The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 17

16 09 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 17.

And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”
– Genesis 17: 20-21

So there’s part of the answer to my earlier musings, although it raises a few more questions, as well. God did intend to bless Ishmael, after all! But  … Ishmael’s descendants will apparently not be part of THE covenant (although Ishmael does have to be circumcised, as a sign of the covenant–seems  like he’s getting the bad end of the deal!). And somehow, Ishmael’s descendants will indeed be blessed through THE COVENANT(because all nations will be blessed through Abraham).

So what exactly is the purpose of this covenant, if you can be blessed without being a direct recipient?

Here’s my take on it: God is setting apart a certain group of people who will be consecrated through him. Through outward signs (circumcision) and inward signs (the legacy of Abrahamic faith), they are to demonstrate in all that they do, that they are God’s people. He’s setting up the system through which He will eventually give the Law, and the Prophets, and the Messiah. The covenant is not just a blessing; with it comes great responsibility.

And this will continue to happen throughout Genesis: a younger son receives the inheritance and finds favor with God. The older brother doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong–he just is not chosen to carry on the covenant.

(Think about spiritual gifts. Just because someone is given the gift of preaching, for instance, does not mean that he is “better” than someone with another gift. But because of his gift, he might be called into ministry as a full-time career—and this calling will ultimately help to sustain God’s church)

I have to constantly keep reminding myself that this covenant, at least, is not necessarily equated with salvation. God is not cutting off Ishmael’s descendants from ever being able to know Him; if sola fide applies, then the descendants of both Isaac and Ishmael will ultimately be saved by faith and not by whether or not they are part of the covenant.

Does that make any sense at all? What’s your take on it?

(originally posted 12/23/08 at

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 15-16

25 08 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 15-16.

God cares about Hagar…right?

I wrestled with this question while reading today’s passage.  Here’s why:

– God (or more accurately, the angel of the LORD) talked to Hagar, even though women didn’t have equal status in those days.
– God found Hagar when she was wandering and lost in the desert.
– God called Hagar by name at a time when Sarai merely referred to her as “my servant.”
– God listened to Hagar when she was being mistreated.
– God blessed Hagar, using words reminiscent of his promise to Abram: “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” (v.10)

So far, so good. Right?

But then, he goes on to say this of Hagar’s son:
“He will be a wild donkey of a man
His hand will be against everyone
And everyone’s hand against him,
And he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

What kind of blessing is this, exactly? Or is it even a blessing at all? A half-blessing, perhaps? A curse? A prophecy?

Is God trying to get back at Sarai and Abram for their lack of faith? If so, why punish Hagar? If God really is going to use Abram to bless all the nations, wouldn’t it seem logical to start with Hagar the Egyptian?

Interestingly, though, Hagar doesn’t protest or even plead with God. She doesn’t seem to care if God has blessed her or cursed her. She merely proclaims that God is the Living One who has seen her.

The Bible doesn’t make note of any inflections in Hagar’s voice as she names God. I picture her saying “the God who sees me,” with breathless awe, as though she has been unspeakably moved by this encounter. But I suppose it’s equally possible that she said those words with dejected resignation–as if to say, “God sees me & I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.”

God sees the good, the bad, the past, the present, the future. Before him, no things are hidden. In our relationship with him, we can be vulnerable, we can be raw, we can be real.

Hagar obeyed God, returning home to her cruel mistress. Here again, we see that worshipping God is intrinsically tied up in faith and obedience. She believed that the Lord was “The God Who Sees Me,” and she obeyed the one command he gave her.

She knew what lay ahead for her family: mistreatement, misery, hostility. But the even greater truth was that God had seen her, and would continue to see her. He had called her by name and responded to her. He had even named the unborn child in her womb!

As much as I would like to become indignant at God for Hagar’s sake, I must remember that she saw the very presence of God and accepted what He had given her. Somehow, I must do the same.

