Monday, May 16, 2011

Who/What/Where Is God? Creation

You have questions for God. 
And about God.

Where can you go for answers?
Or better questions?

The History Channel can be an interesting source. Your buddy at work can be a good sounding board. Maybe another Christian you know who you like. But there just isn't any substitute for actually opening up your Bible and reading it.

There are plenty of people out there who can pick apart the Scriptures, pointing out all the violence, conflicting stories, and legalistic tomes. By not taking the Scriptures very seriously, it's easy to mock them or disregard them. But if you are interested about what you can learn about God from the Scriptures, there is hope. There is a way of reading the Bible that allows you to take the stories seriously, to take your own life seriously, to take your questions seriously.

This series of posts is designed to help you get to know your Bible better - and God. By taking the stories seriously, in context, it will help us navigate our way through our questions. Questions are good. Finding answers is hard, but worth it. You'll know how much you want better answers by how hard you're willing to look. And keep looking.

The Christian Bible is made up of two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. If you want to get to know God, you've got to start in the beginning. There are 39 books in the OT, and it's not always the easiest literature to read - some of it is over three thousand years old. But to get us started with the stories we find there, I've summarized them into five big stories. These are the stories that the Israelites passed down to us through the ages: stories of Creation, Covenant, Exodus, Kingdom, and Exile.

When we start at the beginning of the Old Testament (some call it the First Testament) we find ourselves reading the book of Genesis. In the first eleven chapters we find some unique stories that reveal to us how Israel viewed their God and the whole universe in which they found themselves. The big story of Creation is made up of smaller stories about the origins of the universe, an accounting for evil in the world, God's judgment for wickedness and rebellion.

In our post-modern era, we read this Creation stories and either a snicker or we close the book in bewilderment. With all we've learned through science about the galaxies and our Earth, about anatomy and social sciences, is there anyway that these stories in Genesis are true? We don't have to pit science against religion! Here's a fascinating piece below on how vast and grand is our universe:

First things: these Creation stories in Genesis are Israel's stories they told about God and the universe. Three thousand or more years ago, as they sat around their campfires under the Milky Way, they told and retold the stories of where they came from.

The stories you tell are powerful - and these stories in Genesis are compelling. The human body is an amazing, complicated...what? Creation? Machine? Something rings true when we acknowledge that there is something unique and gifted about the human being. We were created - specially designed with a purpose. We are not just biological machines. The vast cosmos - the best theory we have besides a Creator is the Big Bang. Either one takes faith. A story about a worldwide flood and the spread of languages - those stories teach us about how the Israelites understood God's work amidst evil people and nations. We still wonder - will God deal with evil societies, evil nations, evil corporations?

Second things: we can learn about God from these Creation stories. They are the stories we have, passed down through the years, about who God is and how he works in the world. We may not always like the stories, but they are what we have to work with. And they work. Unless you want simplistic answers for life and God.

When we think of the Big Story of Creation, here are some things we can learn about life and God:
The stories teach us - One God created sky, earth, sea, animals and humanity – and it is all good.
Amidst pagan nations that believed in a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, this was a radical notion. The other gods are "no-gods" compared to Israel's God. Creation did not come from the warring factions of Canaanite warrior gods. Creation is not a senseless roar of chaos. Israel's story of Creation is radically refreshing once you read it in context. One God, who creates as a gift, who declares it all good. That's a good story to live by.

The stories also teach us - Humanity is capable of goodness and rebellion - we bring curses upon ourselves and the world.
People are not just a mass to be herded and conquered. God created a man and a woman - and declared them to be good. He gave them good work to do, work that would cause the world to flourish. The fruitfulness of humanity would make for a blossoming world. Isn't that a great story? But how to account for life as we know it? It's as if this good world is cursed? And these first stories reveal how we bring these curses upon ourselves. God gives instructions for blessing the world, and the first humans rebel. Rebelling always leads to corruption. We know this to be true still today. We have something good, and then we ruin it. And yet God can still bring good out of it.
That's another good story to live by.

Some characters we read about in these first eleven chapters of Genesis, in this big story of Creation:
Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden - temptation, blaming, shame, judgment
Israel passes on to us stories about reality, about how people when given something good, still have a way of giving into temptation and abusing the gift, of blaming others when things go wrong, of holding on to shame and letting it subvert our life, of how we judge others unfairly. We can argue how scientifically the Garden of Eden story is untrue, or we can observe how the Garden of Eden story with Adam and Eve is still true.

Cain & Abel: East of Eden - anger, crouching sin, murder, judgment
Israel preserves a story about two brothers - the first brothers - and their relationship to each other and God. We'd like an inspiring story - instead we get a raw one fueled by all to common anger. Anger doesn't always make much sense, and it rarely makes things better. The crouching sin gets passed on to the next generation, but becoming more extreme. The death promised to Adam and Eve for eating of the fruit was experienced first by their son. The sins of the parents do get passed on. Cain was exiled to life East of the Garden of Eden, in the wilderness. We still know what it's like to wreck our life, to see others get banned for their sins. This story of Cain and Able is still true, isn't it?

Noah & Nimrod: A Good, Cursed Earth - floods and towers, remnant righteous and mass rebellion, intervention, judgment.
An ark full of animals makes for great images in the newborn's nursery, but it's really a terrible story of judgment. God regrets having made humanity. Israel tells the story that God started over again with Noah - a direct ancestor of Israel. We can focus on the scientific data of a real global flood, or we can explore what it meant for Israel to retell this story of Noah and the flood. Nimrod and the tower? We still build towers? We still seek to transcend languages so that we can collaborate to build bigger and more amazing structures. And it's still often done with no regard for God - or in defiance of him. Some stories are still true...

Here is a link to the sermonnotes for some more information and study-questions.

To read the big story of Creation requires you to submit yourself to the text, to the cultural context in which it was written. To get something out of it, you must first learn what those first audiences got out of it. It's not easy to glean wisdom from the Bible. But then it's not always easy to get wisdom from life. Sometimes we want our lessons to come to us conveniently. Life doesn't work that way. And neither does learning about God from the Bible. It's hard work, but it's good work.

What are the questions you have about the Creation stories?

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