Sunday, May 30, 2004

Genesis 5

Genesis 5 deals with the family of Adam. Basically, it just lists who begot whom, how old they were at the time of begetting, and how long they lived.

This is the first chapter that I just couldn't stand to read. It is boring. Why does God care whether I know this? It's just an opportunity for someone to mess up a genealogy later in Bible study. And if this genealogy is so important, why don't we have chapters following the geneology all the way to today?

Aside from the boredom, I have really only one major issue with this chapter: the old age these guys achieved. I don't think I believe it. Adam, as you may recall, should have dropped dead the day he touched the fruit of the tree of knowledge. (Genesis 2:17) However, in chapter five, we learn that Adam lived 930 years (Genesis 5:5). Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Jared and Methusaleh lived over 900 years as well.

Adam has already been dispatched from the garden, so he was living in the same imperfect world that houses us today. Except his tree of knowledge didn't give him knowledge of such life-extending scientific discoveries as penicillin and other modern medicines. We know, from historical records, that during the time Adam was living out these 900 years, nearby cultures, such as the Egyptians, had flourishing societies, sophisticated argriculture and ranching, and rudimentary knowledge of medicine. And they were considered old men if they reached 40 years. Infant mortality was high, and parasites and infection meant that a drink of stale water, a simple hand wound or a throat infection could kill a healthy man in a few days. There is no apparent reason why they would have lived such long splendid lives. 900 years without war, famine, disease, injury? Not on this planet.

I've heard only two explanations for this: (1) it is literally true, for reasons we can never know until we die and all will be revealed to us ; and (2) a "year" meant a shorter period of time back then. A lunar cycle was suggested by some as being called a "year." This would put Adam's death at a more believable 77 years. The problem with this analysis is that these guys were 90 years old or younger when they started having kids. If a "year" was really a "month", than Enosh, the 90-year-old father of Cainan, was only seven when his wife conceived. Which means this is as far-fetched as explanation number one.

Yesterday, I went over the explanation that Cain's wife must have been a sister. Well, Genesis 5:4 seems to confirm my initial view. "4 And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters." This is the first mention of daughters of Adam. No mention of daughters before Seth was born to replace Abel. Yet, daughters were clearly important enough to mention.

On a petty note -- and this was from an email that an atheist sent -- verse two says "Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created." God called the women "Adam", too? Said atheist also says this passage says man and woman were made at the same time. I don't think the language is that clear. But that problem was really flushed out in my discussion of chapters one and two anyhow.

And I was initially confused about Lamech being Noah's father. But then I went back and noticed that Cain's descendant Lamech was the son of Methushael (4:18). Noah's father Lamech, descendent of Seth, was the son of similarly named Methuselah (5:25).

Now that Noah has been begotten, I know I am about to embark on the most fundamentally unbelievable literal story of the Bible. So I'm going to work on it over the long weekend. As I do so, I will also ponder this: can I be a Christian if I think the Jews were wrong in believing that Genesis was the divine and inerrant Word of God?

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Genesis 4

The story of Cain and Abel has always fascinated me. It didn't take man long to commit his first murder. I can't even imagine killing a brother. It would be even less fathomable if we were 2 of just 4 people in existence. It does reveal the dark side of human nature. And I am convinced that this dark side is in our nature. Which means that God made us that way, and I cannot imagine why.

The story begins in verse 3.

3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 So the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." 8 Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"
I wish this passage explained a few things to me. First, why does God need an offering? And what was wrong with Cain's offering? There is not a word on this. That makes the story rather incomplete. I understand that not every detail must be included in every story, but Genesis is painstaking in places, especially when everyone begins begetting everyone else. Yet, here, we learn nothing of the original cause of the motive for the first horrible sin in the Old Testament. [Fn: Even worse, I see Cain appear to offer a better sacrificial offering than anything I ever put on an alter. Am I to be cursed because of this? I thought it was by faith that a man is saved.]

This story clearly takes place outside the garden, after the fall of Adam. Yet, God still dwells among his family of humans. When the Lord speaks to Cain, he reacts as if seeing and talking to a physical God is a normal, everyday occurrence. I've never murdered anyone, nor will I, but the Lord has never appeared to me in this manner. I've never even had so much as a sign or a dream in response to my prayers. Sigh.

