In just two weeks (four class periods; six hours), my Bible survey class and I sprinted through the fifty chapters of Genesis. Tuesday we make our way into Exodus and out of Egypt. We’ll be in Babylonian captivity before you know it.
The benefit of this schedule we’re keeping is that by the time the course ends in mid December, students will have been exposed to the entire biblical story in one semester. It’s a view from 30,000 feet. And as I reported here, that’s more than most of them have ever had before. What’s disappointing about our schedule is that it leaves us very little time to reflect on some of the critical details. If the 30,000-foot view gives students a sense of the terrain, it doesn’t necessarily equip them to traverse it on their own. It doesn’t give us the opportunity to truly abide in any one episode of the story for long.
One thing I wish I’d had more time to explore is this (if you’ll excuse the somewhat grim reflections): when theologians talk about the consequences of the fall of humanity into sin (Genesis 3), we typically talk about the metaphysical effects of that rebellion. We are now, because of Adam and Eve, sinful men and women estranged from a righteous God. That’s true, of course. Paul spends a lot of energy in Romans making this point. What we talk about less, though, are the immediate, mundane consequences of the fall. Men and women are separated from God, indeed. But they are also driven from each other. They realize they are naked, and they are ashamed (Gen. 3:7). And that’s just the beginning.
There are echoes of the fall throughout Genesis. Every marriage in Genesis after Eden is marked by betrayal and manipulation. Abraham and Isaac both lie to protect themselves by claiming their wife is actually their sister (Abraham: Gen. 12 & 20; Isaac: Gen. 26). Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah. Rebekah helps Jacob trick his father into giving him Esau’s birthright. Every sibling relationship is fraught with conflict. Cain kills Abel. Jacob deceives (or takes advantage of) Esau. Joseph’s brothers resent him because, frankly, he’s kind of a jerk.
Yes, the fall severed the relationship between humans and their Creator. But the way humans experience that estrangement from God in Scripture is in the total breakdown of family relationships. The inalienable truth that mommies love daddies and they love their children lasts only a few pages in Genesis. The most intimate of human relationships become the venues in which the consequences of sin are most apparent.
Evangelists work hard to convince nonbelievers that we have offended a just God and need his help to atone for our sins. They aren’t wrong. But maybe it would be easier to convince skeptics of our dreadful situation if we asked them to look first at their family. Surely there’s enough divorce, abuse, neglect, and exploitation to convince even the most skeptical that the Bible understands the human condition.
It is remarkable to me that (if I’m right), the solution the Bible offers to this family problem is not the renewal of the family. It’s the church, the “household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15). It’s the safe place where people injured by their earthly families—and the single and the orphaned and the widowed—find spiritual family to nurture them in the Lord. God’s goal is not simply to make us right with him. He also provides the community in which all our most intimate relationships can be restored and sanctified. Thanks be to God!