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.

6 Responses to “It’s Not Perfect – It’s Amazing! Part 9

  1. Andre De Kock on

    This is a total mind shift with great implications.
    Could you look to Isa 45:12 and 18.

    I interpreted that here God says that chaos in the beginning was not me. Gen 1:1 I created perfect. Vs 2 is chaos and we interpreted as though something happened in between because Isa says chaos was not part of God.

    Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      Hi Andre – the implications are indeed profound. So yes, Rashi and other commentators do not suggest that chaos is the first thing God creates, but rather that chaos already exists when God begins his creative work. And so chaos is in a sense the raw material from which new order emerge. It is important also to keep in mind that what the text is exploring is not the scientific origins of the universe (although it is beautifully consistent with what we know scientifically) but rather, it’s theological – exploring the way God always creates. The idea that something happened between verse 1 and 2 is very speculative and was invented specifically because of preconceived ideas of a God who creates everything perfect in the beginning … in other words they could not reconcile the reality of chaos with preconceived ideas of Gods perfection and so developed a whole theory (absent in the text) to justify chaos.
      A book that beautifully explores the idea of chaos and the creativity that flows from it is, The Face of the Deep – https://amzn.to/2JzvHeW

      Reply
  2. JP on

    This is an excellent and thought-provoking series, Andre. So I’m curious why you believe that the Creation account is not literal, but merely metaphorical?

    Grace and shalom to you.

    Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      Hi JP,
      The whole series is an attempt to show why I believe its metaphorical, but this is a good opportunity to summarize:
      1. How, when and why the text was written. Acknowledging the connection between the Genesis origin stories and the other origin myths of that time and area. Some good resources: Who Wrote The Bible – https://amzn.to/2Kjk90g and Understanding Genesis – https://amzn.to/2I8hndT
      2. Similar structures, events and characters…. radically different message about who God and Mankind is. (In Enuma Elish, The sea chaos monster, Tiamat, is destroyed by a wind – In Genesis, we translate the chaotic waters as the face of the deep. In Hebrew it is the equivalent word for Tiamat. Again a wind blows over the chaotic waters, but instead of God using violence to destroy the chaos, He speaks and so brings about greater distinction and order.)
      3. The text itself gives us such clear clues. This is the tree…. of the knowledge of good and evil. How much clearer could the author make it without losing the poetic beauty of the story. It would be clumsy to say: It’s not a real tree, it symbolizes a certain kind of knowledge.
      4. Science. Animals never spoke. Trees never magically imparted gifts of wisdom. And I find the science of evolution consistent with the nature of God and more convincing than instantaneous creation.

      Reply
  3. Oli Brandon-Davies on

    Hey Andre,

    I’m still enjoying the series and find myself laughing with overflowing joy and at one point I even broke down in tears to my own surprise! Whats even more astonishing about my emotional reaction, is that I’m yet to understand what you are saying!

    I know my former beliefs have been challenged (that humanity before partaking of the knowledge of good and evil was the fullest expression of the image and likeness of God in human form. They were the perfect blueprint of humanity. But after the fall, we lost sight of God and our blue print in His image and likeness-until Jesus came back to reveal it again).

    In my former belief, Adam and Eve were a blueprint of humanity, and Jesus personified this blueprint. Therefore as we get to know Jesus, we get to know ourselves, and this lost perfection starts being revealed within us. The idea being that we start experiencing Eden in our own character and nature, in other people and manifest it in our lives.

    The problem I have found with that belief is that it hasn’t offered me significant amounts of comfort when my life or my thoughts / feelings / behaviour have fallen massively short of this ‘perfection’.

    At times it has left me a bit disillusioned with the Gospel, because it can sometimes seem like it hasn’t worked very well! I’m still experiencing a load of mess! I don’t want mess! I want Eden!!! For everyone.

    The concept you have introduced, offers far more hope when life falls short of this ‘perfection’.

    The concept that Genesis is a creation story of how God brings forth meaning and beauty from chaos, and this creative process is what God is doing in any chaos in our lives.

    Therefore instead of being disheartened by how our lives fall short, (or going into blame and guilt) we can look forward in hope and excitement about what beauty and meaning is going to emerge. (I’m very much looking forward to you sharing more about forgiveness in context of this, and how we can develop gratitude for the ‘chaos’).

    I can also see how this relates to evolution. All of nature is constantly developing and adapting as new meaning emerges out of challenge.

    I suppose where I am stuck is that I have always seen Eden as good, the fall as bad, and the cross as undoing the fall in one way or another. If I were to accept your perspective, it would leave a big hole in my understanding of what partaking in the knowledge of good and evil was about and what Jesus achieved in His life, death and resurrection, which is pretty important stuff!!!

    If partaking of the knowledge of good and evil is just part of our development, why did God tell us not to do it, why was this the catalyst for sin and death and what did Jesus achieve on the cross?

    Thanks Andre!

    Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      Thank you Oli. Only saw your comment now, so apologies for the delayed response. What a difference it makes to acknowledge the activity of God even in our mess and chaos. What was perceived as evil, suddenly becomes filled with possibility(God). And, yes, I fully acknowledge that it opens up a whole lot of new questions. Thank you for your question – I will address some of these questions in future sessions. For me, this new paradigm has only increased the beauty and significance of Jesus.

      Reply

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