Monday, March 29, 2010
The Brothers Karamazowsky: The Middle Brother
(Link for the previous Section of The Brothers Karamazowsky.)
During the third morning of my time at Van's house, we discussed the third dimension: volition.
Van was able to answer every question I had with a corresponding verse from the Bible. I decided to ask him the one question I still hadn’t gotten answered.
“Alex was unwilling to discuss a question about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. With everything we have covered, how is it possible for God to do this? It sounds Deterministic.”
Van reached for his Bible and said, "Exodus five. Go ahead and read it out loud."
I read, "And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness. And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go. And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword. And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? get you unto your burdens. And Pharaoh said, Behold the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens. And Pharaoh..."
"Wait...", interrupted Van.
I stopped reading, glancing over what I had just read. I knew what was coming next: questions.
"Israel.", Van smiled and then in a higher pitched voice that was supposed to be an impersonation of me, "What? Why? How?" He was terrible at impersonations. It did not sound anything like me.
"Remember, I'm the one who came up with that."
"Trust me, I'm not going to let you forget it", he said ominously.
In our last two days, I had come up with a "trick" for how to better understand each verse Van asked me about. The Bible was written in a way that included every cause and the consequential effects. The trick was to determine in what order these elements were presented. If you interpreted the effects of an event as the cause of the event, you could end up missing out on the meaning and completely misunderstand the purpose of it being written in the first place. The effect is the what in a situation: what actually happened. The cause is how the effect happened and why it happened. Van liked this trick and, I could tell, much more than he let on.
"Israel's what was going into the desert to sacrifice to God. The why was so God wouldn't bring a plague. The how was getting Pharaoh's permission."
Van was actually marking in his Bible after each sentence I spoke!
"Pharaoh's what was Israel getting back to work. The why was Moses asking for three days off. The how was not letting them go."
Now, I waited for the question. Van and I had a rhythm to our studying, whether he realized it or not. He would ask me to apply the trick to each side (there were always at least two sides in every passage), then he would ask me to compute who was ahead or behind from the exchange.
Van was still writing when he asked, "Who is ahead and who is behind?"
I looked at the passage and couldn't see anything had changed, so I replied, "Tie. Neither side gained or lost."
"Now you can read the next verse."
I read, "And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers saying, Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves. And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God."
I smiled and looked up, "I can break this down right now!"
Van leaned in.
“This one is easy”, I smiled and looked up to see Van’s eyes widen, “Pharaoh's what was punishment for Israel. The why was he believed they were idle. The how was to not give them straw and require the same number of bricks."
This was getting easy for me because I was becoming an expert at identifying the why, which is the key. I found its easy with the Bible: just look for the words for, that, because, and sometimes which. The last sentence of this passage blatantly stated "for they be idle", so that was the why, the cause. Then it was immediately followed with therefore which indicated an effect, a what, was coming.
"How did Israel get even?", Van asked.
I read the rest of the chapter out loud. Israel didn't get even. In fact, the people essentially pronounced a curse onto Moses in verse 21. The last two verses of the chapter showed Moses asked God why he was sent if Pharaoh was not going to obey him.
Van read the next chapter out loud. God stated He will do great works on their behalf, but there was still no retaliation by Israel or God. It was my turn to read the next chapter.
"Chapter seven", I said. "And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children out of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them. And Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them, so did they. And Moses..."
“Wait a minute. What did God do? How did He do this and why?”
I reread the passage.
"The what was God will bring out the children of Israel from Egypt. The why was so the Egyptians, and the Israelites, would know He is the Lord. The how was by hardening Pharaoh's heart...which is the issue I have with this passage."
Van said, "Are you sure there wasn't more to the how? What if the how was seen as a what?"
"So, the what becomes: God was hardening Pharaoh's heart. The why was so God could bring forth the children of Israel by great judgments. The how was...the how of the how?"
Van knew this was my cry for 'help!'. It seemed like he would lead me to details, but the more specific the information, the harder it was for me to attain it.
Van smiled, "The why included 'by great judgments'. That part was a how. If I asked you to break it down even further, you would find the next how was 'through justice'...in your words", then in a higher voice, "Judgment is an effect of justice."
