In this session, I will attempt to summarize what we have done over the past eight sessions. Remember, we are looking at how we give our personal stories meaning by interpreting them in the light of bigger stories, or meta-narratives. By the end, I hope you will see why this is relevant to your life/story.
My understanding of Genesis has been inverted over the past 10 years or so. The Genesis origin stories were never intended to be a scientific exploration of the beginning of our universe. Their primary meaning is theological – they have something to say about the nature of God and mankind.
1. You are Welcome!
We know that Israel was in exile in Babylon between 586 BC – 530 BC. We also know that Enuma Elish was one of the most important myths of this time and was an integral part of Babylonian society, politics and religious cult. However, the myth was a part of the Middle Eastern region long before then. Copies have been found dating back to thousands of years BC. It is therefore highly likely that the authors of the Genesis creation accounts knew the story of Enuma Elish.
Jewish teachers often used myth in order to debunk myth. Familiar entities and story lines were employed to propose the very opposite ideas of what the original myth declared. Within its literary context, the Genesis origin narratives are brilliant replies to the popular stories of their day. These Biblical narratives deliberately allude to the myths in order to subvert the very message they were meant to communicate.
The hierarchy of gods and humans in Enuma Elish corresponds to the social structures in Babylon at that time. The position of slaves corresponds to the creation of man. Their purpose is to serve. The gods don’t have much interest in humanity, except that humanity should serve them. Humanity does not have much inherent value; we were more of an afterthought.
In this context, Genesis 1 is a radical irreligious text! For it declares a God who highly values humans. In fact, for God you are an expression of his own image and likeness. Your existence was joyfully anticipated! You were desired into existence. This universe welcomes me. A God who values every human being is very dangerous in the social structures of Babylon.
2. Original Perfection? No, chaos!
I want to draw your attention to Gen 1:1-3. Rashi, a 10th century Rabbi, suggested something profound and translated this verse as follows:
“At the beginning of the Creation of heaven and earth when the earth was without form and void and there was darkness … God said Let there be…”
His argument, which many translators are now supporting, is that ‘the beginning’ is a subordinate clause to the act of creation that begins when God speaks. In other words Gen 1:1 is not the first act of creation, but rather verse 3 where God speaks for the first time. The theological implications of such a reading are enormous, but I want to focus on one aspect, namely the nature of chaos.
This chaos is already present when God begins creation. And there is nothing in the text that suggest this chaos to be evil, or an enemy, or in any way contrary to God’s act of creation. In fact, it seems to be the very stuff from which the newly created order emerges.
Remember that in one of the first videos we questioned the idea of an original perfection. Well, these verses show that we began not in perfection, but in chaos. It’s out of chaos that God creates new meaning, new beauty, new order.
This text communicates much more than a historic event called creation, rather, they explore the way in which God always creates. Creation is ongoing.
What does this practically look like when applied to my human existence? I can no longer imagine ‘self’ being a substance that was created according to some static blueprint – the ideal form – but rather, self is a dynamic relationship always in the process of being created. Relationship with the Creator therefore takes on a much more living form.
Instead of creation being a past event, it becomes an ongoing, unfolding, living relationship.Instead of a nostalgic longing for a lost perfection, I can participate in the wonder of ongoing creation in the midst of chaos. Right here, right now, even in the midst of chaos, something beautiful and meaningful is possible.
3. Birth of human consciousness.
We then moved on to Genesis 2 and 3. These portion of scriptures have often been read as the story of the fall, but we proposed an alternative. This text is a profound exploration of the birth of human consciousness.
This makes the story very relevant because it is the story of every human being. We all begin in naive innocence; we discover the power of our own minds to give meaning to our world; we encounter the complexity of relationship, the depth of desire. The knowledge of good and evil can be confused and not everything that happens to us is pleasant. In fact, I think we can all agree as we look at human history and at our personal stories that shit happens! But that is part of the richness of the human story. You may not have had a perfect beginning, but you do have an amazing beginning. Life, with all its complexities and struggles, joys and pains, is an incredible gift.
But what the story also shows is that our first response to unpleasant events is fear, guilt and blame. We blame God, others, or whatever we can find to avoid personal reflection.
But what would be a healthy way for us to relate to our past? Firstly, gratitude for the pure givenness of our existence. But there are other realities in life for which gratitude does not seem appropriate at first. A strong theme throughout scripture, which we have not explored yet, is the theme of forgiveness. Forgiveness has the power of transforming our memories so that even those events of pain and suffering become, paradoxically, events for which we are grateful. And so gratitude and forgiveness are two of the most powerful ways in which we can relate to the past.
These Genesis texts are not accounts of historic events. There never was a deathless, perfect Eden in which snakes could speak and magical trees could bestow eternal life. This is metaphor! But if its not historic these interpretations should raise many new questions such as ‘What did Paul mean by ‘death entered through one man’s sin? etc. Some of you have already emailed questions and I would encourage you to engage on the website. I’ll address these questions in a future video/article.
Up to now, we have mainly considered our relationship to the past. Next, we will look at our relationship to the present and after that, the future.