13 And Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me." 15 And the LORD said to him, "Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him. 16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. 17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son--Enoch.
Once again, God places a curse on his creation. Surely Cain deserved a punishment for his horrible crime, but the curse placed upon him is extremely peculiar. Being cast out, he fears that anyone who finds him will kill him. But, the world contains only Adam, Eve, and Cain (and maybe some younger siblings). Why is the mark necessary. Far more effective would be to have the Lord talk to the family. After all, they were surely talking about Cain if Abel turned up missing or dead. And how would the "sevenfold" punishment be conveyed. In fact, what is that? Do you get killed seven times (after reincarnation)? Does God kill you and six family members?

Even stranger (and I remember wondering about this before) after Cain is cast out, we learn that he has a wife. Where does this wife come from? It doesn't say he took his sister for a bride. It doesn't say "Cain knew his sister," it says he knew his wife. I can't help but think that, if Cain knew his sister, this detail would have been mentioned. It is not omitted just because the author was reluctant to name names. We are about to get into a series of begetting and begetting, and Lot's daughters having sex with Lot and all sorts of torrid details. You don't hear of Lot getting drunk and knowing his new wives. Where stuff like this happens, the Bible calls it out. But there is not a word on where Cain's wife came from.

My pastor, when questioned on this point, told me that the wife was "obviously" Cain's sister, and that when Genesis was written, women were without value, so they didn't even bother to mention that Eve might have had daughters. And because Moses law (I think that is what he said) was not yet handed down, it was not wrong to sleep with his sister.

This rings false to me. First, I can't help but think that divine law should be never changing. Truth is truth. Good is good. Evil is evil. If it is wrong today, it should have been wrong then, too. Second, if women were worthless, this should have been mentioned from the beginning, too. I mean, we are still talking about a time when God walks among the people and talks to them in person. Today, it is widely agreed that God values women and men both. Why should we believe that He valued women less near the beginning. Moreover, Genesis is filled with mention of women. Lamech's wives [the first proud mention of bigamy] were identified by name in verse 19. In chapter 5, there are many references to men begetting "sons and daughters."

I think the answer comes in verse 25.
25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, "For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed." 26 And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the LORD.
This part of the story comes after Cain leaves. This is significant, because it provides a context which reliably rules out the potential for other siblings to have existed before Abel's passing and Cain's banishment. Abel was dead, and Cain, as the seed of Adam, was an unsuitable heir due to his banishment. Thus, Seth is God's appointed seed of Adam to replace Abel. Were there already lots of grown children of Adam and Eve, the need for this replacement seed would have been non-existent.

So this, I think, answers the question. Cain's wife came from another family, or another tribe. And that is how Cain built a city. Adam and Eve were not the first people on Earth. They were just the first people who were part of the story of the chosen people.

Lamech, it appears, is extremely wicked. In addition to taking two wives, he murdered repeatedly.
23Then Lamech said to his wives:
"Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
24If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold."
Where does this come from? You kill someone for wounding you? You kill a young man for hurting you? And your punishment is ... nothing? In fact, the result of your murder is that you should be even better protected from vengeane than your ancestor Cain? And who would have told Lamech this? Not God, because Cain was sent out of the presence of the Lord, and there is no talk of his descendants ever finding favor with the Lord.

As a literal, historical story, this is making less and less sense. I'm seriously thinking about skipping forward to Leviticus. Or maybe I should have just started with the Gospels, because I'm almost fully convinced that Genesis is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, unless you free me to read it in a very broad, literary sense. It looks like fireside story, not intended to be believed, but merely to convey a theme.

My church thinks that people who believe that are heretics.

But what am I to think? If you take this all at face value, it cannot be reconciled without adding some bizarre and improbable fact that is not in the text, and which, if true, you would expect to find in the text. These holes in the story are what cause people to come up with a sorts of crazy beliefs.

I've actually heard people say that they believe that God is an alien, and that God's race of people had sex with monkeys or Neanderthals or some other near-human creature, and created homos sapiens in the process. Other people say that Adam and Eve were the first humans infused with souls. Thus, the others were just animals, cavemen, without the soul that makes them exist "in God's image." [FN: But God is not a soul. He walks in the garden, talks to Adam, and is physical, not just spiritual.] People make these theories fit into these holes in the story of Genesis, like Cain going off with a bride. If the story was better told, this would not happen. A story inspired by God should be told perfectly, and this was not.

