Some passages of Scripture, it feels, have been hollowed out because of frequent use in arguments and debates. What gift remains?
Genesis 1-2 are tired passages for most of us. For many, these ancient words have been dwindled down by beauty-breaking debates for so long that only their box remains. The gift inside was taken out long ago in order for us to make room for what we needed the passage to say in an argument or what we wanted the passage to say to protect a dearly held belief. I am guilty of this very thing. A season of my life was marked by reading these passages to remember the details that made my argument hang together. That is a sad season to remember. It pains me that my understanding of what the Scriptures are for had centered mainly on arguments.
But, for at least one student of mine, when she opened the box the gift was still there. As a class, we spent time reflecting on three questions as we read Genesis 1 and 2 separately. “Who is the main character of this story?” “Based on the literary elements you see, what genre of writing is this?” and “What do these stories reveal to us about God, creation, and humanity?”
As we read Genesis 2, I asked if the students were surprised to see God forming animals from the dust as possible companions for the human. There was not much discussion on this point, a point that I find endlessly intriguing. So, I pointed out that, perhaps, it reveals something about the way God desires us to view our co-creatures on this earth. Yes, we may have dominion, but these are still the creatures God first brought before humanity as fitting companions. They must be closer to us than we are inclined to think.
After class, one student came to the table where I was gathering papers into folders. She pulled a chair in front of the table and sat down. “Yes?” I said, turning my attention to her. I assumed, like the other students, she had questions about a quiz due at the end of the weekend or the assignment coming up next week. Instead, she exhaled and smiled. “My mind is exploding right now,” she explained. She went on to detail that she’d never thought to wonder about why God made animals as possible companions. For her, the freedom to wonder about what this revealed about God – rather than about whether this detail might be used to argue your point – led her to a joyful new insight about who the God we worship is.
At the time, I made a judgment call not to press her to explain what she thought. I wanted only to affirm her joy of reading the Bible in a new way. I wonder, however, if what she’d recognized in the story was God’s desire to do things in a way that aren’t as efficient, in a way that makes God look a bit less omniscient, so that we might have a richer, fuller understanding of who God is, who we are, and who creation is to us. It reminds me of John Calvin’s suggestion that God, in a way, baby talks to us. That is the gift of reading Scripture time and again in faithful communities, isn’t it? Yes, sometimes we will need to debate and argue. But, the gift that is always being extended to us as we read the Scriptures is this: God has chosen to speak to us, not for God’s sake, but for ours.