Bringing Balance to the Force
A Facebook conversation with a fellow Star Wars nerd reminded me of one of my annoyances in the prequels. If you’ve seen the movies, you probably remember the prophecy that somebody – who turned out to be Anakin – would bring balance to the Force. That’s it that we ever hear about the prophecy itself. One thing I never got is why the Jedi would assume that “bringing balance to the Force” meant anything good for them. They, practitioners of the light side of the Force, have been in power for centuries or millenia (I’m a little fuzzy on my pre-history). Wouldn’t it be logical that balance would mean the light finally losing its power to the dark? I’ve never been able to think about what else it could possibly mean. We left the conversation by essentially saying that the Jedi probably didn’t have any idea what the prophecy meant, and yet they assumed repeatedly that it would be great for them.
Reading the Bible
Which gets me to a key point that applies to biblical interpretation and faith in general: we, those in power, tend to assume that everything in the galaxy is working to help us out in particular. It’s not about helping those other people. They aren’t really that important. We can simplify to say that we’re selfish, but there’s a lot of systemic sin that factors in so that we don’t even realize we’re being selfish most of the time. We just assume our perpetual supremacy, just like the Jedi did.
The truth is that the Bible is a remarkable piece of literature in that it is almost entirely a story told by the powerless. It is not the typical story told by the victors. It is written by the powerless for the powerless. In fact, it repeatedly condemns the powerful.
Those two realities are going to conflict with each other. I am not by most measures the primary target audience of the Bible. It will take me work to set aside my own privilege in order to understand what the Bible is saying.
The Jedi didn’t even seem to have a starting point for understanding how they misinterpret the prophecy passed down to them, or at least it is never explained. For modern Western parallels, though, I can think of two major ways we avoid acknowledging the upside-down nature of so much of the Bible.
Put it in the Future
I’m not going to delve into any particular biblical texts, but I would say a major way we do this in the prosperous West is to make it about the present or some future date. The Bible was meaningful to those who read it. They haven’t put in thousands of hours of work maintaining these texts for 2000 years for it to suddenly be useful for the first time, just to us. We’re first and foremost reading about what God had to say to them. Most Christians seem to be able to agree to this in theory, but don’t really want to go any farther than that with any implications that may not be all about them.
To be clear, I do believe that all the Bible is useful to us now. But being useful to us now does not mean that it was written exclusively for us to prop up whatever we already believed. In fact, I think a big part of what makes the Bible useful now is by understanding its original context and learning to set aside our own privilege enough to understand what a radical message God offers the oppressed.
The other major way I see that we make it about us is to be completely blind to what real persecution and real suffering looks like. I’m not saying bad things don’t happen to rich white men, but we’re definitely talking about a different scale. I don’t have to worry about eating today. I just ate two cookies. They were delicious. This may be shocking to many: a significant portion of the world cannot afford to eat delicious Christmas cookies because they feel like it today. So, in order to try to relate to the Bible’s prophecies that are primarily about helping particular historical oppressed groups, we have to at least try to make ourselves feel oppressed. We end up with situations like being upset because there isn’t a snowman on my $8 coffee cup, even though the Bible is talking about people who are starving and being slaughtered by a brutal emperor. We want to make the Bible relevant to us today, but instead of trying to approach the Bible by becoming like the people it was written by, to, and for, we work some mental gymnastics to pretend it’s really talking about us already, no extra inconvenience necessary.
To me, a simple step here is to be aware of the reality of the world. Here’s one example: my income makes me richer than approximately 99.6% of the world. That’s not adjusting for purchasing power, but it’s safe to say I’m at least in the 90th percentile and probably still around the 95th. Just to use personal consumer technology as an example, between my wife and I, we own a desktop, 2 laptops (1 mostly broken), 3 tablets, 3 smartphones (1 partially broken), multiple hard drives including two network storage devices for backup and a media server, and an Xbox One. Most of the world can’t afford most of that. I have all of these things while making pretty much right on the Canadian national average adult income. I’m not particularly wealthy using a scale of Canada, so when I’m tempted to do a comparison there, I feel justified in being selfish. But when I step back, I realize how incredibly privileged I am. When the Bible talks about helping the poor, I’m not the poor it’s talking about.
Bringing Balance to the Bible
Let’s not make the same mistake as the Jedi assuming that prophecies are written to them, about them, and for their benefit. The Star Wars prophecy turned out to radically shift the power dynamics of the galaxy. The Bible does that a lot more than those of us with privilege want to admit, too.