The other day I remembered a scene from a movie (somewhat embellished by my memory as it turns out!) that seemed to me to be a wonderful little example of accommodation of the sort that God probably does for us.
A pair of protagonists (modern citizens from the 90s when the movie was set) was captured by an isolated Cheyenne tribe in a remote interior area of northern Montana. One of our pair is a professor who had studied the native languages enough that she successfully communicates with this tribe, and she and her partner are soon living as willing guests rather than captives. The scene of interest to me had the tribe gathered around for stories, and the chief asked their guests to tell them about the “great silver winged bird with the long white tail” (meaning the occasional jet seen overhead, of course). She began to tell them that actually there were people riding on that, which brought much mirth and laughter to the listeners. And taking stock of this reception, our protagonists joined in with their laughter at the absurdity of the suggestion. All this is but a few seconds of film that quickly slip by, so peripheral to any plot development, and yet (I think) capture such a deep wealth of profundity. She could have persisted with “No – really! These things are really giant machines called airplanes and they carry many people!” But she saw instead that they did not yet have any context of life in which any such information could even be meaningfully understood, and chose instead to enter into their world and into their contexts. THIS, I think is a beautiful glance of what accommodation might look like.
It is not commentary on comparisons of mental capacity of some groups over others – indeed in real life, there are isolated tribes that have taken stock of just such new information when they did become exposed to it – but none of that detracts from the point I draw from this vignette. And that is, that unless a culture of people has some sort of context within which they can situate some new bit of information offered to them by an outsider from a different cultural context, the new “information” will be impossible for them to understand and perhaps irrelevant to their interests in any case. Thank God that the saving word of grace is an accommodation to us, and not written for an audience a couple thousand years from now which would make it entirely inaccessible to us. So how silly of us to imagine that God would not have accommodated to cultures back when the earliest Scriptures were written and compiled. What if back then God had catered instead to interests and contexts that would not yet exist for a few thousand years hence by insisting “… really these things you see in the sky are great orbs; and I did create them and shape them over eons of time for which you don’t even have big enough numbers yet, but let’s just multiply this out for you since there will be skeptics in a far away time and land someday that will get all hung up on and distracted by these details.” No. Instead, those original cultures were spoken to within their own contexts, and then recorded those highly relevant words which we can later study and be able by God’s grace and through persistent study take stock of their context and translate / import the central messages into our own.
The incarnation itself would have to be the granddaddy of all accommodations: God entering into the culture present at the time, living, walking, suffering, and laughing with us smack in the middle of our own contexts. THAT is a miracle to celebrate.