Genesis is about beginnings. The first book of the Bible, it lays the foundation for everything that follows and is fittingly titled. It literally means “the origin of something”. It contains the stories of the creation of the world, Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. It has been and still is the subject of much discussion and debate over the millenia…
Re-reading these stories, I was reminded of my early years in elementary school. Laying the foundations for christian education, these stories were the staple of the primaries. Yet reading them now, as a unit, I tried to look at them with fresh eyes. As an historical narrative, it reads factually, almost like a plot-driven novel. The author (Moses) never minces words and sticks to the facts, laying out the story in a straightforward manner. Yet unlike a plot-driven novel (think John Grisham) Genesis manages to go deep into character development. We learn much about the patriarchs – these sinful yet righteous men – but even more about God’s character and nature. This may seem obvious – after all the Bible is GOD’s Word – but aside from the creation account, I typically viewed Genesis as stories of God’s people. This time, in reading the stories of people, my focus shifted to Him. The not-so-clever pun in the title sums it up. Genesis is His-story.
I don’t want to pretend I was hit by a thunderbolt of new revelation. I read slowly, reviewed many footnotes, and made my way through over the course of a week. I digested what I read afterwards and in my free moments to think. By looking at bigger pieces of the narrative, I began to string together themes around the character of God. There is way too much in Genesis to fit into one blog post, and I want to stay to true to my goal of reading the whole Bible, book by book and looking at each as a whole. What follows are a few of God’s character traits that stood out.
I’m not going to enter into the debate on creation here (though I do want to write about it in the future). There’s not enough time, and it will hijack my review. The creation story is awe-inspiring whether you take it at face value or consider it a poem or an allegory. I’m not saying both interpretations are acceptable, I’m simply saying that the first verse is undeniable. When I began, I actually stopped almost immediately to let the first sentence sink in.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
For so long, I have taken that for granted. There is no way to misinterpret that fact. Regardless of how you think He did it, HE DID IT. It’s indisputable. That simple fact should have me on my knees in awe. Too often, regardless of what side of the debate we’re on, we lose sight of this. I could spend eternity praising the majesty of the created world, and all the science and debate won’t even scratch the surface of our limitless creator. That fact alone gave me perspective when some of mankind’s oldest questions reared their heads. Why he did it (if he knew about the fall in advance) and how he might have done it are the top two that I’ve always wrestled with. Those questions are not going away, but there are times when I simply need to be still and know that he is God. Accepting that I may never fully know these answers but resolved to explore them deeper (likely for a lifetime), I moved on.
From the creation account I was humbled by the awesomeness of God. Even more inspiring to me is His creativity. He is the original artist, the one all imitate whether they realize it or not. His masterpiece was good. Not “pretty good”. Good because he is the source of all good. It’s amazing. I find these words fall short of describing the sense of awe we’ve all felt when gazing at a starry night, or panning the vista of a mountain range. God’s original and unique nature was revealed in the creation account, and continues to stop us in our tracks today. I think it might be good to read the creation account fairly regularly, to remind me of his majesty. To remind me to praise and worship him in light of true creation.
I was taught long ago that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were always a part of the trinity, and that the trinity was always there. Like God – and being fully God themselves – they were present at creation. I’ve known about that small two-letter word in Genesis 1:26 for a long time, but reading it never ceases to give me pause. Just before creating man, God says “let us…” and we learn about the triune God. This impacted me the first time I read it, and it still does. The doctrine of the trinity is cemented for me in this verse, and binds the Old and New Testaments together. Jesus was not an afterthought. He was not a backup plan. He was always there, and all of history points to him. Granted, I may not get all that from reading Genesis for the first time, but I can’t disregard the knowledge I already have. This is an important verse for my faith, my view of the Bible and God’s character.
While Genesis marks the beginning of history, I was still reminded of the obvious – there is NO beginning for God. Creation is our beginning, but not His. In a world that is inseparable from the concept of time, I can’t imagine something without a beginning. The eternal nature of God is another reason for awe, but also one that comforts. Rarely do I feel comfort in not understanding something, but I feel comfort because being eternal, he is unchanging. If God has always been there, and is the source of all that is good, there’s no way he’s going to stop being that. In a world where everything changes, the unchanging, eternal and triune God is an immovable anchor.
Reliable & Trustworthy
Throughout Genesis, God makes bold moves. Not all are easy to learn about or accept. We have a different sense of fairness, and sometimes we want to judge God by our earthly worldview. In Genesis he bans Adam and Eve from the garden and proclaims how man will have to live by the sweat of his brow and woman will have pain in childbirth. Shortly after we read about a curse on Cain. In many cases, other nations split off from the line that will produce the Messiah and they fall outside of His grace. Why is one person, one nation chosen over another? I can’t answer that. At times it troubles me. It may seem like I’m dismissing it too easy, but I have to trust in his wisdom. He has a plan. I don’t do this easily either, but because of Christ, I do not abandon God as an unfair tyrant, but reach out to Him and am welcomed.
He also makes beautiful promises. Later, after destroying the earth with a flood, God makes a promise to mankind, and enters into a covenant with Noah. Abram becomes Abraham as he walks with God and enters a covenant with him as well. He is promised children, and that his descendants will be like the sand on the beach, or the stars in the sky. God keeps his promise, granting Abraham and Sarah a child, and continues building that great nation out of Isaac, then Jacob, then Judah. He saves his people from starvation through Joseph. Along the way we learn about those that do not find favour and the punishments they receive. Lot loses his wife, Ishmael his home and family, Esau and Reuben their birthrights. Time and time again, God gets personal with his people. He guides and protects them. He tests them. He disciplines and strengthens them.
The patriarchs could count on Him to be their God. That didn’t protect them from hardship, but it saved them forever. From this opening book, we learn that we can trust that he will draw near to us, and that he will do what he promises.
When the culture of the day puts prominence on the firstborn, the Lord chooses to carry out his promises through Isaac instead of Ishmael, Jacob instead of Esau, Judah instead of Reuben. I’m not sure why he did this, but it’s clear that God is not beholden to human constructs of hierarchy and birthorder. He will do as he pleases and works in ways that we often wouldn’t choose. That tells me to keep my eye on him, to be prepared to follow against the flow. This trait might appear to contradict his reliability and trustworthiness. God’s unpredictability is not that his nature changes (for he is unchanging) but rather that we can’t hem him in. We can’t predict how he works his will or when he will return. He doesn’t follow trends. He is above culture, a creator of men who manufacture culture. My original idea for this trait was mysterious. He truly does work in mysterious ways. But the more I thought about it, the more I marvelled at his unpredictability.
This character trait is an appropriate place to end. The mystery surrounding God can perplex us at times. It’s also comforting to know that we won’t be able to figure him out. There are many traits of his that we can trust and rely on, but ultimately, he cannot be completely fathomed. Genesis leaves me with as many questions as answers and the Bible will not answer them all. Academia and science will continue to try. Regardless, I am left with sufficient evidence of God’s true character, and how that impacts his relationship with His people. The evangelical world and scientists continue to debate whether Genesis is historical fact or allegory. From this recent reading, I will remember Genesis as His story.
This post is the first review of 66 – all the books of the Bible. To learn about the project read my introductory post.