P.S. I know this was a long post, but I didn't want to spend a whole week doing daily posts about one chapter again. I don't have a counter, so I have no idea how many people are reading this. I suspect it is not many. A few Christians have been posting comments. I appreciate that. The atheists, on the other hand, have been sending me emails. In particular, the Christians are commenting on the stuff I've read and discussed, while several atheists are telling me what to "watch out for" in the next chapters. I'm trying to do this going forward on my own. If you want to point out the pro-Bible or con-Bible (like the mention of the two rivers, the Pishon and Gihon that do not exist near or cross paths with the Tigris or Euphrates) points after I've read it, I'm thrilled to think about it. But I want to keep pressing forward as if I'm reading the next chapter for the first time. Join me in my journey, if you wish, but don't take it for me.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Genesis 3:22-24

I'm finishing Genesis 3 tonight.

22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"-- 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Not very many lines, but such implications. First of all, here is another "us" being used by the Lord God to describe ... themselves. Thirdly (I'll talk about the chronologically second issue last), there is a description of a flaming sword blocking the garden. And I wonder, why block the garden? Why not just destroy it, or hide it? Because, eventually, God did that, if the garden ever existed. And we know that He did because there is no flaming sword in the middle east guarding the entrance to anything today. The garden is gone, not guarded.

But those are minor points. Most importantly, there is this talk of a "tree of life." Why didn't I hear about this in Sunday school? A tree of life, that if man eats, man will live forever? I'd never heard of such a thing.

How long was Adam in the garden? And why did he never eat from the tree of life? He was not forbidden to eat of it. God only forbade eating of the tree of knowledge, that made man know good from evil. (Genesis 2:17) After the fall, why did God not want Adam to live forever? Is not eternal life the gift that Christ later brings to us? If God wanted to change his promise, why change back 1,000 years later? If God meant for us to have eternal life, why not open the path to the promised fruit of the tree of life? Why make us go through three millennia of struggle, and faith, and work, and doubt, and suffering, when we could just have eaten the fruit of the tree that God promised us in Genesis 1:29? This makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. I have trouble believing that this is true, literally (for example, what would have happened if man had eaten of the tree of life first, to live forever, and only then sampled the fruit of the tree of knowledge, so as to die that day?) But worse, I can't even accept that this is true figuratively.

Genesis 3:14-19

In chapter 3, verses 14 to 19, God lays out His first curses.

14 So the LORD God said to the serpent:
"Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel."
16 To the woman He said:
"I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you."
17 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, "You shall not eat of it':
"Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are, And to dust you shall return."
So, to sum up, the serpent is forever cursed, losing limbs, perhaps, but certainly eating dirt and nipping at heels for the rest of its existence. This had to have been meant figuratively, in an "eat my dust" sense, because we know that snakes eat small animals, not dirt. Moreover, the curse was not all that effective. Snakes still kill people. If God really wanted to curse snakes more than any beast of the field, He should have pulled out the poison fangs.

For Eve and every other woman descended from her, God imposes painful childbirth and inferiority to men. This is God's first unjust act. Punishment should be meted out upon the guilty. Why am I punished for the sins of my ancestors? I could be perfect (I'm not, but theoretically, I could be), but apparently, I would still be cursed because of some error in judgment made by someone 100 generations ago. That is unjust.

Adam's punishment is even worse. God curses the very ground of the Earth. He messes up agriculture and grazing, not just for Adam, but all the animals, too, adding thorns and thistles to the landscape.

Justice would have demanded that God carry out the original sentence. Adam and Eve die. Then God can form a new man out of the dust, breathe life into his nostrils, and warn him: "Don't eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge or you will die. I killed the last guy who tried it. See the dead guy in the pit? That's you if you disobey."

Upon further reflection, God is all-knowing and all powerful. Why did He not just make man so that the fruit of that tree would not appeal to him? Give man a sense that is repulsed by the fruit, so he will naturally not even consider eating it? Make the fruit stink like a durian? Make it invisible? Something. Anything. Why waste the glorious creation from chapter one just because man was made so vulnerable to a serpent's temptation?

Genesis 3:8-13

Verse 8 is one of my favorite verses from my old Children's Bible.

8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
9 Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?"
10 So he said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself."
11And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?"
12 Then the man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate."
13 And the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"
The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."
Why do I like it? Because in it, God is real. He is physical. Adam and Eve hear him walking in the garden. I envision them off on some garden path when the sound of crinkling leaves slaps a great big "uh oh!" guilty look onto their faces. Then they hear God's voice. And it is probably a lot like their voices.

Adam and Eve had been naked until just before this. In God's image. That makes me wonder what God was wearing. Was God naked? Is that why we think of God as a male? Or did God wear radiant robes or something, and it just never occurred to Adam and Eve that they didn't have any radiant robes and they were just naked like animals?

