“The Bible is not first of all a book of moral truth. I would call it instead a book of truth about the way life is. Those strange old scriptures present life as having been ordered in a certain way, with certain laws as inextricably built into it as the law of gravity is built into the physical universe.”
“When Jesus says that whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will save it, surely he is not making a statement about how, morally speaking, life ought to be. Rather, he is making a statement about how life is” (Frederick Buechner).
Some people stumble over the Bible because of some of the strange things in it. But while there are some strange things, Scripture corresponds with reality in so many important areas of life.
The first chapter fits well with reality. I read of a Creator who is said to be responsible for things that all people in all places see around them. And since we all know that something cannot come from nothing, it makes sense that there is a designer who a created life.
The creator is said to be responsible for 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. All of these correspond with reality for all people in all places at all times.
The creator seems to pause for a special moment of creation when he makes humans, male and female, in his own image. He gives them status over the rest of what he created to rule over it. This too connects with reality. If I was walking through a zoo and saw humans in a cage like the animals, I would be outraged.
To this point, I am tracking with the entire story — even the seven-day structure of a week.
The second chapter
In the second chapter of the Bible I read a kind of recapping of what the creator did. Here I learn that the first man was made from the dust of the earth, and that the creator planted a garden for his first habitat. This connects well with reality as planting and garden-keeping has always been both a necessity and one of the favorite past times of humans.
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, life, good and evil. But a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, I don’t understand.
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).
I certainly understand the categories of command and consequence. Reference to death as part of human reality for all people at all times is also understandable. But there is a bit of mystery in the tree in relation to these realities.
When I read the details about the formation of the woman, there are also parts I don’t fully understand. The introduction of genders of male and female is completely understandable (notice that they keep coming out that way). The pattern of pairing male and female in relationships of companionship also fits the entire human history.
Yet the way the creator formed the female is as strange to me as him making the man from the dust of the earth. 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). Suggested meanings are possible but they don’t remove all mystery.
But I certainly can’t say that these divine acts are impossible any more than I could reasonably say that there couldn’t possibly be a tree of life. Strange to me? Yes. But not impossible. And there is so much to the story that fills information gaps in ways unavailable through any other source.
Skip a chapter
Suppose I stop reading the bible at the second chapter and later picked it up, but accidentally skip the third chapter. At the end of the second chapter, the man and the woman were brought together and 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!
Family begins. Sex, pregnancy, babies, all of this corresponds with the entire human story.
Something goes wrong
As the story continues, I discover that something has gone terribly wrong. I find things that sadly correspond with my reality, but it feels confusing as to why these things disrupted what felt like a good story.
Here I encounter themes like making sacrifices to the creator, acceptance or disapproval from the creator God, a reference to anger, to doing what is right, to a personification of sin as something that desires to control life.
Then things go from bad to worse as I read about the first act of homicide — an act of the most horrible kind, fratricide (brother kills brother).
What I read about in the man named Cain I also see in the world in which I live. 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 toward the authority of the Creator.
These ugly traits are part of the human story in every place in the world and for all of human history.
If I skip the third chapter, what seemed like a good story takes an ugly turn in a way that surprises me. But if I go back and read the third chapter, I find some pieces to the puzzle that shed light on why the story turned so badly.
But, once again, as I read the third chapter, I might initially stumble over something strange: A talking serpent.This being is identified as belonging to the wild animals the Lord God made.
Talking animals don’t fit my reality. But even if I don’t get it, I’ll keep reading.
Whatever or whoever this being is, I learn that he has a very different version of reality. He/it clearly opposes the Creator and appears to want the woman to oppose her Creator. He/it distorts the creators words and appears to want the woman to feel overly restricted by the creator’s rule.
The serpent also assures the woman that a warning from the creator about dying if you eat the forbidden fruit isn’t true. He/it invites the woman to consider some kind of personal benefit to disobeying the creator — implying that the creator is supposedly denying her something good.
The woman contemplates the benefit and eats the fruit from the tree. There don’t appear to be any immediate consequences. She doesn’t immediately die. Then she gave some of the fruit to her husband and he also ate it. Still no immediate death. But things certainly get ugly.
Connected with reality
As the consequences of this act of disobedience to the creator fit amazingly well with seven specific categories that have consistently corresponded with reality in our world.
- Physiological results: pain in childbirth, painful toil, suffering and death.
- Psychological results: shame, guilt and fear.
- Sociological results: blame-shifting and alienation.
- Ecological results: ground is cursed, thorns and thistles.
- Spiritual results: hiding from God,
- Epistemological results: distorted thinking, spiritual blindness
- Criminal results: homicide
I find it very interesting that universities offer major areas of study related to each category (doctors, psychologists, sociologists, environmentalists, ministers, philosophers, law enforcement).
Are there some strange things in the Bible? Yes. Of course, some of these things are explained later in the book (like the identity of the serpent). Yet so much of what you find in the Bible corresponds closely with reality and fills gaps of knowledge on the sources behind these realities.
Read the Bible with an open mind.
It answers important questions about the way life is. More importantly, the Bible offers hope for a world where the destructive ways of Cain are painfully part of everyday experience.
It maps the way out of darkness by connecting with deeply felt needs for forgiveness, restoration, and renewal of life. It tells us that this world with all of it’s evil, suffering and death does not get the final say. It points to a God who promises to make all things new in a world where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
In a strangely wonderful way, it sums up all of history in one person: Jesus Christ. He is the theme of the Bible.
“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).