I got it!
"Pharaoh and Moses interacted. Neither gained or loss. There was no need for justice to be equaled out. Then Pharaoh took from Israel. This was the second dimension response! It was Pharaoh's response to how Pharaoh interacted with Moses!"
Van smiled and began to write.
I continued, "However, Pharaoh thought he was actually evening out justice! So, Pharaoh thought everything was tied, yet God knew Pharaoh actually won and Israel lost. God knew He got to even it out if Israel chose not to. Look at the passage. God got Moses and Aaron to agree up front they would only do what God told them to do and only say what God told them to say...and God didn't do anything at this point. Was God the next one to do something?"
Van read the rest of the chapter. God had Moses even out justice and Pharaoh got madder. However, I still had a question, "It looks like God was hardening Pharaoh's heart as an effect of the second dimension response; not as a cause. God explained His plan to Moses and it was based on Pharaoh not only not confessing and repenting, but Pharaoh actually getting more unjust. How did God know for sure Pharaoh would continue to get more unjust?"
Van replied, "That looks like the future already happened and God knew it. However, if the causes were in place, God could predict the future...and God had the cause. Imagine I accidentally bumped into a man walking down the street and his reaction was to punch me. How do you think he would respond if I punched him? Relative to our accidental collision, would his reaction be kind, neutral, or more cruel?”
“Simple! If he was upset over you unintentionally bumping into him, he would be furious if you intentionally hit him!”
Van smirked as he asked, "Then why do you think God did anything more than you just did when He told Moses about Pharaoh's future actions?"
"Van. Do you know how many people I've met that base their entire belief in Calvinism on this story...and it turns out it was probably one of the least impressive things God did?"
We were pleased our interactions seemed to continually get better. Van had some emails to respond to and I decided to escape the confines of the house and stretch my legs. I had energy needing an outlet.
I stood on Van's porch and looked at the tree-lined street. The first word that came to mind was "life". The squirrels were running up the trees, chasing each other, scattering as I walked down the sidewalk towards campus. I was waving to people as they sat on their porches. Activity was everywhere...
Why did I feel so much life with Van?
Van and I had taken CS Lewis' definition for life as "the ability to repair" and looked at every Biblical usage of the word life. Lewis' definition fit them all without contradiction. In fact, it made some passages revelatory...
The Bible said the life is in the blood. It is physiologically true. The body's ability to repair is in the blood.
Jesus came that we might have life and life more abundantly; that we might have the ultimate ability to repair. What specifically would give us the ultimate ability to repair? The ultimate blood: which is Jesus' Blood.
The ability to repair is the same ability needed for growth and I felt like I grew with every exchange with Van. Why? What was it about Van that brought out the best in me? How would I describe him to someone else? How had he been described to me?
As I left the shade of the trees and headed across an empty student parking lot, the brightness of the direct sun caused me to stop and shield my eyes. I thought of Alex. How had Alex described Van? He called Van "the operator of a coal mine". I smirked and said it out loud, "Van the coal miner". Then it happened...
As I walked, oblivious to the stone buildings and concrete campus walkways, I saw Van covered in black dust. The scientist in me thought about how coal is just decomposed creatures. Chemicals that once had life being reduced to their essential building blocks: carbon atoms.
When people speak of organic, they are talking about natural and living things. To a scientist, organic means one thing: carbon. Actually, carbon to carbon bonds.
Why did I get so much life from Van? The most obvious reason was what he was able to do with the Bible: he was able to make it come alive to me. He was able to reduce it to its building blocks and supply it to me in raw form: as a series of bonded carbon atoms.
I tried to enter the campus library, but it was locked.
When I thought of the Bible, I thought of what the disciples handled during their "Bible studies". They didn't have books. They had parchment, which was dried mammal skins. On these dry mammal skins they had words that were physically made of ink, which is just carbon suspended in liquid. Dried liquid on dried skins. Van was able to make the carbon itself come alive again.
Physically, it was just written words. However, the ancients valued written words. They believed these physical words carried a life force able to accomplish the will of the author.
