Thursday, September 24, 2015

40 Old Testament Stories: Cain and Abel

This story is about the first time that crime enters the world.  Cain and Abel are names that we know, they are brothers, Abel is a shepherd and Cain is a farmer.

Both offer sacrifices to God.  Abel's is accepted, but Cain's is not.  We aren't told specifically why, just that Cain became angry and God asks him why he is angry and says, "...If you do the right thing, won't you be accepted? But if you don't do the right thing sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike!  It will entice you, but you must rule over it."  It's not really clear from this response if Cain has already done something wrong, of if God knows what is about to happen or both.

So Cain takes his brother out for a walk and kills him.  Then God asks him where Abel is and Cain says the best known line from this story, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

God sends him away and turns him into a nomad, but yields to Cain's pleas and places a mark on his forehead so that anyone encountering him won't kill him. (Which, of course begs the question, if Cain & Abel are the only children of Adam and Eve, who is it that is going to kill him?)

Cain goes on and settles in the land of Nod.

The point of the story, I think, is that we humans get jealous of each other and lash out at each other because of it.  That jealousy is the root of much of the sin and violence in the world and perhaps we need to work on that in ourselves.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

40 Bible Stories Every Christian Should Know: The Fall

This is another one of those stories that you have heard enough that you think you know it.  You may not know it as well as you think you do.

Most of us know about the snake and the apple and the fig leaf.  Some of us know about the angel with the burning sword and God walking in the cool of the day.  Most of us don't remember that the clothes that God gave Adam and Eve were leather - which raises all kinds of questions.

In brief, God has placed Adam and Eve in the garden.  They have been given all the trees except one. The tree that they are not supposed to touch is called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Now, you have to think that staying away from something called "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" would be a good idea without the commandment from God, but there we are.

There are a few things about this story that make me either smile or think.

The first is that the incarnation of evil is a snake.  I can think of no better animal to be the personification of evil then a snake.

I love that God takes a walk in the garden in the cool of the day, it feels like God was just out for his evening constitutional.

But my favorite part of the whole thing is the conversation between Adam, Eve and God.  God wants to know what happens and Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake.  It's like listening to five year olds say "not me".

The reason that this story is one of the ones we should know, is that for most of Christian history this is the story that was told about how sin entered the world.  It was cited as the reason that women have pain in childbirth (and thus why pain killers shouldn't be used).  It was cited as the cause for many other things that today we find to be ridiculous or wrong.

So the question for us about this story is:  What doe it teach us about evil, the nature of evil and our part in evil?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

40 Old Testament Stories every Christian should know

Last June we finished a two year cycle of reading through the whole Bible.

I thought we would try something different for our independent Bible reading this year.

So I went through the Old Testament and wrote down the stories that a lot of our theology and history depends on.  It turns out there are 40 of them.

So I have assigned them in order, one each week for the next 40 weeks. Some of them are short, some are long, but if you read one story a week, by June 19 you will have a basic understanding of the major stories of the Old Testament.

I'll be posting some thoughts about each week's story on Thursdays.

The first story, you'll not be surprised to know, is the story of Creation.  Actually it is the two stories of creation.

There are two slightly different versions of the story (or maybe just a retelling of the story with a different focus).

Most Christians are basically aware of the Creation story.  "In the beginning, when God was creating the heavens and the earth ..." Everything was created in six days and on the seventh day God rested.

I want to point out three things about the story that you may have skimmed over (or forgotten)
1. Everything God created was good.  Every day of creation ends with "and God saw that it was good."  Creation (including us) are good at its beginning.  God saw that creation was good.
2. We are made in the image of God - to quote from the NRSV - "And God made humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male & female he created them."  This is a pretty good translation from the Hebrew. We are made in the image of God - male & female, black & white, all of us, are made in the image and likeness of God.
3. God says a strange thing in talking about humanity, again from the NRSV - "and God said, "let us make humankind in our image."  Did you catch that - God is talking to God and talks about himself in the plural.  Our image - not my image, that is a good translation from the Hebrew too - so, what do you think that says about God?