It was about this time of the year back in 2000 when I took my two oldest to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History (the Field Museum today). What did we go to see?
CHICAGO — For the first time in 50 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls will visit Chicago in a special exhibition at The Field Museum March 10 through June 11.
Written on parchment and papyrus more than 2,000 years ago, the scrolls contain what are believed to be the oldest surviving copies of the books of the Old Testament…
Portions of 15 difference scrolls will be on display in The Field Museum’s exhibition, including five that have never traveled outside of Israel. One of those five is a segment from the book Deuteronomy, which includes the Ten Commandments; the other four contain language and concepts similar to those in the Gospels of the New Testament — written more than 100 years later.
The exhibition will also feature 80 artifacts from Qumran, the archeological site near which the scrolls were discovered;
I was enthralled by the exhibit. Parchment that is over 2000 years old containing Jewish manuscripts gave witness to the community of the “sons of light”. These “men of the covenant” cursed Belial and his unclean spirits, worshiped with angels and preserved the understanding of those who set themselves apart from the Second Temple they believed to be corrupted by sinful leadership.
The almost nine-hundred manuscripts found in eleven caves at Qumran provide us with the context for the time of Jesus. They record the Qumran community’s messianic hopes for salvation in the very near future. They speak of the resurrection, of angels and demons, of the Law and Prophets and of secular matters at the time.
The gap between the Protestant Testaments, with the exception of the book of Daniel, is about four-hundred years. The Old Testament doesn’t provide context for the time of Jesus other than in large broad strokes of God’s dealing with beastly kingdoms and the hope of God saving His people. The Old Testament established the narrative that leads us to the fullness of time when Jesus was born and his kingdom on earth announced. The scrolls continue the narrative and connect the Old and New Testament times. And, more importantly, they help us understand the thinking of the first century Jew. They explain the words and phrases Jesus uses in conjunction with contemporary Jewish thought and theology. They explain Jesus as a Jew.
Though I was fascinated by the scrolls, my two boys would show more interest in another exhibit a few months later. In a sense the two exhibits ran parallel – discoveries reveling context.
In 2000 Sue the T. rex, a 67-million-year-old fossilized skeleton, was put on display. It is said to be the most complete specimen of its kind. This display became the starting point to my accepting evolutionary creation.
I met up with more dinosaurs a few years ago. The company I work for held its one-hundred-and-twenty-fiftieth anniversary celebration in the great hall of the Field Museum. (Job-keeping disclaimer: the dinosaurs are not the people I work with!) The anniversary celebration was another reminder of the Enduring Context. Men and women have been working together for 125 years within an engineering company providing solutions that help mankind.
Just a few weeks ago I visited my mother. She is almost ninety and in hospice care. Once again, I was reminded of the Enduring Context. Mom’s and dad’s steadfast faith in God, which they received from their parents, has been passed down to their children, to their grandchildren and to a multitude of great-grandchildren.
We will do well to remember the past, its fragments and as it is fragmented before us, for we are not without its context. Whether it be dinosaur bones attesting to God’s evolutionary creation or scroll fragments attesting to a community that wanted to keep God’s narrative alive over 2000 years ago the presence of testimony from the past shouldn’t be discounted. The Enduring Context which began in God before the Big Bang is God’s desire for the universe He created. The Enduring Context can be summed up in the words of the Lord’s prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
There is art, music, literature, and architecture created with the Enduring Context in mind. And, there is art, music, literature, and architecture which knows knowing of the Enduring Context. The Progressive Element, eschewing the past, deems itself the only context that matters every time it rewrites history. Unless you are God or a Progressive demi-god, there is no present without the past for the likes of us. And if, as the English metaphysical poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself” then certainly no man is a context entirely to himself. A modern philosopher had this to say about context:
“We must strive to be worthy of an inheritance that we did not create, and to amend it only when we have first understood it” Roger Scruton Rousseau and the Origins of Liberalism
And though it seems to us in our daily struggles that sickness, death, injustice and evil are the Enduring Context, these are temporary. The resurrection of Jesus made sure of that. Our resurrection will continue the Enduring Context.
As followers of Jesus we imitate the One and the ones who are the Enduring Context. Our Lord’s context becomes our context as we walk in the Enduring Context of our citizenship, as Paul encouraged the church at Philippi:
So, my dear family, I want you, all together, to watch what I do and copy me. You’ve got us as a pattern of behavior; pay careful attention to people who follow it.
You see, there are several people who behave as enemies of the cross of the Messiah. I told you about them often enough, and now I am weeping as I say it again. They are on the road to destruction; their stomach is their god, and they find glory in their own shame. All they ever think about is what’s on the earth.
We are citizens of heaven, you see, and we’re eagerly waiting for the savior, the Lord Jesus, who is going to come from there.