(originally posted 12/22/09 at

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 13-14

21 08 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 13 and 14.

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.
– Genesis 13:3-4

So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.
– Genesis 13:18

What is it with this guy?? Everywhere he goes, he stops and builds an altar to the Lord–and he doesn’t just leave them there, he comes back and revisits them. So, presumably, you could follow in his footsteps through this trail of altars. Which leads me to wonder: what kind of trail are we leaving? Bread crumbs? Footprints? Or … altars? Is worship our first impulse at every step of our spiritual journey?

Enough with the rhetorical questions. What really interests me about this passage is what Abram does once he gets to the altar: he “calls upon the name of the Lord.” He did it in the last chapter, too. (In fact, we are told in Genesis 4, that Adam’s children’s generation was the first to do so!) We’re back to this whole concept of names–only this time, it’s God’s name that is in question.

And, according to the scholarly view, Abram doesn’t even know God’s name (YHWH) yet! That doesn’t happen until chapter 15!

Over the past few years, I’ve wrestled a lot with the idea of a chosen people. It just doesn’t seem fair. If God originally intended to extend salvation to everyone (as we believe happened with Christianity), why didn’t he just do it to begin with? And why does Jesus say that salvation comes from the Jews? Why would Jesus endorse Jewish legalism, when it seems to be contrary to everything else he says?

But Abram is praised for his faith. His salvation does not come from his obedience–not really. He obeys because he is faithful. He brings salvation to his nation through his own faith. And the generations that follow are given a legal code which sets them apart. They obey the laws, and they go through the motions of worship, because they believe in this strange, omnipotent God.  The idea of “salvation by faith” is at the core of Judaism, too, it appears. It is a supreme leap of faith to allow yourself to be set apart as a nation.

I also have, at times, found myself questioning the fairness of Jesus’ coming so late in the Bible. What about all the faithful people in the Old Testament who came before Jesus? Were they “saved”?  I don’t have the answer, nor will I ever claim to, but I offer up this verse as food for thought:

“Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
– Joel 2:32a

(originally posted 9/1/08 at

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 12

14 08 2009

Click here to read the text of Genesis 12.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going
-Hebrews 11:8

Every time I read this book, I am overwhelmed by what a wonderful story it is. Quite apart from its truth or falsehood, it’s just such a compelling narrative. What great characters; what a great plot! And the plot always thickens…

Because it’s not enough to just be a nation of people. Up until this point, it has been possible to become the patriarch of a nation simply by having lots of kids. Nations are families: human families.

But God is setting up something different. Abram has to leave his people, his family. He is to become the patriarch of a consecrated (set apart….chosen!) nation, and he must first separate himself physically from the others.

When God first calls Abram, he says “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (verse 1). At this point in the story, the land hasn’t yet been “Promised.” It’s just on display for Abram to see.

What the view might have looked like

What the view might have looked like

Can you imagine? Essentially, God is saying, “Come here, Abram. I have something to show you–you’ve just got to see this!”

And just like some modern tourist in the Big Apple, Abram comes to see the sites. But he’s letting God guide his itinerary. When he gets there, he immediately builds an altar to his Guide, even though he isn’t even quite sure where he is and what he’s doing there.

And maybe that’s the important part of this faith thing. To be ok with uncertainty. To trust God enough to drop everything and follow him to the ends of the earth, not for what you can get out of he deal, but because that’s what God asks of you. And because you just want to see all that God has to show you.

(originally posted 6/19/08 at

The Lunatic Gospel: Ch. 10-11

10 08 2009

Click here to read the full text of Gen. 10-11.

Chapter 10 is called the Table of Nations. It’s easy to think that this genealogy was written out to explain where each of the nations came from. (ie. “There’s that city named Tarshish. I wonder why it’s called Tarshish. I bet there was somebody named Tarshish once upon a time. Oh, look, there’s an empty space in Japeth’s family tree–let’s put him there). After all, this chapter does seem to tie together conveniently into one lineage a whole lot of the places that will come up later: Magog, Cush, Canaan, Sheba, Sidon, etc.  This–the etiological explanation — is the view that many scholars take.

