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.