Rebecca K. Reynolds

Honest Company for the Journey

Rain on a Barren Land (Genesis 25-28, Psalm 8)

"Drought and Downpour" by Mayard Dixon, 1944

"Drought and Downpour" by Mayard Dixon, 1944

 

This week was kind of crazy for our family. We took our adopted son to the gastroenterologist and learned a little bit more about his past as well as some medical needs he may be facing in the future. M was born with gastroschisis, a condition in which the intestines were present outside of the body. I won’t expand more on that here, but I will say that it’s been sort of an emotional week with a few sweet discoveries and also some hard possibilities.

If you’re keeping up with our reading, yesterday we read Genesis 25-28 and Psalm 8. Briefly, I want to make sure you think about the theme of barrenness that began with Sarah. We find out that Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, is barren in Genesis 25, and as God heals her from this, she conceives twins who struggle hard in the womb—Jacob and Esau. Later, we will read about the physical barrenness of Jacob’s loved wife Rachel and the barrenness of affection his wife Leah faces.

Isaac also faces a famine which drives him back to Abimelech (remember the second king Abraham who took Sarah because Abraham claimed she was his sister?) Isaac makes the same mistake, and it’s a king of the Philistines—not the chosen people of God—who makes the moral call here.

Then we see the impulsiveness of Esau, the duplicity of Rebekah and Jacob, the conflict that rises among broken people trying to figure out the intersection between the blessings of God and the activity of men. It’s kind of a mess—barren people in barren lands making mistakes.

By the time I got to the Psalm 8 section of the reading, I was moved by these lines, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet...”

This psalm rings a lot truer to my own experience than some of the psalms that claim a human righteousness that deserves rescue. I can’t identify with feeling like i deserve God’s help. I know how messed up I am and how barren my moral ability actually is.

But when I read David’s stunned gratitude that God would bother with us at all, I feel some of his same questions fall naturally upon my soul. Who are we that you would trust us like you do?

His love is extravagant favor. Rain on a barren land. A child in a barren womb.

 

The LaLeche League division of the AARP (Genesis 21)

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.’ And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’ And the child grew and was weaned.”

Genesis 21:6-8

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When I was in my thirties, I didn’t understand all the wrinkle cream ads. I thought older women were beautiful--that the lines on their faces made them interesting. But as I’ve grown into my mid forties, I’ve realized that there’s more to aging than charming little crow’s feet around my eyes. The skin around my mouth is changing, growing heavy, and often my expression looks tired or angry when I’m not.

It can be a little distressing to look in a mirror and see a reflection that doesn’t show my true heart. The stress of the past few years is visible in my countenance.

Yesterday I bought my first pair of reading glasses. They were just 1.0 in strength, the lowest possible lenses. But still, there was something about that purchase which marked a definite transition.

A couple of older folks watched me trying them on in the grocery, trying to read the back of a Pepto bottle (the closest label I could find), and they chuckled. Clearly, I was new at this. One kind older man reached out and told me he remembered his first pair of reading glasses, and he told me a couple of those medical stories you often hear grey-heads telling a little too loudly in public.

It was an initiation. I was in the club now. He was showing me how to laugh at my body as it ages, modeling the humor that maximizes the latter years.

The jokes older people tell aren’t always what young people would consider “nice.” Jokes about the bathroom. Jokes about the bedroom. Jokes about colonoscopies. Jokes about parts of your body withering away and yielding to gravity. Yet the sort of bodily humor that hits in the second half of life isn’t sexual so much as confessional—there's usually an “all is vanity” punch line reminiscent of Ecclesiastes.

That’s the sort of punch line feel when I read Sarah’s statement, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?”

I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a medical diagram of the breasts of a 99-year-old woman, but if you have, you’ll understand why nursing a child wouldn’t be the first possibility that comes to mind. Yet these dry and fallen breasts would fill up with milk, filling the belly of an impossible promised child until he is weaned.

