The stories of Genesis are some of the most familiar in the Bible. Not just because that’s the part people read over and over again when they keep restarting Bible reading plans, before stopping (again) roundabout Numbers. Things get busy in late January, amiright!?
Well, we’re starting in July, and that gets the major holiday out of the way in the first week while we still have momentum. So, get ready to keep going into and through Genesis. Indeed, it’ll only take us a couple of weeks. We’re taking a year to get through the Bible, and going fast the whole time!
The challenge of reading Genesis is thus different than reading the other—less familiar—parts of the Bible. The parts we don’t know (hello Habbakuk!) we read with fresh eyes because they’re brand new. The parts we’re familiar with, we read in light of how we’ve been taught, or the stories we’ve been told, or in light of the issues we’ve been conditioned to think about.
Take the first chapters of Genesis, for instance. A huge amount of cultural battles have taken place, and still take place, about these chapters. We get drawn into this because it’s easy to think that this is what we should be concerned about. Even though those battles may not be what God is concerned about. That raises a question: What is God concerned about?
As we begin reading through the Bible this week, let me encourage you to forget all the controversies and all the divisions that distract our reading. Try, as much as you can, to read the Bible with fresh eyes and let it shape your priorities along the way.
Some questions to think about: Who is God? Is God a kind of trickster, putting stumbling blocks and confusing the masses? Or is God straightforward and says what he means and means what he says.
Maybe the beginning of Genesis isn’t about the scientific issues of our era, and it’s more about human nature and conflicts. It doesn’t take much interaction in this world to realize things are broken, and when we think things are getting better, someone goes and screws it up. And sometimes that someone is us. Why? Is the world a nasty, horrible place that destines us to disaster? Or is there something else that happened, something that went wrong, something that’s now shaped who we are and how we respond in this world?
Death happens. Who will save us from this body of death? What have we done wrong? What do we still do wrong? Is there a way of hope for any of us?
After reading the passages this week, share what you think the Bible itself is emphasizing. What were the problems and challenges of these passages? What was the “plot”? In other words, why do you think the writer of Genesis made sure to tell us about these events?
What questions does Genesis 1-19 ask of you this week?
I have my answers to these questions, but I encourage you to think about this on your own as you read and share what comes to mind. More often than not, when we read the actual Bible we come away with different thoughts than what we’ve been told about the Bible by others. Maybe this will happen with you!
That said, I do have some initial thoughts to help your reading, to give you some things to look for (but please don’t feel limited by these). First, think of these chapters as an introduction. Yes, to the Bible. But also an introduction to God and an introduction to us as people. What does God value? What is God like? What are people like? How do you see these characteristics take shape in your life?
Second, notice the work of the Spirit in these chapters. Depending on the translation, the Spirit shows up as early as Genesis 1:2. But the Spirit also shows up in other passages. We encounter God, but God is not a simple being. What is the Spirit doing in these chapters? This is important as we consider our New Testament passage this week. How does Scripture talk about God? How does God relate to people?
Third, begin noticing how Scripture is leading us through a unified history of God’s work. This week, the story goes from creation—big picture!—to God’s interaction with specific people in different ways. And before we’re done with the readings this week, we begin the storyline that carries us to the end of the Bible: God’s calling of Abraham and God’s promise to Abraham. Paul’s still talking about this in his letters. And notice who shows up in the first verse of Matthew 1!
These were some thoughts to get you started. Feel free to use reflect on these in your readings or to highlight other issues or questions. Share what stands out as you read Genesis 1-19.
Previous for this week: An opening prayer and reading through the Psalms.
Next for this week: Reading through Matthew 1-3.