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Posts Tagged ‘genesis’

The early chapters of Genesis are clear about a world gone wrong. It becomes clear that humans have not done well as God’s representatives in God’s world. God’s plan for this world is nothing less than redemption. Everything that follows in the biblical story tells of the Creator’s plan to counter evil and to restore the world.

The closer we look at Genesis 12, the clearer it becomes that God’s plan is to change the world through a people. Genesis 12 sets this plan in motion. What God desires for the world, He desires to accomplish through this people. About the only thing I can say in response is wow.

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I sometimes wonder about the days when the sons of God, Satan among them, presented themselves before the Lord. I wonder if on one of those days the Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan would reply “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”

And then Satan would continue, “I know that you desire humans be your image bearers, your representatives on earth. But the human experiment has been a disaster. They disappoint at every turn. Do you remember what happened in Eden? Have you forgotten the corruption of the days of Noah? Must I remind you what they were doing at Babel? Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that humans will never become the representatives you had hoped for.”

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered the human Abraham? I have selected him to leave his home. His descendants will be many and his reputation will bring me glory. The whole earth will be influenced by this plan.”

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Have you considered his age? Have you considered he is childless and his wife is barren?” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, watch this plan change the world.”

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The trouble with approaching a familiar narrative is that we have convinced ourselves that we know the story.  That its lessons and implications are known.  That we have already gleaned its treasure.  This is a risk that some of us take when we read the Noah narrative.

It is easy to think that this is a text about an ark or a flood.  Yet, the text is telling us something more.  The more time we spend here the more we realize that this text is about the relationship between God and creation.  This relationship is in crisis.  The text says that God is grieved.  The wickedness that is in creation has an impact on the Creator.  And so, He enters the pain and fracture of this world.

We can fool ourselves into thinking that God stands outside the story sending His wrath, but this is a story about the pain God feels for a wayward creation.  In this context, we find Noah.  Noah is introduced as son of Lamech, one who will bring comfort.  In the midst of wickedness and evil human intentions, Noah is righteous, blameless, and walks with God.  The narrative announces with confidence that faithfulness is possible even in a wicked world.

After forty days of rain and one hundred fifty days of water covering the earth there is possibility of feeling forgotten.  But, “God remembered Noah…”  This is an issue that cannot be overlooked.  Each one of us knows what it is like to be forgotten.  In this narrative, all of creation may feel forgotten.  But “God remembered Noah.”  Walter Brueggemann implies that this is Gospel.  The flood appears to destroy everything except the commitment of the Creator to His covenant partner.  Brueggemann goes so far as to suggest that God is preoccupied with His creation.

Following the flood, we still find that “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  And we still find that humans are created in the image of God.  Yet, not everything remains the same.  Genesis wants us to know that this relationship between God and creation has changed.  Namely, we receive a promise and a sign that God will never destroy the earth like this again.

Creation has not changed.  You could say we are all in the same boat. Hopelessness remains.  Humans rebel against the purpose of God.  Any chance of hope depends on God.  Genesis brings good news!  God keeps His covenant with creation.  Human rebellion does not ruin His plan.  A grieving God will have unlimited patience with a rebellious world.  This is Good News because we are not capable of saving ourselves.

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I admit that I am late to the party, but have finally watched the movie Noah.  I have heard a great deal of criticism about the film, usually about details that contradict with the Genesis account.  The critics are right; there is much that does not agree with Genesis. For myself, I could have done without a stowaway on the ark and a Noah who borders on insanity as he misinterprets the intent of the Creator. I haven’t decided whether the “watchers” bring a comical or a supernatural element.

I can’t help but think about another version of the Noah story that contradicts with Genesis.  For years, we have painted animals two by two on nursery walls and blankets and children’s toys.  We seem to be ok with trying to convince our children that this is a feel good story.  The fact is, we can decorate the nursery with a Noah theme but that does not eliminate the disaster of the flood.  If I have to choose, I think the film is closer to what Genesis is talking about.

