Tuesday 26 May 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (8/50) – The Way We Are

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the eighth of the fifty emails.

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
Lamech said to his wives,
‘Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.’
Genesis 4:19-24

Lamech typifies the contradiction of human existence. He enjoys God’s blessing of marriage… but with two women. And he uses his God-given creativity to compose lines of poetry… which boast of excessive revenge and murder. Yet he fathers three sons, one of whom grazes cattle, one of whom makes music, and one of whom works with metal. Even this family advances agriculture, arts and technology in fulfilment of the creation mandate.

The tension is no surprise to those who take seriously the goodness of God’s original design, but who also recognise that we no longer live in Eden. We still bear God’s image, though it is damaged; and the tasks of subduing and ruling remain, though they are distorted. All of which means we can be neither naively optimistic nor overly pessimistic about ourselves, others, or the things we turn our hands to – like agriculture and arts and technology – where we simultaneously demonstrate we are made in the image of God and yet act out our rebellion against him, our alienation from each other, and our exploitation of the created world.

In such a context – ‘east of Eden’ – sin does not destroy economics, but distorts it through selfishness and greed. Sin does not destroy sexuality, but diverts it down harmful paths. Sin does not destroy politics, but directs it to serve the interests of the powerful few. Small wonder that the two largest areas of our lives – work and family – can be a source of frustration as well as fulfilment, places of hurt as well as healing.

The disobedience of Eden bears fruit in disordered lives, and Genesis 4-11 describe how it spreads like ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, moving through individuals to families to society to the whole of creation. And laced through these chapters, as God said it would be, is death.

It will take the next installment of the story to show us that human rebellion and failure is met by God’s grace, that God’s commitment to his world and to humanity stands firm, that the way we are is not necessarily the way we will always be.

For further reflection and action:

1. Where do you fall on the spectrum between ‘naively optimistic’ and ‘overly pessimistic’? How does it affect your daily life and relationships?

2. Think about something from the last few days where the tension of human existence in today’s world was evident – a film you watched, a task you did, a conversation you had. How might we distinguish between a ‘creational design’ from how something has been distorted by the parasitic nature of sin?

3. What does the Babel incident (Genesis 11:1-9) tell us about ‘the way we are’?

4. Reflect on the significance of Matthew 18:22 where, echoing Lamech, Jesus commands extravagant forgiveness – ‘not seven times, but seventy-seven times’.

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