Interesting, too, isn't it, that God questions Adam and Eve like a cop or a judge? God is all-knowing, yet He inquires of them what happened. In fact, the story makes it seem like God would never have caught on, except He noticed that they had slapped together some fig leaf loincloths. (Incidentally, in real life, fig leaves do not make good loincloths.) That makes God seem very human, which is, at once, both soothing and disconcerting.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Genesis 3:1-7

I appreciate the few comments I've received. Particularly, this week, from Laura, who wrote that "It is the truths that can be found in it that are important rather than whether or not it actually happened like that..."

Though this is the first time I have really read the Bible, carefully, from the beginning to the end, I have read most of the Bible several times, and when I noticed something that sounded "off", I shrugged it off with this viewpoint.

Though I used to find that view satisfactory, the problem I now find with that view is twofold. First, it does not at all help me distinguish between parts of scripture that are literal and important and parts that are figurative, literary and merely contributing to the "big picture." If the details of one book can be disregarded in favor of the big picture, then the same might hold true for the details of parts that many people take very seriously, things like the importance of circumcision, baptism, and all of the other things that people have fought wars over because of the dictates of the Bible.

The second problem is that these details are really important to a lot of people. You know the type: "The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it." Well, sure, the Bible seems to say it. But there are sometimes reasons not to believe it, at least not literally. So it is not settled. These people are part of the reason I'm having this struggle.

When I look at a geology book, and someone tells me that the mid-Atlantic ridge can only be 6,000 years old because the Bible tells us so, it causes me some trouble. And so I resolve my cognitive dissonance by deciding that the story is not meant to be taken literally. It is just an old story, passed on by naive ancient peoples, and it is no more a literal story of creation than the tale of Nyame, the great African sky god, who sneezed and created the spirit people, who used clay to make the ancestors of the ancient tribes of Africa. This, of course, means that it is not likely to actually be the Word of God.

So I turn to chapter three of Genesis and I am back to having to reclaim this old viewpoint just to have the resolve to go on. There are at least four or five really crucial details in Genesis 3 that just torment me. I'll discuss them one at a time.

1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, "You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"
2And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die."
4Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die.
5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
I never understood why this was wrong in the first place. Is it not good to understand the difference between good and evil? And if they did not, before eating of the fruit, understand the difference, than what was wrong with eating the fruit that God told them not to eat? It was neither good nor evil. It was unworthy of punishment for a person who knows not such a difference.

More importantly, I cannot accept this as literal truth. Aside from the speaking animal, a snake no less, I see this, if taken literally, as all the proof I would need to feel free to disregard everything else I read in this journey.

Remember Genesis 2:17? God warns Adam "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." That is a pretty serious threat. And in chapter three, the serpent tempts Eve into defying God by eating the fruit. And then Adam eats some, too.

Without doubt, when they eat the fruit, bad things happen. But one thing does not. They do not die in the day they eat of it. To the contrary, they live longer lives than any of us ever will. The threat is not carried out.

In the New Testament, when we are told that without Jesus, we will not have eternal life, what is our comeback when the cynic challenges us with this retort: "Yeah, right, just like how Adam died the day he ate the forbidden fruit."

Why ever obey God's commands at all? Why heed His empty threats?

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Genesis 2 [Look Back]

Before moving onto chapter three, there are a couple of oddities in chapter two that I want to discuss, even though it doesn't look like I'm writing for much of an audience. Maybe I'm boring. Maybe the subject matter is boring. Maybe no one and nothing is listening to my prayers. Maybe I'm just slogging through this too slowly. If so, it's mostly because I suspect that Genesis is the least likely book in the Bible to contain the true Word of God.

Chapter two gave us a very cursory account of creation. No mention of your more exotic beasts, or any of the extinct ones. No mention of dinosaurs. Why? It can't be because people wouldn't have been interested. Sure, it would have sounded strange to some primitive cultures, but certainly people who believed in giants and dragons and demons could have believed in dinosaurs. There was no mention, either, of any plants that man might find particularly useful to treat illness. Yet, it mentions bdellium, gold and onyx. Huh?

Gold I understand. Gold was valued 3,000 years ago, and it is valued today. But Onyx isn't all that fascinating, is it? I would think that copper, iron, diamonds, oil, coal and borax might be much more worthwhile to mention. And bdellium? What is that? And why don't I know? It was significant enough to warrant mention in the second chapter of the scriptures. Why don't people care or even know about it today?

