Marilynne Robinson: “As if People Were Less than God Made Them”

From Marilynne Robinson, “Freedom of Thought,” in When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York: Picador – Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), pp. 3-18:

At a certain point I decided that everything I took from studying and reading anthropology, psychology, economics, cultural history, and so on did not square at all with my sense of things, and that the tendency of much of it was to posit or assume a human simplicity within a simple reality and to marginalize the sense of the sacred, the beautiful, everything in any way lofty. I do not mean to suggest, and I underline this, that there was any sort of plot against religion, since religion in many instances abetted these tendencies and does still, not least by retreating from the cultivation and celebration of learning and of beauty, by dumbing down, as if people were less than God made them and in need of nothing so much as condescension. Who among us wishes the songs we sing, the sermons we hear, were just a little dumber? People today — television — video games — diminished things. This is always the pretext.

Short Take: Here Am I

Author’s Note

When Samuel heard his name one night, he thought Eli was calling him. He answered, “Here am I.” Eli had not called; he sent Samuel back to bed. It happened again and again. Finally, Eli said it must be the Lord, and Samuel should say next time, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Samuel obeyed, and marvels followed. (See 1 Samuel 3:1-10.)

Long before Samuel, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses answered in turn, when the Lord called: “Here am I” (Exodus 3:1-4; Genesis 22:11; 31:11; 46:2).

In the Hebrew Bible, what Samuel, Moses, Abraham, and Jacob said, when the Lord called, was “hineni” (pronounced “hee-NAY-ee” or “hee-nen-EE,” depending on which rabbi is reading which verse).

Besides mere presence or location, hineni suggests devotion, service, and determination. Hineni implies what Samuel said the fourth time: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” Samuel was listening, and he was the Lord’s willing servant. I’m told that hineni also suggests, “This is where I take a stand. This is what I stand for.”

So I ask myself, and you could ask yourself, Is the Church just a nice place to spend time on Sunday? Or do I present myself there, as God’s willing servant? What of my prayers, my neighborhood, my home? Am I just there, or am I the Lord’s willing and obedient servant there?

Short Take: Using the JST

Author’s Note

One purpose of the Book of Mormon is to establish the Bible’s truth (1 Nephi 13:40). Another is to restore “plain and precious things” which were lost from Bible (1 Nephi 13:24-29). After the Book of Mormon’s publication, God set Joseph Smith another large scriptural task: restore the Bible. The Bible is that important.

Under inspiration from heaven, Joseph restored much that was lost and corrected many errors. We usually call the result the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), though it is not a translation between languages. The LDS Church still uses the King James Version (KJV) – a longer story – but many JST excerpts are in footnotes and an appendix to the LDS publication of the KJV. Several whole chapters are included in the Pearl of Great Price. Noticing these enriches our reading and teaching.

For example, the JST version of the early chapters of Genesis is published in the Pearl of Great Price as the Book of Moses; the expansion is dramatic and priceless.

When Moses shows wonders to Pharaoh, beginning in Exodus 7, the KJV says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3, 13). The JST has Pharaoh hardening his own heart.

When John records – according to the KJV – both that Jesus baptized (John 3:22) and did not baptize (4:2), the JST says instead, in the latter case, that Jesus performed baptisms, but not as many as his disciples.