Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Random Stuff from Our Genesis Study, Part 1

I'm talking about the first book of the Old Testament here, not the band formerly fronted by Peter Gabriel and later, Phil Collins. The book came before the band.

On Tuesday nights, I have a small group Bible study for whoever wants to show up. It's called, Tuesdays with Markie. Last week, the group present decided to proceed on a path we've dubbed, GAG, for Genesis, Acts, and Galatians. These are the three books we intend to read and discuss together.

Over the next weeks then, I intend to present some things that come up in our discussion of Genesis. So, here's some of what we discussed tonight...

First: You don't have to be too smart or a liberal (which I'm not) to notice that the book begins with two different accounts of creation. One, which starts at Genesis 1:1, portrays creation happening over a seven-day period of time, culminating in the creation of human beings. The other, starting at Genesis 2:4, begins with the creation of humans.

Second: Neither account says that God created the world ex nihilo, out of nothing. In the first account, God's Spirit (the Mighty Wind) moves over a chaotic ocean and brings about order and life. In the second, God brings life to a desert-like wilderness, even scooping the first human being from the dust and breathing life into him. (The Old Testament Hebrew word for spirit is the same word used for breath and wind; that word is ruach. Interestingly, in the Greek of the New Testament, the word pneuma also has these three different, but related meanings.)

Third: The second point above doesn't deny that God is the single originating agent of the universe. Of course He is. But if we think of the Bible as "God's baby talk," the way an infinite. eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, perfect God speaks to mere mortals like us, God couldn't explain everything to us. After all, if we could understand all that there is to know about God, we would be God...and we are most emphatically not.

Fourth: The ancient Hebrews weren't dumb. (The quality of the writing precludes any such idea!) Because of that, they would not have been unaware of the distinctions between these two creation accounts. In spite of this, they decided to allow both of them to stand side-by-side. Why? Because each gave us a different slant on God's creation of the universe.

Fifth: Old Testament scholars claim to discern different strands of editing traditions in the Old Testament. The famous initials every seminarian learns are: J, E, D, P, for Yahwist, Elohist, Deuternomist, and Priestly editors. These scholars claim to discern the Priestly hand in the first creation account and the Yahwist's in the second. Whether this is true or not or helpful or not is up to the individual student of Scripture. (If you Google the above terms, you'll find different explanations of them, some written by conservative and others by liberal scholars.)

Sixth: The first creation accounts find God delivering the same verdict about His creation on each of the first five days. "Good!" God says. But on the sixth day, after creating human beings, in His own image, God says of us, "Very good!" Literally, in the Hebrew, God says, "Tov! Tov!" That's, "Good! Good!" The Bible has a high view of humanity, of our potential and our attributes, even after we are marred by sin. God thinks highly of us. If He didn't, He wouldn't have sent His Son to die and rise for us!

Seventh: Another thing about the first creation account is that it helps us to make sense of the famous incident in which Jesus calmed the stormy sea of Galilee. After He does this with just a word, the disciples ask themselves, in the Daniels paraphrase, "Who is this Who can cause the wind and the waves to surrender to His will?"

For Jews like themselves or their fellow Jews to whom they told the story, that would have been more like a rhetorical question. Jesus' feat would have been like that of God Himself as He calmed the chaos to make the world. To them, the story would have clearly said that Jesus is God.

Eighth: To be created in the image of God indicates a special relationship with God that is shared by no other creature. Both accounts show this. In the second account, God brings all the creatures to Adam and Adam is given the authority to name them. To name something is, in some sense, to have some dominion over them, framing their existences and roles.

In the second account, we see that part of being human, again unlike the other species, is that they are given the capacity to say, "No" to God. All the other species must act on instinct. But humans have the ability to make decisions, even a decision to eat a fruit that God forbade them from consuming.

Ninth: The intimacy of human relationship, especially in marriage, is seen in the second account's portrayal of the creation of the female. She is taken from the man's rib. He is called ish (man); she is called ishah (woman). The Hebrews' love of puns is shown here. The very names of the man and the woman show that they are linked. Borrowing from Genesis 1:26, they are co-bearers of the image of God.

Tenth: Prior to consuming its fruit, the two human beings had only known good. As soon as they bit into the fruit, the saw that they were naked. This is a metaphorical way of saying that, after eating the fruit, the humans became aware of the sinful uses to which their bodies, minds, and lives could now be put. "Man is the only animal who blushes," Mark Twain said, "or needs to." Adam's embarrassed hiding was the clincher indicating to God that he had disobyed God by biting into the fruit.