It's the sort of story that would make a couple of old folks chuckle in the reading glasses aisle of the grocery. “Did you hear about old Sarah?”

Yes, we’ll give that image a laugh—and for just a moment or two, we will let the levity of the presence of a comedic God fill us with hope that such a winsome Lord might also revive our own dry and cranky bones for the work of another day.

"We can do anythiiiiiiiiing." But should we? Genesis 11:6-7

Genesis 11:6-7

“And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.’” 

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Every time I run into these verses, I flinch a little. At first glance, they feel almost mean. What’s wrong with people understanding one another? What’s wrong with “nothing being impossible” for humans? (Imagine a 1980’s theme song, here. “We can do anythiiiiiiing.”)

Even more baffling? God gave humans a command to create and cultivate. So what’s the deal? Why would he tell humans to do something, then stop them mid stream?

This story jolts me like Genesis 3:22-24. Remember this section we read a few weeks ago?

"Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”' therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life."

What’s wrong with knowing good and evil? What’s wrong with living forever? Wouldn't that be a good thing?

I think these sorts of passages are sort of enthymematic—they leave out an implied major premise that must be understood to get the full meaning. And in both cases, the omitted premise is pretty much the same: “Power in the hands of people who are out of sync with God will lead to disaster.”

Eternal life for Adam and Eve (and their offspring) in a post-sin world would not be pleasant. Imagine endless existence in a fleshly state that had no possibility of indwelt communion with the Creator. Adam and Eve didn’t just need physical immortality, they needed redemption.

In the case of Babel, a similar trajectory is noted. The progress of secular humanism would provide empty success. Sure, stuff would get accomplished. Research and development would happen. But while a proud, godless humanity was trying to “make a name for itself," the results would be fragmented and disjointed because civilization wouldn’t operate in harmony with the Creator of the universe. If left to their own skill sets, humans would learn to rely on themselves more and more, growing increasingly dependent upon their own minds and strength and less open to the sort of Divine trust and reliance that the imago Dei was created to experience.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite Chesterton quotes here—a quote that I have mentioned dozens of times already and plan to mention dozens of times more. It’s that good.

"The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone."

What can we learn here about rooting our gifts in the center of Jesus? The temptation to "make a name for ourselves" is still kicking today. How do we do the work of creation and cultivation without running into dependence upon our own strength? How do move outward in faith from a true, operational core?

 

Genesis 12-15, Psalm 4

After six months overseas, our oldest son came home this week for a few days before returning to college. We won’t see him again for a good long while yet, so I’m soaking up the hours while he is here.  I’ll write more after he leaves tomorrow, but for now, here’s the reading and a video for this part of the week.


Genesis 12-15, Psalm 4
Video: Genesis 12-50

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"The Torah" and Genesis 8-11

Today we are reading Genesis 8-11 in the Torah.  (Be sure to check out The Bible Project's free app if you want to make accessibility even easier.)

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We are also watching this video from The Bible Project. which is fabulous. I think you'll be glad that you spent five minutes on this when it's over. https://www.bible.com/videos/1095-genesis-part-1-the-bible-project

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A second piece of writing that fits pretty well into this theme can be found here.  Though I'm not crazy about some of the political decisions the AFA has made over the past two years, I think Bryan Fischer's conclusions on the sin of Ham are worth checking out. 

 

 

Once Upon a Time, God Was Sorry (Genesis 6)

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Genesis 6:5-8

"Noah and the Ark" by Marc Chagall (1966)

"Noah and the Ark" by Marc Chagall (1966)



What an unusual passage! It shows us God’s vulnerability—what seems to be the emotional fatigue* of a creative genius who is watching his masterpiece fall to pieces. A few verses earlier, God has said, "My spirit shall not always strive with man," which shows us that God has been appealing to and wrestling with people who stubbornly resist a union that could bring beauty and life to the earth.

Sometimes I forget that when Jesus appeared in the flesh to allow himself to be hurt by humans, he was stepping into a greater narrative--he was continuing in a Divine suffering that began in the emotional realm thousands of years earlier. Since the first days of our existence, we have hurt God. Over and again, he has laid open the wideness of his heart for us to pierce.

