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A biblical novelist looks at Genesis – part 4

August 28, 2014

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Hebrews 11:3

What kind of faith did Abel have that still speaks to us today? Faith similar to the type Jesus spoke of to Thomas when He said, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” Faith trusts that there is more to life than our eyes can see. Faith looks at the universe, at the physical world around us and sees a Creator. And that same faith believes that if there is a Creator, then I am wise to find out more about Him.

Faith is necessary in every walk of life. It takes faith to believe in God and it takes faith to believe there is no God. Since God is unseen, we base our understanding of Him on the things He has revealed to us–in nature, in relationships, in His words. For those who believe the Bible, that means believing that what we are reading is true–including the stories of the people within its pages.

But why does it matter if Abel was real? Why does it matter if Adam or Noah or Abraham or Moses were real? Couldn’t they be as fictional as a novel is today?

Wilderness of Judah 7If a reader looks at the Bible as simply a collection of fantastic tales and does not see it as a whole that fits uniquely into one compelling book, then they will not see the overarching theme of it all—the spiritual themes of redemption, forgiveness, and love (to name a few). In a sense, to see the Bible only in parts is like looking at a puzzle and gazing only at the individual pieces without ever trying to fit them together into the finished product. You would miss the beauty of the whole picture.

But if you can accept for a moment the story as a whole, then you see that the parts joined together make a lot more sense than if they are simple left as separate pieces.

So if Genesis is the beginning of history where each continuous tale, each person in that history adds to that beginning, where prophesies (foreshadowing) and plot points are woven in such a way that the ancients of the Old Testament mesh neatly with the New, culminating in a dramatic finale in Revelation, then the stories will have greater meaning as individuals and as they relate to each other.

So when Abel offered a sacrifice in faith, because of the sin he inherited from his father, I can understand his reasoning a lot better than I could if Adam didn’t exist–if he had never broken faith with God–if there had been no Garden. There would be no need to worship the Creator or to offer gifts on an altar in repentance and faith, if the earlier tales of Creation and sin had been poetic metaphors.

If Moses did not live, then two entire faiths, Judaism and Christianity, base their history on a Law that was not given. If Noah did not live, then Peter had no reason to use him as an example of God’s coming judgment. Nor did Jesus have a reason to tell his followers, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the coming of the Son of Man…” If Noah did not exist, if his story is not true, why would Jesus and Peter mention him at all? Why not simply tell a story as a parable and start off…Before the coming of the kingdom there will be…He didn’t have to draw them back to their history.

Remember, when Jesus told a parable, he didn’t name his characters. But when he taught a lesson based on Jewish history, He named the people from their past. Not unlike we might today if want to speak to children about a civil war. We might say, “As it was in the time of President Lincoln…”

I am not suggesting that stories cannot speak to us throughout the centuries. The Bible is the greatest story ever told. And yet, why has it held best-selling status all these years? Because it speaks to us of things and of people that are real, that are true. And if we have eyes of faith, we can see that  truth more clearly.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Hebrews 11:3

What does it mean to have an entire universe created by the word of God?

One final thought to come.

by jill at 4:56 pm in ,

A biblical novelist looks at Genesis – part 3

August 27, 2014

“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” Hebrews 11:4

En Gedi 6I’m deliberately skipping Adam’s story to focus on the first person mentioned in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. The man’s name was Abel, second born son of Adam and Eve, according to Genesis 4.

The writers of New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews—as well as the words of Jesus—all refer to people of the Old Testament by name. Some quote the actual words they spoke. Others use their lives as examples to teach something new.

Some would argue that the stories in the Old Testament as simply that—stories, like the type Jesus told when He spoke in parables. But there is one clear difference in the stories of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible or Old Testament) and the parables of Jesus.

The stories of the Old Testament named the people involved. In His parables, Jesus did not use names. Neither did Nathan the prophet use a name when he spoke his “parable” to King David.

In a parable, Jesus would start something like this—“A sower went out to sow—or, The kingdom of heaven is like—or, What do you think? A man had two sons…” And so on. Nathan came to King David and said, “There were two men in a certain city…”

But when Jesus wanted to make a point about people from Jewish history, He named those people. He mentioned David’s actions, and compared himself to Jonah, and spoke of the fields in relation to King Solomon.

When Matthew wanted the Jewish people to understand that Jesus was the Christ and that He descended from King David, Matthew included Jesus’ genealogy at the beginning of his book. He also often quoted Old Testament prophecies to show how Jesus had fulfilled them.

Peter spoke of Noah and Michael the archangel. Paul spoke of Adam and Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and Jacob and Esau. Jude spoke of Enoch and Adam. James spoke of Abraham and Isaac and Rahab.

And Hebrews gives us a lineage of faith in chapter eleven, which is where we meet Abel, the guy mentioned in Genesis, second son of Adam and Eve. The man who, in faith, offered a proper sacrifice to God. The man who was murdered by his brother.

