Monday, September 24, 2007

Life on Mars

As promised (see I can keep them promises about posting - well sometimes at least!) here is the first in a series. As I mentioned in the last post, the series was inspired by Life on Mars, the BBC police drama series, which I watched on DVD over the summer. It made me think seriously about how life has changed. We talk about this all the time in Church circles: about how we can apply the Bible to our own day. In other words, the problem of hermeneutics. Where the series really succeeded for me was in getting under the skin of the problem and illustrating how great the problem really is. Anyway, have a read and let me know what you think!

It is a dull, rainy day here, but it is still very hot! Whatever the weather where you are, I hope you have a good week!

Life on Mars

A British television police drama was recently released on DVD, and I have just finished watching it. It won many awards. I don’t know if you have seen it at all. It is called Life on Mars. The story centres around Sam Tyler who is a detective in Manchester, England. He has an accident and wakes up in 1973. At the start of each episode he asks the question: ‘am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, he says, it’s like I have landed on a different planet’.

Sam wakes up to discover that he is now a detective in 1973 Manchester who has just been transferred to a new department. The reason it is like a different planet is because everything is so different to what he is used to. There are the obvious things like the fashions and the clothes that people wear and the fact that there are no mobile phones or computers. But there are many other differences, not least the difference in attitudes and what is considered acceptable and what not. For example, attitudes to women and their role are very different. There are no women in the CID, which is considered a male domain. Jokes which would be considered racist, sexist and offensive today are seen as perfectly normal.

Much of the drama centres on the relationship between Sam and his new boss, Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt. Gene is an unreconstructed whisky swilling male who believes in gut instinct and is suspicious of forensics and the like. Sam says to him: ‘You’re an overweight, over the hill, nicotine-stained, borderline alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding.’ To which Gene replies: ‘You make it sound like a bad thing!’ At first Sam takes a superior attitude to and is very critical of his new colleagues. Gradually, however, he begins to realize that he has some thing to learn from them, and he starts to enjoy his new life.

I was a teenager in the 1970s and what is more came from a police family in the north of England. For me, and those like me, who remember the 1970s, it is a real nostalgia trip. Great attention has been given by the programme makers to getting the historical details right. But it is great drama too with some brilliant writing and acting. Where the programme really succeeds is in getting across how society has changed. It really does look and sound like a different world.

But this is only 35 years ago. A mere generation. If the world has changed so much in so short a time, how much more has it changed since the events of the Bible? Sam finds it hard to understand life 35 years ago. What hope, then, for us to understand the world of the Bible? It is very easy for us to forget just how great the change has been. The things that matter to us and dominate our lives just were not issues.

There was no electricity. There were no cars, trains, or plains. The population was much less and towns and cities much smaller. And, of course, there were no televisions, radios, computers, telephones, and other means of mass communication. Medical science was very primitive and some of the discoveries that have changed our world were still a long way off: vaccinations, for example. I could go on, but I hope you get the point. If Manchester, England in 1973 is a different world for the fictional Sam looking at it from the perspective of the 21st century, how much more the world of the Bible?

This raises the question of what possible relevance the Bible and the events it relates can have to us? What can the Biblical writers possibly have to say that is of any use to us?

It is an issue. Bultmann, in a famous statement, said this:

‘It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.’

Christians believe that while indeed the world may change and change radically almost beyond recognition that God himself does not change. We believe that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever and that he can speak to our generation as he has spoken to successive generations in the past.

But what of the past and the relevance of the events we read of in the Bible?

More about that next.

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