Of all the non-Christian beliefs that I have studied, I find Deism most tragic. This worldview suggests that an unengaged god whipped up a clockwork universe before checking out--a slap in the face to an intimate Lord who has repeatedly made himself vulnerable to us. "God isn't dead—he just doesn’t care," they say.  Yet in Genesis 6, we find a God who didn’t simply hover over the earth at creation, but who hovers bare-chested, within firing range of the continual rebellion of man.

The old word “repenteth” sometimes throws cerebral readers for a loop, leading them to ask why an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful God would have a need to repent.** But the shock of this word also holds its fiercest beauty. “Repenteth” connotes the heavy sigh that emerges from our lungs when we are suffering grief. A shudder. A gasp of sorrow.

What could evoke such a response in the God of the universe? To find out, let's unpack two words from verse five: “every imagination." 

Once again, I love the King James translation best. Instead of the more humanistic, cerebral wording of the ESV (“every intention”), "every imagination" captures a truer picture of the essence of humans. These people weren't just processors--they were free-agent inventors, made in the image of God. 

If you’ve been following along with The Bible Project,*** you know that humans were formed imago Dei to be creative. God made us “like him” so that we might rule and fill the earth. We were given God’s image, commissioned (and entrusted) to have a micro-god-like sovereignty on the earth. But instead of blossoming in this role, humans were using their liberty and potential to do harm.

As God looks down on his sons and daughters, he sees those beloved artists that he has made, divine offspring that he has placed in a planet full of resources for invention and design. But all this is thrown away--beings formed in his likeness are using the gift of creative force to do work that is anti-life.

Think about this from God’s perspective. He’s given humans a unique ability among all life forms--the ability to innovate, to rule, to bring order. Instead, they have chosen to invent greed and violence. They are creative in death and destruction instead of in life and beauty. They hover over the surface of the earth and whisper, "Let there be chaos."

This passage reminds me of a principle that Dorothy Sayers teaches while discussing the origin of evil. She writes that Shakespeare’s creation of Hamlet automatically creates a second category of non-Hamlet. Anything that isn’t Hamlet is necessarily non-Hamlet. However, a third category could also arise if consciousness and will were ever imparted to a play. In such a situation, non-Hamlet could also become anti-Hamlet.

A similar principle applies to the creative nature. In the midst of the world that God made, he entrusted consciousness and will to humanity.  By doing so, human creativity was automatically given the potential to become anti-God. We zoom into the middle of this spiral toward darkness in Genesis 6, where we find a God grown sick over the inclinations of humanity. In his grief, he nearly wipes the whole self-defeating project off the earth. Why give such freedom to creatures who will only propagate harm?

Then he sees Noah, a man whose Hebrew name evokes a different sort of sigh than the sigh of despair. In Noah, we find the sigh of a long rest. The old word “repose” fits here. Imagine the breath Frodo takes as he wakes up in Rivendell after a terrible journey. Imagine the sleep a parent sinks into at last after finding out that her adult child has made it safely home after a long drive on icy roads.

God looks upon the creative power of humanity and sees his entrusted image used to destroy and to wound—until he gets to Noah. In this one man, he sees potential for the sort of God-man union he desires. In Noah resides imago-Dei innovation that listens to the heartbeat of the Creator and follows its creative commission—even when that commission runs as counter-cultural as a set of boat blueprints for a land in which rain never falls.

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*At first blush, it might seem that God's exasperation in Genesis 6 contradicts teachings like Isaiah 40:28. "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable." However, if humans can feel frustration while possessing moral strength, couldn't God do so at an even higher level? I think it's possible for God to be "tired" of a given dynamic without having the type of fatigue that lessens his power. Part of the confusion here results from the metaphorical nature of all human language, but if we look at how being alive and responsive actually works in us, we can follow that trajectory and catch a better understanding of God's complexity as well.

