I’ve discovered, over my years as a Christian, that there are certain “Questions that Shall Not be Asked”. It’s not that they shouldn’t be asked, but asking them was embarrassing. For example, a subject like salvation should be basic knowledge, I thought. If I didn’t understand it all then that meant I was deficient and still immature in the faith, right? What was I doing trying to teach others? Another was, “I know God loves me but I’m not feeling real love back to him. What’s the matter with me?” I remember wishing there had been a book of those shall-not-be-asked answers so I could settle matters with minimal personal upset, benefiting from someone else’s wrestlings, not mine. But that isn’t possible.
I began to notice that those same questions were also causing discomfort in others, as inconsistencies and gaps in thinking were exposed. Questions can be threatening to our settled order of understanding; they tend to peek around the corner at us just as we start to feel secure in our analysis of things. I also noticed that people tended to divide into two groups: those who wanted truth above all and were willing to search for themselves—giving up what they found to be untrue to welcome the truth, and a second group, heavily dependent on respected people to tell them what was true and how to believe. This second group could get quite annoyed at persistent questions, even angry.
Here’s my confession. I became a Christian at a very early age and grew up trusting the doctrine I had been taught. I knew it was my duty to share the good news of the gospel with others—comfortably and unashamedly. However, as I grew into my teens, when it came to talking about the Cross it just got awkward. I knew I was to spread the good news of freedom in and through Christ but I stumbled trying to explain this need for human sacrifice in our modern culture. No matter how I told the story, at the core of this “good news” was the Cross.
The whole process had been explained to me in many ways and, on some level, I understood. I knew there had to be some connection to the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament but I didn’t understand why our redemption had to be done that way. I understood the models that attempted to explain it, ransom, substitution, etc., but I still knew there was something I wasn’t seeing.
I had no problem believing that Jesus was God, that He had become incarnate, and that somehow, mysteriously, He had died for my sins and rose again. I just didn’t understand how—how the Cross, how His blood, and how His resurrection reconciled me back to God. Startlingly, I soon found that others weren’t sure either. Worse, just like me, they had also been taught that “it was a mystery that we can’t be expected to fully understand.” But how could I fully trust what I was unable to understand? God had promised that we did not need to be ignorant. In fact, He took extra care to make sure that those who followed Him were not ignorant. (Luke 8:10; John 16:13; 1 John 2:20-21). For years I kept these questions to myself and called it “faith”.
And that worked. On one hand it didn’t hamper my relationship with Jesus or my growing in faith and knowledge, but on the other hand, it did hold me back from evangelism. When explaining the gospel to someone who had never heard it, I almost always felt apologetic—like I had to qualify what I was saying. “I know this sounds strange but …” Even though this was the good news through which we are set free, and therefore I should be sharing it confidently and eagerly, what lay behind the story, for me, seemed somehow suspect, and disturbingly disconnected.
I knew that to arrive at the solution I first had to understand the problem. If I had trouble understanding the how and why of my salvation, it was very likely because I didn’t understand my dilemma. I also suspected I wasn’t seeing God’s perspective of things either. If the entirety of the Bible was a redemption story of how God moved to restore what humankind, through Adam, had lost in Eden, then I needed to understand what had been lost and how. I started reading the Gospels but I quickly realized the book of Genesis was where I needed to start.
As I studied, I realized that although I had been taught that the message of Genesis was a general chronology, from God’s creation of the world through the birth of Israel as God’s chosen people, producing a detailed history did not seem to be the primary goal of the author. The timelines and history were only his means to an end—the means to tell an even grander story of God’s goodness and love for all of mankind.
For example, the difference between Genesis chapter one and two had always been a puzzle to me. It’s almost like, after telling all about the creation of the heavens and the earth, the author starts over again in chapter two to retell the story, this time focusing on Adam—his creation, location, and job responsibilities. Why this do-over? Why didn’t he just tell the whole story in one telling?
It was only after I gave up my need to sort out the chronology that I began to see the picture the author was painting. The first chapter is about God Almighty creating the heavens and the earth, but we don’t see why He did it. He was Lord and there was no need to explain. However, in the second chapter, God becomes more personal. He interacts with Adam and instructs him in how to live in harmony with both God and the environment that God has created for him. Unlike all the other created creatures, this man is given a personal name: Adam.
In the first chapter we see God as all-powerful creator. In the second, He is God personal and relatable. He orients Adam to his life in the garden. The author of Genesis is showing us two sides of God that inform us about everything to come in the rest of the book—and in the rest of the Bible. He presents God first of all as Lord of all, the highest king and judge. Yet in the second telling we see God in a priestly role, relating to Adam directly and teaching him the ways of God. Jesus later came in both those roles combined: as a sacral king and the champion of our redemption. (Matt. 21:5; Heb. 4:14-16)
I believe now that Genesis tells us everything we need to know at the beginning of a very long story. For many years I had felt that the creation story was lacking. It left me with questions and I wanted more details, especially about those “days”. Now I realize I had been lured into the wrong story. The story wasn’t about the mechanics of creation; it was about the dynamics of relationship. Jesus was there at the beginning, in the creation, and through Adam and Eve’s temptation, betrayal, and fall. It was also He, with His Father, who set the course for our redemption, deliverance and restoration (John 1:1-5).
Answers became clearer to me as I saw that Genesis—and really the whole Bible—is more than just a narrative or rule book. It tells its story through pictures and genealogies: vignettes of many lives and many generations, as well as commentary and direction. The goal is always to illuminate the true nature of God as well as contrast the natures of mankind when in harmony versus out of harmony with God. They are recorded as object lessons for us: to learn from, count the cost, and make our own choices (Josh. 24:14-15; 1 Cor 10:6-11).