Adam's and Eve's fundamental sin, the temptation to which they caved, was the serpent's promise that if they ate the fruit, they would be like God. There are two fundamental facts I ask all of my Catechism students to remember: God is God and we're not. Eve and Adam didn't acknowledge this.

Eleventh: Sin is about wanting good things at the wrong times, in the wrong places, or for the wrong reasons.

There's nothing wrong with fruit, of course, unless there's something harmful about it or there's a time when it's not wise to eat it.

There's nothing wrong with speaking God's Name, either...unless we're using it for purposes other than prayer, praise, or thanksgiving.

There's nothing wrong with the gift of speech...unless we're using it to gossip about others or lie about them or hurt them in some way.

There's nothing wrong with sex...Well, you get the idea.

Twelfth: God wasn't playing games with us when He allowed that forbidden tree to be in the perfect garden where Adam and Eve lived. But God wanted to have a special relationship with the human race, one in which children created in His image could voluntarily return the love He had for them. If we had no choice but to love and obey God, our love and obedience would mean nothing. Without the option of saying, "No" to God, our "Yes" would mean nothing, the moral equivalent of a witless animal loving its master because through him, it received Kibbles and Bits.

Thirteenth: In Genesis, the serpent is called the most subtle of God's creatures. This is underscored by his interaction with the woman. None of the things the serpent said to the woman was literally a lie. He simply told the truth in a lying way. This is why it's always foolish getting into an argument with the devil. As Rick Warren points out, the devil has had a lot more practice at arguing than we've had. Instead, we need to rely on God and on God's Word.

Fourteenth: I do make a connection between the serpent and the devil, the same connection Jesus seems to make in John 8.

To read what we've looked at so far in the group, check out the following links:

Genesis 1:1-2:3

Genesis 2:4-3:19


Anonymous said...

Mark, i think this is a very good summary of many of the main points/issues etc. Must be an interesting, alert group.
Glen B.

Adriana Bliss said...

A very focused group - you covered a lot of points in one evening. As a side note, I've often read Genesis as symbolic for the various events that brought us here today, i.e. the first breath of life (creating Adam) as meaning the first moments of human consciousness in the evolutionary cycle.

Perhaps that's just me.

Very interesting entries, Mark (I came here from Richard L. Cohen's blog).

Mark Daniels said...

Glen and Adriana: Thanks so much for dropping by and for leaving your comments here.

The ancient rabbis, whose teachings and lively cross-generational conversations are recorded in the 'Midrash,' believed that the key to understanding everything about faith and life is to be found in Genesis.

It is a truly amazing book and I'm glad that our group wanted to delve into it.

Thanks again for visiting the blog and for giving your feedback!


Thomas said...

Good points, Mark, especially the part about how God wants people to follow him willingly; otherwise, as you pointed out, all discipleship would reveal would be that we can be bought. I sometimes wonder if that's the reason God sometimes makes his hand in the universe so hard to discern.

This part made me think, though:

"As Rick Warren points out, the devil has had a lot more practice at arguing than we've had. Instead, we need to rely on God and on God's Word."

The problem, of course, is that people have been arguing for centuries about what God's Word is properly understood to mean. The Bible is full of references to holy men "reasoning" with God. I'm not sure I'd give argument (which is pretty much what you'll always get when two or more people reason together) such short shrift; often it can be an excellent way of opening our eyes to perspectives we've missed.

Mark Daniels said...

Thomas: Thanks a lot for your comments.

Maybe I wasn't clear as to what I meant in quoting Warren. I don't think he was talking about the kind of discussions, or debates, or arguments that you're talking about. I agree with you that those can be really helpful!

Rather, I think he's talking about arguing with temptation. When something is luring us away from loving God or loving neighbor, there's no need to get caught in the thickets of discussion or second-guessing. Loving God and loving neighbor is always the right course for us. A love for God would have caused Eve and Adam to conclude, "Okay, as cool as this fruit looks, God, the One Who made me and gave me all this, said it's not a good thing to do."

We're never tempted by things we find repugnant, only things that look good. That's what makes arguments in favor of our temptations so tough to handle. That's why, like Jesus in the wilderness, we need to rely on God for help in facing them...and not argue with our temptations.

I hope that this makes sense; I'm writing it while listening to my second-favorite movie, 'Field of Dreams,' playing in the family room.

Thanks again for dropping by!

Thomas said...

Your first-favorite movie is "The Natural", I presume, with "The Sandlot" third. I'm a sucker for baseball movies.

Mark Daniels said...

I love 'The Natural.' But my favorite is 'It's a Wonderful Life' and my second is 'Field of Dreams.' I've never seen 'The Sandlot.'