**I suppose it's necessary to develop certain formal principles of stand-alone doctrine, but we should always be aware that such principles have the potential to distort interpretation if we idolize them. The text itself trumps human conclusions about the text. Always. When our doctrine doesn't allow for the nuances of Scripture to stand, doctrine should become subservient to mystery.

***Jon and Tim aren’t the only thinkers to suggest the divine, human commission of Genesis. If you’re interested in this topic, I’d particularly suggest Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making to unpack the call of humans to be artists and gardeners. And if you’re up for a little bit harder (but even better) read, Dorothy Sayers’s The Mind of the Maker integrates the creative process with the divine calling of humanity.

Apples to Oranges (Genesis 4:2b-7)

 

"Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

(Genesis 4:2b-7)

PhotoCredit: ditfeet on Morguefile

PhotoCredit: ditfeet on Morguefile

 

Cain and Abel had different jobs, so the gifts they gave God were like apples and oranges. Abel brought livestock. Cain brought fruit and vegetables. How would you ever compare those two offerings?

But God could see straight into the motives of both men. He knew that Abel brought the best he had and that Cain did not.

A nice cut of meat couldn’t impress a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, of course. So what’s actually going on here? Let’s take a look at a word the KJV uses for God’s reaction--instead of “regard,” the Lord is said to “respect” one offering more than the other.

The Hebrew term for “regard/respect” seems to involve more than cold, intellectual assessment--it’s an expression of feeling as well. It means that you’ve taken time to inspect and consider something deeply, and what you’ve found in it moves your emotions.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the O’Henry short story, “The Gift of the Magi.” In this beautiful old tale, an impoverished husband and wife secretly sacrifice their most beloved possessions so they can buy extravagant gifts to give one another on Christmas morning. O’Henry concludes the story with these lines:


“…here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise. Each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for the other. But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days: Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise.”

 

Despite the dozens of times I’ve read this story, such pure devotion always puts lump in my throat. In a hardened and cynical world, these two little fools shine so bright.

Likewise, the Great God who was wounded by the distrust of Adam and Eve looked down upon the earth and saw a single male child born of that couple who had hidden from God and stolen from God. Yet instead of trying to pull apart from God, Abel ran toward him. He willingly chose the most beautiful “fruit” of his flock, and he sacrificed it. Instead of holding what was precious close to his chest as his parents had, he put it on the altar and gave it to God.

God’s “respect” isn’t an analytical reaction. He’s not a greedy tax collector who is excited over big net gains. He is a Heavenly Father who is moved like all of us would be in the face of a pure gift of radical trust. He sees what Abel is actually offering. Like a husband on Christmas morning who sees that his wife has sold her beautiful hair out of love for him, the Lord's mighty heart is stirred.

As goofed up as hot-and-cold King David was, we see him making a similar choice in II Samuel 24:24. David wants to build an offer on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, and Araunah offers the land for free. But David wants to incorporate trust into his offering, so he says, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”

This sort of giving isn’t legalism. It’s not an attempt to earn God’s heart by human performance. It’s about using the tangible stuff of earth to pass through a portal into the unseen. It's about living an earthly life that diagnoses the deepest posture of our souls. Jesus alludes to this sort of transport in his parable of the shrewd manager. He says,

“make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16).

The dirty street currency of the flatlands can be used actively in the realm of God. How strange. I’m reminded of MacDonald’s novel Lilith here, a story about a dual reality in which the doings of one realm impact another. It’s difficult for us to see in both dimensions simultaneously, but this sort of vision expresses the life of the faithful.

In the visible realm, Cain was just offering a bunch of vegetables--but in the eternal world, he was standing before God holding back from him, not completely trusting him, saying, “You can have this much of me, but no more.”

It rattles me a little to think that the barriers I put up between myself and God might impact not just his evaluation of me—but also his emotions toward me. Could I really move the heart of the maker of the universe? What would it mean to a God who looks down on the rebellion of the human race day after day to hear one of his children say, “Papa, here is everything. I trust your heart with my whole world”?


