Thursday, July 16, 2020

What's It All About?

    Beginning with Lent this year (2020), our Thursday evening and Sunday morning Bible studies took up the question-What did Paul mean when he wrote ‘that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures…’(1 Corinthians 15:3). It is a two-part question. Part one: what does ‘died for our sins’ actually mean? Part two: what scriptures? We began our inquiry during lent because Jesus died during Passover; my assumption was if Jesus’ death was merely atonement for sin He would have died on the Day of Atonement, but He did not. He died during Passover, so something more must be involved (an assumption which turned out to be only partially correct). Thursday evening would examine the historical significance of Passover; Sunday morning we would see how Jesus reinterpreted Passover. Then the pandemic hit, the church closed and both Bible studies became a Thursday evening Zoom meeting, which is still meeting.

            I used material primarily from N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began; (2016); New York, New York; HarperCollins. Other contributors include Richard Rohr and Oswald Chambers. I am grateful to N. T. Wright not only for introducing new ideas but also for reinforcing and defining ideas that have been floating around my head for a long time but refused to take shape (the ideas, not my head). Wright opened the floodgates, so thank you Tom.

            My overall approach to the Bible is, it is not a scientific textbook (although all science comes from God), nor is it a history textbook (although it contains many historically verifiable facts). It is not even a theological textbook (although much theology-good and bad-begins there). It is not a book of absolute fact; it is a book that communicates truth (there is a difference). The Bible tells one story, using a variety of literary forms-for example, historical narrative, poetry, letters, apocalypse. The story begins with God’s creative activity culminating in His crowning achievement-humankind (us). Humankind promptly rejects their creator; the rest of the story describes God’s unrelenting, often surprising efforts to bring us back to Himself, restoring us to our original vocation and calling: “…that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19, italics mine).

            We begin with Genesis, the Book of Beginnings. Here we learn several foundational truths. First, God created everything that exists, therefore everything that exists belongs to God, not us (“…for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” Leviticus 25:23; italics mine). Including humanity, by the way; yes, God has a claim on all our lives. This is all reiterated in the prologue to John’s Gospel, where Jesus is named as sole creator (or creating agent). No other creator is ever named. This is important.

Second, humanity lives because God lives: “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7-8; italics mine). In Hebrew, one word-ruwach-can mean wind, breath, mind, or spirit. The wind from God blew God’s breath, spirit, and mind-God’s very life, God Himself-into the man. (A quick aside here-this is why so many spiritual traditions emphasize the breath. Think of it this way-every inbreath inhales God’s cleansing, life-giving spirit into our bodies. Every outbreath exhales all the toxic stuff-like ‘sin’, or ‘sinful thoughts’. Remember the child’s rhyme- ‘in goes the bad air, out goes the good’?) Again, God is the only giver of life-the only life period-ever mentioned. This too is reiterated in John’s prologue and is important as well.

            Third, all humanity-every human being who ever lived-was created for a purpose.

“So God created humankind in his image,
              in the image of God he created them;
              male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

The vocation of every human being ever created (remember, there is only one life, only one source of life is ever mentioned) is to contain God’s image and demonstrate God’s likeness. We hold God’s image within ourselves and, as we are transformed inwardly, God’s likeness flows through us and we demonstrate it outwardly. This will become a common theme in much of Paul’s writing. The command-“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)-was humanities first calling. By the way, according to the NET Bible with Full Notes, Olive Tree edition,

 “one might paraphrase [Genesis1:28] as follows: "harness [the earth’s] potential and use its resources for [everyone’s] benefit." In an ancient Israelite context this would suggest cultivating its fields, mining its mineral riches, using its trees for construction, and domesticating its animals.”

Finally, Genesis tells us our first parents almost immediately rejected their vocation and call and followed the accuser’s advice instead: “…when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5-6, italics mine). This too is particularly important, and we will come back to it often.

            So here you have our five foundations. Everything belongs to God, including us. We all live because God’s breath/wind/Spirit gives us life. We all bear the image of God (even if it is very dim in most of us) and we are called to demonstrate God’s likeness. The tendency to reject that call and demonstrate our own likeness is the ‘original sin’ we all inherited from our first parents. The rest of the Bible is the story of God’s efforts to fix all that. Stay tuned. There is more to come.



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