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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Time Machine in the Church Basement



Let us suppose that I have constructed a time machine in the church basement. Why not? The church basement is as good as any other place. A time machine right down between the shelf of old hymnals, blue AA books, and battered copies of the KJV with Jesus’ words in red and the dissonant old piano with cracked and yellowing ivory keys would not seem so strange.

And let us suppose that we could use this time machine, this fully functional and not at all dangerous time machine in the church basement to visit (or re-visit) the stories recorded in scripture – supposing, of course, that we could locate them along the flow of the historical time line.  Why not? The stories of the bible are endlessly fascinating. Using a time machine to visit Moses, or Jehu, or Deborah, or Manasseh of Judah, or Peter seems perfectly reasonable even if I don’t have a robot named Gizmo or a Flying House.

So. With the Bible as our travel guide, where would we go?

Suppose we wished to visit the man after God’s own heart, King David, the son of Jesse himself. Why not? Perhaps he would teach us one of his psalms. After fastening our safety harasses and putting on the protective eyewear, the switches are thrown and the levers pulled. With a zzzap of static electricity and a whiff of ozone the church basement disappears and we find ourselves in Jerusalem on the roof of David’s palace on a cool evening in the spring.

It happens towards evening as the king gets up from his nap, and strolls along the palace roof. He sees from the roof a woman, a beautiful woman, bathing. “Who is she?” the king inquires and the report comes to him that she is “Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite who serves in the army of the king.”

Now we’ve read the book and we know that this story does not end well for any of those involved, so let us suppose that we step into the story, suppose that we constrain the king (may he live forever) from making such a rash and unwise decision, that we persuade him to resist the temptation to take Bathsheba for his own. And suppose that the king (who usually had all those who opposed him killed) thanks us for our timely intervention. The king does not sin. Uriah does not die and the shadow of the sword does not hang ominously forever over the house of David.

With another zzzap of static electricity and whiff of ozone we attempt to return to the church basement, but… It is gone. The church basement is gone. The church is gone. In fact the Church with a Capital C is gone.

We consult our travel guide, one of those battered KJV bibles with Jesus’ words in red – the book falls open to Luke chapter 3, to the genealogy of Jesus traced through Mary… he was the son (as it was thought) of Joseph, son of Heli, son of Matthat, … yadda, yadda, yadda… son of Nathan, son of David.

This strikes us as important, though we’ve never paid too much attention to the genealogical lists. We check again, this time the lists of the sons of David. “…He reigned for thirty-three years in Jerusalem. These are the sons born to him in Jerusalem, Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon – the four of them children of Bathsheba.”

In our supposing, David never seduced and stole the wife of Uriah, never had Uriah killed, never fathered any sons with Bathsheba, and the unborn or not-born Nathan never had sons and grandsons and greatgreatgreatgreatgereatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreat grandsons who would have become the ancestors of Mary who would give birth to Jesus if only we hadn’t interfered.

But the church basement is still there, and the old hymnals and blue AA books and battered KJV bibles with Jesus’ words in red are there, and the tuneless old piano as well. This supposition of ours falters because Luke’s genealogy of Jesus isn’t traced through Mary, and because time doesn’t work like that, and neither does God.

Even so. Perhaps a time machine in the church basement isn’t such a good idea.





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