Epics. Eras. Beginnings.
“Call me Ishmael,” Melville begins his epic.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” Dickens starts his era epic.
“A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead,” Greene begins.
What list of famous openers would be complete without including, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth?”
Genesis is the book of beginnings. Out of nothing God brings forth everything, which was enough to tax even His strength. He rested on the seventh day, the text declares.
God was enthralled. All of His riches were available to Adam and Eve in the garden. Everything was as it should be.
The crown of His creation was man and woman, created in the image of God. Of all creation man alone had a prototype: the Godhead. “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” the heavenly triumvirate decreed (Gen. 1:26).
At last, among all of creation, there was someone suitable for the Lord; someone courted for a divine romance; someone made and fashioned like God. Finally, after all of creation was placed in motion, there was a being in male and female forms suited to communicate with God.
God walked and talked with Adam and Eve each day in the garden, just as you and I do with those we love. Together they lived in utter transparency and trust. There was no reason to do otherwise. They truly loved each other, and perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jn. 4:18), even the fear of nakedness.
The Lord looked at this scene and the potential it held and called it very good. He was enthralled. All of His riches were available to Adam and Eve in the garden. Everything was as it should be. All was perfect in innocence.
We hear “buts” coming. We say so sometimes when we are listening. Don’t you hate that word sometimes?
But sin entered the picture and the young hopes were infected with the reality of sin’s insurgence.
I was out riding my bike a few days ago and stopped at a busy intersection. A man and his son pulled up beside me in a Suburban and the little boy pleading, tearful, asked if I had seen a little black and white dog. “His name is Sport. Call me if you see him.” I hear God’s voice in a similar way, “Adam...? Eve...? Adam, Eve, where are you?”
Sure. God realized the unthinkable, knew the inevitable. He’s God. He knows everything and nothing surprises Him. Still, He came looking, calling their names.
God fashioned clothing from skins so they wouldn’t leave with embarrassment. It doesn’t make sense, but mercy is irrational.
The first chapters of Genesis are a poignant period for God. “Who told you that you were naked, Adam?” He looked at the man and woman’s feeble attempt to cover themselves with leaves. If it hadn’t been so pitiful it might have been comical. “Really, Adam? Leaves?” God created the pinnacle of creation perfectly, but He did not give them the ability to make clothes for themselves. Why should He? Clothes weren’t intended. Thus, their poor ingenuity with leaves. Their first rationalization.
The Lord asked them an honest question, even though He must have known the answer, “Have you taken fruit from the tree which I commanded you not to eat?”
Honesty was gone though and God got the run-around. “The serpent deceived me, and, and...” I wonder if God was tempted to yearn for the way it once was, only yesterday?
Fourteen verses later, the text quickly, almost in passing, says, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” Instead of creating something from nothing, God obliged Himself to kill in order to create. Killing: It’s a brutal business, but God initiates the practice. It is the first act of mercy.
And this was His last act before sending His people out of the garden. It’s almost as if while they were still with Him He didn’t care about their nakedness or ridiculous clothes sewn from leaves. But in one more act of kindness and accommodation, He fashioned clothing from skins so they wouldn’t leave with embarrassment. It doesn’t make sense, but mercy is irrational.
Even though knowing how things would unravel, the Bible consistently conveys God as caring deeply.
And then came Cain.
Despite his surly attitude and disgraceful consideration of murder, God still came to him with candid counsel. “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (4:6-7).
The setting is reminiscent of a fatherly talk. Perched on a rock too big to move from the field, they conferred. God, as father and mentor, offered encouragement to His son-turned-man who was still acting adolescent. But one verse later, six pages into history, murder is committed. No responsibility is taken when God asks about Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain retorts to his Maker.
It is not simply a manner of speaking when the Bible says, “Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (4:16). He traveled to the land of Nod, east of Eden. Even though knowing how things would unravel, the Bible consistently conveys God as caring deeply. Cain separated. God watched him go. He watched Cain walk away to survive by his own devices and settle in the land of Nod—literally, “wandering”—instead of thriving in presence with God.