After a walk around the campus I felt overheated. The sun felt heavy on my skin and there was no shade to be found on campus. I headed back to Van's house realizing something. I was getting energy from Van’s ability to get this life force out of words, as if he was able to exert an unfathomable amount of pressure on these words until they put forth the entirety of their value. I saw the words as lumps of coal, the books as heaps of coal, and Van’s pressure produced the diamonds we were able to share.
Turning the corner, my eyes met the trees lining the side of the street. I laughed out loud. I remembered the overwhelming majority of the weight of a tree is made up of carbon! We humans have life because we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. However, the trees inhale carbon dioxde and exhale oxygen. The only difference is the carbon atom. The tree keeps the carbon atom and adds it to its structure. It literally grows by acquiring carbon from us.
I was sure I had to go to the guest room. However, when I was halfway down the hall, I couldn't remember the reason why. Everything I needed for studying was on the dining room table.
As I stood in the hallway determining my purpose, I looked up. The wall was covered with photos. Old ones. New ones. Black and white. Sepia. Color. Digital. I looked for photos of Adam and Alex.
Eventually, Van came out of the bedroom he had converted to his office.
"Van, what's the story behind this photo of Alex?"
"That's my dad."
"Is there a more current photo of your dad?"
Van pointed to a picture of him and his dad on campus. His dad had Adam's smile. He had his arm around Van and looked proud.
"Where does your dad live?"
Van hesitated, took in a deep breath, and tried to answer in an even tone, but failed, "He lives about thirty miles from you."
I looked at Van and arched my eyebrows out of curiousity. Van tried to keep a straight face, but he busted out laughing. It surprised and scared me.
"What's so funny?", I asked.
“I was waiting for the right time to tell you this: you two would get along very well. You both have been through a lot of painful experiences. If you think I know the Bible, you should talk to him He has been studying it for longer than I’ve been alive!”
We spent over an hour standing in the hallway. Me asking for the story behind a photo. Van filling in the details solely affiliated with the photo. The information was not in chronological order. However, I was beginning to fill in the missing pieces of these three brothers' lives.
Dor Karamazowsky came from a long line of pastors. However, the last thing Dor wanted was to be confined to the indoors. He was an athlete, outdoorsman, and amateur film maker. People were drawn to him and he loved the attention. When it came time for Dor to leave for college, he found out his girlfriend was pregnant with Adam. His plans changed He got a job to support the family he was now responsible for. This, however, did not stop people from being drawn to him, especially women.
Dor was charismatic and lived for the moment. He eventually found himself with another son on the way. This time with Van's mother. Dor divorced his first wife and left when Adam was nine. By the time Alex was born, Adam was thirteen.
When the right causes are in place, the effects are easy to predict. Dor left his second wife and took Alex with him, and left Van to grow up without a father.
Dor hit bottom. He went bankrupt and lost everything except for Alex. He took it as a sign he had lost his battle with God. So he started a church. Between his good looks, charisma, and intelligence, people were drawn to him now more than ever. Within a year, he had a staff of seven and over eight hundred in his congregation. Two building programs later, he had the largest church within one hundred miles.
During this time, he poured everything into Alex in order to make Alex the pastor he knew he ought to be. Alex left home for good when he was seventeen. He toured with a band. Four years and three bands later, he founded Halley's Comet.
Around the time of Alex's third band, Dor walked into the church office and handed in his letter of resignation. He hasn't set foot in a church since. He moved back to Texas to be closer to Adam. He did attend Adam's church one time, but didn't consider it church since it was in a bar.
Van said Dor still studied his Bible, but he just goes in circles. That is why he thought Dor would like me. Apparently Van was enjoying our time together as much as I was.
When we went downstairs to the living room, I asked Van about Alex.
"So, Alex feels like his dad damaged him by teaching him the Bible incorrectly?"
"Alex feels like he gave seventeen years of his life to God and has nothing to show for it except confusion. He says he deserves seventeen years his way before he will discuss the Bible again."
"Have you been to Alex's cabin?"
"In his guest room, there is a drawing under glass. I was wondering..."
Van interrupted, "Rose drew it. She's Alex's one true love. You've actually benefited from some of her work."
