We continue, more slowly than I'd like, to review Genesis in preparation for the Exodus study. It is slow going because Genesis is worthy of extensive study and is full of so many wonderful stories. This week we actually covered more chapters, but a few questions came up which generated much discussion.
The first thing I have seen, over and again, is the reluctance of Christians who take the Bible seriously, to take the Bible seriously. It's no surprise when those who think that the sacred text is simply the production of ancient men give it little credence. After all, their "progressive" agendas are set so if the Bible doesn't agree, too bad for the Bible. However, more conservative folks, especially those who are Literalists, are equally likely to ignore the word as written because of their preconceptions and theologies. Most of us are unable to read the Bible because we "already know what it says." As a catholic, I firmly believe that my personal interpretation must be informed by the Church. However, I do think there is value in actually reading a story to see what it says.
The inspired word of God is a work of God in and through human authors. The Jews believed that revelation was buried deep within the text, often times in the particular letters and roots of the Hebrew words. In addition, the audience heard these stories (orally) for many years before they were set to writing. The stories were told in that context. So creation stories were NOT heard or read with modern earth science or biology books in mind. They were read with the prevalent myths of neighboring cultures (Egypt, Persia, Canaanite, etc.). The ancient Jews were ancient. However, their stories are not the mythologies we find in other cultures. There is a reluctance in Genesis (with few exceptions) to speak of heavenly realities or provide grandiose stories of gods at war. Yet, the absence of myth does not mean that we have Modern science or Modern history. (In all honesty, the fact that we can say "Modern History" should make this a non-discussion.)
Cain and Abel, for example, is a well known story about fratricide (ahhhh, Biblical Family values). Adam and eve have two sons. Abel, the Shepherd, pleases God with his offering. Cain, the farmer, does not. Cain kills his brother. We have no explanation for anything that happens. Most of what we know about the story comes from interpretations. "Why?" is not found in the story, it is found in us. That is the nature of mythic writing, it is open ended and taps into universal themes of humanity. Rejection, jealousy, anger, murder--these are all part of every person's story so when we find them here we readily make sense of them. However, the story itself is where God reveals Himself. What is the revelation? I would be less than honest if I didn't say there is so much more to the text, but one thing is clear. Cain, the murderer, is not only spared by God but he is marked and protected by God. Marked. Protected. A murderer. The revelation of amazing grace (similar to His treatment of the first parents) is arguably the point. That is what God says. How do we respond? well, we ask, "where did the other people Cain fears come from?" Here, the scoffer and the believer share the same error. The scoffer mocks the faith while the believer seeks to protect it. In both cases the story is missed.
My take on it? The Cain and Abel story is about sin, exile and redemption. It isn't an explanation of the population of the earth. The other people in the story are not explained because they aren't the point. Elaborate explanations generated by (well meaning) believers are off the point. God is not telling us how we got here, He is revealing Who He is. So listen to what He is saying (first) and spend more time with the message than you do making up theories to counteract the findings of science.
In the Noah story we here the stunning claim that God repented/regretted making man. This is a wonderful story, but it is theologically problematic. Most of us believe God knows the future. God knows everything. How can the God who knows everything regret anything? Once again, it is a mythic story. The Jewish Bible Flood is remarkably different from the myths of floods told by their neighbors. The story is more mundane and the reason (sin and corruption) more moral than the irritation of the gods. The point of the story? Based on language and themes, it is a do over. Noah is a second Adam. The story is taken up in the New Testament (1 Peter) as a type of baptism. I will end with that. The interpretation of the ark as salvation through baptism illustrates the the literal meaning is not always the most important. It is the nature of a mythic story to be bigger than itself. It is more true, not less true, than history. The quicker we embrace the Bible in its ancient form and free ourselves of the limitations of "The Modern" to faster we will hear our God speaking to us.