Genesis 2 also gives us our first glimpse of a God who is fickle. I've always been taught that God is all-knowing and all-powerful and never-changing. God is constant. But God changes His rules and changes His mind.

I attended a service a while back in which the pastor told people to shout out an attribute of God. From around the room, people stood and shouted: God is great. God is powerful. God is merciful. God is forgiving. God is all-knowing. (I'd have said omniscient) God is kind. Then a well respected member in back stood up and said, in his deepest radio announcer voice, "God is."

Everyone was quiet, like he had just found the secret decoder ring to unlock all of the secrets of the Bible. I couldn't help but wonder what those people would have said if I had risen to my feet and proclaimed: "God is fickle."

In Genesis 1, God said, "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat." In Genesis 2, God changes His mind, or clarifies the earlier, too-broadly worded gift. In verse 17, the Lord God says "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." So, chapter 1 was almost right. Man gets every tree that bears fruit. Almost. All but one.

The bigger about-face shown by God here is His search for a suitable companion for man. God is all-knowing. Although I have not yet reached any passage that says so, I recollect that one does. God knew, therefore, that He was going to make a woman for Adam. Yet, before making Eve, God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him." So, out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam, but among them was not found a helper comparable to him.

I have two problems with this story. First, if all those beasts were not going to make suitable companions for the man, why didn't God see that coming? Why the initial failure? Why not make Eve immediately?

Secondly, does this passage say what I think it says? The process included bringing each creature to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. Did Adam actually sit there in the garden and name every living creature? We now know that there are millions upon millions of species of land-dwelling animals. Adam sat down and named them all? How? At the vigorous pace of a beast every ten seconds, it would have taken over 300 years to hit the first billion creatures.

And was someone writing this down? Or memorizing the names? Where is the list? Why are we still discovering previously unknown animals every year?

Anyhow, after the beast companion didn't work out, God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him ... So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. And the man said, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man."

This also made little sense to me. If God is capable of doing anything, why did He need the rib bone from Adam? Why not make woman out of the same dirt from which He crafted Adam? Is it because God was an alien who was cloning Adam? I doubt it, but some people believe that. This story, because it is so implausible, has spawned all sorts of bizarre interpretations by strange people in fringe religions. Why doesn't the Bible present us with something a little easier to accept as true here?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Genesis 2:7, 24-25 [Breathing Life]

I'm not troubled when I read things in the Bible that are self-evident, or are confirmed by what I can observe in the world around me. From time to time, I will mention passages that impress me or that reduce my doubt, because I do not want to dwell only on the negative. So far, Genesis 2:7 is my favorite, although it is a rather common-sense observation, and is not exactly proof that Genesis is the divine Word of God.

"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
So far, Genesis has not been a very clean treatise on the origin of the Earth from a scientific viewpoint, so I am pleased with this display of knowledge that man comes from the ground. We know, scientifically, that this is true. We are what we eat, and we eat things containing the minerals found on Earth. Our bodies contain copper, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, and, among other things, lots and lots of water. When we die, our bodies return to the Earth.

I am not the only one who seems to like this passage. Coincidentally, as I was reading chapter two, I read in the news about a bunch of pro-choice "Christians" talking about how they support a woman's right to choose abortion, and they don't want the choice movement to be perceived as a bunch of godless heathens. I don't understand this at all. I can understand how a Christian woman might seek an abortion. We all sin. Christians have, in moments of weakness and temption, committed all sorts of horrible sins.

But how can you be a Christian and still say that abortion is okay, a choice, as if it is on par with deciding whether to supersize that burger combo? Well, the answer, they say, lies in Genesis 2:7. God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Life as a human being, therefore, begins with one's first breath.

Somehow, I can't picture those people actually believing this. If the Bible is such an authority on matters such as this, why aren't they following all of the other teachings which, taken together, clearly would not justify abortion as part of God's plan?

So I don't buy the "God approves of abortion" line of thought. But I buy the line of thought that says that sex, in itself, is okay. The Old Testament, from what I recall, is full of sex. And chapter two of Genesis builds upon chapter one's ringing endorsement of sex.
And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruit and multiply, and fill the earth." (Genesis 1:27-28.)
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:24-25.)
That is not to say that I'm reading into it an approval of all sexual conduct. I know we are going to get into that a lot when we get to Leviticus. And, usually, when you think of someone as being of low morals, you are talking about sexual sin. Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because they were thieves and murderers. It was because they were sexually corrupt.

