Storylines: Genesis 1-11. Discovering Who We Are

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One of my favourite songs is the “Logical Song” by Supertramp. Or if you’re a generation younger than me you might remember it as a cover by the German techno band Scooter.

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully, watching me
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical
There are times when all the world’s asleep
The questions run too deep for such a simple man
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd but please tell me who I am

The lyrics reflect the experience of the songwriter Roger Hodgson. He tells how he was sent off to boarding school for ten years where he learned all kinds of things, but the one thing he didn’t get taught was an answer to the most important question in life: “they didn’t tell me who I am or why I’m here”. (see http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1951).

I’m not sure that that’s the responsibility of schools, but I am sure it is one of the big questions of life. Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I fit in the world? And I think these are questions we spend our lives trying to answer. I am a father. I am a mother. I am a success. I am a failure. I am a business person. I am a wealthy person. I am an athlete. I am an Australian. And in our most honest moments we sometimes catch ourselves asking, ‘have I got it right? is that really who I am?’

This morning I want to look at Genesis 1-11, to unpack the flow of the story in these 11 chapters of the bible, because I think they’re designed to help us answer these profound questions.

The Creation Story (Genesis 1)

The book of Genesis begins with a magnificent story of the creation of the world and in the telling of that tale we learn the answer to Roger Hodgson’s question. Over six days God calls our world into being and it’s a remarkable place – land that is rich with vegetation, seas teeming with life, animals of every kind to fill every ecological niche, and us, human beings, created in God’s image, called to populate the earth and manage its resources in a way that reflects the very character of God, so that as we spread across the planet we build communities marked by goodness, generosity, justice, kindness, equity. Over against other ancient creation stories that told of a world created by conflict among the gods, here there is just one God; one good, wise and loving Creator who fashions a glorious world and calls us to live in it as creatures who bear his image and likeness, creatures who know and worship him, while extending ourselves in love and justice toward each other and the animals, and being nourished in body, spirit and mind by the amazing richness of the creation. This is who we are. This is why we’re here. This is our place in the world. This is the answer to Roger Hodgson’s question.

The Unraveling

If we’re on a high after reading Genesis 1, we soon come crashing down to earth. Genesis 2-11 tells four stories that show the unraveling of God’s purposes for us. We get a story about a Garden in which the first humans lived; we get a story about a man murdering his brother; we get a story about a worldwide flood; and we get a story about a tower.  Between each story is a genealogy – “so and so was the father of…, who was the father of…who was the father of…” These show us that we did indeed spread across the earth, did fulfil the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But the four stories show us that we did not create communities marked by goodness, generosity, justice, kindness, equity and worship of God, but communities marked by violence, injustice, conflict, inequality and a turning away from God. So each story has a familiar pattern – we humans refuse to accept who we are. Rather than living as magnificent creatures who bear the image of God the stories show that we want to be gods. And in each story we discover God’s response is two-fold – judgement and grace.

The pattern then is one of sin – judgement – grace.

StorySinJudgementGrace
Garden (Genesis 2-3)Created in the likeness of God and given every tree for food, Adam & Eve eat from the one tree that was forbidden, in the belief that it will make them just like God. They refuse to accept their creaturely status where they are dependent on God’s wisdom and seek their own wisdom.God expels them from the Garden, to the world outside which is less hospitable and where life is marked by times of difficultyGod doesn’t impose the death penalty that had been threatened, but mitigates the judgement, makes clothes for Adam and Eve to help equip them for their new existence, and bars the way back to Eden so that they might not live forever in their fallen state

Murder (Genesis 4)Cain’s offering is rejected by God while Abel’s is accepted. Rather than modifying his behaviour Cain is filled with anger and jealousy and murders his brotherCain, a farmer, is expelled from his land and forced to wander the earthCain will be a prime candidate for violent assault for he will be away from his land and people. To prevent this he is given a mark from God which serves as a warning to anyone who might present a threat to him Flood (Genesis 6-9)The violence that marked Cain comes to characterise humankind. Rather than building communities of justice, grace and love humankind builds communities marked by oppression, violence and greed. In the first verses of chapter six we learn that human women were marrying angelic creatures, apparently an attempt to cross the human/spirit being divide and become godsHumankind is expelled from the earth through a great floodGod saves Noah, his family and a pair of every species, vows to never again destroy the earth by flood, and reissues the commission to humankind to populate the earth

We get to the end of the flood story wondering if the sin-judgement-grace pattern has been broken. With Noah and his family we have a fresh start and a fresh hope. Maybe now humankind will finally accept its creaturely status and build communities in which we trust the wisdom of God and build communities that reflect the character of God. If this is our hope it is soon dashed. In the story of the Tower of Babel the familiar pattern emerges

StorySinJudgementGrace

Tower (Genesis 10)A group of humans determine that they will settle in one place and make a name for themselves, ie build a civilisation that will overpower and dominate others. They plan to build a tower reaching to the heavens, enabling them to ascend to where the gods are, to become gods themselvesGod confuses their language, which has the effect of scattering them, expelling them from the place they settledTheir is no substantial act of grace within the story. Rather the act of grace comes in Genesis 12 with the call of Abraham and the promise that through him God will bring blessing to all peoples of the earth

And so the narrative leads us to the story of Abraham and his descendants. Why does God call Abraham, Israel, Christ and the church? Because humankind has forgotten who we are. We have thrown off our creatureliness and sought to shape the world after our own wisdom and our own desires. Instead of communities marked by justice, grace, generosity, inclusion and kindness we build communities that feature injustice, selfishness, greed, exclusion and envy. The story of Abraham, Israel, Christ and the church tell us how God will act to redeem his world, to break the cycle of sin and judgement and replace it with righteousness and grace.

Living it Out

Genesis 1-11 reminds us of our place in the world. We are creatures of a good and wise God who find our sweet spot when we live as creatures made in the image of God. So the question is this, what is your answer to the question posed in the logical song:

Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd but please tell me who I am

How are you answering that question? And how are your answers shaping the way you live?

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