 I’m scared to do it. My impulse is to hold back parts and pieces from him, flinching, and saying, “I’ll reserve these three things because I would die if you took them. I love what I see and feel more than I love you. You can have the peripheral parts of my life as worship, but you cannot have the core of me.” But God knows apples from oranges, and when I choose to yield it all, he knows what I’m giving, and it moves him.

You are Dust (Genesis 3:19)

“for you are dust,
    and to
dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19, ESV)

Photo Credit: Morguefile (Alvimann)

Photo Credit: Morguefile (Alvimann)

The noun used for “dust” (“aphar”) here is fascinating to me. It not only means dust (as most of us know it), but also clay, earth, mud, ashes, mortar, powder, or rubbish. That word has 110 occurrences in the text, and if you will click on that link to see how else it is used in the Bible, I think you’ll find that it generally refers to “the stuff of earth.”

In fact, “aphar” is the same noun used in Genesis 2:7—“then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

I always think of this word when I encounter rabid literalists who attempt to force believers into extreme interpretative choices. When arguing for a 24-hour, six-day creation, for example, they suggest that Hebrew usage of a word like "yom" (which means "day") reduces to a bifurcation fallacy: “Is Moses, and by extension, God, trying to deceive us by not telling us the truth about the length of the "days?"

While I don’t have an issue with God's ability to produce a literal, six-day creation, I do have an issue with how this argument is constructed. As someone who spends a lot of time in modes of classical logic and rhetoric, a manipulative, illogical, unstable approach to exegesis drives me nuts. Note carefully the implication being made here. This writer is suggesting that if Moses (or God) chose to utilize figurative language, this would indicate a failure of character. The writer is equivocating metaphorical language with a lying heart. 

And yet, in this same book of the Bible, we find "aphar" used metaphorically by Moses and by God. God tells us that Adam is dust and that to dust he will return. If metaphorical language indicates a weakness of God’s character, then Adam (present tense) must be only a pile of physical dust—which we know (from other verses) that he is not.

So does the same accusation used for "yom" apply to "aphar"? Should we also ask: “Is Moses, and by extension, God, trying to deceive us by not telling us the truth about Adam being dust? No. Adam must be literal dust, or else the character of God and Moses is false.” Of course not. Instead, we trust that whether God is speaking by metaphor or by declaration, his heart is good and his words are true.

As willing as I am to believe that God created the universe in six literal days, I refuse to be sucked into the contemporary Charybdis of nervous, strained methods of interpretation. I’m weary of cultural leaders who maneuver naïve believers by either/or fallacies because they are dead set on winning earthly battles.

Increasingly, I am starting to wonder if Christian scientists without formal literary training should be entrusted with Biblical exegesis any more than Christian literary scholars should be entrusted with brain surgery. A humble grandmother with no formal education, a woman who has walked in daily submission to God for decades, seems to have a better shot at handling the word of God accurately than an overconfident empiricist determined to humanism with humanism. A lack of exposure to proper interpretative methods, exacerbated by the pride of materialistic qualifications, has such a toxic impact on Biblical understanding. It imparts hubris without depth and causes the itch for earthly dominance to contort the words of God.

This morning I was reading Luke 3-4, and I was moved by the way Jesus engaged with the crowds. After refusing the honor of men during the temptations of Satan, he then refused the honor of his hometown in such an extreme way that his own people tried to throw him off of a cliff!

Luke tells us that Christ was full of the Holy Spirit—he didn’t let the urgency of the issues of humans determine his course of action. He was so in sync with the Father and the Spirit, he listened only to this guidance.

I think there is great wisdom to be learned here in interpreting the Scriptures. Instead of frantically asking what we need to prove to the crowds, we can sit before the Bible and say, “What will you have me do?”

With this posture, we find in those glorious six days of Creation, a God who expresses the nuances of his sovereignty (as we learned Tuesday). He declares his abilities to innovate, to separate, to order, to determine, and to fill.