Cain opted for the destitution of self-reliance in lieu of his heavenly Father’s abundance. That is the epitome of blind arrogance. Sadly, in my flesh I can identify.
There is one bright spot after the Fall of mankind in the garden: Enoch. Genesis succinctly records, “And Enoch walked with God.” This is good, and God thought so too. Enoch is taken to heaven without experiencing death because he walked with God. Still, seven generations came and went before the Bible notes a man who walked with God. From His last walk with Adam and Eve in Eden, it is seven generations before a man joins God in His walking—and walking with man is apparently a primary cause for why God created humankind. Seven generations: That’s a long time to walk alone!
The contrast between Lord of lords and lover of our souls is so stark as to give us pause.
Finally, only six chapters into an epoch beginning with high hopes and extraordinary expectations, the Bible confesses, “And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (6:6). Jeepers! That’s a sad verse, isn’t it?
Could an era end more painfully than this one did? Could a father’s heart hurt more intensely than God’s must have on behalf of His creation? Could a love ever be spurned more carelessly? Could hope ever fall so far again?
This is more than a poignant look at the heart of God. It’s a saga about relationship. This thing we have in common called “Christianity” is not merely religion or philosophy. It is interaction—give and take. It is vulnerability, joy and sorrow, ecstasy, pain, and the mutual love of relationship. Sure, God is King of the Universe, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, King of kings and Lord of lords. But in our presence, He doesn’t really throw these titles around much. He prefers to go by, “Father” and “Husband” and “Brother” and “Friend.”
There is no relationship more intimate and caring than these. The contrast between Lord of lords and lover of our souls is so stark as to give us pause. With good reason. God can’t stop being who He is, but clearly He is trying to overcome the impediment He feels His divinity is to our humanity and the relationship He desires between the two.
Our Father is integrally and intimately involved with our lives on every level, from mundane to critical. He isn’t too concerned with keeping the moons and rings of Saturn in the right order, although He certainly does this. Really, He’s interested in us. It seems Saturn’s spinning circles are there as a gift to us, flung into existence from God’s creative energies that are fueled by devotion to relationship.
God needed a prop, a symbol, an example of what He is trying to convey when He tries to communicate relationship to us.
Have you ever come home and asked your wife what she had for lunch? Sure, you have. So have I. Why? Not because you cared about lunch, but because you are interested in her. You’ve also come home and told her about the computer crashing and taking your spreadsheet with it—the one you spent two days developing. Why? Because you share life together, from the mundane to the critical.
My sense from reading Scripture is that God invented spouses as a metaphor. He needed a prop, a symbol, an example of what He is trying to convey when He tries to communicate relationship to us. I think friendship and family relationships are ours for the same reason. In His endeavor to tell us what it means to Him when we walk with Him, He is continually saying, “It’s like a husband.” “It’s like a wife.” “It’s like a brother.” “It’s like a child.” “It’s like a father.”
I observed a family at the hamburger place on Sunday afternoon. Mom, and Dad, and three kids sat down to wait on their food. Dad held his phone, staring at the screen, scrolling through whatever. His wife and kids looked at him, watching him. He was oblivious to all but the blue light. Unresponsive, as though in a stupor. They couldn’t engage him and it was sad, playing out at the table next to us.
Life is about relationship. It has been from its inception in the Garden of Eden. But when relationship is interrupted, life becomes one-sided. God calls Himself friend, husband, and Father because that means relationship, and that’s what He is all about.
Have you ever gotten down on your knees and looked your boy in the eyes to see if the words, “I love you,” are making their way into his heart? or told your daughter you are proud of her as she headed off to the Christmas formal? or held hands with your wife while walking the dog along the dam at the lake? Walking with God, knowing Jesus Christ, listening to the Spirit—these concepts are no different. Life is meant to be relationship, start to finish. We were never intended to walk alone—and God doesn’t like to walk by Himself either.
Yes. God is vulnerable. He’s vulnerable to both our distance and our presence. The first leaves Him to walk by Himself, the second grants us divine connection.