All that to say—If Adam and Eve were not real people, then Abel did not exist, and his faith no longer speaks to us today. What difference does it make? Couldn’t a metaphor speak? Sure. But if you read the chapter, you can tell by the wording that the writer is telling stories of people he believes to be real. “Abel, though he is dead, still speaks.” A metaphor doesn’t die. People die. But though Abel is dead, his faith still speaks.

More on that faith tomorrow.

by jill at 4:30 pm in ,

A biblical novelist looks at Genesis – part 2

August 26, 2014

The ancient patriarch Job has an entire book of Scripture devoted to his story. Many scholars agree that his is the oldest book of the Bible based on the age of the Hebrew text, though Genesis covers older material. Job is said to have lived during the time of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Job’s story is a fascinating read, and his life is not one I would want to have lived. Few people have suffered to that extent, and most of us would never want to. But the book is worth the read, especially when you get to chapters 38-40. There we find Job finally getting what he has been asking for throughout the book. A chance to hear from God, whom he believes has unjustly afflicted him.

Sunset Leave youGod begins by asking a series of questions, and some of the very first have to do with origins. I wonder why God chose to start at the foundation of the world to answer Job’s questions about pain and suffering in that moment of his life? Why not just tell Job that this is a test (see Job 1) and that God had his reasons for allowing what He did.

But God does not go there. The reader knows the whole story is a cosmic test, but Job (the main character) does not. Now from a writer’s point of view, I would probably have set the whole thing up in a different way. I would show the scene with the devil and the challenge he posed to God, but in the end, I would give Job some closure by cluing him in on the whole deal. Allow the man some insight and understanding into the way God works.

But God, as portrayed here, does not do that. Instead, He asks, “Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?”

And then He speaks in a series of questions that force Job to see beyond himself:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
 Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements?
 Surely you know!
 Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? 
Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, 
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

God goes on to talk about the sea and darkness and the morning and the depths of the deep and the gates of death and the dwelling of light and the places where He stores snow and water and lightning and dew. He speaks of the constellations (by name) and the number of clouds and how he feeds the wild animals in their need. The next two chapters He speaks of all types of wild animals, where they live, how they give birth, their enormous power, and things beyond Job’s understanding.

Despite the display of God’s power over the world He created, His discourse starts with the earth’s very beginnings—the substance of creation. Who but the Creator would know details about the foundations of the earth and its measurements and speak in such a way to cause Job to “repent in dust and ashes.”

Job did not question that God created these things. In fact, he not only knew God as Creator, he worshipped him as Redeemer and Lord. In his utter misery he declared,

“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
 and He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, 
that in my flesh I shall see God.”

If Genesis is just a myth and there is no Creator, then Job’s story is not real, and the pain of his words, the endless dialogue of his anguish are just the fabulous imagination of a brilliant writer.

But when you compare Job 38-40 with Genesis 1-3, you see a lot of similarity. In fact, you see a more detailed account of what God created than we see in Adam’s story.

And the overarching theme of Scripture fits with the rest of the biblical books. For instance, centuries later, Isaiah (chapter 40) is given these words as a prophet of God.

Vs. 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
 measured heaven with a span
 and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?
Weighed the mountains in scales 
and the hills in a balance?

Vs. 21-22 Has it not been told you from the beginning?
 Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, 
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
 who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
 and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

Vs. 25 Lift up your eyes on high,
 and see who has created these things…

Vs. 28 Have you not known? 
Have you not heard?
 The everlasting God, the Lord,
 The Creator of the ends of the earth,
 neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.

The theme of God as Creator stretches from Genesis to Revelation. Interestingly, in Revelation in the letters to the seven churches, Jesus mentions the creation to the one church that disgusts him with their lukewarm attitudes. He says, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:’ (emphasis mine)

The apostle John states that the Word (Jesus) was there at creation and in him all things were created. Nothing was made without Him. He was in the beginning with the Father and the Spirit laying the foundations of the earth, creating the galaxies and putting the constellations in their place. He mapped out the universe and holds it all together, and promises to one day fix all the things about it that were broken in the fall.

The fall—which happened in the next story of Genesis with a man—Adam—whom some believe didn’t really exist. A man who had children and grandchildren and a whole genealogy of people, many who remain fixtures in the history of nations to this day.

The Bible claims God created the earth and all that is in it and Genesis is not the only version of that claim. In its 66 books, written over centuries by different authors, the creation accounts fit together in a cohesive way that makes sense in both a literary and spiritual way. The theme of creation matters to the literary story of the Bible. For without a Creator the rest of the book has no reason for being.

But even if I believe that, why should it matter whether the stories of the people are true or just metaphors? Does it matter that Adam and Eve and Cain and Able are real people?

Stay tuned…

by jill at 6:01 pm in ,

A biblical novelist looks at Genesis – part 1

August 25, 2014

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

When I was a child, this verse was accepted among family, friends, and most acquaintances as simple truth. But time has a way of changing our views, and if ever an area of Scripture was debated, the beginning of Genesis is at the top of the debate list. Origins–where do we come from? how did everything around us begin?–are questions we all face. The cosmos is so vast and worthy of exploration that it captures our minds and our imaginations, and scientists have gone to great lengths in their search for the answers to these questions.