But is it really so implausible to think that the nations & their citizens really were based on real people? After all, over 500 years ago a man by the name of Amerigo Vespucci was born in a little town in Italy. And his name later became the major place-name of an entire hemisphere. I derive part of my identity–as an American–from him. I imagine that this genealogy provided the Israelites with a tangible way to understand their identity as the descendants of Noah–and as the people of God!

**bonus trivia: Shem, the ancestor of Abram & the Jews, is the root of the words Semite & Semitic**

All of the nations are connected to that same ancestor: Noah. And feasibly, they could have all remained as part of this one people-group, connected by familial ties and a common worship. But then, they build–and are destroyed by– the Tower of Babel.  And all of the people have to divide themselves up into smaller groups, distinguishing themselves and their own unique culture.

In this world of increasing separation, it’s no longer self-evident that everyone will continue to worship the same God. Only one of the nations will keep YHWH-worship as its distinguishing feature. And that one nation also had to start from somewhere, too. And so, it all “started” with Abram (who came from Terah, who came from Nahor, who came from Serug…..)

(Originally posted 6/14/08 at

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 5

22 07 2009

Click here to read Genesis 5.

This is the boring stuff of the Bible: lists, ages, chronologies, genealogy. Details, details, details.  Begat upon begat.

Maybe I’m weird, but I like this stuff. In fact, I’m devoting a whole (albeit short) entry to this one chapter. One fascinating thing that I learned in Hebrew Bible class is that Genesis 5 is thought to be a “doublet” (or, repeat) of the previous chapter’s genealogy.

Genesis 4 lists: (Adam), Cain, EnochIradMehujaelMethusaelLamech
Genesis 5 lists: Adam, Seth, Enosh, KenanMahalalelJaredEnochMethuselahLamech

So the question remains: why was this stuff important enough to write down? And, why was important enough to write down twice?

I think one answer lies in the first two verses of the chapter, which recap the creation story. But here, instead of drawing out an epic picture of the deity’s triumph over primordial chaos, the biblical authors pare it down to three essential elements: the creation of mankind (in God’s image), the blessing of mankind, the naming of mankind.

“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.'”

The naming of mankind. Over and over again, we will see how important names are to God and to his people. Everyone in this lineage was created, blessed, and called by name.

This isn’t filler material. It’s not just a nice little transition between stories. We can’t skip over it impatiently and say, “Adam….blah blah blah blah blah…Noah.” It’s important for us to know these names. To know that each of these people had a role in this story that God prepared for us. And most of all, to connect to a heritage that shows us that we, too, have been created, blessed, and called by name.

(originally posted 6/7/08 at

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 3 & 4

19 07 2009

Click here to read Genesis 3 & 4.

The Fall of Man, by Titian

The Fall of Man, by Titian

In church yesterday we talked about the interconnectedness of worship and obedience. It is possible to have one without the other, but in order to truly glorify God and achieve our purpose, we must do both: simultaneously and continuously.

The Israelites knew a lot about worship and obedience. They had entire books of legal codes, both civil and religious. There was a law to cover every situation, and corollaries that explained what to do if the law was disobeyed. Even worship was regulated by strict protocol–there were definite “dos” and “don’ts” about how to approach God with your sacrifices.

By such standards, the first humans had it easy. They only had one direct commandment from God, and everything else was fair game. Adam and Eve had come face-to-face with their Creator, and the natural response would be to respect his only wish and provide an example of obedient worship for generations to come. Right?

