Musings on the collision between the Bible and life
Note to readers: Today a new column debuts on this page, and it will run when its author, Pastor Elise Pokel of Crookston – hence, the P.E.P. Talk title, as in Pastor Elise Pokel – feels particularly compelled or otherwise inpsired to delve into a topic or speak out about a particular subject that’s particularly relevant at this point in time.
Rachel Held Evans begins the first chapter of her new book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, with the line, “Our Bible was forged from a crisis of faith.” Striking words!
In the year 587 BCE, everything the ancient Israelites knew changed overnight when King Nebuchadnezzar (or Nebby as I lovingly refer to him) of the kingdom of Babylon destroyed everything. Many were deported, the Temple – the throne and home of their God – destroyed, their land taken. What would they do now? Who were they now without power? Much of the Bible’s material – psalms, stories, prophecies, and narratives – are forged from this crisis known as the Babylonian Exile. The creation stories, found in the first two chapters of the first book of the Bible in Genesis, are an important example of this.
Too often, congregation members of all ages are concerned about what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to these important origin stories for our faith. Can we be believers in God and give a little side-eye to the parts about talking serpents and enchanted trees? Can we read about evolution and other scientific wonders and still get caught up in the love and majesty of God?
I believe we can. In the ancient world, folks asked a lot of the same heart questions. Why do terrible things happen to people struggling to be good? Will evil and death always win? Is God with me and for me? In the ancient, Middle-Eastern world, thousands of years ago, the Jewish people recalled their creation story at a time where it didn’t seem like God really cared for them. They were stuck in a distant land. They did something important; they told a lot of stories to remind them of their past and of their rich treasury of laws and values. This is what people do.
There were other creation stories around. The Babylonians had one, too. It had a real “yikes” factor which I adore and am also horrified by. It went something like this:
In the beginning, there were two wild gods: Tiamat, goddess of saltwater and Apsu, god of freshwater. From their union came all kinds of creatures and gods. There was a lot of chaos. Apsu was having a hard time sleeping, so a battle ensued. Apsu was killed by Ea, father of the god Marduk. Tiamat was so mad that she went against Marduk, followed by an exciting array of demons and monsters, natural disasters and big dogs. Marduk fought his great-great grandmother, Tiamat. He shot an arrow into her heart and chopped her in half. He flung part of her up into the air to serve as the heavens to hold back water and then he flung the other half to serve as the ground. Out of her hollowed-out eyes flowed the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. Marduk put everything in order, created humans from the blood of his enemies to be his slaves, and hung out in his new temple to rule and rest. The End.
Isn’t that a wonderful story? Don’t you feel uplifted and valued?
The Jewish people had an incredible creation story (as recorded in Genesis) because there was no battle, no blood, no violence. Their God simply spoke and hoped, and things happened. God breathed and there was beauty. God created humankind to be God’s little kings and queens, ambassadors to their Creator. He made humankind for joy and relationship, learning and love. We have the freedom to be people who care, people who reach out in tenderness and compassion – even when it’s hard and we’d rather be right. God made us to be stewards of everything in creation, especially one another. We don’t have to be slaves to small ideas and narrow-mindedness. God made us to be expansive creatures. God made us just to delight in us.
So, when we read the creation stories found in the Bible, I hope you will feel free to play and wonder. The creation stories tell us important things about God. They don’t try to answer 21st century, scientific questions because they were recorded by ancient people with ancient problems.
Don’t let that make you think these stories aren’t important. They communicate important characteristics about God. God is playful. God is creative. God is loving. God provides. God delights. God speaks and laughs and beauty appears. The world can tempt us into thinking that there’s only darkness and strife. Our stories remind us that there’s light in the darkness that will never go out. Our stories remind us that God’s with us wherever we may find ourselves; home or away.
First Presbyterian Church and Trinity Lutheran Church Pastor Elise Pokel (or P.E.P. for short) loves studying the Bible, with all of its mystery and history. She also loves pop culture, from prestigious dramas to lowbrow comedies. In this column, she officiates the marriage of these two passions.