Then we find this sovereignty extended into a God who speaks like a poet while describing the fall of humanity—you are dust, and to dust you are going to return. You haven’t chosen to rise above the rubble (the material world) from which I made you. You have chosen to be no more than the beasts.

Riveting.

This is what he says before he uses the skins of beasts (which would have required the first visible death--showing Adam what it really meant to be “dust”) to clothe them. This act would have simultaneously taught Adam what his sin cost and foreshadowed the death of the Lamb.

How many times have I sinned against God and found that without him I am dust? Though God has proven his ability to create, to separate, to order, to determine, and to fill, I have chosen my own way instead. By defying the great Current of the universe, I have obliterated my own potential.

If you are familiar with what remains of a human after cremation, you know that human ashes aren’t just dust but also bits of bone and teeth--fragments disturbingly indicative of the life that has gone.

When I think of my own sin, and when I think of Adam’s--when I think of God’s proclamation here in Genesis 3--I think of this image. I think of Lot’s wife turning to look back at Sodom and turning to salt--a self-imposed incineration that says to the God who wants to commune with us, “I will not conform to your eternal flow of life. I choose to be an animal. I choose to be the aphar—the rubble of earth.”

That is the telos of sin. That is the end of autonomy. 

The Foolbearers (Genesis 1: 3-8)

"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

 (Genesis 1:3-8, KJV)

by M.C. Escher

by M.C. Escher

A subtle but fascinating distinction occurs in these six verses. 

After God created the light, he “saw” that it was good. Does this mean God had a sudden realization? Of course not. This Hebrew verb connotes certification. It shows us that whatever God declares a thing to be determines what it actually is. 

God's division begins with the obvious. Light and dark are different, and light is good. Who would disagree? Who confuses day and night? Then He ups the ante.

“And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” (ESV)

The Hebrew concept conveyed by the word "expanse" (raqia) isn't common in our era. I actually prefer the bolder term chosen by the translators of The King James--“firmament”-- because it connotes solidity like a sheet of gold stamped into a physical arch. This term harkens back to an ancient mode of perceiving the universe, a primitive belief that a solid barrier held the upper realms apart from the lower realms.

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Moderns are sometimes embarrassed about this part of Genesis because we know that the concept isn't scientific--a hard, physical boundary does not separate atmosphere from space. In fact, Young Earth Creationists try to get out of this pickle by arguing that the Septuagint was influenced by Egyptian cosmology, which influenced Jerome. I find this posture self-contradictory and desperate--a distortion of the Word of God driven by eisegesis.

It's strange that conservatives could fall into the eisegesis trap when they are trying to be faithful to the text, but this mistake happens so easily. Most of us don't realize that when the Space Race of the 1950's shifted the values of American public education, our nation began to elevate physical sciences above the humanities. America needed schools to produce scientists so that we could maintain global dominance, so the epistemological values of our nation shifted. Instead of looking to rational or philosophical principles to answer the question, "What is most true?," validation moved to the empirical sciences.

Readily, the church embraced the secular culture's values--if science was most important to America, Christianity would find a way to make the Bible scientific. Instead of letting the text lead, Christian scientists began to ravage the Scriptures, defying principles of literary interpretation and genre because they were intent on maneuvering the Bible to help win culture wars.

What I think they failed to realize is that far more convicting truths can be gained by letting these verses be what they naturally are, inside of the genre and language that God gave us--even if that leaves some tension with secular values/epistemological systems. Accepting the inspired word inside of its own narrative context may not allow us to beat our chests in Bill Nye's face, but it can lead us to mighty, God-given, soul applications than are far more likely to renovate our nation by the Spirit of the Living God than piddling around with culture wars. 

A "conservative" should never believe that he is doing something noble when he reorients Scripture to accommodate the epistemological systems of humanism. es, many principles of science were hidden inside the Bible thousands of years before humans discovered them. But when we are driven by fear or insecurity--needing Genesis to operate like a scientific manual so that we can fight the atheists, we have become idolators. Our utmost goal with the Bible should be glorification and enjoyment of a holy God which leads us to union and obedience.If we focus on this, the rest of the work God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10) will fall into place.  

