Sunday, June 20, 2010

Desperate Search: The Watchers

And then there shall be bestowed upon the elect wisdom,
And they shall all live and never again sin,
Either through ungodliness or through pride:
But they who are wise shall be humble.
 1 Enoch 5:8

Dr. Parnassus has a mirror.  It's a special mirror.  It takes guests to another place, a place that is a bent on the foreigners own thoughts.  The good Doctor controls this place.  It is his own to illustrate and make manifest.  Take my word for it, this sideways mirror world is spectacular.  You should be so lucky as to be a guest.

This is Terry Gilliam's newest creation, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.  The world presented speaks of two realms, one rugged and gritty, the other subjective and ever so whimsical.  Both are valid and real.

Being a Christian, we have received two types of avenues to knowledge:

1) General Revelation - this is everything by which we can gain advancement in understanding.
2) Special Revelation - this is God's direct intervention into human history, most profoundly through the events and inspired words of the Holy Bible. 

The sufficiency of the first side of the mirror is made known in Paul's letter to the Romans:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Romans 1:18-20

The mathematical world around can and should lead us to knowledge of God.  The world shouts of the work of God:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
   and the sky above proclaims his handiwork
Day to day pours out speech,
   and night to night reveals knowledge.
Psalm 19:1-2

That's the gritty side of the mirror.  But what about the otherside?  

It is through this other world of wisdom that I know and can speak of the savior of the earth, Jesus of Galilee.  It is quite an exciting mirror world, full of grand questions, big named characters, and plenty of miraculous images.  We get unquenchable burning bushes, rivers turning to blood, angels, demons, apocalyptically speckled horses and the occasional dragon reference (more on this one shortly). 

Yes, the backside of the mirror is a many splendid thing.  

But dear reader, I admit this, that I find within myself always the desire for more of a good thing.  It is easier for me to not have any food at all, rather than to dip my finger in the sauce and get a taste of all that beckons.  The limits of control I know not yet.  How far down the rabbit hole will 'special revelation' take me? 

I am not convinced that one needs to worry himself with the plot of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, nevertheless, if one does care to grapple with that added luxury of developments, one would find that the film is not much more than your basic Faustian melodrama.  There is a man, and there is a devil.  Wages are made.  The bet is on.

The competition forged between adversary and old man is one of seduction.  They have vowed to race one another as to who can first successfully seduce five souls to follow their particular path over their rival amidst the chaos of the cerebral netherworld.

In the same way, we, the learned and beloved of God (perhaps I'd be so bold as to call us the elect?), know that there is special revelation from the Lord that is good and an eternal nourishment to us, as it feeds us with the knowledge of the character of our Creator, Lord and Savior, and there is the dust and ash in the atmosphere as well; that which creates a fog and convolutes the deep side of the mirror.  There is much in the world that claims to be special.  People are healed, exorcised, and speak 'divine utterances'.  Which of these is to be believed?  

The question comes to this: how do I know when I am encountering special revelation?  How do I know if I'm seeking after Dr. Parnassus or that Tom Waits-ian devil?  

The issue of the Biblical canon is relevant to this conversation.  How did the early Christians decipher between what was truly God's word and what was merely man-made?  Of particular interest is the work of 1 Enoch, of which I quoted at the front of this essay.

Enoch is a strange, angelically rich book that is assuredly apocalyptic in genre, and includes a whole unique system of rank-and-file upright and fallen angels.  Upon inspection, simply on account of its strangeness, one would be compelled to say it as pseudepigraphal, and nothing more.  But then we see that the short letter from Jude states something otherwise:

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day... 14It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him."
Jude 7, 14-15 

Jude's quote in verses 14 and 15 appear to be directly lifted from the first chapter of Enoch.  Despite this truth, Enoch is not Holy Scripture.  Nonetheless, it appears to be imparting a story of angelic history, which, by it's very essence, could only be transferred to mankind through special revelation. What is the purpose of God transferring such knowledge to men, particularly that which appears to be true, but not considered Scripture?  What am I to do with such information?

Another example bridges the two mirror worlds.  Accepted in the Catholic tradition, but not in the Protestant canon is the apocryphal account of an aging Daniel confronting a dragon.  As the story goes (Daniel chapter 13), the Persian people are worshiping a contained, living dragon, as if the dragon were a god.  Daniel proves that his God is mightier than any dragon by stuffing a compound down the monster's throat that causes the beast to explode from the inside-out.

If this were a true story - well, it would be another miracle of God showing dominance over the whole earth, but it would also bounce through to the otherside of the mirror, as an example of a dragon's existence (a dinosaur) would be given some historical validity (that is, if the genre of the story were historical and not allegorical).

Furthermore, outside of issues of ancient scriptures, there are the individual testimonies.  Those who claim to dream revelatory dreams, and see visions yet unseen -- what are we to make of them?  Must we view them only with suspicion?

There is a sect of Christianity that is a bit aloof from all three of the major branches of Christianity, for it is neither Roman Catholic, nor Eastern Orthodox, nor Protestant in dimension, from what I understand.  From Scripture, it would make logical sense that the Ethiopian eunuch that Philip interpreted the book of Isaiah for, and subsequently baptized (Acts, Chapter 8) would be where this church would bear its heritage from originally; this however, is not what they claim.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, (which does include 1 Enoch in their canon, by the way) spin a wondrous story that the Queen of Sheba, upon her visit to the great King Solomon, was impregnated by him (an aspect of the story that is left out of both biblical accounts of her meeting with the King; 1 Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12) and subsequently had a son named Menelik I who became the first Emperor of Ethiopia.  It is then claimed that Menelik I somehow got a hold of the Ark of the Covenant, and Ethiopia has preserved the Ark even up to the present day.

There are 43 million Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church followers.  All those faithful claim that at the center of the Church of Our Lady of Zion, the central church in Ethiopia, the Ark of the Covenant still rests.  Only one priest is allowed to watch over it, so no one can go in and verify if the there even exists an Ark-like box in the church.

Is there any chance on earth that this claim could be legitimate, or has the Ethiopian church become boastful and obsessed with having a high status in Christendom by claiming a safe-hold to the most mysterious artifact in the Judeo-Christian tradition? 

The director of this fine cinematic experience, Mr. Terry Gilliam, makes an odd choice as to how he chooses to explore the traditional framework of his Faust-like melodrama.  When the mirror-invitees must choose between the devil and Doctor Parnassus, the decision is never made as a moral choice.  It appears to be nothing more than a decision of aesthetics.  Doctor Parnassus does not ever bother to illicit to the dreamesque sojourners that choosing his side is a choice for the morally righteous.  Rather, the choice is left as one of mere artistic taste.

Terry Gilliam has created a delightful fantasy.  It is a cinematic universe that he manipulates the strings to -- he is his own puppeteer.  I don't have such luxuries in the world I inhabit.  My decisions, by necessity, are more than mere aesthetic preferences.

[From God for Enoch to report to the fallen angels] "You have been in heaven, but all the mysteries had not yet been revealed to you...Say to them therefore: "You have no peace."'
1 Enoch 16:3,4

No comments:

Post a Comment