I have never been very fond of the Bible-as-a-Love-Story approach to scripture. Other than Song of Solomon, it isn’t all that romantic. And whenever I hear the words “love” and “story” in the same sentence, I see two people running in slow motion across a field of flowers, falling into a tender embrace just as the soundtrack crescendos into a flurry of ecstatic violins.
It’s kind of hard to fit the Levitical holiness codes for how to handle mold and mildew into that framework. Nevertheless, the Bible is a story.
I don’t mean that the Bible is fiction like The Grapes of Wrath or Ready Player One. The Bible is history, but also a story – an overarching narrative of God’s mission to save us from ourselves and why we needed saving in the first place. From Genesis to Revelation, every part of the Bible contributes to that narrative movement. You can begin to see that movement emerge if you stand back and look at the events in the Bible as episodes in an unfolding drama. If you have taken the challenge to read through the Bible with us, you are coming up on the end of Genesis. Here’s what has happened so far:
In the beginning, we had two jobs. Job number one was to make babies. Be fruitful and multiply. That’s what that means. Make more of you. Job number two was to take care of the earth. The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. A lot of people think that the Bible is against sex and doesn’t say anything about the environment. A lot of people are wrong. Those were our first two jobs. For millions of people in the world, sex and the environment are the two most important things and both are affirmed in the opening episode of the Bible! And we’re reluctant to invite our friends to church?
A lot of people think the Bible is just a bunch of rules – a bunch of Thou Shalt Nots. In the beginning, there was only one rule. You must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Every other tree – go for it. But stay away from that one. Don’t eat its fruit. Don’t touch it. Don’t even look at it. And what did we do?
Remember that scene in Finding Nemo where little Nemo wants to prove himself. He takes matters into his own fins and swims out over the abyss and touches the boat. That’s what we did. We did not fully trust God. We touched the boat – or in this case, the tree. And we became ensnared in all kinds of trouble. The Bible calls that trouble sin. And like Nemo, we were separated from our Father.
By the time we get to Genesis chapter 6, the verdict on the human race is dismal. Genesis 6:11 says, Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. We wanted to do it our way and our way led to death and destruction and corruption.
That brings us to the second major episode – the flood. When we tell the Noah narrative to children, we focus on the animals and the ark and the rainbow. We clean up the story. It’s not a clean story. It’s a story of God’s judgment on a corrupt world. And it’s a story of God’s grace. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. So he and his family are saved to start over. But the earth barely has time to dry out before the corruption of sin leaches back in. We disrespect, dishonor and humiliate one another.
The famous Tower of Babel is the third episode – Genesis chapter 11. We wind up committing the sins of Eden all over again. We are trying to live our lives without reference to God – trying to do it our way – trying to find do-it-yourself significance and security. We are trying to be great without God. And one of the subplots in all of these previous episodes – and many which come later – is that human beings cannot achieve that greatness without God.
A lot of folks don’t really believe that we cannot be good without God. Next time you are in a bookstore – one that’s made of brick and mortar or the virtual variety – browse the self-help section. You’ll see hundreds, maybe thousands of volumes on how to be a good person. Why so many? Is it because we don’t know what a decent human being looks like? Or is it because no matter how many books we read or Ted Talks we watch or podcasts we listen to, we can’t make ourselves decent?
One of our most fundamental misunderstandings has to do with the nature of sin. We think we can master it with a few New Year’s resolutions or twelve-step strategies. Sin is not only more devastating than we think, it is more powerful than we imagine . . . more powerful than the combined willpower of every human who has ever lived or ever will live. We forget that in order to finally deal with sin, Jesus had to die on a cross, spend three days separated from God, and then pull off the comeback of the ages by rising from the dead.
Which is what God’s selection of Abraham and his promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 ultimately point to. We’ll get into that in the next post. Until then, if you made the commitment, keep reading. If you didn’t, it’s still early. Jump in. This story is going to blow you away.