It has been said that Genesis is the book of beginnings, and as an individual who is embarking on a new beginning I would like to use the word – serendipity to describe how timely the study of the book was for me as I start my life as a theology student at Asian Theological Seminary.
I have always believed that I already know the book –after all, I could no longer count how many times I have finished reading and hearing about it, and how many times I have studied it at church. After all –most of the Bible lessons that I’ve heard as a kid or have watched in Superbook are there: Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel; Noah’s ark; Abraham sacrificing Isaac; Rebecca’s marriage with Isaac; Jacob and Esau; Joseph the dreamer etc.
Re-reading Genesis has jolted me out of my ‘born again Christian’ complacency, that has been borne out of my belief that I already know all that there us to be learned from the book as I have already studied it a number of times at church. But as I have said earlier, reading it again in light of its original context has opened my eyes to God’s story that seems to be intricately related to me and how I live my life as a human being, especially if I were to relate it to its overarching theme that I consider as: creation, fall and reversal.
“In the beginning God…” The Book of Genesis began with these four words that initiated the narrative of God’s self-revelation, which started with the first seven days of God’s creative inception of the cosmos. It is interesting to note that this statement is far more than a mere introduction to the story of our creation. It reveals that it is God who has taken the initiative to make Himself known to us, and a paramount statement that discloses both –His nature and will.
“And God saw that it was good…” Is the recurring refrain that God uttered after creating the heavens, the sea, the earth and all that it contains, including man and woman. Adam and Eve’s call to share in the unfolding of the Lord’s plan of creation brought into play the traits which distinguishes humans from the rest of creation, while at the same time establishes a fixed relationship between mankind and the rest of creation. We are made in the image and likeness of God, Adam and Eve were to have put into effect their dominion over the earth that is to: image, reflect or represent God who has put all things into motion.
“And you will be like God…” This statement sums up the undoing of the seven days of God’s creative inception that happened in a single act pride that led to disobedience that resulted to the Fall. Where death –that is: physical, moral, spiritual, social, psychological and ecological death enters creation and initiated our implication into the web of human evil that tainted all the facets of life, even in the midst of human advancement.
As I reflect on this episode of Genesis I am forced to confront the truth about myself –that is in spite of all the things that I consider good in me: my life, my faith in God, my family, my relationships, my acts of piety, my involvement with social and environmental activism -I am still tainted with a deeply rooted selfishness that spoils even my best intentions. Moreover, it has made me see the link of my personal sinfulness to the tragedy of human life. Relating the story of Genesis to life introduces me to the tragic condition of man, while at the same time it also reminds me of the hope that we have in a God who is not distant or enmeshed in nature, rather who is actively present and involved with the plight of His creation which can be seen in His later dealings with man in the story of human families that unfolded in the latter chapters of Genesis.
The story of Genesis exposes the entirety of the human condition after the Fall as it was seen in the story of Cain and Abel; of the sons of Lamech’s sons; the builders of Babel; and the cycles of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Apart from God we do not know anything and we cannot do anything. However as the story of Genesis reveals we can be certain that even after the Fall God still dealt with us in love.
Genesis ends with Joseph’s consoling words to his brothers who sold him to slavery in Egypt: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Through Genesis we know that in the narrative of God’s dealings with human families we can be confident that He can bring about good from evil. Because it is here that we find the story of a young man from broken family that became a channel of blessing to a world that was faced with famine.
Genesis shows us that God frees us from the fetters that bind our present to the past. In fact, one of the themes of Genesis is reversal –a reversal of plights, or values and of lives. From the garments of skin that God clothed Adam and Eve with; to Noah’s rainbow; to the toppling of Babel –a tower that signified man’s arrogance; to Hagar‘s story of empowerment which demonstrated that survival is possible even under harshest conditions for God is with her.
Another aspect that we could look at is that these are reversals that were brought about by God-encounters that resulted with reconciliation, which can be seen in the story of Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers. Genesis reminds us that true reconciliation occurs only after an encounter with God that results in good relationship with others.
In all of such stories we are exposed with the reality of a God who dealt with men who are like all of us, imperfect and sinful men and women.
Jürgen Moltmann once said:
“It is only when human beings see themselves simply as human beings, no longer as gods, that they are in a position to perceive the wholly other nature of God. It is only when we cease to be unhappy supermen and pathetic mini-gods and permit ourselves to become human beings through and through again that we let God be God.”1
Reading Genesis again, has made me identify with the Bible characters, as human beings that are pretty much like me or anybody else –frail and imperfect, but nevertheless was still used by God to accomplish His divine will. Genesis reminds me of the importance of being human for being human means accepting that I do not know everything and admitting that I cannot do everything. The story of Genesis is an invitation for us to be humans; and a challenge for us to let God orchestrate our lives according to His good purpose. It is an invitation to a journey to tread the path of people like Abraham, Noah, Jacob and Joseph to a personal encounter with God who is our all in all.
1 Moltmann, Jürgen – God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999) p.144