Pastor’s Blog – Thoughts on Reading “Genesis” – Pastor Hal Murry
When Jesus had something important to say about God, he would make up a story. In a pre-digital, pre-mass media, pre-literate, oral culture, storytelling was the best way to teach. Paint a picture with words. Tell a story that people could relate to, draw them in, and then end the story with a surprising, sometimes even disturbing twist. People went away thinking, talking, debating, re-telling and, most importantly, remembering.
The characters in Jesus’ stories ran the gamut. They were rich and poor, male…female. There were people of different races, nationalities and religions. There were parents and children, day laborers, professionals, widows, businessmen, farmers. These stories were about common experiences. They are accessible for everyone. And the plots are creative, interesting, intriguing… there are lost coins, lost sheep, lost sons, seeds, vineyards, trees that didn’t bear fruit. Oh, and there was a “good” Samaritan…almost as shocking as saying a “good” Muslim in some circles today. In Jesus’ surprise endings, the lost were found, the bad guys turned out to be good guys, the rich were poor in God’s eyes, and the blind could see things that the sighted missed. His stories always provoked reactions. His audiences laughed and hooted, jeered and cheered. The culture’s powerful recognized him as a threat to their status quo. And the masses, the common people, heard in him the voice of God.
It’s no surprise then, is it, that great teachers a thousand years before Jesus would use some of the same techniques? If they had something important to say about God, they would tell a story. The stories show great imagination and creativity. They feature interesting characters, fascinating details. Most importantly, our spiritual ancestors, like Jesus, were always trying to communicate deep spiritual truths in memorable ways.
Even then, thousands of years ago, these teachers realized that humans can’t just be told what to think. We have to think about what we think. We have to discover what we think… through listening and talking and reading and living and reflecting. Only then can we make a spiritual truth our own. For most of us, spiritual growth is a lifetime journey. And so, teaching that is creative, memorable, even controversial sticks best in our busy minds.
The authors of Genesis, the first and perhaps best known book of the Bible, never intended their stories to function as historical journals, scientific textbooks or owners’ manuals. And if we use Genesis that way, we arrogantly make these stories more about OUR truths, our biases, our neediness. If we read INTO them, instead of LISTENING to them, we make them more about our culture’s anxieties and less about the spiritual truths that these great literary artists are trying to teach.
As you read the opening chapters of Genesis, keep asking yourself: Why did ancient Israel tell THIS story? What is it that they wanted us to know about God and about humanity?