The Tuning Station has been out for nearly a month now. And while it hasn’t exactly shaken up the world, it has sold slow and steady, and found readers in four countries so far. The reaction, at least from those who have either reviewed the book or contacted me personally, has been satisfying and often humbling. But most gratifying is how many have felt a personal connection to the story.
Some comments I’ve received:
“The story made me cry, and nowadays barely any novel does that anymore.”
“The discussion is not a whole lot different than the constant introspection, self doubt and fears of an Asperger’s host. Personally, I read my life in this account”
“By the time I reached about 30% I still was not quite certain yet, if the story was written from Christian or an atheist perspective.”
“I think you did a great job, portraying both sides in quite a fair manner to the point where you even gave the atheist a few points of advantage in the beginning. This might allow a non-religious person to identify with Ted. “
“Not only does the novel avoid caricatures and glib answers, but it tells the story of two versions of the same life in a manner that is profoundly moving. “
“(the main character) seems to me a lot like my oldest son. He was never diagnosed with Aspergers or anything else, but he was always considered strange by other kids and by his teachers, and he was therefore constantly bullied in school, badly bullied.”
As the comments indicate, it’s definitely not light summer reading.
The topic of Aspergers is one that is near to my heart. My oldest son was diagnosed with it as a small child, and he’s exactly like me. It provided a way to explain how our minds work, and why we have difficulties connecting with others, especially during our formative years. This theme made the book extremely personal for me, despite the character’s difficult past that I do not share, and the obviously fictional sci-fi elements.
It was my intention to write a book that presented the atheist characters fairly and respectfully, in a way that feels real. In doing so, it has proven to be an uncomfortable journey for some Christian readers. My opinion is that the best way to communicate with someone is to truly understand him or her; to go beyond the obvious exterior and figure out “why”. The book sets up a circumstance where the two main characters know each other in a way impossible in the real world. Up to a point in time, everything about them was identical – events, actions, feelings, and even the exact thoughts in their head. More alike than any two people could be, even identical twins. Thus, how they could possibly end up at two dramatically different points of view is a mystery that can only be revealed by delving deeply into their lives and reactions to each other.
The most humbling comment I’ve received so far is this one:
“I finished the Tuning Station last night. Whew, what a ride. I’m praying that God will show me why, at this time in my life, all this stuff from my past was dredged up again. Stuff I haven’t thought about in a long, long, time. I almost put it down it brought up so many bad memories. But I finished it and now I just will keep asking what am I suppose to do with it?”
I wrote this novel because of what I see in the world around me these days. Young people are losing their faith, and so many of our actions are counter-productive; from severing relationships to preaching apologetics, both sides seem to talk around the issues. Why, exactly, do we see the same things so differently? Why does something so meaningful to me leave another person unaffected? When something turns us against God, what is it that brings us back?
I want us to find ways to truly understand each other, so we can more fully be expressions of God’s love towards all humanity.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 33:36-40
I probably read those verses a thousand times in my life without understanding their full implication. I always saw them for the importance that Jesus placed on love – loving God, loving others – but it pretty much ended there. Just another bunch of verses in the entirety of the bible, standing alone.
Years ago, though, I read “The Jesus Creed” by Scot McKnight, and it has utterly changed my view of this text. Note the last line – ‘All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments’. That’s a huge statement, and deserves some unpacking.
First, note that it doesn’t contain any exclusions. To obey the law, to follow the prophets, is to love God and others. Said another way, if anyone tries to obey the law without loving others – or, more directly, obey the law in a way that actively harms others – they are doing it wrong. So many times in the Gospels, Jesus is confronted by Pharisees doing the Biblical, lawful thing, and Jesus berates them because they are using the law to justify mistreatment of other people. For Jesus, the heart behind the law is more critical than the law itself. We are no less guilty than the Pharisees were when we make the same mistake.
Let’s take this even one step farther, though. If all of the law and prophets hinge on those two commandments, then we can also assume that every single law in the bible has to be read the same way. In other words, when reading biblical law or books of Prophecy, they become the interpretive filter by which we must use to decipher their meaning. (Note that I’d exclude history and poetry from this, not because they aren’t part of God’s imperative to love, but because the former is reporting events that may or may not be positive expressions of God’s will, and the latter in some cases is expressing human emotion and not a command).
I’ll be the first to admit that interpreting law in terms of loving others is not always easy. Consider the following verse:
“Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” – Exodus 21:20-21
Two things stand out here. First, the bible seems to be implicitly endorsing slavery and the idea that a person can be another person’s property. Second, it seems to explicitly endorse the idea that a slave can be beaten to almost the point of death. Such things are abhorrent now; and if God’s morality is unchanging through time, how can we possibly feel that if God endorse such things thousands of years ago, they are wrong today?
Not to mention, a slave is an “other’. How can we possibly interpret this verse in light of loving others when it’s very obvious that beating someone else to the point of death is hardly loving them? How do we make sense of this?
I think the answer lies in how we interpret the bible, and even the nature of inspiration. If we believe that the biblical authors were simply dictating the words of God, then those words belong to God and must be universal and timeless. We really don’t have much of a choice but to accept their truth, even in modern times. Things like cultural differences cannot be called into play because God surpasses culture.
Let’s consider an alternative, though. Let’s say God’s inspiration is not the placing of words into the author’s mind, but the placing of ideas. Through experience and gentle guiding, God ensures that the author is in a place where they become inspired to write what God wants them to write, in their own words and using their own knowledge and life experience to do so. The words aren’t God’s, the ideas are; and if that’s the case, then it’s the ideas behind the words that become of prime importance.
This isn’t such a wild idea and is supported by the bible itself. Luke talks of an extensive interview process as he gathered information to write Luke and Acts. John says he’s testifying to everything he saw. Even Paul inserts his own “asides”, where he expresses personal opinion. If you think about it, words are incredibly hard to translate at times. The bible was written for all people of all cultures and languages, for all times. Our impetus as Christians is to take the gospel to others, not to bring them here, which supports the idea that we take the bible to other languages rather than forcing Christians to learn another language in order to read scripture. Words are next to impossible to universally translate, but ideas are much easier. Ideas play to universal truths in a way that phrases never can.
If this is the case, then it should drive how we read the bible. If ideas are more important than words, then this means that book, chapters and paragraphs are more important than verses. To understand a verse isn’t to understand what it means by itself but what it means in context around it. And, to properly understand the context, one must view the words in light of the cultures in which they were written, where an author writing from his own worldview is using terms he understands in which to express the ideas God had placed inside him. Please don’t misunderstand, what is being said expresses exactly what God wants it to.
So, this brings us back to our verse in Exodus. How is this seen in light of what I have just said? Well, the words would belong to the man that wrote them. A man for whom God had put on his heart a concern for the conditions of the society he saw around him. A concern for those who could not protect themselves. Obviously, people beating their slaves to death was a problem, and the intent here is to fix that problem. It is the correcting of a social ill by someone who is still a product of his society; he’s not a 21st-century American who has thousands of years of history behind him revealing the evils of slavery and the promise of freedom, but a contemporary of a society in which the freedoms we enjoy are not even a remote possibility yet.
And what are we to learn? That everybody is a child of God, a human being created in God’s image worthy of our protection and concern. That rings true for all people, all languages, all cultures and for all time.