But God made us as sexual creatures. And He saw that it was good. So far, at least.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Genesis 2:4-25

I'm not even done with the story of creation, and already I owe somebody a big apology. Like a lot of Christians, I like to think that I know the Bible pretty well. I got into an argument with someone once over whether God made man first, or He made animals first. I said God made the animals first, and then made people. Genesis 1 is clear on this point. First came the beasts (Genesis 1:25), then came the man (Genesis 1:27). The fossil record suggests nothing different.

I'm not so sure anymore. Genesis 2 rather clearly says that man came first (Genesis 2:7), and then God made the beasts in an attempt to make a companion for man (Genesis 2:19). Genesis 2 also says that man came before plants and trees (Genesis 2:7), and that after God made man, He planted a garden and placed the man that He made in it, and that then, out of the Earth, the Lord God made every tree grow. (Genesis 2:8-9). The same reversed order applies to the creation of fowls. It seems, therefore, that Genesis 2 disregards Genesis 1. Why?

Why do we have two stories of creation? As soon as we finish with the initial story of creation, we start in on another. And they are not the same.

For some reason, God changes His title from "God", used uniformly in chapter one, to "the Lord God" in chapter two. That seems insignificant, but it puzzles me. God has many names in the Bible: God, Lord, I Am, YHWH and others. Non-believers tell me that these changes in nomenclature reflects the assimilation of existing pagan religious teachings, and, in particular, the polytheistic beliefs that persisted in most cultures around the Mediterranean Sea until well into the fifth century AD. God or Lord God, in and of itself, is not a significant difference, but I'm going to be paying attention to the different labels given to the Lord throughout the Bible.

In addition to the identity of the creator, Genesis 2 differs from Genesis 1 in several other respects. Genesis 1 seems to show the Earth forming from the vast and formless waters. "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Genesis 1:2. Yet, Genesis 2 shows the Earth beginning as dry land, devoid of any water until "there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground." Genesis 2:6.

Most curious, however, is the apparent difference in the way woman was created. In Genesis 1, God makes man and woman at once.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
But in Genesis 2, the Lord God first makes man, then notices that man is lonely. So He makes beasts to give him a companion. Genesis 2:18-20. Only after the beasts prove to be an inadequate set of companions does the Lord God decide to make woman. Genesis 2:21-25.

To be perfectly frank, it sounds like these two chapters were written by two different authors, from two different tribes, that followed two different traditions concerning how the world came into existence.

If one is a pure literalist and creationist, and believes that Genesis is the true, holy and scientific account of the making of our world, which version should one view as the literal truth? And why is the other version included as part of the scripture?

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Out of Turn [Hallam: Why The Bible No Longer Comforts Me]

I read the news today, oh boy. I know its a little bit corny to keep quoting pop music in this very serious discussion, but music sometimes comforts me in a way the Bible does not.

This weekend, many areas of Nebraska were devastated by a series of tornadoes and severe weather. The rural town of Hallam, about 20 miles outside of Lincoln, was hit particularly hard. Homes and buildings were leveled and vehicles were tossed about like empty soda pop cans. At least one person was killed. Governor Johanns has declared a state of emergency.

Hallam is a very small town, less than a square mile, with maybe 300 people living in it. They are good, hard working, friendly and churchgoing people. The town is known for its peacefulness, clean air and light traffic. Its people have done nothing to deserve this.

For 3,000 years, people have asked why God allows bad things to happen to good people. The best explanations offered are "The Lord works in mysterious ways" and "God will not interfere with man's free will." Neither of these explanations do anything for my faith.

I'm jumping ahead, and I'll discuss it, I suppose, when I get to those parts of Genesis in which God offers us explanations for why disasters struck cities like Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible's best explanation, for 3,000 years, has been "because those people were wicked."

But I know better. The people of Hallam are not wicked. Yet, today, God abandoned them. God's nature unleashed its fury on the good people of Hallam, while wicked places the world over, which are clearly as horrible as Babel, Sodom or Gomorrah, are enjoying a peaceful day. How is that good?

If God looked down at His creation this weekend, He would not be able to see that it was good. He would see this, and know that some of it was not good at all.

Genesis 2:2-3

The concept of the seventh day has also troubled me. The origin of the concept of the sabbath begins with this passage in Genesis 2:

2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

First, the concept of work strikes me as being odd. In Genesis 1, everything was created by God. And how? God said ___ and it was so. All God did was say it, and it was. This does not strike me as "work" in the sense that human beings understand it. Beyond this, I am puzzled by why an omnipotent God would need to rest. This passage doesn't quite come out and say He needed the rest, but that is certainly implied.