"I have? Did she create the dimensional drawings?"
"Yes. All the artwork at Alex's is from her. She's obviously quite talented..." Van went into the kitchen.
"Then, you know where she is...I mean, you have a drawing from her", I called after him.
"Yes." Van came back and put some cookies on the dining room table.
"So, she and Alex...are they still in love?"
"Absolutely." Van sat in front of the piano.
"Then why aren't they together? Does she live far away?"
"Alex is afraid of losing her. He says he doesn't have an objective measure to know when they ought to be together. An objective measure he can intentionally grow with her in so he doesn't disappoint her too. Alex is doing everything he knows to do. He is a lot like dad that way."
I got up to get a couple of cookies while I thought about my next comment.
"Alex is tough to figure out. On the one hand he is an artist and seems to go completely by feel. On the other hand, he is very quick intellectually: he can get to the end of a discussion quicker than anyone I've ever met. Yet, when it comes to sharing his feelings with others, he seems to be a child."
"I think I have an explanation, but I'm interested to get your opinion", Van said as he began to play in a very rigid and stilted fashion. "Alex gave me this piano. I'm just beginning to learn how to play it. Right now, I know three chords. Do you know how many songs are made up of only these three chords?"
"About a dozen in this songbook. When I learn the next chord, do you know how many songs I will be able to play?"
"Well, I'm pretty good at math, so I know it isn't one third more. It will be more like fifty."
"Close enough. However, more importantly, do you know how much more listenable the songs get? It will feel like the difference between a nursery rhyme and a folk song...and it gets much better with each chord."
I stared at Van expectantly because I wasn't understanding the point. He stopped playing.
"Alex can play everything in these books because he knows all the chords and he can read music. However, Alex can create his own songs because he knows how to let the chords flow in new and different patterns; but he would only be able to create music at a complexity in line with the number of chords he knows. When it comes to God", Van began to play another song from his book, "Alex knows at best three chords correctly, yet he is meant to, and has the desire to, play symphonies. He doesn't know enough chords...and he doesn't want to learn any more until he knows for sure they are right."
"When it comes to God, what are 'the chords'?"
Van stopped playing and looked at me, "Doctrine".
"Yeah, he told me he would admit he was wrong when I gave him a non-contradictory model for God. That is probably the ultimate doctrine."
"Alex believes you are able to do it. I was skeptical, but after the last three days, I agree with Alex. You are a modeler."
"I know...I know. Everyone's unaware brain models perfectly without effort. We are all modelers."
"Erik, I'm talking about consciously modeling. I have never met anyone like you. You create a system for everything I share."
"Van, I think you are the gifted one. You have a way of giving me the exact piece of information I need. I don't know how you do it."
"I get tiles, Erik. Nothing more...nothing less. My dad is even better than me. We can't take the massive amount of information we have stored and put a system to it. You are able to create a mosaic out of my tiles. When you went for a walk, I looked at the notes you took. Do you realize how much doctrine you have identified during the last three days?"
We had determined a lot of doctrine, but I wasn't convinced, "I don't know".
"Erik, you do this with everything. You modeled Frank Lloyd Wright's principles...his doctrine...and then you created something new! Alex showed you how Ayn's principles were present in 'Atlas Shrugged'. I'm seeing you actually use her principles when you model the Bible."
"I don't know if I'm ready to model the Bible..."
"I won't ask you to model a complex book like the Bible...yet...", Van chuckled and pulled a book from his bookshelf and held it up, "However, I would be curious to see you model this one."
"Who wrote it?"
"CS Lewis. You have already modeled his principles, haven't you?"
"Is it 'Mere Christianity'? I can explain that to you right now."
"No. This is the last book CS Lewis wrote. It was published months after his death. It's called, 'The Discarded Image'. Have you heard of it?"
"Yes. Brain McLaren quoted from it in the book Adam lent me. I didn't think it existed."
"Are you interested?", he asked as he extended it to me.
My answer was completely involuntary, "Absolutely".
Van looked like a man who had finally reached the top of Mt. Everest.
When I reached for the book, I felt like I was home.