Rebecca K. Reynolds

Honest Company for the Journey

"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.

medieval-cosmos-square-sandstone-soaker-coaster_90556385e041f4893d3f214d4e4822b8_2807748_0_big.jpg



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.




Sunday: Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

https://stardate.org/sites/default/files/images/gallery/IR_orion_nebula.jpg

https://stardate.org/sites/default/files/images/gallery/IR_orion_nebula.jpg

Two realms are created here--the distant ether in which the celestial masses revolve and an intimate terrain that we can touch, feel, and see.  

As I think about my own life, these two categories hold a lot of meaning. Most days of the week, I'm concerned with the close and the small, relationships and responsibilities, familiar faces and rooms that I know by heart. Yet, all that is dear to me sits tucked inside of a vast expanse. My life is also subject to a colossal cosmic machine in which the forces of nature, human politics, and spiritual powers dwarf all the strength I possess.

I rarely spend time outside these days, staring into dark and distant skies that remind me how small I am. But sometimes when I am feeling weight I cannot carry, I’ll get on the NASA website and look at photos of star nebulae and think about what it means that God made both the close and the far. Here are light-years full of burning and glorious details, and yet, God told us that not even a sparrow falls without his notice. 

Which is harder to believe? The God of the nebulae or the God who cares about the broken wing of this tired year's hope?

The book of Genesis regularly juxtaposes binaries to set the stage for the story it tells. Light and dark. Good and evil. Large and small. And this very first sentence begins with a fast zoom in--the Mysterious Everything is divided and subdivided until we arrive in a single garden. 

We are carried through the cosmos to a little landing place we can understand, among two people very much like us.

Atheists sometimes suggest that fear of death and the unknown propelled the human race to invent religion. They say that the human soul couldn’t bear to look up into the night sky and feel so vulnerable, so it created "a god" or "gods" to pacify itchy nerves. But there’s another way to look at this impulse as well. A newborn baby will cry in hunger for milk because milk exists. 

This is the ontological argument, of course, a concept which originated in the 11th century with Anselm, then was revised and resurrected through Descartes's theory of innate ideas. Because Descartes was attempting to appeal to an audience saturated in formal logic, his work mimics the syllogism (major premise, minor premise, conclusion). He argues that while some people are naturally axiomatic and will perceive God intuitively, others are more clouded and must engage in labor to see the stuff of God--yet once this work of seeing clearly is done, God will be “self-evident” (per se notam). Descartes contradicted Augustine in this, an early leader of the church who had suggested that all who wish to deny God's existence may find a way to do so.

Over the years, I've rolled both possibilities around quite a bit. While I see why Descartes (the mathematician) was attempting to quantify proof of God's existence, I think the testimony of the Created Order works best when it's held in a child's palms.  Some things can't be reduced to an equation.

So hello, you bundle of bones and flesh. Here are the heavens and the earth, the far and the near. What do you see as you watch them revolve? 

More importantly, what do you want to see? What does this impulse reveal? 

 

Before We Begin Reading the Book of Genesis

In preparation for January's study on Genesis, I spent this morning reviewing common theories of Creation. Every time I study this topic, one observation strikes me, but because it's complicated, I’ve never taken the time to unpack that thought in writing. Today, however, I’m going to give it a try.

Like so many other matters these days, the Creation debate has been bifurcated into extremes: science and faith. Of course, extremes serve a handy rhetorical purpose--they allow leaders to rally the simple-minded into heated support. The downside, however, is that extremes overlook vital nuances.

For example, over the past year, quite a few of us have been told: "Either you call Trump a national hero, or you wanted Hillary to be President." It's a false dilemma, of course, and in classical logic, we address such a bifurcation fallacy (among other options) by "going between the horns," which means that we expose the false nature of the dilemma by arguing that neither Trump nor Clinton was a true conservative.

In discussions of Creation theory, a similar dilemma is often created. Christians are told: either you are a text-centered believer, or you are a secularized, empirical coward who lets science determine your beliefs. To address this bifurcation, I’d like to show you an outline that I swiped from The Blue Letter Bible site, an outline which represents a relatively common method of addressing theories of Creation. As you see, two general categories are created: (1)“Science-Based Methods” and (2) “Exegetically-Based Methods.”

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Upon which fundamental assumption is this divide based? What does this split create?

A REVIEW:

Before I address those questions, I want to take you into a quick review of Greek oratory, and particularly into a review of how syllogisms/enthymemes work. Why? Because this chart is fundamentally enthymematic, and that’s a crucial observation for understanding its weakness.