Looking closely at the actual text of Genesis 1, verse 7 repeats the Hebrew word for “divide”--the same word used a few sentences earlier to divide light from darkness. This time, however, God is dividing LIKE THINGS—“water” from “water.” The Hebrew term used here can mean water (as we know it), or it can indicate other liquids like urine, semen, or any juice of any substance.

In his previous act of Creation, God created a distinction between entities that are obviously different—light and darkness. In this section, however, he draws a firm boundary between entities that seem similar to human eyes: the waters above and the waters below. God creates a firm (even as solid as hammered metal) separation between what seems identical to us.

I find this passage breathtaking in a world like ours.

Even non-believers are usually comfortable with light/dark moral distinctions that seem obvious. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. These issues are generally as clear as day and night. Who wouldn't agree?

But what do we do with a God who creates a separation between choices that feel morally similar in a relativistic world? What if a holy God decides to make a moral boundary as firm as metal arch, dividing choice from choice? What if he says, “This fruit you may eat,” and “This fruit you may not.” What then?

In these two first acts of creation, we find a scenario more powerful (humbling, convicting) than any empirical, scientific claim. We are given two images that reveal the extent of God's authority--a theme which repeats again and again throughout the remainder of the Bible.

In chapter 24 of The Call, Os Guinness describes “the foolbearer,” as a Christian who is willing to embrace God’s definitions for good and evil in the midst of a relativistic world. Guinness writes that “sin”  is “the claim to the right to myself”—and therefore “the claim to my right to my view of things.”

The progressive American church wrangles over the delicate moral dilemmas of our time as if defining sin is sort of new challenge for the modern man, but believing that humans are bright enough to redefine good and evil isn’t new. From the very first chapters of the Bible, we find Eve facing a temptation to trust her own judgment, opting for her own definition of good over God’s. 

The forbidden fruit looks good to her—according to the workings of her mind and the evaluation of her own senses. As far as we can tell there’s nothing the least bit empirical or rational about God’s command to stay away from it. So when the serpent asks, “Has God really said?” Eve decides to trust her own gut instead—finding a way to chase goodness that doesn’t involve yielding to God’s authority.

She was unwilling to trust the foolishness of God over the wisdom of man. I have been, too. So many times.

This is not a call to "flagrant anti-intellectualism"--the "Credo quia absurdum ('I believe because it is absurd')" (Guinness 206). However, it does involve active submission to a Messiah who said, "Not my will but Thine."  And I think that many progressives fail to admit that this sort of compliance is likely to be costly, for this Messiah also said that those who wanted to save their lives would need to lose them first.

So when I read this section of Genesis, I find myself struggling at the pinch of it before I find myself resigned. Genesis 1:3-8 reminds me that I sit before a God who has the authority to divide the world into categories that may or may not always align with my human reason.

Most of the time, God seems to say, "Light and darkness are different, and the light is good." Most of the time, his declarations seem rational to me, so I readily agree with them. But are other times when he divides water from water with a solid boundary, and his logic feels obscure and difficult. There are times when he calls a division "good," that I call baffling. 

"Here is the fruit, Eve. I say don't eat it. What will you do with that?

"...when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate."

I get that choice. Sadly, I make it every day.

Luke 1 shows us two different personality types standing in the intersection of the holy mysterious. Zacharias the cynic hardened and Mary the simple softened, though the risk of her faith was far greater. Almost immediately she yielded: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  

She is the anti-Eve, the willing foolbearer, who opens like a flower in the presence of the sun. Simple people like Mary may not make a big splash in the culture wars. They may not build a giant ark or stand on a university stage debating Richard Dawkins while trying to save America.

