Thursday, March 11, 2010

Genesis 1 & 2 from a Postmodern Viewpoint

[I was asked to write about my postmodern viewpoint for a class about Ways to Understand the Bible that will also include the modern and fundamental approaches to Biblical interpretation]

First, a disclaimer, I am neither a postmodern scholar nor a biblical scholar. So, I wonder what gives me the right to "interpret" any part of the Bible? I think one of the key ingredients to studying and trying to understand the Bible is a healthy dose of humility. Next, I need to acknowledge that I bring my own subjective lens to the Bible and so does everybody else. Finally, I find that I have learned the most from the Bible when studying it in community. As a child of God who is full of curiosity, questions & doubts, I certainly can't ignore the Bible or simply let others interpret it for me. Instead the Bible has become my primary source for searching for answers about God and joining in the story of God's people.

We are interpretive by nature; we can’t know anything objectively.

Let me start by sharing some of the lenses that I am conscious of having while also acknowledging new research that suggests most of my thoughts and your thoughts are unconscious. My theories of choice about the beginning of the universe - the big bang, the beginning of humans – evolution, and the beginning of patriarchical society - Adam. So, reading Genesis has always been uncomfortable for me. I have problems reading about a universe created in six days, a Garden of Eden, Eve created from Adam, a tree of life, a serpent that speaks and the fall of humankind. So, I had been categorizing this story as a myth devised to explain creation in ancient times and tried my best to ignore it.

The Bible is a human response to God.

I see the Bible as a masterpiece that was created using the invention of the written word versus the tradition of oral history used for centuries before. The intent was to harness the rich and diverse collection of stories, history, wisdom, poetry, prophecy and first-hand accounts of God's work in the world, but the medium had some unexpected drawbacks. The most obvious is the problem of translation. There are twenty English translations on alone. There are much-debated, different styles of translation. Like paint flaking off a masterpiece, there are words that have become obsolete and are in need of having their meaning restored. If the words need to be translated, what about the metaphors?

Approach the Bible as metaphorical, relational, and missional in the hope of seeing our lives with God through it.

Often I can't get over these mental blocks I put up surrounding some verses and stories in the Bible on my own. Recently a few authors have helped me to see Genesis in a new way.

In Bruce Feiler's book, Walking the Bible, he writes about how his views of the Bible changed from that of just a book about a faraway land in a faraway time to a living, breathing entity about stories that happened in real places to real people.

Reading about his transformation and how he connects with the Bible through the present-day landscape helped me to see the creation story in a new light. Of Genesis 1 and 2, Bruce writes: "In a few short words, the Bible had taken the story of water, the story of humans, the story of Mesopotamia, and had created an entirely new story that explained the history of the world. Stories, like rivers, give life."

From Donald Miller's book, Searching for God Knows What, I read about his thoughts on Genesis. "If man was wired so that something outside himself told him who he was, and if God’s presence was giving him a feeling of fulfillment, then when that relationship was broken, a man would be pining for other people to tell him that he was good, right, okay with the world, and eternally secure."

I began to appreciate the idea that we’re wired to know our creator, to understand our creator's will for us and to find fulfillment in this relationship. I get that somehow our connection to our creator got damaged or broken. I don’t understand how this happened, but I see that it causes us to not feel whole, but instead feel naked and ashamed.

Ron Martoia, in his book Transformational Architecture, explores the concept of imago dei – being made in the image of God. He writes that "the God who presides over creation, and who creatively serves and rules the world, creates a humanity with the same role. They are to represent God by creatively and lovingly serving the rest of the world." Ron goes on to suggest that our imago dei is the very core building block of our spiritual beings that naturally seek out transformative, creative, change the world missions.

I now see many layers to the words of Genesis 1 & 2:
• It hints at the profound shift in humanity from nomad to farmer.
• It relates the story of our relationship with and to God.
• It shows us a blueprint for how our imago dei should care for creation.

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