I am glad that it was released and that I had the opportunity to watch it.  Most of us who watch movies enjoy strong acting and this one has Anthony Hopkins who plays a strong, imaginative Methuselah.  Bravo Hopkins!  I also was glad that the movie portrayed a Creator who refuses to be domesticated.  It allows us to bring Genesis and more importantly the God of Genesis into conversation with people who otherwise may not have been interested in such talk.

Perhaps a thank you is in order to Hollywood for providing opportunities we otherwise would not have had. Should we be shocked that Hollywood grabbed a story from the Old Testament?  Can we fault them?  After all, the Old Testament is far more interesting than the stuff we usually see on the big screen.  For that matter, it is far more interesting than nearly anything labeled as entertainment.  Seriously, have you seen what the industry has been trying to pass off as entertaining?

It is sometimes easy to forget why Hollywood makes movies.  They are entertainers, even more, they want to make money.  They probably choose a story like Noah because it is familiar to many who they think might be interested in buying a ticket to the theater.  They do not mind when we protest our disagreement with the way Genesis or God is portrayed.  They probably enjoy it, thinking of our protests as free publicity for the movie.

I enjoyed the creative portrayal of the way that the Creator works.  I was fascinated by the miraculous way that a flower grows, a forest grows, animals arrive at the ark, and the rains come.  I enjoyed the oral presentation of the creation story as told by Noah.

As I mentioned above, there are a number of things that I wish were portrayed differently in the movie.  But, even more, I wish that we would respond differently to mainstream attempts to tell our stories.  Why do we get so worked up when Hollywood doesn’t tell our stories correctly?  Do we seriously expect them to?  What are our expectations?  That Hollywood should tell our stories for us?  When did we pass off this responsibility?  Talk about abdicating our calling.  Instead of criticizing the movie industry would it make more sense to be participating in the conversation in more faithful ways?

I wonder if our frustration in these situations isn’t actually a self-indictment.  Are we frustrated that we have not been effective at telling our own stories? Here is one guy hoping that Hollywood continues to put out movies featuring the biblical stories.  I hear that a movie about Exodus is on the way.  I am anxious to engage in the conversation.

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Creation is the place where we practice our skills of paying attention.  Every day we look out at it and walk around in it and listen to its voice.  So it is no surprise that Genesis opens up with creation.  A place that is both familiar and full of the not yet known.  The opening lines of Genesis sometimes sound more like notes from physicists, astronomers, and biologists than a worship text.  Still, creation is the context where we first meet God.

The view of creation that I have most often is from a broad valley between two mountain ranges.  The Blue Ridge Mountains lie to the south and the Appalachians to the north.  The valley combines agriculture with business (we can smell both from the house) and an assortment of residential areas and roadways.  From the mountains flow the waters that form the tributaries that carry it east to the Susquehanna River.  Across the Susquehanna is the state capital, Harrisburg.

Whenever I get the chance, I like to find a good vantage point and spend some time there.  From there, a look around is similar to a look around Genesis chapter one.  I am witness to light, dark, and heavens with sun, moon, and stars.  I am present on earth with water and dry land where things that fly, swim, crawl, and walk all dwell together – ah, creation.  Eugene Peterson says that “creation is a theater in which we behold the glory.”  I agree.

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I am in the garden.  Turning soil.  Mixing compost.  Planting onions and lettuce.  I roll up my sleeves and reach into the earth.  I breathe in the smell and look forward to picking vegetables from the backyard.  I am thinking about Genesis where on the sixth day God rolled up His sleeves and reached into the earth and formed a human, an earthling.

Genesis says that God gave the earthling a name and then breath.  Genesis says that God looked at this breathing, moving, artistic creation and “behold it was very good.”  It is not recorded but I suspect that He also said “wow.”