Wrong. They failed. Miserably, and with such notoriety that this chapter has become known as the Fall of Man. And it only gets worse from there.

a more modern representation of the Biblical story, from

a more modern representation of the Biblical story, from

We’re never told exactly what was wrong with Cain’s sacrifice. Maybe he didn’t give God the best of what he had to offer, maybe he offered it up grudgingly, or maybe his offering just wasn’t holy. In any case, God reasons with him and offers him the chance to try again.

But here’s the problem. At the heart of it all, Cain is not willing to worship God rightly. He’d rather bring an unworthy sacrifice, and he’d even rather murder his own brother, than worship God rightly.

Rob Bell wrote in Velvet Elvis that the real question about the Fall of Man is not whether or not the story happened, but whether and how it is happening today. Over and over again, we fail to obey, and thus we choose not to worship God. Just when we think we can’t go any lower, we fall again. And each time, it is as much a tragedy as it was back then.

(originally posted 5/26/08 at

The Lunatic Gospel Genesis 1-2

18 07 2009

The Creation of Adam, fresco by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam, fresco by Michelangelo

“In the beginning, God…”

Those four words are completely beyond my comprehension. They may sound simple enough, but in reality, they represent the first of many efforts to reduce God to human words. We know nothing of this “beginning” in which God existed, because everything we know, including time itself, is a part of God’s own creation.

These two stories set up a certain relationship between God and humanity. The two accounts differ in their details (to the point of contradiction, even!), but I sense this deep yearning of both authors to understand our own origins. And if we don’t understand our position before God, then nothing else will ever make sense. These chapters are thus a fitting way to begin this book, this relationship, and this journey of discovery.

Here’s what these chapters tell us:
He is the Creator, we are creation. He is the original image, of which we are merely the likeness. He has given us life and breath, but also some commandments and responsibilities. And this is good; these parameters help us to make sense of the world and provide us with our literal, God-given purpose. We have a duty both to rule over and tend to the rest of creation.

He wants us to be happy. He intends for us to be in fellowship — for it is through this fellowship that we see other images of God. And most of all — we are blessed! We have been blessed since the beginning of creation. With his voice God blessed the first two people and sent them out into the world that he had made for them.

And we are still here, out in the world that he has made for us. And we are blessed.

(originally posted at

Lunatic Gospel, part 1

17 07 2009

About a year ago, I started a blog to track my journey of reading through the entire Bible, all the way from Genesis to Revelation.  The project was called “The Lunatic Gospel” (explanation below).  My intentions started out great: I read, I questioned, I blogged … for about two or three days in a row.  Then there were gaps: first a few days, then a few weeks; then, months went by without a new post.  It wasn’t that I never picked up my Bible, but blogging about it took more energy than I usually had to spare by the end of the day.

I’m discontinuing the old blog, but not the intent of the project; instead, I’ll continue my quest through the Bible in this forum every week or so: kind of like a disjointed mini-series.   The Lunatic Gospel posts will simply be mixed in among the other writing, music, and art that this site has to offer.

But wait! What exactly is the Lunatic Gospel?

Oh yeah, good question!  Here is my introduction to the concept, originally posted at

C. S. Lewis wrote: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”

Or, as my friend Arden put it: “Have you ever read the gospel of Mark? Like, really read it? It makes Jesus sounds like a crazy person!”

Is it blasphemy to call Jesus crazy? Is it libel? Slander? Useless psychobabble?

Or is it something else entirely: something new, something fresh, and above all, something honest?

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Christ: the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. But I think it’s equally possible that, at least by human standards, he was probably a little bit off his rocker. And that’s okay with me. If it made perfect sense all the time, it wouldn’t be worth it.

I want to reclaim the lunacy of this gospel: this strange and wondrous book that has turned human society on its head over the course of many, many centuries. I want to embrace its contradictions and its paradoxes, its extremism and its haunting beauty. I want to read it with fresh eyes and just see where it goes, without falling back on preconceived Sunday-School answers as the neat conclusions to each chapter.

And maybe…just maybe…I can even reclaim that little bit of a lunatic that exists in me.