Thursday, January 29, 2015

What is the overaching story line of the Bible (Part 2)

The more I read the New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright, the more I like him. He comments on the mission and message of Jesus and says,

It was not a message about an abstract theology about timeless truths; not a new sort of religion called Christianity; not a new spiritual experience or a new moral code; not a doctrine of soteriology (a systematic scheme for individual salvation or a general statement about how one might go to heaven); not a sociological analysis or critique or agenda. Jesus was a Jewish prophet whose message was about Israel's history moving toward it's decisive moment. (N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, p. 35).

Wright's comment clears the way for us to see and hear the Bible without the dominant story line that we are so used to and that I wrote about in Part 1. Wright is reading the Bible frontwards, not backwards, for it's the only way to arrive at his conclusion about Jesus' message.

So what is opened to us when we read the Bible frontwards - through Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets and John the Baptist - to Jesus? Is there a story line that makes us more loving to God, neighbor, stranger and enemy, and doesn't begin with one category (Good/Blessed) and end with two categories (Good/Blessed and Bad/Evil). What does reading the Bible frontwards do for us?

Let me share an alternative story line that comes out of the Book of Genesis, a story line that is now visible and that is very different than the one we mostly see.

Adam and Eve
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He created the man and the woman to inhabit a Garden designed for them and to be free. God gave Adam and Eve one disclaimer. They were not to eat the fruit of just one tree in the Garden. God said in Genesis 2:16-17:

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (NRSV)

God was very specific about what would happen to the man and the woman if they disobeyed. If they did eat of the fruit, then they would die. Not a spiritual death, but simply that they would die. Not in some distant future after the aging process takes them, but on that day they ate it they would die. Notice something else, the text does not say that they would be condemned to an after life of eternal conscience torment in some place called hell. The dominant story line we are used to puts that in there.

Of course, Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the one tree God forbade - their disobedience and failure are unquestioned (as is ours, BTW). But what happened? Did they die? Did God strike them from the face of the earth, inflicting capital punishment on our first family? No. Not only does God not kill them, he provides garments for them to shield them from their nakedness.

And the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21 - NRSV).
God Clothing Adam and Eve, from a Book of Bible Pictures, C.1250

And let me be clear. God does let Adam and Eve suffer the consequence of their disobedience. But God doesn't do that by killing them, even though he said that they would die. Their disobedience means they must leave the Garden God created for them and they would no longer have access to the tree of life, and someday have to return to the dust from which they came.

Now, if reading this makes you just a little uncomfortable, I understand. It made me a little jittery, too. It first made me uncomfortable, because it ran contrary to the dominant storyline I was told all along was the only one a good Christian should have. But it makes me really uncomfortable, for another reason. Because, this is a God who is unpredictable. He didn't do what he said he would do, but instead responded in faithfulness, grace and intimate love.

I am beginning to think that trusting God's faithfulness to us is the most difficult part of the journey for me. You?

Brian McLaren puts it like this:
Their departure is truly ambivalent, because although it is the result of disobedience of one command (don't eat from the forbidden tree), it results in obedience to an earlier command that never could have been obeyed from within the garden (be fruitful, multiply, fill and subdue the earth).

What do we see if we continue this walk through Genesis. Does this alternative story line of God's everlasting faithfulness to his creation continue? What about Cain and Abel? Noah? Abraham and Sarah? Joseph?

If you stay with me, I take on the rest and see where it leads...