I've heard some people say that the first six days of creation were eons long, and that we are still living in the seventh day. The evidence for this, they say, is: (i) in the Bible, the fact that Genesis makes no mention of evening and morning coming, signaling the end of day seven and the beginning of an eighth day; and (ii) outside of the Bible, the geological evidence showing how old the Earth is, how long the process of creation/evolution took, and, frankly the fact that God does not appear to be taking an active role in world events today. He is resting, disinterested, watching, but not working, these people say. That concept is one of the most depressing things I've heard since the first time I heard of Nietzsche's "God is Dead" school of thought.

Yet, admittedly, this makes no less sense to me than the concept of a literal "firmament" in the sky, separating the oceans from the floodgates on the other side of the stars. However, skipping ahead (and thinking back), I see that the Bible is full of actions by God which occurred after the start of this seventh day. If the Bible is true, then these actions (many of which are clearly "work") demonstrate that the day of rest is not a still-ongoing epoch. And if the Bible is not true, well, it doesn't really matter, does it?

This passage also gives us our seven day weeks, which would otherwise appear to be a rather random time period selection. Nature does not seem to recognize weekly patterns. Days, months, seasons and years are all marked by astronomical gauges and corresponding patterns in nature. The concept of a week, however, is strictly a religious or otherwise manmade period. Why, if a week is so significant, didn't God create patterns in nature that reflect the beginning and end of a week? Out in the desert, without a calendar, a man cannot tell whether a day is a Monday, a Wednesday or a Saturday. Conversely, the nature that God created visibly reflects the beginning and end of a day, a lunar month, a season, a year. But you see nothing weekly.

And literally, the seventh day is Saturday. This is the day of the week that God "blessed" and "made holy" by virtue of resting from His work. Saturday is the day that God commanded the Israelites to observe as the sabbath, a day of total rest. Genesis doesn't make anyone observe this day, or acknowledge its holiness. That will come later, when God meets Moses on the mountain. However, Genesis calls into question why Christians (other than sabbatarians, such as the Seventh-day Adventists) celebrate Sunday as their day of worship. Jews keep Saturday holy. But, in the Bible belt, it is Sunday that sends the masses to church and closes the liquor stores. If God made the seventh day, Saturday, holy, why do we make the first day the holy one instead?

Why do we disregard the fact that "God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it." Is it that we don't take Genesis all that seriously?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Genesis 1:28-31

I finished Genesis 1 last night, but I'm trying to post separately each time I have a thought or concern. Tonight, I focus on verses 28 through 31.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so.
31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

I can't help but wonder whether these verses still apply. Is God speaking only to ancient Israelites? Or does this speak to me in the third millennium?

"Be fruitful and multiply" made a lot of sense 3,000 years ago. The Catholic Church often uses this verse as part of the scriptural justification for the prohibition of birth control. I have trouble believing, however, that God still wants us to multiply. Growing from 600 to 600,000 was good. Growing from 6 billion to 6 trillion might strain the planet. Today, I'm not so sure that multiplying still replenishes the Earth.

Does the Bible have to have a consistent message? Truth never changes, but instructions certainly could change, couldn't they? ", go!" This set of instructions might be perfectly valid. Yet, when put into writing, it sure seems like "wait" is contradicted by "go." But maybe it is not.

Having dominion over the fowl and the beasts and the birds is another issue that some people have trouble with. I know a lot of people who would find it immoral, almost inhuman, to hunt, and especially to be cruel to animals. I don't think this passage tells us it is okay to be cruel. It just says to have dominion. I think our place in the world food chain suggests that this dominion was granted us. Science says this is nothing more than our superior brains giving us the intelligence to dominate the world. But, brains might just have been God's tool to exercise the dominion.

The thing that troubles me about verses 28-31 is the passage about God giving us "every herb that yields seed" and "every green herb for food." More importantly, when he was done creating these thing, He saw "everything" and saw that it was "very good."

I do not see everything among the herbs as being very good. There are poisons, like hemlock, and drugs, like khat and cocoa leaves, and marijuana and opium poppies, that are not "very good indeed." In fact, from what I see, they appear to be wicked tools of evil. Why would God even create opium poppies? And if He did so to bring us medicine, why would He create these things with qualities that would lead large numbers of people into drug abuse, depression and temptation? I would think that God would see the herbs, and, looking thousands of years into the future, see that they were very bad, very bad indeed. And, I know I'm jumping ahead, but I recall from Sunday school that there is a tree that bears fruit that God decides not to permit man to eat.

