A BETTER WAY (13) The Bible as Story

If I were a philosopher I would talk to you about “metanarratives,” but since I am just an old, (re)tired country preacher, I will try to give you a bit of a definition and show how this determines how we read and understand the Bible and then go on to consider the idea under a different, easier to remember name. This has direct bearing on the question we have been dealing with in these articles of a better way to read the Bible.

“A metanarrative refers in critical theory, and particularly in postmodernism, to a supposedly comprehensive explanation, a narrative about narratives of historical meaning, experience or knowledge, which offers a society legitimation through the anticipated completion of a (as yet unrealized) master idea.”

This also has great meaning in terms of our study of the Bible, particularly in terms of preaching the gospel to the postmodern world of our present time.

“…the Bible may appear to be just a collection of random stories. On a higher level, though, a unity appears. What is God trying to say through all the individual stories and events recorded?

This is where the wordmetanarrative comes into importance. At its simplest, the word means “Big Story.” The metanarrative of the Bible is its story about God and his creation.”

Whatever metanarrative one is dealing with, it relates to the formation of one’s world view, i.e., our understanding of how the world is supposed to work and, in the case of believers in God, how we as individuals and the church are to fit into and function in the world.

Worldview: is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics. It is a concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual, group or culture interprets the world and interacts with it.

In exactly the same way, our Christian metanarrative determines our worldview, how we understand our world and how we are to relate to it.

Now, lets drop this high falutin’ word, metanarrative, and just talk about the Bible as story – the story of God and his creation – the story that forms our understanding of what he really wants of us as his creatures and what he has and is doing to bring about his ultimate purpose for that creation.

How are we to “read” this story of the Bible? I believe we should look at the Bible holistically. The way most people who use the traditional method engage in Bible study is to take isolated bits and pieces from here and there and try to determine “authority” for practices already being done. This is what is known as “proof-texting.” It is an atomistic approach to the Bible which prevents us from taking into account the overall “story” of the Bible.

How can the story of the Bible be authoritative? If the Bible is one story (and it is), beginning in Genesis 1 and going all the way through Revelation 22, the obvious place to begin is, as with any story, at the beginning. [Someone has observed that the Bible begins with God (Genesis 1:1) and ends with grace (Revelation 22:21)]. If we miss what really is going on in Genesis 1 we will not fully understand what the rest of the story is about nor where we fit into that story. Worst of all we will fail to see the grand theme of the grace of God that is evident throughout the Bible.

But how much time have we ever really spent in Genesis 1? We read the account and then, as in so many instances focus in on the length of the days during which God completed creation. When we do this we miss so much that is foundational to an understanding of our own nature with which God created us and also the role we always were, and yet are, intended to play in the creation.

God as the creator is established in verse one. The Holy Spirit bringing order out of chaos is seen in verse two. Then on the 6 successive days during which higher and higher forms of creation are brought into being until on the 6th day man is created “in the image of God” and given “dominion” over all creation. Finally, God rests on the 7th day. What does this all mean? Where is it all leading?

For starters, think about man being made in the image of God. The Wikipedia definition says this doctrine, “asserts that human beings are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function.” This is a very limited, inadequate answer. Let’s look at it in terms of the perfect image. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says of Christ; “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). This, I believe, comes closer to getting the idea across of what we are supposed to be – what God made us to be. Because of sin we do not come close to that kind of representation of the nature and glory of God, and even if we were sinless, would not be the image bearer in the way Jesus is because we can’t give ourselves as a sacrifice for sin as he did. In doing that he portrayed the character of God to the fullest extent. But just as he is the “radiance” of his glory, we also are made to reflect that glory into the world and can do so by God’s help.

Now that sin has come into the world, it still is God’s purpose to bring us to the perfection of his image in us. Romans 8:29 shows this…

 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

When the record says of the creation of humans being…

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them
.” Genesis 1:27

…it is evident that only as male and female can we bear the image of God. I was not just for companionship Eve was created for Adam. She was the completion of creation. Only together in their complementary oneness could they express something of the nature and character of God as God intends for us.

As to God’s instructions to that first pair …

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28).

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15

… this was the work God gave them to do. God gave mankind to be co-rulers with him over his creation. In the work of tending creation and procreation man enters into the business of extending and perfecting God’s creation. We become partners with him in the fulfillment and perfecting of his grand design for creation. In doing this, man serves the creation, including, especially, other human beings.

We see an illustration of how man began to fulfill this directive from God in Genesis 2:18-20 when Adam was allowed to name the creatures of the earth. In the act of naming something we establish ourselves as the master over that thing. When a child gets a new pet, the first thing they do is name it. Then as that pet’s master, they have the responsibility of feeding it, grooming and cleaning it, cleaning up after it and seeing to its comfort and well being.

We are supposed to bow down to rule. To humble ourselves to serve. It is the same as when Jesus modeled the nature of his rule over God’s kingdom in John 13:1-11 when he washed his disciple’s feet. This is the directive we still are under. This is how we are to spend our lives. This is what God designed for us to bring us the greatest happiness and fulfillment. And it is in this work which was designed for us and us for – the work in which we we give God the highest praise – our worship involving the giving of ourselves wholly to the fulfillment of his purpose for us and for all his creation (Romans 12:1-2). We will have more to say about worship in a later post).

As to the 7 days of creation/rest in Genesis 1-2:1-3, these days fit into a pattern not evident in English translations of the Bible. Ancient people were “into” numerology. The number 7 was regarded by ancient peoples as a perfect number. There is a pattern of 7’s not evident in the English translations as it is in the Hebrew in this first chapter of Genesis. (We can’t go into all the details here, but there is good material available in the internet that illustrates this). For example, it was not just a pattern of six days of labor and one of rest that determined the Sabbath for the Israelites. There are the Sabbath years each seventh year and the great Sabbath – the year of Jubilee that also fits into this pattern of sevens. We are dealing with a concept of wholeness, completeness or perfection suggestive of a temple. The idea of God’s temple where he will live with his people is seen in different places in the Bible. That is, in fact, just what God’s creation was intended to be – the temple of God in which he would dwell forever with man.

In a passage contemplating the return of his people, the Jews, to their rightful place, the land he had given them, God promises…

 “I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28).

This is echoed in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, a section of scripture which is entitled in the English Standard version “The Temple of the Living God.” God promises to dwell among his people, walk with them, be their God and they his people – God dwelling with his people in a relationship like that he always has intended with man from the beginning.

In John’s vision of the new heavens and the new earth he says ….

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4).

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22-23).

The first creation was God’s temple in which he dwelt with man in perfect harmony and peace. That creation anticipates the new creation in which God will again dwell with his people in perfect harmony and peace. Genesis 1-2:1-3 sets the pattern for how man is supposed to live with God both in time and in eternity.

Everything must fit into the plot of the story. More tomorrow …

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