I find it interesting that God planted a garden and placed the earthling there to cultivate and to keep the garden.  Barbara Brown Taylor thinks that while working in the garden you remember “where you came from and why.  You touch the stuff your bones are made of.  You handle the decomposed bodies of trees, birds, and fallen stars.  Your body recognizes its kin.  If you have nerve enough, you also foresee your own decomposition.  This is not bad knowledge to have.  It is the kind that puts other kinds in perspective.  Feel that cool dampness?  Welcome back to earth, you earthling.  Smell that dirt?  Welcome home, you beloved dust-creature of God.”

I, scooped from the earth, now flesh given breath, am in the garden.  Turning soil, mixing compost, planting onions and lettuce.  I roll up my sleeves.  I breathe in the smell.  I reach into the earth.  It gets under my nails.  In my hair.  It’s caked on my knees.  I call it dirt.  But I think about the sixth day when God first formed a human from this stuff and all I can do is say “wow.”

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What Are We to Do Now?

Last weekend my computer came down with a virus and I spent over an hour on the phone with a technician.  A day later I had a window in my car shatter and drove for two days with a garbage bag doing its best to keep the wind and rain out.  It wasn’t this way in the garden called Eden.

I have questions about Eden.  What would it be like to speak with a serpent?  What was that fruit that caused so much trouble?  Did Adam ever ride any of the animals?  Obviously, Genesis is not concerned with these questions.  But a question that we may be asking in these early chapters is “what are we to do now?”

Genesis suggests that it wasn’t always the way it is now.  In fact, the movement of people in the early chapters is pretty explicit.  When created, people are in Eden – a garden paradise.  By the time we get to the end of chapter three, people are on the outside of Eden looking in.

We can imagine that things were pretty good in Eden.  I imagine that neither weather nor taxes nor health care were ever really a problem.  Genesis states that “every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food” was planted there.  We are also told that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden.”  It is not recorded but I think it is quite certain that Adam was heard saying “man, I like this place.”

Adam makes his way through the garden, naming every living beast.  This must have been tiring work because Adam fell into a deep sleep.  When he woke up there was a woman.  It is not recorded but I think Adam was heard saying “man, I really like this place.”

Everything changes as chapter three begins.  “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field.”  We know where this goes.  Between the serpent and that fruit (what was that fruit).  While we never find out what that fruit was we are told that “the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise.”  And no matter how many times we read the chapter, Adam and Eve eat the fruit, defy their Maker, and have to leave the garden.  It is not recorded but I think Adam was heard saying, “man, I really liked that place.”

We have devised strategies to live outside of Eden.  We sometimes defy God and then try to hide.  This isn’t a new move.  Adam and Eve tried it, it didn’t work for them either.  That is not our only move.  We sometimes defy God and try to place the blame on someone else.  This isn’t a new move either.  Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent.  We may not be very creative in our defense of disobedience, but we are consistent.  We have tried these same moves for a long time now.

Genesis is the beginning.  There is more to follow.  We get some hints of what will follow from God’s words to the serpent in chapter three.  Peterson paraphrases it like this “I’m declaring war between you and the Woman, between your offspring and hers.”

This becomes important for those of us living so far from Eden.  Adam and Eve knew what is like to talk to a serpent.  They knew what that fruit was.  They knew whether or not Adam rode the animals through the garden.  But Adam and Eve did not know about Jesus.  On the other hand, we know.  We cannot pretend not to know.  We also know that we are no match for the one who was the craftiest voice in the field.  We know that we need outside help in the war against the serpent.  And we know that God, in His boldest move, sent Jesus (the Serpent Crusher).

Genesis tells us that it was about the time that Adam and Eve had their first grandchild that we “began to call upon the name of the Lord.”  And this is where we find ourselves.  Outside the garden where Adam and Eve raised a family.  Where we are affected by taxes and weather.  Where viruses infect computers and windows shatter.  Where we still hear voices and try to discern which ones we should listen to and which we should not.  And where we still, in our best moments, “call upon the name of the Lord.”

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