By Dr. Harold Sala
Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? Genesis 18:25
“An evil soul producing holy writ is like an apple rotten at the core; outwardly beautiful, but inwardly full of deadly worms,” so wrote William Shakespeare long ago. Does that apply to those who have found a new interest in the Old Testament book of Genesis? It all depends on what they say the book is all about.
Time magazine made the book of Genesis its cover story, showing planet Earth, and from above the circle of the Earth a light shone from the heavens as a voice said, “And God said…” The sub-caption read, “Betrayal. Jealousy. Careerism. They’re all in the Bible’s first book.”
Bill Moyer produced a 10-part documentary series for television on the book. He explained the interest, saying, “At this moment of post-cold war confusion about where we’re going as a civilization, with all kinds of murky religious ferment, it makes sense to do some stocktaking. Let’s go back to the book that started the whole shebang.”
Is the interest in Genesis good or bad? OK, to this point it’s much like the answer of the man who fell out of a 10-story building, who was asked how he was doing as he sailed past the fifth floor. His answer was, “So far, so good.” None would deny that we need to go back to the blueprint. We’ve made a mess of families, and from a human interest standpoint alone, no other book in the world so records the dreams and hopes, the sins and failures, and the foibles of human nature as does the Bible, the book of Genesis in particular. It’s a book of beginnings—of life, marriage, the nations, the flood, the rise of the Jewish and Arab worlds, and the rise of governments, including laws and society.
How individuals handle the book makes the difference. In some cases Shakespeare’s quote about an evil soul producing holy writ is perfectly appropriate; in other scenarios we see ourselves reflected in the sins and failures of those whose lives are chronicled in the book of Genesis. And we also see the consequences of human failure along with the hope of redemption.
Unquestionably some have set out to use the book to justify our modern moral failures today, portraying Moses’ treatment of God in the book of Genesis as a kind of parable, not to be taken literally. They interpret the events in the book as a kind of existential “there is no real meaning to life” story which then justifies our misdeeds today.
Edward Rothstein, writing for The New York Times, said, “The tales of Genesis are becoming an obsession in recent books because of what they seem to say about human beings: how morally ambiguous are all judgments, how questionable is all virtue, how utterly beyond definitive interpretation are our texts and acts.”
But is this really true? In the book of Genesis you find all the sordidness of man’s base nature: murder, adultery, rape, war and plunder. There is not much that sends people to prison which you won’t find here. But the real issue is, was there a moral sense of right and wrong, an understanding of right and wrong, which was violated? Taking single events from the book would tend to make a person think that the whole book is a collection of “anything goes” sort of moral anarchy. Nothing could be further from the truth, and that is where an understanding of the context and the whole Bible makes a remarkable difference. If the book of Romans, where Paul talks about the law of conscience which was written on the hearts of men, was read and studied at the same time a person analyzed the stories of Genesis, some would come up with vastly different conclusions. And that’s a fact.
Resource reading: Genesis 16-18.