Junior Ganymede
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Brooding Upon the Waters

April 18th, 2011 by Adam G.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Hebrew notion that water represented formlessness, chaos, and by extension sin, the devil, and mortality. The notion has some currency in modern scripture.

It makes for some interesting insight into scripture. Take the story of the Gadarene swine. Christ has mercy on the devils by allowing them to flesh themselves in the body of pigs. The devils then promptly run down to the water and drown. Why? My regular interpretation is either that the devils love destroying things, or that devils are literally insane. But if the waters of the lake are hell, then what the story means is that devils’ compulsion to evil destroys any gifts that they might be given. It is a story about what it means to be damned.

Or take the stories of Christ calming the storm, or walking on water. If water represents evil or chaos, those stories show Christ’s mastery over them.

But for this Holy Week, what has most been on my mind is the sacrament. In Mormonism, blood is associated with mortality while flesh is characteristic of immortal bodies. So, from one angle, the bread of the sacrament represents the the divine half of Christ’s nature, while the water represents his mortal part.

But what if water can also represent evil and disorder? Then our sacrament feast is a remembrance that Christ took mortality, took on temptation, took on our experience of sin and evil to the ultimate, descended below all things, and emerged victor. In the sacrament, water is spoils. Water is captured battle flags. Water is our own weakness, somehow transmuted into a communion with God.

Cross-posted at the Old Country.

Comments (12)
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April 18th, 2011 14:48:11
12 comments

Vader
April 18, 2011

I am reminded that Israel’s indictment of Reuben was that he was “unstable as water.”

FWIW, Moses seems to lift that curse in Deuteronomy. Or at least mitigate it.


Zen
April 18, 2011

‘Water is our own weakness, somehow transmuted into a communion with God’ – That is deep.

I’ve always just assumed that the evil spirits didn’t know how to drive pigs.


Bookslinger
April 19, 2011

I assumed that the pigs would rather die than be posessed by devils.


Zen
April 19, 2011

Or is this just what happens when you desecrate bacon?


Johnna
April 20, 2011

I would have gone with bread representing the mortal aspect of Christ’s nature, and water representing his divine. I’m looking at your archived post and still not following why you’re linking them the other way–the 2005 post connects bread with mortality.

Just feeling like I’m stupid and missing something here.

It always cracks me up when Lehi wishes his son Laman to be like the river, and Lemuel to be like the valley. Inept. Poor semiotics. Lehi’s stated reasons aren’t convincing: rivers are notoriously tricky, and valleys are low points.


Adam G.
April 20, 2011

Johnna,
the bread represents the flesh or the body, which can be immortal (‘body of flesh and bone’), while the water represents blood, which is mortal. I’ll amend the post to make that clearer.


Zen
April 20, 2011

For a desert person like Lehi, rivers that always ran were rare and life giving. Further, Nibley points out that they would have thought of valleys as being firm and steadfast instead of mountains. Just weird little cultural differences.


Kaimi
April 20, 2011

Water as evil or chaos? Hmm, Adam G. I think you might just be all wet.

John 3:5 comes to mind as a potential counter balance, no? As does Exodus 17. Genesis 1:2. The 23rd Psalm.

And especially, John 4.


Adam Greenwood
April 21, 2011

KW,
take it up with J. Smith and all the hordes of modern scholars. Let ‘em know symbols can’t be multivocal.


Bruce Nielson
April 21, 2011

Nice thoughts AG. Thanks for sharing.


Martin
April 26, 2011

“But if the waters of the lake are hell, then what the story means is that devils’ compulsion to evil destroys any gifts that they might be given”

Hmm… Never thought of it like that. I was with Nathan — I figured the devils didn’t know how to overcome pig-panic, but your interpretation is more useful. Nice post.

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