An enthymeme is a syllogism with a missing part--an argument that relies upon an assumption from the audience.

For example, a full syllogism would be:
 

MAJOR PREMISE: All humans are mortal. 

MINOR PREMISE: Socrates is human. 

CONCLUSION: Therefore, Socrates is mortal. 



The enthymematic version of this same premise would be truncated to:
 

Socrates is mortal because he is human.


In the enthymematic version of the syllogism, the major premise, “All humans are mortal,” has been assumed.

Whenever we find an enthymeme, it’s important to go back and look clearly at the part that has been removed because simply naming the missing premise often reveals assumptions that we would never accept if they were stated more directly.

So, looking back at the outline from the Blue Letter Bible, let’s create a syllogism from the enthymeme which drives this information.


MAJOR PREMISE: Only two methods of interpretation are possible, empirical science and hermeneutical interpretation. 

MINOR PREMISE: Interpreting the Creation narrative is dependent upon one of those two methods. 

CONCLUSION: Therefore, interpreting the Creation narrative must rely upon either empirical science or on hermeneutical interpretation. 

 


The Blue Letter Bible leaves out (but implies) the major premise:  "Only two methods of interpretation are possible, empirical science and hermeneutical interpretation." 

Is this implication legitimate?

A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON HERMENEUTICS/EXEGESIS

Without going into too much detail, the term hermeneutics generally refers to methods of interpreting Scripture--and hermeneutics is often dependent upon exegesis, a text-oriented exploration of the actual words of the Bible.

I am actually an exegesis junkie for several reasons, primarily because I trust the Word of God deeply; but secondarily, as a literary critic, I know how important a text-oriented mode of interpretation is. In the discipline of literature, we often refer to a text-oriented method of interpretation as Formalism (or New Criticism, or Textual Criticism). These schools of analysis argue that the text itself should be used as the primary means for finding meaning.

In the realm of theology, exegesis applies trust in the words of the ancient text—a posture which stands against more eisegetical approaches to Scripture that place less trust in the Word of God and more in human instinct or bias.

As I look at the Blue Letter Bible outline, I think it's understandable that the divide presented here has occurred. At present, conservative Christians feel pressure from two primary groups: (1) secularists who trust human reason, and (2) liberal Christians who elevate human instinct above God's authority. Given these choices, Conservatives have chosen to stand in firm allegiance to the Word of God, a stance I find admirable.

What we may have missed, however, is that a Greek, humanistic assumption also undergirds our counter stance: an assumption that human beings can access the true meaning of Scripture by rationalism alone.

I’m wary to address this assumption because unpacking it can turn into a bit of a Pandora’s box. Challenging trust in reason often leaves a vacuum, which leads to a trajectory of bizarre, ever-shifting, touchy-feely interpretations of Scripture. At some level, Christian theologians have a very practical need to believe that God is logical and that he has presented us with a book that can be unpacked by strictly rational means.

In general, I agree that God gave us reason, and he expects us to use it. (Why would I be writing a post like this if I didn't?) I also agree that the Bible is our ultimate guide for what is true. Yet God also leaves some tension here, and I think he does that intentionally.  He's left mysteries and paradoxes in His Word alongside what is open and clear. Why? Probably because the very first sin of humans was an attempt to be Godlike without God. Trust in the ability of our own minds was our first idol, and we default back to this impulse every day of our lives.

To help protect us from this impulse, God gave us a complex Scripture that can't be reduced to a flow chart. In the story of Christ chiding people who believed that searching the Scriptures could be done by reason alone, he shows us that spiritual knowledge can't be obtained fully apart from dependent fellowship with him.


“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)


Over and again in the Word, we see evidence that pursuing religious activity apart from union with God leads to destruction. God uses rationalism, but he also limits it. Our Lord has created a faith that is not simply dependent upon the workings of the mind, but even more so, upon the posture of the soul.

So even though the outline provided by the Blue Letter Bible serves some good purposes, it fails to acknowledge the complexity of a truly Christian epistemology. We cannot know the way without actively knowing The Way.

AWARENESS OF OUR BIASES

While the Western church has been quick to attack empirical science, we regularly fail to see how much our own methodologies have been influenced by secular humanistic philosophies. In fact, in some ways, the simple bifurcation presented by the Blue Letter Bible reveals the prime epistemological error of the Western Christian church.

