Monday, October 18, 2010

Ancestors, Africa and Syncretism

Here's something I've been meaning to formulate for a while and was motivated to do as part of an email discussion. There will be probably be another two posts or so later as I explore these questions. Unfortunately, I don't think my conclusions will be very creative. Let's see!

The previous writer in the discussion said, “but surely the position and location of the spirits of the dead is a theological question, and a sort of undifferentiated African Sheol located in the home is irreconcilable with the Biblical revelation?”

Is there anything in the Bible that prevents the possibility of this African Sheol? I know that Science (which could be called a western cultural construct) denies the possibility of the spirits of the dead being amongst us. When someone is dead, they are gone from the world. I am comfortable with that. But the same science says that what I perceive to be divine guidance is simply a certain natural (or unnatural) functioning of the brain and also that Jesus could not have risen from the dead. So in this case I choose not to go along with science. But as regards the living dead, perhaps all we have is a cultural conflict.

Bearing my western cultural prejudice in mind – what does the Bible say about the dead?

Jesus says that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – but he is a God of the living not the dead. We are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews. Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – where the rich man observes the living. Saul and the witch of Endor. What if we read these passages from an African worldview rather than a scientific western?

What happens after death? We are not too sure whether we go instantaneously to heaven/judgement or whether we must wait for the end of the world. Again, some of our understanding of these issues is based on the western philosophical concept of eternity as being ‘outside of time’ – this is not necessarily a Biblical concept.

But it might be that in my attempt to see things from ‘the other side’ I am missing some things that supports the western point of view – and I would appreciate any guidance in that regard!

The reason that I am thinking what I am thinking is not because I want to encourage syncretism, but rather that I feel if there is error in the African way of thinking, we need to be sure where that error lies. I do not believe that the ancestral spirits have the power to intercede for us and that can be shown from the Bible. We don’t need to appease them, again Biblical. But can we reject their existence based on Biblical evidence?

2 comments:

Herman Groenewald said...

I found this article that bring scriptural insight and historical background to the subject.
http://www.met.org.za/traktate/serving_ancestral_spirits.htm

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Thanks Herman, I'll look it up.