But does the Bible really present the narrative for humanity to trace its origin, meaning, morality and destiny? This is my small offering on this question.
The first chapter of the Bible opens in a way that fits well with reality. I read of a God who is identified as the Creator, the one responsible for many of the things that I see around me.
I know that something cannot come from nothing, so it makes more sense to believe in a Creator. The need for an intelligent being behind the amazing complexity of the world is also logical. Of course, this requires that the Creator is the only uncaused cause in the universe. The God in the Bible is repeatedly noted as the eternal one who preexisted all created things (Psalm 90:2; John 1:1-3).
As I continue to read the first chapter of the Bible, the Creator is said to be responsible for things like light, day and night, waters, sky, land, vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees, stars, fish, birds, creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals. These things all correspond with reality of all people, in all places; at all times. I have not found a comprehensively satisfying alternative explanation for the origin of such things.
At this point in the narrative, the Creator seems to pause for a special work of his creation. He creates humans, male and female, in his own image. He gives them unique status over the rest of the created things to rule over them. This too connects with reality. If I was walking through a zoo and saw humans in a cage like the rest of the animals, I would be horrified. Although humans share some common physical trails with animals, the qualitative differences are obvious. What accounts for this distinction?
Up to this point, I am tracking with the entire story — even the seven-day structure it presents.
The next chapter offers a kind of recapping of what this Creator did. Here I learn that the man was made from the dust of the earth, and that the Creator planted a garden as the first habitat for humans and ordered them to cultivate and keep it.
This connects well with reality as planting and keeping gardens has always been both a necessity and one of the favorite past times of humans in every part of the world. Made from the earth, humans are then sent back to it for sustenance.
The Creator made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. This is understandable but then we venture into something that appears strange to me: “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9).
I understand trees. And I understand the categories of life and good and evil. But trees of life and tress of the knowledge of good and evil, I don’t get. Unusual to me? Yes. Impossible or mere mythology? I have no substantive reason to reject what is presented.
The Creator is referred to as “the Lord God,” and his command seems strange, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17).
It’s not the command-consequence category that seems odd. I get this — every day. It’s not the mention of death because this is part of human reality for all people at all times. It’s the mystery of the tree as a source of these things.
Next I learn of the details about the formation of the female. The genders of male and female are completely understandable (they keep coming out that way).
The pattern of pairing males and females in relationships of companionship also fits with all of human history.
But the way the creator formed the female is as strange to me as him making the man from dust. I don’t understand how or why the creator took “one of the man’s ribs and….made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man” (Genesis 2:21-22). I can’t say that this is impossible any more than I can say that there couldn’t be a tree of life. Strange to me? Yes. Possible? Yes.
And there is so much to the story that fills gaps of understanding in a way that is helpful. But suppose I put the bible down and later picked it up, accidentally skipping the third chapter. At the end of the second chapter, the man and the woman were left naked and without shame.
The fourth chapter starts out in a way that flows well from this point. “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” This seems like the beginning of a great story!
A family begins. Sex, pregnancy, babies, family, this all corresponds with the whole human story — even the occupational differences within farming and agriculture.
But, as the story continues, I discover that something goes terribly wrong. As I keep reading, I will find stuff that sadly corresponds with my reality but I am confused as to why these ugly realities disrupted what felt like a good story (with a few strange things in it).
Here I encounter themes like sacrifices to God, acceptance and disapproval with God, reference to anger, doing what is right, personification of sin as something that desires to control one’s life.
Then things go from bad to worse as I encounter the first act of homicide —of the most heinous kind, fratricide (brother kills brother). What I see in Cain I also see all the time in the world. Cain-like characters appear daily in the news. He was an envious, angry, heartless and self-willed man. He was a murderer and a liar. He spoke with disdain and disrespect to the God-Creator. These dark traits are part of the human story in every place in the world and for all of human history.
What seemed like a good story took an ugly turn in a way that surprises me. But as I go back and learn that I skipped the third chapter, I find some pieces to the puzzle that shed light on why the story turned in this dreadful yet realistic direction.
As I begin to read the third chapter, I stumble at first over something strange: A talking serpent. It’s identified as a being from among the wild animals the Lord God made. Talking animals don’t fit my reality. I don’t get it, but I’ll read on.
Whatever or whoever this being is, I learn that he holds to a very different version of how things work. He/it is clearly opposed to the Creator and appears to want the woman to oppose her Creator. He/it distorts that creators words and appears to want the woman to feel overly restricted by the creator.
The serpent assures the woman that the warning about dying if you eat the fruit isn’t true. He/it lures her to consider some kind of personal benefit to disobeying the Creator — something that the Creator is supposedly denying her.
The woman contemplates the benefit and takes the fruit of the tree and eats. There is no immediate death. She also gives some of the fruit to her husband and he eats it. Still no death– as I might think of it. But it gets ugly. The consequences that follow her disobedience fit well within seven categories that correspond with human reality:
- Physiological: pain in childbirth, painful toil, suffering and death.
- Psychological: shame, guilt and fear.
- Sociological: blame-shifting and alienation.
- Ecological: ground is cursed, thorns and thistles.
- Spiritual: hiding from God,
- Epistemological: distorted thinking, spiritual blindness
- Criminal: Homicide
The Universities offer major areas of study related to each of the seven categories (e.g. doctors, psychologists, sociologists, environmentalists, ministers, philosophers, law enforcement).
Are there some really strange things in the Bible? Yes. Some of these things are explained later in the book (like the identity of the serpent). But so much of what you find in the Bible corresponds closely to human reality and fills gaps of knowledge on sources behind these realities.
Read the Bible with an open mind. It answers important questions.
The Bible offers hope for a world in which the ways of Cain are pervasively and painfully real on every part of the globe.
1. It connects with deeply felt human needs for forgiveness, restoration, renewal and life.
2. It assures us that this world of evil, suffering and death is not the final reality.
3. It points to a God who promises to make all things new in a new world without mourning, crying, pain or death.
4. In a strangely wonderful way, it sums up history in one person: Jesus Christ. He is the theme of the Bible (Hebrews 1:1-3).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).