Why would you start a conversation around the book, Genesis? It certainly is a great pity that for most Bible readers, the journey through the Torah, the prophets and the wisdom writings (‘the Old Testament’) is a road less travelled. But that’s where we – people meeting together in a small study group – are headed for a while to check out the foundations of what we know as the Hebrew faith and the Christian faith before its subversion.
Where to begin? The storytellers of the Hebrew Scriptures would shout “In the beginning!”
But we might want to start with the story of someone we know more about, perhaps even know personally –Jesus of Nazareth. So, where would he have started?
In the account of Jesus’ work we call The Gospel of Matthew, it is recorded that Jesus stunned his protagonists by asking them
Haven’t you read that He who originally made them male and female and said, ‘for this reason, a man leaves father and mother and is joined to his wife, becoming one flesh?’ Mat 19:4-5
The way Jesus is recorded putting this question, shows he saw that the words he quoted from his Bible at Genesis 2:24 were equivalent to being the Creator’s words. That shows extraordinary respect for the Jewish scriptures which the Jews referred to as the Tanakh.
Listening to Jesus, being with him constantly and seeing his work, the first New Testament writers had to radically change their understanding of what the Kingdom of God and its Messiah were all about.
Because Jesus gave the New Testament writers their understanding, and taught them how to use, interpret, and apply the Hebrew Bible, we too hope to take this road and start with the book Genesis. In the beginning.
Our reading of these treasures would be better informed and moulded if we patterned it after the only, truly revealed expositor we have –Jesus’ life, teachings, and especially His use of Hebrew Scripture. We shall keep him in mind on this road.
So let’s try to see the scriptures through the eyes of a Jew. But that’s not easy. To do this we will need to think quite differently. For a start, the Hebrew storytellers never set out to prove the existence of God. Proving the existence of something or someone was not on their agenda. Neither were they abstract thinkers but they were anchored in the everyday life of their community and the nations around them.
Why prove the existence of the God they knew, who had made himself known to them? God had spoken, had been in touch, had revealed his purposes for them. They experienced God, talked with him, related to him as a person, a greatly transcendent one, yet accessible. They were made in his image, fitted out for person to person communication. Do you have to prove the existence of your father or your kids or even people you have never met such as Barak Obama or Abraham Lincoln? No, these are self evident.
In fact, it was not until the rise of Greek thinking and culture that setting out to prove anything was commonly undertaken – when science, mathematics and philosophy got going. You would think that with the advent of science the Greeks and Romans would set aside the myths of their gods of the natural world but that was not the case.
But for the Hebrews, the Lord God did things and they knew it. God had set up the universe for Homo sapiens, the crown of creation. They knew that God was separate from his creation and not part of it. And they knew that God was One, a Unity and not like the invented deities of human imagination, gods made in the human image. For the polytheists, the gods were part of the physical universe and were thought to behave very much like their inventors.
But this book is different. We are able to read this ancient book Genesis with a strange confidence that what we are reading is of immense significance. There is a solidness about its legend-like appearance. Behind what appears to be myth in Genesis 1 to 3, we discover an anti-myth as Jonathon Sachs said recently to a Sydney audience. The Genesis creation story is one which is diametrically opposed to the other creation stories of the polytheistic societies of the ancient world. Totally different. For starters, the universe had a beginning. It is not eternal. Big bang.
We are very aware of the atheistic and rationalistic and scientistic arguments advanced in our media from the likes of Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. Why are they so fundamentalist, even religious, in their dogmas? Are they threatened by the evidences that even young children can see, by the music which they cannot hear, by the poetry which they cannot appreciate? They are trying to lay a foundation which leaves God right out of a closed system and eliminates freedom, responsibility, love and justice by their adamant insistence that human beings are nothing more than “biological robots” without souls, consciousness, free will. We have no value as anything other than a collection of cells. This thinking leads to murder, rape, chaos, gross injustice, justification of genocide ….
So we keep this in mind as we start to read Genesis. As in most of these ancient scriptures, if we tune in we will hear, yes hear, stories about God, his creation and ourselves. Stories of hope based on reality. These are stories of Everyman, for Everyman. He gave us stories, not formulas. Not dogma. Stories. Stories of hope.
A few of us are meeting weekly in a Brisbane suburban home to read Genesis and we expect to hear the Lord’s voice from its pages and experience his authority. So maybe you can get on this road less travelled along with us.