[This post is a part of the Letters to an Adopted Child series. Read the series preface here.]
Genesis is the first book of the Bible, and it begins with the memorable line, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This book claims God is our creator, we exist to serve him, and we are on a trajectory to reclaim what we once lost—perfect union with him. Genesis provides us with some of the most engaging characters in the Bible story—Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Noah and his sons, Joseph and his brothers. In looking at their stories, we can provide a spiritual framework for our own.
In this way, Genesis functions much like the Greek, Roman, or Nordic mythologies. Those mainly fictional stories illustrated the nature of the world: how things came to be, why certain people acted in certain ways, how one should live in order to have a good life. But they were art too. These accounts were also artistic avenues for a person to display cunning and creativity.
The book of Genesis, for the Israelites and for us all, is similar but with an important difference. Essential to a proper reading of Genesis is a belief that the story really happened. You don’t need that when you’re reading about Hercules, but you need it when you’re reading about Noah. If you have it, you’ll see that Genesis’s force is both historical and literary—that is, its power comes from perfectly recapturing a real past and perfectly revealing the present human condition.
This book is about past believer’s faith in God, and so it is also about our faith too.
Much can be said about Genesis stylistically, but the characteristic that stands above all else, in my mind, is its restraint. For example, while it is made up of complex topics such as the creation of the universe, faith producing righteousness, and the founding of nations—not to mention childbirth, political grievances, war, travel, famine, and marriage—Genesis says very little about these things. This is not because the human author of Genesis, or God himself, had nothing interesting to say about them. It is because he took great caution with every word.
What is achieved by this restraint? The stories tend to feel bare and incomplete, and this is intentional. The author has left gaps in the narrative for our own hearts to fall into. Genesis lets us participate in the story.
This book is a mystery, and many people lay hold of violent opinions claiming they have it all sorted out. But if the author has shown great restraint in writing this book, we should imitate that restraint when talking about it.