Crazy Genesis & the Messy God

23-the-sacrifice-of-isaac-caravaggio1

The Sacrifice of Isaac CARAVAGGIO (1573-1610)

So, I’m attempting to read the Bible in a year (thanks Bible app), and it’s a chronological plan, so I’ve been in Job and Genesis so far. Fact is, I’ve never actually completed one of these plans. Typically, right about now, I get off track and chuck it, opting for topical and devotional reading instead. And, reading books. And…blogs.

It’s very unevangelical of me.

And not very pastoral at all.

But I’m hoping this’ll be lucky ’13, and so far, so good.

Anyway, Job was actually nothing short of inspiring. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times, but this time, because of recent events in my life, it was soul-stirring. But Genesis, Genesis is…different.

Genesis and I are pretty close friends, probably even closer than Job and I. I’ve read the book in narrative fashion several times over. Studied passages and themes even more. Heard it preached verse by verse over the course of two years in a very Reformed Baptist church.

And in previous readings, even as I have evolved from Reformed guy to nuanced missional evangelical guy, Genesis has always had this particular sense to it, a sound; my mind always shifts to picture books and flannelgraphs and, really, thoughts of another world – like a Lord of the Rings kind of world. The moment I read or hear the words preached, that’s the tune that starts playing (with a lot of flute). It’s a score that helps to make the story less real and more understandable.

But this time, the flute hasn’t been playing in the background. The score has been stripped away, and I’ve been struck by the reality of what I’m reading.

Namely, I’ve been struck by the fact that so much of Genesis is just…CRAY.

As in CRAY-ZAY.

I don’t say that to be irreverent, just realistic. And the tendency, I think, in the face of such narrative craziness is to kneejerk into theologizing the text – forcing it into theological categories in order to make good sense of it.

One of the ways I’ve seen preachers do this is to make Genesis not only a story of literal seven day creation but also an all-controlling “sovereign” God. In my Reformed years, this took shape in a very Presbyterian style of “Christological” interpretation – finding both the family tree of Jesus and shadows and types of the atonement in the Genesis text. In this way, the all-controlling sovereign God was painstakingly creating the family line (seed of the woman!) through which the Messiah would come, while at the same time providing the inerrant Bible reader with some cool prophetic pointers to the penal substitutionary atonement (hello, Isaac and the ram!) throughout the Genesis account.

But again, without theologizing the narrative in that way, we are left with some pretty crazy stuff.

And a very messy God.

In fact, God looks to me to be quite the opposite of the all-controlling sovereign given to us in Reformed and much conservative evangelical theology. God’s messiness, not God’s cool, calm, collected control, is far more evident. Morgan Guyton recently drew attention to this messiness in Genesis 3:22:

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

In other words, the Trinity appears here to be threatened by the possibility that humans might achieve godlike knowledge and immortality, because then they may become God’s rival. (Same thing happens with the Babel situation.) Not exactly the attitude of an unapproachable absolute sovereign. Guyton suggests that this verse forces us to choose between God’s absolute sovereign control and the inerrancy of Scripture, and I’m inclined to agree – if those are the only options available. However, my conclusion may be slightly different from his, in that I think both inerrancy and absolute divine control are off and the text is, in a narrative sense, totally right on.

God is messy.

Likewise, when we see God apparently conspiring with a lying little punk named Jacob and a conniving woman named Rebekah to take advantage of a passive old fool named Isaac and screw over a hard-working guy named Esau, in order to hopefully work out a plan where the family of Israel would become powerful – or before that, when we see God ruthlessly demand fidelity from an old bedouin (who apparently hears things in the desert) by requiring him to kill his only son (!) – we are faced with a choice to either jettison all this as borderline immoral nonsense (or allegory) or to see something true in the messy narrative about a truly messy God.

I believe God’s messiness is precisely God’s willingness to be so entangled with messy humanity that the divine storyline – the narrative of loving and healing the broken creation fully and truly, making things right under the reign of the King, establishing shalom – depends on the Holy One’s relationship with unholy ones. This is relational theology, stemming from a narrative reading: God is an incarnational God, and the narrative is an incarnational text.

Likewise, the progress of written revelation toward a full revelation in the Incarnate One himself, the Messiah, Jesus, depends not on God’s all-controlling sovereignty but on God’s relational, loving character, which even leaves room for all of this messiness as things reach their fullness in the Liberating King.

What I’m happily left with in the wake of all the Genesis craziness is a strange sort of confidence: I love this messy God, and I’m confident in the way God was working in and through and with these messy people at this time in history.

