Saturday, May 14, 2011

Genesis 31-40

In her book Brokenness and Blessing: Towards a Biblical Spirituality, Frances Young does a lot of good work on the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel- or perhaps even God himself. Unfortunately I don’t have the book right now (it’s sitting in a box in storage at school), otherwise I would quote it because I really don’t think I will be able to do it justice. However, she argues that the condition of Jacob is similar to the human condition in general: somehow, we come away from an encounter with faith both blessed and limping. We each have a struggle with God and we come away marked, in both good and bad ways. Although Jacob is given a anew name, he also has to be reminded of his struggle for the rest of his life as he limps along. This is similar to how God gives us a new identity as children of God but yet leaves us struggling with burdens and our own faith. I thought this was really profound, and I encourage everyone to read the book.

There is a theme running through the OT of renaming. Those people who are chosen by God are given new names to reflect their blessedness, and they have a new identity that has everything to do with how God has used their life. In mainline Protestantism, I don’t see this theme being reflected. We all have one name that we are born with, and few WASPs change their first names later in life. However, the Catholic church gives names to babies as it christens them- I think this is heading in the right direction although I do not entirely agree with the practice because it is done before the person has any chance to accept Jesus and receive that state of blessedness. How can we incorporate this idea of being blessed with a new identity into our lives as Christians? I think it could be very scary to be given a new name, because that would mean leaving quite a large part of your old life behind. With the acceptance of a new name, you are essentially shedding your old life and changing everything. This seems to be especially true in the Hebrew Bible, given the emphasis on the power of names in the ancient Israelite culture. Is it possible that one of the reasons that God does not give a “name” as we think of it when Moses asks is because then we would have a fixed perception of God? It would be more easy to put God in a box because God would not be boundless but contained within a name…. maybe.

There  are a lot of puzzling stories in these ten chapters, and the story of Tamar in particular has always confused me. A lot of it has to do with the rituals of the ancient Israelites, which I am ill equipped to understand. However, the thing that always confused me the most was the blasé treatment of the deaths of both Er and Onan. Gen 38:7:
“But Er was a wicked man, and so the Lord killed him.”
 Similarly, Onan is struck dead by God (ostensibly) later in the chapter. I don’t have any answers to what is happening in these passages, but it definitely troubles me. How can we reconcile a God who strikes people dead for sinning with a God who says that all humans are loved by God? The other thing about the story of Tamar is that it is the first and one of the only times in the Bible that we see a woman who is in charge of her own fate. Although she is passed around the clan of Judah, she also come up with a way to get what she wants even though it is deceitful and a little… strange. The other other thing about the story of Tamar is that it comes in the middle of the story of Joseph. I don’t know why, but it always cracks me up that the book of Genesis takes a rabbit trail for a chapter and then returns to the Amazing Joseph. “Meanwhile, back on the ranch…”

…..The story of Joseph always makes me want to start singing songs from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Is that bad?

No comments:

Post a Comment