I am not here to debate that science, nor the Hebrew interpretation of the Genesis account for the age of the earth. I do not have the scientific background to make educated comments on that aspect of beginnings, and have a very minimal understanding of the Hebrew alphabet.

Mt. Gilboa8But I am a student of the Bible. And this commentary, which will carry over the next few blog posts is based on the Scripture—more particularly on the whole message of both Old and New Testaments and of the people immortalized within its pages.

Every person has a story to tell, every life is a book to be written. Authors spend years working to craft great stories, and some create masterpieces that are torn apart by generations that follow, all in an attempt to understand what the author meant to say.

The Bible is no exception. The best-selling book of all time, it carries the most amazing, sometimes unbelievable stories of any book ever written. Penned by numerous authors in 66 books, yet the overall book has one overarching theme – the redemptive story of Jesus Christ.

I will admit, that overarching theme is not immediately evident upon a cursory reading. But then, it’s not easy to sit down and read 66 books quickly, some of which can seem pretty dry reading (like genealogies and lists of names or numbers of people in a specific tribe or clan).

But the theme is there. It begins in this controversial book of Genesis and ends in the equally controversial book of Revelation. (Let’s assume for our purposes that these books are not simply metaphorical or mythical in their makeup.) The “seed of the woman” in the story of Adam and Eve is the Jewish Messiah, who fulfills between 300-400 prophesies when he takes on flesh, and promises to fulfill many more by the time Revelation ends.

Even if you don’t believe the book is literally true—as in these things happened in time and place in history—from a literary standpoint, I daresay, a greater story with such intricate fulfilled plot points, foreshadowing, metaphors, antagonists and ultimate triumph of good over evil has never, before or since, been written.

And yet…there is much more than a literary message in this book. The universal message of redemption, forgiveness, and love is a spiritual one.

That spiritual message starts in Genesis with the story of God’s presence in Creation, setting the stage for an attribute about Himself that we cannot deny if we want the rest of the book to make sense.

If God indeed is the Creator of all things, then perhaps we should consider what He says about Himself in that role. How does God as Creator fit with the rest of those 66 books? Why does it matter whether there was a Creator or not?

I hope you will join me in days to come to explore why it matters, and what those Scriptures say beyond Genesis about God as Creator.


by jill at 11:01 pm in ,

Weekend adventures

August 22, 2014

IMG_1355This past weekend Randy and I took a road trip to our nation’s capitol and the sunny state of Virginia. The occasion was an engagement celebration of our son, Chris and his fiancé, Molly. How good and pleasant it is to be with our loved ones! I can think of nothing on earth I enjoy more.

IMG_4052Eleven hours to drive down and nine and a half hours back gave me lots of time to work on galley edits for The Crimson Cord, which I finished as we neared our house on the last leg of the trip. Since the rest of this week was booked, I was very happy to finish early. (It was due next Tuesday.) And as it happened, I find working in a hotel room rather boring, especially with so many sites to see!

So Randy and I took advantage of some of our free time and hopped on the Metro to Pentagon City (from Alexandria) and took the Big Bus tour of Washington D.C. Since we knew we only had one day to devote to seeing the place, we opted to stay on the bus for most of the trip. We did get off at the Washington Monument, Union Station, and the Capitol Building. I wish we’d had time to visit Arlington and Lincoln’s Memorial, but we did get a glimpse from the tour bus.

IMG_1366We missed the White House on the first leg of the trip–we got on the wrong bus at Union Station–so we ended up walking a way and catching a different bus to drop us off within walking distance of the area of the White House that they let you see. I think we could have gone around to the front if we’d had time to walk it, but we did get some good pictures of the back. I discovered that you can zoom the iPhone, which is pretty cool. Who would have thought a camera with a zoom lens could fit in your pocket?

IMG_1378Later in the weekend, we visited Old Town Alexandria and walked to the wharf. Had dinner at Chadwicks near the water and snapped a few pictures here and there. I must say, I am slightly disappointed that I did not see a chocolate shop or a specialty coffee and tea store. I also had hoped to find specialty soaps, but they weren’t on the street we traveled. We did see a cool cobblestone road, and got a fun feel for this smaller section of the city.

The last day, after lunch with our kids, we drove to Mt. Vernon and took a tour of Washington’s home and museum and tomb and gardens. We ate at the restaurant on site, and got to imagine what life might have been like in the late 1700′s when Washington lived. We saw the room where he slept, spent time away from his many visitors, and eventually died in. Interesting man.

IMG_4076I will say that though travel can be fun, sleeping in a hotel is not nearly as comfortable as our own home. Tiger had a wonderful friend come to care for him, but he is also very glad to have us full time again.

IMG_1433Be it ever so humble (and with the mess of the flood still somewhat evident) there is no place like home.


by jill at 7:05 pm in