Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lessons for Little Ones?

Why are these stories in here? Are they for me to follow? Are they for me to formulate moral positions? Are they there to explain how things work in the world?

Are these early stories really lessons for little ones?

Jacob and Rebekah could be stars in a soap opera. A modern re-do of their story could rival Destiny, that lawyer series starring Glen Close.

Jacob stole from his brother; his brother did not kill him; he was blessed.
Jacob wrestled with God; God did not kill him; he was blessed.
Afterwards, Jacob was generous to his brother; his brother did not kill him; he was blessed.

He was one of the least deserving guys to receive such blessings.

That might be a lesson for us. We may wrestle with God. We may wrong others. We may, in spite of ourselves, be blessed.

Joseph’s saga shows that there are no new sins under the sun. Partiality and extreme sibling rivalry. Child trafficking and slavery. Neglectful, vengeful, and exploitative family members and dens of thugs. Rich urban women—like Potiphar's wife—can take their turn at being exploitative and deceitful—not just leaving it to hunting and gathering nomadic types like Eve and Rebekah.

Yet, Joseph inspires with the possibility that even the exploited, and the neglected, by the grace of God, can rise above circumstances and shine like stars in dark places.

That is a powerful story for children.

Some general reflections...

If you simply start reading Genesis, with no preconceived notions—nearly impossible—but if you try—you don’t see any descriptions of God that we give to him based on later passages of Scripture. You do not see the terms omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. Theologians, though I find them very helpful, can sometimes function outside the narrative of scripture in assigning God traits. Many works of popular devotional literature call God these things, creatng systems for interpreting his actions that are certainly not laid out in Genesis. I am thinking in particular of the view of God's sovereignty that says he is completely unchanging, controls all actions of men, and that every particular thing that happens is His specific will.

These stories hold some problems for that view, I think.

The God of Genesis seems to be so far, a God creating, relating, contemplating, urging, bargaining, recompensing, and revealing himself to humanity.

If I understand Christopher JH Wright, the main take-away from these stories should be the actions of God in granting grace. Creating a beautiful Garden in which to live, with no initial effort for man. Granting Abraham wealth and promise, based not on his actions, but on his belief. His continued blessings on this flawed, but fascinating family, including Jacob and his sons. A study human nature and interacting with the divine. Agree?


Stephen said...

Bev, when I read your observations, and especially your questions, I feel relieved and hopeful. What you are seeing--the brutality, the unrefined conduct, the paganism (defined like Kaufmann defines it)--really is there. To take these narratives and make them into anything else--like exemplary tales for children--is bad in every way. Your reading of the text makes me feel hopeful that within our subset of the Christian tradition there exists the possibility of seeing what is there.
I am going to walk to church today from my new apartment and have to leave pretty soon. Before I go, here are two thoughts. (1) Read Kline, The Theme of the Pentateuch (which it is the promise God made to Abraham and repeated to everyone else he could think of about a hundred times and how through the narrative the promise was threatened, survived, partially fulfilled, and partially unfulfilled by the time you get to the end of the Pentateuch). (2) Jack Lewis told us in class one day that it means work, not pain, and that it is the same in vv. 16 and 17: in work will you bear sons, and in work will you eat. I reported this to Elizabeth, and she said, yeah, well it still hurts.

GAC College Counseling said...

Thanks, Stephen. I will look for Kline and Kaufmann.

I fear I am may be getting in over my head writing on this--but I will mostly ask questions.