This outline claims that humans have two options:

(1) knowledge obtained by empirical science.
(2) knowledge obtained by hermeneutics which deals with the science of interpreting scripture.

Category 1 can be traced pretty easily back to David Hume, the father of empiricism (trust in the scientific method). But Category 2 can also be traced back through secular Western philosophy.  In fact, Category 2 agrees with Plato and Descartes--that the prime essence of human beings is rational.  

The Bible certainly affirms that part of the human nature involves the rational mind; however, even passages such as Romans 12:2 ("Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind") tend to fall in the larger context of what immediately precedes it: "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God."

The human mind is woven inside of a larger, affective faith in the Scriptures. We don't just think truth, we swim it out in the activity of our belief. This is why Jesus embedded the work of the mind inside of the larger work of love: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Christ spoke this radical statement about 350 years after Plato's Divided Line theory had been created, and he spoke it inside of a Roman-dominated culture that was pregnant with Greek values. In the very face of all secular understanding of the essence of the human, Jesus is arguing that being human involves more than just thinking, we are creatures of being and doing. What we love and what we chase is a diagnostic.

For the most part, modern Christians have lost this connection. In general, we assume that what we think equals what we believe.


THE DOMINOES FALL

Every idea has a trajectory, and the trajectory of idolizing Christian rationalism has grave consequences. When Christianity becomes a purely rationalistic exercise, fulfilling the Great Commission shifts to dependence upon human arguments. We aren't simply Paul in Athens, using rationalism as a tool under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit--we transform into flesh-powered, independent warriors, reduced to only the power of our own minds, attempting to fight fire with fire. We think we are serving God, but in truth, we are ignoring many warnings given to us in the New Testament--warnings urging us not to attempt to complete the works of God in the power of the flesh (Galatians 3:3).

Evaluating language used by certain Young Earth Creationists can provide evidence of this idolatry.  These leaders threaten us openly, telling us that losing the battle of evolution will mean losing the great culture war of our faith. They ask us to forget what the Bible says about the gates of hell never prevailing against the church--we are told (and shown) that arguments alone will protect us from the aggression of the non-believing world. Nervous believers have embraced this fear wholeheartedly, rallying behind teachers who promise to protect our beliefs from the forces of atheism.

This entire approach is deeply secular. It's fear-driven, faithless, and false.

WHY IT’S UNNERVING TO EVEN TALK ABOUT THIS

Yet anyone who attempts to unpack this matter in our part of the country is likely to be faced with rash assumptions that "you are one of those 'librul'-old-earth creationists." In fact, just a few weeks ago, I overheard some silly gossip about my husband that was spread in our community--a dismissive claim that he didn't believe in a literal Genesis.

That comment made me laugh because I have never seen anyone hold the Bible in as high regard as my husband. It also made me sad because here was more evidence that vulnerable and uneducated people have been pumped full of pride and haughtiness without solid facts.

In seminars and debates, limited information has been packaged into drive-through Creationist meals. Men and women swallow the goods then walk out of those experiences with a saunter, often feeling far more confident than they should. They bloviate in the spirit of our age, quickly dividing the world into blacks and whites.

I wonder sometimes what these folks would do if they could look beyond Happy Meal theology—how would they process the God about whom John Donne wrote:


“ETERNAL God—for whom who ever dare
Seek new expressions, do the circle square, 
And thrust into straight corners of poor wit
Thee, who art cornerless and infinite—



Could they handle reality that is more nuanced than the explanations they have been given? In fact, even St. Augustine (354-430 AD) taught that the Genesis narrative was written to suit the understanding of the people of the time, suggesting that creation occurred in a single moment instead of over six literal days. He wrote:


“Perhaps we ought not to think of these creatures at the moment they were produced as subject to the processes of nature which we now observe in them, but rather as under the wonderful and unutterable power of the Wisdom of God, which reaches from end to end mightily and governs all graciously. For this power of Divine Wisdom does not reach by stages or arrive by steps. It was just as easy, then, for God to create everything as it is for Wisdom to exercise this mighty power. For through Wisdom all things were made, and the motion we now see in creatures, measured by the lapse of time, as each one fulfills its proper function, comes to creatures from those causal reasons implanted in them, which God scattered as seeds at the moment of creation when He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created. Creation, therefore, did not take place slowly in order that a slow development might be implanted in those things that are slow by nature; nor were the ages established at plodding pace at which they now pass. Time brings about the development of these creatures according to the laws of their numbers, but there was no passage of time when they received these laws at creation.”
 


