The GMO Gospel
I'm an Atlas Obscura junkie. I found the site while grieving the loss of responsible American news stations, and after years of choking down Orwellian newspeak, it's been refreshing to find well-researched articles that unpack the weird and wooly history of the human race.
This morning I landed on a post from 2015 about the history of seed vaults. These are temperature and humidity-controlled chambers which preserve collections of the world's seeds so that if a global disaster wipes out agriculture, the human race will be able to plant food again.
Both my husband and I grew up as the grandchildren of farmers, so from our earliest years, we were exposed to the work of saving seeds for the next year's planting. While modern gardeners rush about to gather "heirloom" seeds, all I have to do is speak with my husband's Pappaw, and I will find tiger melon or tomato seeds that have run in the family decades.
The problem with most modern seeds is that they are highly-specialized hybrids, and many are modified genetically. A hybrid is a plant that has been developed from multiple plants, grown to resist such threats as insects, drought, or mold. Those can be helpful developments, of course. But sometimes hybrids and GMO's are either sterile, or they do not reproduce according to their kind. You get one planting out of them, one harvest, and then you must buy seeds again the next year.
Heirloom seeds, on the other hand, can be grown and regrown indefinitely. As long as cross-pollination doesn't occur, for a thousand years, the offspring of this year's seeds will reproduce the exact same fruit. Although benefits to hybrids exist, there's something wonderful about the security of this sort of genetic purity. Such a plant is dependent upon nothing but the natural rotation of the earth and the care of a good farmer to bring sustenance.
Atlas Obscura's essay, "From WWII to Syria, How Seed Vaults Weather Wars," explains how the devotion of seed vault scientists is tested during the most savage moments of human history. For example, during WWII, nine Russian scientists starved to death while protecting a seed vault during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad. Dimitri Ivanov was one of those who died of hunger while watching over thousands of packs of rice. He gave his life because he believed that the purity of the treasure he guarded had the potential to feed millions of strangers.
Interestingly, almost every major conflict of human history has also had an impact on seeds. In fact, while seed scientists have believed their work wouldn't be needed for hundreds or thousands of years, trouble in Syria required the first-ever withdrawal from Norway's Svalbard bank. Because of the crisis in Aleppo, scientists had urged deposits to be made as soon as possible. Now botanists are duplicating those preserved seeds to restock both Svalbard and the damaged lands of the Middle East once the war subsides.
As I think about the state of Christianity in modern times, I see how wars in the unseen realm have already threatened the seeds of truth and hope on a cataclysmic scale. The purity of gospel has been distorted by humanism on the left and nationalism on the right, and as a result, Christians on both sides tend to be feeding off hybrid fruits of faith that will not repropagate.
We re-create a blended theology that deflects the insects and diseases of our era, not considering the trajectory of our additions and subtractions. And this is a way to survive, I suppose. We can sell Christian books by using this strategy, and sell Christian music, and fill the plates of the masses with faith-ish blogs, and faith-ish sermons. But what will happen to this harvest when a larger disaster strikes? Will we have preserved the God-given fundamental elements of orthodoxy which are so pure that they grow life in any soil?
This is a hard question, because the original texts of the Bible are not easy. I've spent many years reading the Scripture closely and thinking very hard about the paradoxes that God allowed to remain in its pages. Verses I scoffed at when I was 20 suddenly became clear when I was 30. Passages that I accepted without flinching at 34 are more difficult for me now at 44. People who consume the Bible without ever experiencing confusion or frustration must either be far holier than I am or far more simple-minded.
But in the Bible, there is life. The word of God is living and active, though it is also primitive in places and wild in others. When my daughter was asking me about some difficult lines in II Timothy last week, I said, "Well, you know, that is one of the epistles that some scholars question. Canonicity and authorship for that book are complicated."
Then we pulled up resources that explained the questions beneath her questions. Questions about the role of women. Questions about the guilt of Eve passed down through an X chromosome. I let her see that there was nothing to fear about asking things like this, because a living God can handle it.
I told her that over time I had found something interesting about passages just like that one. Over years of walking with Jesus, I have learned that the pinch of raw Scripture can serve an important first purpose, even when historical explanations can later be uncovered to soften difficult passages. The preposterous, impossible sections of the Bible expose the limits of my obedience to a mysterious God.
After all, even if I can find an appealing explanation for the commands of II Timothy, God doesn't always make sense. I worship a God who required Abraham to sacrifice his own son. There's no historical context that could make such a request easier. It's a brutal requirement that proved a blessing, but how could Abraham have known that? Hebrews says that he trusted God to raise his son from the dead, but would that make harming him reasonable?
While the majority of the Bible shows a tender deity, there are also instances of severity so extreme that they force the division of soul and spirit. Still today, exposure to this savagery of the Word of God reveals my reluctance to trust Him beyond my own mind and gut.
No matter what I believe about the culture of the New Testament, no matter how the education of 1st century women (or whatever) impacted Paul's words to Timothy, if I am honest, the squeeze of the Bible's exact words raises a question much more important than my acceptance behind a pulpit on a Sunday morning.
Would I trust a God who asked me to keep silent, even for something so ridiculous as my gender? Would I leave a city and walk out into the wilderness if He asked me to? Would I sacrifice what I loved most for Him? Would I build an ark in a land where it never rained? Would I lay down my life, when my life is all I have known? Would I lie on my side naked and prophecy? Would I reject my impulses? My makeup? My animal instincts? My biology?
So rarely He asks bizarre, irrational behavior of his followers, but what if I were one of the ones He approached with such a dilemma? Do I hold my own reason so dearly that I would reject His leadership?
If I subsist only on culture-specialized, hybrid theology, I lose this savage edge of my faith. And after years and years of living off GMO religion, when or if God asks me to do something that conflicts with humanism or nationalism, I will not know how to plant and harvest those seeds.
This is why I try to study the Bible like a scholar while devouring it like a child. Solutions come and go, but will I give a long obedience to a God I see through a glass darkly?
I hope that as Christianity as a whole engages with an increasingly confusing world, she will feel no shame about valuing the stories and teachings of a God who has allowed fruits of mystery to grow up among his fields of rationalism. For when believers preserve pure, obedience-centered, unaltered faith, though it may require sacrifice and vision, we may also preserve life for generations to come.