I am confident because all the CRAY leads me forward to the WAY (getting Pentecostal over here) – Jesus and his Sermon-on-the-Mount community.

And all the mess moves me inward to the Spirit at work among all of our messiness even now.

I also believe – and this is clearly a theme on this blog – that dualisms like the one Guyton suggested between inerrancy or absolute sovereignty can be transcended by a third way. And, discerning that third way always gets us right back to the Gospels and the pristinely revealed God within their pages.

What do y’all say – is Genesis CRAY?

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter was released in 2012. Twitter & Facebook.

  • http://twitter.com/kevinwilliams07 Kevin Williams

    Each time I read Genesis, I am struck by the craziness of it all. My congregation is reading through The Story Bible which takes portions of the Bible out for it to read more like a narrative. Another thing it does is it takes the messiness out of Genesis. Our reading this week forcused on Abraham, but it left out Abraham’s failures. While Abraham is the father of many nations, he is not the prestine man we have painted him to be. This does not take into account God’s part in the Story. We read of a faithful God, but we this faithful God works with so folks who are the worst. I mean Jacob is seriously the worst, yet he is one of the patriachs. Yahweh is described as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This descriptor seems to make your point. God is so relational that God joins with this people even in their mess. I think this is Good News, and I think our theologizing keeps us from leaning into the mystery of our God.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

      Thanks Kevin, I’m with ya there (obvs).

  • http://www.facebook.com/gavin.johnston Gavin Johnston

    Based on the CRAY-ZY nation of Israel it was like God was at the helm of a bus with the wheels coming off!!! Please don’t incarnate my hands on that steering wheel! The historical narratives of Israel show that as people discover the redemptive powers of God that it is surprisingly difficult to keep the bus between the lines no matter how many road signs and driving regulations we’ve been taught an observe. God and Jesus Christ would indeed be utterly intimidating if we didn’t have the skid marks all over the road to remind us of all the bad driving. This analogy is getting as stale as Eve’s fruit so I better bring it to a close. Jesus drove that bus perfectly and showed us what the Father is capable of. He is so perfect and ahead of His time that we can finally take our hands off the wheel and enjoy the ride with a lot fewer road signs and regulations. I could never picture Jesus driving a car anyways – I think we would all be riding bicycles…

    • http://www.facebook.com/gavin.johnston Gavin Johnston

      And…love your take on a “third way”; the narrative sense. God understands that children love a good story and before they can really draw out the morals in a self-revelatory fashion that they need rules to follow. After we get the story and the rules we even then get an Example (the greatest Example ever!). Jesus is that teacher that is so cool that we want to be just like him! Is there a difference between “believe in me” and “admire me”? Crusty old theologians (administrators of the w(W)ord) worry about inerrancy and take story time away from the kids. That’s why Jesus said he was the Moral to the story – and not just the story…

      • http://www.facebook.com/gavin.johnston Gavin Johnston

        If there was no murder and rape in the Old Testament would have there been no murder and rape in the world thereafter? If Eve hadn’t eaten the fruit would there have never been pain and suffering in the world? You can’t tell a perfect story without some creative tension (those bland movies are for the Hallmark channel). The Word made flesh! Words are dry bones, but someone living the moral sense of the words is to be admired. We have read and mapped the human genome and thought we would then understand everything about humans, but what we realized is that a human is so much more than what the DNA says they are! Just like Jesus is so much more than the words we overly analyze about him and his Father!

    • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

      Gavin, “He is so perfect and ahead of his time…” is literally making me worship. Thanks for these comments, bro.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.a.demers.3 Mark A Demers

    I always liked Jack Miles’ approach – not only to genesis – but to the character of the biblical God. Remember the title? “God: A Biography”. Wonder why Christianity has felt the need to sanitize the scriptures – try to rub and scrub them clean of the mess and “crayzay” that is so obvious to everyone else. Why do we insist on taking the greatest story ever, putting a pretty cover on it, and drain it of all its grit, glory, irony, paradox, contradiction? A very famous character in the Christian Testament never liked it when he encountered people like that – pretty covers; no internal authenticity. (And as for the kind of moral purity so many faithful folk seem to insist upon – where do they get that picture from?) Oh …. and Zach – I think every Christian should read the Bible through at least once! I’ll pray that THIS is the year for you!

    • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

      haha thanks for the prayers – hopefully my ADD doesn’t get the best of me yet again! and great comment, as per usual :).

  • Joshkap

    Great post.  Good luck with the reading.


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