Likewise, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) wrote:


“On the day on which God created the heaven and the earth, He created also every plant of the field, not, indeed, actually, but “before it sprung up in the earth,” that is, potentially.…All things were not distinguished and adorned together, not from a want of power on God’s part, as requiring time in which to work, but that due order might be observed in the instituting of the world.”


The church fathers allowed for such complexity. They didn't tie up heavy burdens on the backs of their disciples--they understood ancient literature, genre, and language at a level that most modern believers cannot and allowed the Bible to be what it is.  How grievous that we moderns rarely have the humility to admit that our cultural fears and our lack of knowledge have driven us to demand very particular results from Bible... fears and ignorance that lead us to commit some of the same interpretational errors that we accuse liberals of committing. We regurgitate distortions of the text that we have been given in seminars, trusting a secularized machine of Christianity that drives us into culture wars and away from resigned communion with the Holy Spirit.


THE BOTTOM LINE FOR ME:

Even as I write, I can feel a circle of wolves gathering, asking for my bottom line. Do I believe in six days of creation? Well, how about I take that request and raise you one.  Why not ask me if I could believe in Augustine’s "instant of creation?” Might I dare to believe something so very radical as this?

Gladly and without flinching. Neither a one-day nor a six-day creation model would be a stretch for the God I know, for he is not confined by time. Time is a dimension, after all (like length, width, and depth), and God transcends dimensionality. 

However, I will also stand firm on this point: militarizing six-day-creation in an attempt to gain cultural power is not God’s plan for the book of Genesis. In fact, I think that a manipulative application of scriptural literalism is one of the most secular activities Christians can embrace. To adopt such a posture is not an act of faith; it’s trust in the Greek dialectic. It’s trust in the strength of humanity to accomplish the purposes of God. While I am eager to believe any wild miracle God sets before me, I will not link arms with Christianized humanism, nor will I give the slightest allegiance to such an endeavor. 


ANOTHER WAY TO APPROACH THE BOOK OF GENESIS

A few days ago, a friend of mine posted a longish story in a Facebook status, and to tease her, I commented on a little detail she mentioned but that wasn’t central to her main post.

“That’s not the point!” she responded, and I laughed, because I knew it wasn’t. I was distracting instead of reinforcing what she was trying to say.
 
This distraction was (kind of) funny in the context of a casual dialogue, but there's little to laugh about when diverting the book of Genesis. When we major on the minors, we commit idolatry, worshipping rationalism, and worshipping our own ability to think our way through our present culture wars. We WANT this book to somehow fit into the categories that we create for it because we are scared, angry, and insecure. Our hearts are full of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the nervous desire for Christian liberties. We tremble before every threat we’ve ever heard about the ability of hell (or the ability of progressives) to knock down the church of Jesus Christ.

All this fear undermines our focus-- preventing us from coming to Scripture as recipients, ready to commune with a living God who will use his Living Word to convict and guide us. When we flatten a book like Genesis to fight our personal wars, we miss the greater good it can do when we kneel before it and receive what it has to offer.

A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned one literary critical method—Formalism. What I didn’t mention was that Formalism is best balanced by a second method of literary interpretation called “New Historicism.”

New Historicism understands that every text falls into a historical and social context; for example, without understanding the larger historical concepts of “the landed gentry” or “entailment,”  a reader might miss a great deal of the meaning in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. So while the text itself is vital, a responsible and humble reader also does enough background work to accurately orient a work in time and place.

In light of this, why was Genesis written? Was it given to Israel to help them fight the Philistines--who just happened to be raging Darwinian evolutionists? Of course not. It was given to help Israel understand its origins--not simply its material origins--but perhaps even more so, its hamartiaology--the origins of mortal posture toward an immortal God.

From whence did humans come? From a first mother Eve who chose to be like God apart from obedience to and communion with God. From whence did humans come? From a first father Adam who chose to be passive, to hide, and to blame.

When we read Genesis and immediately say, “Those blasted evolutionists!” we fail to learn what Israel was supposed to learn from its words-- a recognition that we are still Eve, worshipping our own minds. We fail to learn that we are still Adam, deflecting responsibility and blame instead of owning our own weakness.

If we encounter this text and immediately move into societal attack instead of allowing it convict us as it convicted the original audience, we have largely missed the point of the whole narrative.

I will always be an advocate of exegesis because I see grave dangers in intuition-based, eisegetical approaches to Scripture. Yet there is also a way to approach hermeneutics in living faith— with a far deeper commitment than that afforded by the Cartesian/Platonic rationalism that runs rampant through evangelicalism at present.