But in some hidden, lower-class bedroom, a Mary might stand toe-to-toe with the realization that a scientifically-impossible pregnancy will cause everybody she knows to think she's either bat crazy or a lying slut. She will know how much faith is likely to cost and yet resign the womb of her soul to a living God with a whispered, "Not my will, but Thine."


 

 

 

 

 

When Your New Year Begins with Old Chaos (Monday: Genesis 1:2)

“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

"The Tempest" by Ivan Aivazovsky (1886)

"The Tempest" by Ivan Aivazovsky (1886)


"The same word used for the “earth” in Genesis 1:1 is used again here. This time, however, we are shown that the creation story is beginning in medias res. You might remember that term from literature class--it's an ancient mode of epic storytelling that means "in the middle of things."  When an author begins in the middle of exposition instead of with a detailed preamble, readers are thrown into the energy of activity, and the larger context is provided later through flashbacks, conversation, and additional dialogue.

Though this may be a shock to some readers, Genesis 1:2 doesn't open with a physical vacuum. It claims that some sort of material “deep” was in existence before the six days of creation--and we are not told how long that substance had been existence. Because of Genesis 1:1, we can assume that God also created all that pre-existed, but an exegetical approach to the text shows us some sort of realm that preceded every day of innovation that God describes in subsequent verses.

Looking at the actual words Scripture provides here helps us see that the focus of Genesis 1:2 isn't origin so much as quality. Whatever this pre-existing substance of the earth was, formlessness prevails. The chaos is rife with confusion. Hebrew roots for the descriptive words used in this verse connote unreality, emptiness, void, and waste. The darkness that was over the surface of the deep wasn’t a neutral vacuum. It was the darkness of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, wickedness.

I have often wondered why these words are weighted so negatively. If there is no back story preceding Genesis 1:2--if the non-universe is only an inert blank canvas upon which God designs all that is-- why would such gloomy language be necessary? What happened before the story we are told? God doesn't tell us. Yet from the remnants we are shown, an English word comes to my mind here--“ache.” 

We will learn more tomorrow about the word "waters" upon which God hovers, but for today, let's say that Spirit of God brooded over a potential, aching universe with the calm of relaxed control. He hovered over the chaos and spoke, “Let there be light.” And there was light.

God separated the light from the darkness—he tore those two things asunder like ripped fabric. Like the flicker of a match in a dark cave, Genesis ignites when the invisible becomes visible.

This morning, I woke up with a heavy heart and a headache, bone-weary from appeals that I have made over and again to God.

Yes, it's a new year, but I feel more exhausted by the turn of the calendar than inspired by it. I dreading facing more prayers that seem to go nowhere and that meet with only silence. I am tired of reaching out in faith, tired of the patience and trust God is developing in me. I am tired of the attacks of shame my enemy uses against me--he kicks us when we are down, and he has no mercy.

God allowed me to face the situation I knew I couldn't survive, then he didn't let me die.

Despite my protests, he began using it to expose my sin, my unbelief, and my idols. How I want this process of growth to be over. I want to see results now. I want to fall asleep just one night, knowing that my beliefs have become sight instead of having to intentionally choose to transfer my hope from myself to an invisible God.

But as I opened a Bible app to read this morning, this verse appeared. "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."

The wilderness. The desert. Here is the backdrop of Genesis 1:2, the context upon which God is brooding, growing soft and relaxed as a competent artist who knows he has the ability to bring a heavy, aching chaos to order. He has a plan. He is not frantic like I am. He is not weary.

At any moment, he can make rivers in this desert. At any moment, he can speak, "Let there be light." And so I lay down my despair once more at the feet of The Light of the World--this embodied flash of clarity.

Immanuel. God is with us. And this time, instead of hovering over the waters, he has walked inside of them, absorbing the crashing waves of confusion, misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and my own wickedness even into his own flesh—and rising like emanating daylight.

He is my way in this wilderness. He is my river in this desert. He recreates slowly this time, teaching me to lean into his resources, removing my grip from my own power, and encouraging me to sit in the worship of expectation.