Friday, March 13, 2009

my journey of re-framing Genesis and Exodus

Isaac and I have been talking about how much our approach to Genesis and Exodus have been re-framed. It sucks that there is so much debate about the days of creation and that people are labeled based on how they interpret Genesis 1 & 2, because it seems that this entirely misses the POINT of it all. Before, I couldn't get through those chapters without trying to figure out exactly what it was saying in regards to the creation vs. evolution debate. For me, it took rediscovering Exodus to see Genesis in a new light.

The redefinition started the year I got to Chicago and started going to the Church of Wrigleyville. Being in that brand new little congregation of 100 people was amazing, and there was such a sense of excitement. I had never before and never since been so enthralled by a sermon series as I was when Dave started teaching through the 10 Commandments. I remember Bob and I having our heads bent over our Bibles and notebooks, scribbling furiously whole sermons. Those are some of the most lasting sermons in my memory (and the truth is that I struggle with sermons and struggle to listen to even the best preachers).

Christ Church of Wrigleyville

(PS - the above photo I just google-image searched and found on flikr - apparently it is from some guy's visit to the church. He says Dave looks like a former druggie and that the guitar player was really good. Ironically, the sheets you see lining the balcony? Those were put up one-by-one during the 10 commandments series back in the day, so this photo must actually have been taken during the series I'm talking about, and chances are that I'm just under the bottom left side of the photo frame).

I had thought of the 10 commandments as a list of rules for the Hebrews, but Dave introduced it all differently. This is a people group that have been in Egypt for several hundreds of years. That's longer then the US has been a country. They knew their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they have an ethnic identity that is unique from the Egyptians around them. However, culturally.... they are probably very absorbed into the Egyptian world. There seems to be no personal knowledge of their God or how to interact with Him. He seems to be a legend from their past.

When Moses leads them out of Egypt, they are freed from an oppressive socio-political situation, but the message that Moses brings them from God is what is really stunningly different. It's revolutionary in so many ways - most of all because it is a God who calls them in particular His own people, despite the fact that they do not know Him. Moses says, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?".

God replies: 'I AM has sent me to you... The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you."

He has a name. For the first time. He gives them ownership of this knowledge of Himself.

This is God's cataclysmic introduction of Himself to His people. Right before the giving of the 10 Commandments the people are already wandering in the wilderness and grumbling. As they gather in Sinai, Moses gives them the offer of a covenant relationship with God as His own people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They accept, then God comes to speak to Moses apparently out loud (how awesomely scary would that be as someone totally unfamiliar with this God?). He speaks "so that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you."

Having that as the setting for the 10 commandments was really revolutionary to me. They do not know Him. He is telling them who He is, who they are, and what the plan is. This message is theological, it is social, it is political, it is even economic.

First is a personal introduction, and then God lays out what this relationship between Him and His people is to look like.

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me."

As far as we know, the Hebrew people are the ONLY people up to this point in history who have any form of monotheism. This is a definitive rejection of the polytheism of the world - there is only ONE God that these people are to worship. The first few commandments reflect this declaration of the greatness, holiness, and single glory of the God that is speaking to them.

The second half of the commandments lay out what a community serving this God will look like, but I'll stop at this point because my point is that this is the dramatic introduction of God to His people.

We think that Exodus was the first book of the Bible that was written. Genesis followed Exodus, presumably written by Moses for the Hebrews. Again, it is God, through Moses, telling His people their own story, their own history.

So then, I look at the beginning of Genesis through the eyes of the Hebrews, who have probably been raised with the many creation myths of the Egyptians. Reading Genesis 1-3 through their eyes is so... different.... then reading it through our enlightenment-influenced eyes.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

I think when we debate the fine details and timing of Genesis 1 and 2 we are probably missing the fact that this was written for a people who were not looking for a timeline. This has the movement of an ancient-near-eastern story. When I say story, don't think "story" in our Western mind, which labels stories as fiction. This is a community that learns by stories, that teaches by stories. They hear this story and it teaches them that their Gods is the creator of everything, that all of these things are good, that people are made with a likeness of God and a relationship with Him, that people are meant to care for all of creation, that men and women are made for each other, that all things need to rest and worship God. In Genesis 3 we see that evil entered the world, that we are predisposed towards it, that it breaks our relationship with God, that suffering and pain and broken relationships and dissatisfaction are all a part of the effects of evil in and through us, that this world is no longer as it was made to be, and that God is not through with this story yet.

That is NOT just a story... that is an entire world-view. It is magnificent.

That is why the fine-detail arguments bother me. It seems to me like it is missing the point of this grand story which is to frame our whole world-view. I don't think it is meant to be a scientific treatise or timeline, though I also don't think that we can dismiss what it as "just as story". Seems to me that both of those emphases are making the passage into something it is not - either just a myth or a scientific document.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

i loved this post. i agree.

and i think i visited that church once when i visited wheaton college! at least, it looks very familiar. my friends who went to wheaton went to a church that looked very similar to that, and sounds similar too from the way you talk about it.