I've made it through the end of creation. I'm spending a long time contemplating each passage, because I don't want to just rip through it without thinking. I'm starting to read other Christian blogs now, too. I know that isn't always the best source of theology, but seriously, I don't think there is any other forum in which I can speak freely, and be spoken to frankly. I honestly fear that if I go to my church and express all of my concerns about what I am reading, I'd face expulsion rather than discussion. And I appreciate that people are finding me and posting comments. I won't delete any of them, no matter their viewpoint, as long as they follow the subject matter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Genesis 1:26-27

I'm a monotheist, am I not? So this one has me puzzled, too.

26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [1] and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Why does God refer to Himself as "us", and refer to man as being in "our likeness." If this refers to the Trinity, a concept I still don't come close to understanding, how is man in their image? For this to be true, man would have to be in the Father's image, and the Son's image (this part makes sense) and the Holy Spirit's image.
So, did one true God make man? Or did a collection of Gods make man?
I knew Genesis was going to cause me some of the most trouble, but I'm not even through a page yet.

Genesis 1:25

I'll assume this is a literary device.

25 And God saw that it was good.

It isn't exactly a contradiction (yet), but why would the Bible describe the end of each step of creation in this way? God doesn't have to see to know if it is good. Omniscient God knew before time began that it would be good, right?
I won't dwell on this.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Genesis 1:6-14

I've always wondered about the science of the Bible, and why it often seems at odds with the world we observe today. I've never really read the Bible critically to consider where it confuses me. The whole concept of building the world in six days seems like a literary device. There is a quote from 2 Peter that says "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." Perhaps Genesis begins with a good example of this.

That is not to say that I think each "day" lasted exactly 1,000 years, although I know some people believe that. I just think this is a storyteller using literary license.

To me, the big problem with the story of creation is not the 6 days. It isn't even that God made light, and divided it into night and day several days before He made the Sun and the Moon to light the day and the night. My larger confusion comes from the firmament. Beginning in chapter 1, verse 6, the Bible says

"(6) And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. (7) And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. (8) And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. (9) And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. ... (14) And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: (15) And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. (16) And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

What does this mean? I read it to mean that there were waters surrounding the earth, and that God made Heavens -- which consists of the stars, the moon and the Sun -- to divide the water above the Earth from the water upon the Earth. This means that Heaven is in the sky, and that there is, or was, a massive body of water hovering just on the other side of the stars. We now know that the area that contains the stars is mind-numbingly massive. The firmament, therefore, is tremendously large, and the floodgates are on the other side of it. Oddly, we also know that the firmament is not very firm. It is mostly a vast vacuum, occupied, irregularly, by gaseous and rocky bodies drifting throught the vacuum.

This passage sounds more than a little bit like a child trying to describe clouds, rain and the night sky by looking at them and guessing what they are made of and how they came into being, with no clue as to whether they are correct. However, this is supposed to be the Word of God. If it is the Word of God, why isn't is both entirely accurate and sufficiently complete to allow the ancient Israelites to develop a correct understanding of the space beyond Earth's atmosphere?

If I accept that this is just a story, symbolic, simplistic and scientifically inaccurate, this does not bode well for my blind acceptance of any other biblical stories.

My Self-Assigned Task

Have you ever listened to the lyrics of the songs you hear on the radio? I do. And as I was listening to the lyrics of Mr. Jones by Counting Crows, I was struck by how well one stanza described me. It goes like this:

Help me believe in anything
I want to be someone who believes
because I don't believe in anything
And I want to be someone to believe.

I am a man, raised Christian, and taught to believe in things like old covenants and new covenants, resurrections, sacraments, saints, angels, demons, heaven and hell. As I have grown older, I have witnessed many things that are not consistent with the earthly and heavenly worlds I was taught to believe in.

I'm going to write about my doubts, and, if I'm lucky, someone out there will read them and stop me from descending the path from believer to non-believer. Because I am about there.

After talking to several of my more faithful friends, none of whom know that I am creating this journal, I am taking their advice: Read the Bible. Read it from cover to cover.

Interestingly, business colleagues who do not believe have offered me the same advice. Depending upon who was speaking, my friends and colleagues say it will either uplift my spirit and reintroduce me to Christ, or have me shaking my head in the knowledge that I've been reading the confused words of superstitious men.

Naturally, I shall begin at the beginning. Genesis 1.