Thursday, November 01, 2007

Genesis 11:10-32, Yeah More Theology… Bo-ooring

“If the Bible is indeed the literal and inerrant word of God, one might wonder why God thinks it so important that we know the names of these long-dead non-entities and their familial relationships.” Some Christians do believe the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of God. But, as Cervantes keeps showing us over and over again, if you take the Bible literally, it is easy for a person of science to make a fool of you. Believing scripture is inspired by God isn’t really the same thing as believing it to be literal and inerrant. There are lots of contradictions in the Bible, but if you look at the whole through the prism of the Gospels it’s possible to see the bigger picture, the fuller meaning. And it’s possible, even, to understand the purpose of all of these “begats,” despite the context of their original cultural and the differences with which we view women and individuals in a free and open society such as America today.

There is a small but important point to be made here: every life matters. Every life is important in the overall mosaic, in the generations of individuals, and in the fulfillment of God’s promise. All of these “begats” between the generations of Noah and Abraham that make our eyes glaze over as they are read aloud serve as a reminder that just as most of these people were ordinary folk who nevertheless advanced God’s plan, so too ordinary people today can contribute to God’s grace in the world in the midst of everyday life.

Maybe as a person of science you might think Albert Einstein was a very important individual. But what about his father? Or his mother? If his mother had never been born, then Einstein would not have existed, nor would all of his thoughts, and his contributions to the world would have been that much slower in coming, if they reached us at all.

Today is All Saints Day, and what better day to write about this—the communion of saints, the great “cloud of witnesses” whose lives challenge and inspire our own. Remembering all of those people who came before us raises the proposition that we connect with them as our companions in life and struggle. It is a multigenerational community of redeemed sinners that geographically encircles the globe. It stretches historically backward and forward through time into eternity; it crosses boundaries of language, culture, race, sex, class, sexual orientation, religion, and all other human differences.

In the Bible, the work of Wisdom is described in this way: “Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets” (Wis 7:27).

A friend of God isn’t just someone who enters into a relationship with God, but also someone who loves the world the way God does. You imagine how it should flourish, and are moved with compassion by the suffering. A prophet raises her voice in criticism of injustice and creates possibilities for resistance.

Here still, in Genesis 11:10-32 we have a completely androcentric list. Other than Eve, the women who did the work of bearing the sons and daughters of each generation go unnamed and hidden. Yet soon there will be a break in this pattern. We will learn of the daughters of Lot, of Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel. Sarah, who laughs at God. According to David Rosenberg’s translation, “Sarah’s sides split.”

Also given name are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. These women all found themselves outside the patriarchal structure and taking unconventional steps that put their lives in danger, yet advanced the generations that led to the Messiah.

So maybe my life is ordinary. Then again, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m teaching a saint. Maybe one of my own children will do something great for the world. Maybe generations from me a great leader will be born. Maybe Cervantes will think I’m finding meaning where there is none. Meh. You know, whatever. I’m okay with that. If I find meaning in Sacred Scripture for my own life, then I think I’m taking a healthy approach to reading the Bible.