Ultimate allegiance to the text is determined by embodied believers who sit in deep submission to the Word of God— lovers of God who let his truth saturate down to the heart, soul, strength and then the mind.

Disciples of Jesus are not just thinkers, but active swimmers in the vast ocean of a living God--men and women who are willing to use rationalism as God gives it, but who plant their deepest trust in the Living Lord who goes before us into the World. He has not given us a spirit of fear, but power and love to accompany our sound minds.

That indwelt life will always align with the Word of God--it will never become a progressive do-what-feels-good deconstruction of orthodoxy. It will also involve far more than simple intellectual assent.

In the book that C.S. Lewis considered his masterpiece, a protagonist named Orual is trapped in a primitive culture that worships a wild god called Ungit. Because Orual is an intellectual, she spends most of her life trusting a foreign Greek rationalist teacher, a father-figure who embodies a linear, syllogism-based approach to truth.

During most of the book, the worship of Ungit is presented as superstitious and foolish, and the reader happily sides with Orual’s prejudices against her. And yet, in the end, Lewis pulls the rug out from under our feet. The wild god of the mountain must be known by trust and not simply by reason, and those who were willing to chase love end up being wiser in the end than those who trusted their own minds.

I was stunned when I realized what Lewis was doing with this book. Of all people, Lewis had such a rare ability to reason and debate. He was one of the great apologists of the faith, and yet, here he was, advocating for embodied trust with the greatest work of his life.  

In this book he writes: “Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.”

I agree. And I think this deep wisdom should carry us through the book of Genesis. We should approach this book on our knees-- not with arms akimbo, sauntering through our culture as we point our fingers out there at “those bad guys.”

Let’s sit under it, friends. Let’s wade into it with longing for the God who made all that exists. When the good text says, “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,” let’s shiver with awe, allowing those words to raise the goosebumps on our arms, for it is an image which falls like “shining from shook foil.”

Let it make us small before a great God. Let it lead us to sit before him and ask, "What am I that You are mindful of me? And yet..."

Let’s not be distracted by lesser pursuits and allegiances, nor by battles already won by an omnipotent God, but whisper like the wisest women in Lewis’s best novel, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born.”

“Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

 

An Invitation to Explore The Bible Project

Now that my book is finished, I’ve been thinking about how I want to use this blog in the future.

For months, I’ve been wanting to find some way to get my readers back to basic Bible study. In the political flurry of the past year, devotion to God seems to have been swallowed up by lesser allegiances, and as I look around at the limping church, I realize that we need the Bible now more than ever.

We need to study it properly, though, digging into the correct narrative and historical context. A thousand times over the past year, I've seen random verses yanked out of the Bible and manipulated for political purposes. It's exhausting and maddening to watch. No wonder Jesus said it was possible to search the Scriptures while missing him entirely. I get that now.

So, as I have been thinking/praying about this, I have been looking through different reading schedules and materials, waiting for God to show me how to address this need in my little circle of influence. Then, last night, I found this. The Bible Project.

The format reminds me a little of Radio Lab, which I love. There’s a bit of teaching, but there’s also an opportunity to read the Bible for yourself. And if you have a device that is app-compatible, there’s an application that invites super-convenient reading/study.

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I'm including a video below that gives you a little introduction to the material, and I'm also including a few links so that you can watch a bit of the content yourself. I really think you're going to love this. 

 


So, here’s my proposal. Over the next few months (starting in January), I want to go through The Bible Project with any of my blog/Facebook readers who are interested. I’m thinking twice a week, Saturdays and Wednesdays, might provide a reasonable pace for most of us. (A schedule through February is provided below.)
 

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If you are looking for some sort of devotional to do with your families or small group study, you're welcome to invite others along.

On my end, I plan to post a little reaction to the day's video/reading after watching/reading it myself. Then you guys can interact in the comments below and on my Facebook writer page. While I’d really like to do this all year, I want to give it a test run first, just to see how it goes. So for now, let’s just try January and February.  If you end up enjoying this, we can continue beyond that.
 

As broken as the church is sometimes, I love how God still raises up individuals and teams to address the needs of an era.  The Bible Project seems to fill such an important niche in our culture, and I'm awfully excited about introducing you to it. Hopefully, we can dig in together and learn some things along the way.

Watch: "Literary Styles in the Bible" by clicking here: 

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