Some people are continually “studying” the Bible, but, like the foolish women of whom Paul wrote who were deceived by the false teachers, are always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7). They “learn” but never seem to progress beyond the point they were years ago. In a state of arrested development they are critical of anyone who learns and then changes their views and their practice as a result of that learning. They are uncomfortable with even the prospect of change, not being able to conceive of it being desirable or essential.
As living beings we are expected to grow. Every living thing grows, changes and matures. Each stage of development sees the strength and ability of that organism increasing and improving. That same thing ought to characterize individual Christians and the whole church. It is a serious, if not fatal mistake, to think there must not be change in understanding resulting in changes and improvements in practice. If such changes do not occur, the only thing that has resulted from all the study we do is that we confirm ourselves in our ignorance.
That is particularly true with regard to the Old Testament. Among many people of my religious heritage (churches of Christ) there is an alarming but characteristic disregard for this major portion of God’s revelation to us. Without an understanding of the beginning of God’s creation and our intended place in it we cannot understand His intended objective for His creation now and the role we are intended to play in it. We are like people lost at sea without a compass – without any idea of the destination to which we were supposed to be traveling. Using the New Testament only, and because we do not know the Old Testament background, we get a glimpse of something wonderful ahead, but really don’t understand what that is all about and what we are supposed to do until we reach that vaguely conceived destination.
Actually there is a very vivid depiction given of both the original creation and of man’s place in it. Genesis one and two give such a description. Man was placed in creation to occupy and care for it along with the Creator. He was given every blessing necessary to life, happiness and the fulfillment of his intended purpose. In fact, it was to have been by their compliance with God’s purpose that their personal fulfillment and happiness would come. As long as they continued in that role into which God had put them they would continue to have an intimate relationship with his Creator. That is what life was intended to be about – the doing of God’s will and enjoying fellowship with Him.
But sin entered the picture. Through the deception of the serpent, Eve was persuaded that she could not have fulfillment in life as a result of respecting God’s commands. She became convinced that God was not altogether good and that He was denying them something that would make them whole apart from Him. There was a wisdom – a knowing (Gr. gnosis) – that could be obtained by not respecting God’s commands. Humanity is still plagued with that same kind of gnosis, the claim of knowing what life is about but without God or His way.
Our earliest forebears CHOSE to live life apart from God. This may not have been their intention, but it was the result of the choice they made. Once made and the separation effected they could not undo the situation. Any time we choose what passes for insight into what life is about and how to live our lives that does not come from God we separate ourselves from God. When this happened as recorded in Genesis three we see a pattern of behavior characteristic of man without the restraint of relationship with God.
The fall of man away from his ideal relationship with God did not cancel his responsibility for caring for the creation. The fall did obscure his view of that mandate and magnified the difficulty of executing that same responsibility. Characteristic of human thinking in his fallen state – thinking of himself instead of God, he began to view the natural creation as his gold mine, or as the thinking of today is, his oil well to be taken and used up for his own profit and pleasure.
Without God, life is incomplete. Because God cannot abide with sin, He no longer could dwell with man. Without God, creation is incomplete. It is, in fact, worse than incomplete. As Paul put it, “…the creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). Separate from God man can see no point to creation and creation suffers the consequences. Man became the focus. Creation became something to be used to obtain our happiness – which translates into the exploitation of the earth and the people in it. Creation is not the responsibility of man to rule over and care for. It is good for nothing except for it’s utility.
We see exactly that pattern developing following the fall of man. From the fourth chapter of Genesis through the eleventh there is the story of man plunging into irreverence toward God accompanied by violence and exploitation of both man and the earth. Man without God built cities (Cain) and empires (Nimrod) through the enslavement and robbing of others. Life was for pleasure and pleasure was to be had by whatever means it could be obtained. Even after the destruction of the earth by the flood in Noah’s day, there was a repetition of the same kinds of sin.
That is, until God chose one man with which to make a fresh start. Abram, later known as Abraham, was to found a nation of people, built, not upon the exploitative use of people, but on the basis of faith in God. This was a radical idea in that day. We do not see Abraham nor his descendants building cities. They were nomadic herdsmen, keeping sheep and cattle. They were free to move at God’s command. They were free to fulfill God’s mandate for humanity. They were looking for a city, a country, a homeland, but one of God’s making (Hebrews 11:13-16).
While Abraham and his descendants were following God’s mandate of caring for the earth and for their fellow man, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah provide a stark contrast. Obviously seeking perverted pleasure, they went far beyond the one thing we most often remember them for. God’s indictment of them stated that they “…had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me,” (Exekiel 16:49-50), and were destroyed By God for these sins. They had failed to keep God’s mandate to care for the earth and for one another.
Abraham became the prototype of a new and different kind of people. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). Abraham’s descendants through Isaac were the people of promise. They were be be a blessing to others around them. One descendant was to become the One through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed, the one who would be known as the Messiah, the ruler whom God would put on the throne to reign over the entire creation – indeed, over both heaven and earth.
Those people became victims to the abusive, oppressive empires of men. The descendants of Abraham went into Egypt, blessed it with protection and prosperity and were repaid with enslavement. Eventually delivered from bondage and brought into the land “flowing with milk and honey,” (Exodus 3:8) they were given a place with cities they did not build and land they had not cleared and tilled. This was another new beginning in a kind of Eden. They were placed there by God to tend and keep this land. It was God’s land and He dwelt among them, first in the tabernacle and later in the temple. They were to be His special representatives to the world.
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.