Art of War? As I’m sure he would agree, David’s victory was not miraculous but rather clever game strategy. If David had accepted the armor and sword, he probably would’ve lost. It wasn’t a fair match, and David was simply overpowered. So instead of agreeing to the implied rules of the battle, he brought a weapon that a small guy could actually win with – a projectile weapon. We wouldn’t marvel at David killing Goliath with a gun, despite the difference in the combatants’ size, and we shouldn’t marvel at David winning with a sling. It was a deadly weapon, especially when filled with smooth stones (which don’t make them weaker, but rather aerodynamic, which is why bullets are smooth) and even more especially when he gets a head shot (which he did). The size of Goliath is irrelevant at this point, as anyone who takes a very fast strike to the forehead will die. He brought a sling to a sword fight, and won.

There are other examples, which I’ll maybe cover in a later blog. The point, though, is not to be found in the stories themselves. It’s simply to open your mind and consider different interpretations. Even if God exists, he still doesn’t break the laws of physics with regularly. The simplest answer is still best, and natural agents are usually behind things that astound us today.