The Son of Seth

The way Miska and I split up duties during the school year, in the mornings, I’m the chief cook, bottlewasher and part-time priest. I bag lunches, whip up eggs with toast and, most mornings, read a small bit of Scripture and speak a prayer as we step into the day.

We’re slowly reading Luke, and today we landed on Jesus’ genealogy. The way The Message lays it out, one “the son of…” per line, it goes on for pages, giving Jorim, Peleg and Arphaxad their brief moment in the limelight. I considered skipping it, but I thought better. The simple speaking of a person’s name may be the holiest thing tucked in those many pages. “Hang on, boys,” I said. “We’ve got a big ol’ list coming up.”

And I began. The son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melki

I noticed Seth dead still, complete focus on me. He paid his oatmeal and his toast no attention, but he was hanging onto the words. The long drum continued. The son of Naggai, the son of Maah, the son of Mattathias

Seth sat absorbed. This is the boy who doesn’t know the meaning of stillness. When he isn’t running, he’s skipping. When he isn’t skipping, he’s twirling. When he isn’t twirling, he’s rocking. If he has to stay in place, then his foot taps a hundred beats a minute. If every other possibility is refused him, Seth will sit and twitch. Tigger has nothing on this boy.

Yet he did not move. The son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er

Finally, while continuing the litany, I tapped on his bowl. He dug up a spoon of oatmeal, but his attention stayed fixed on the names. The son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon

We rounded the corner and drew near the end. The son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth

“There! I was waiting for it!” Seth shouted, flinging his hands in the air. “I knew I was in there!”

That boy, at eight years old, knows something about reading the Bible that seminary and years of Greek and Hebrew failed to teach me. We find ourselves amid those pages. It’s God story, but it’s our story too. If all we get from the Bible is facts and edicts, if we never find ourselves (and our loves and passions and life) amid the words, then maybe we should spend more time reading with the children. Any of the stories will do, even a genealogy.

First Stories First

The Bible is about God.

Perhaps it seems frivolous to clarify this, but I believe it’s a truth we’re on the verge of losing. These days, everyone caters to us because everyone wants something from us. The game is to find out what we want – and then beat the other guy in promising how fast they can get it to us. It matters little the trade, most everyone’s in on the racket — our corporations schmucking for brand loyalty, our politicians grabbing for votes, our pastors and priests (and of course, I wrestle with these demons) clamoring for affirmation and dollars. It’s easy to see why we might get the idea that everything really is about me. But this me that everything seems to be about isn’t the true me. None of these shucksters really know me, nor do they care to.

When the Bible enters this milieu, we assume that Scripture (or God) does the same. The Bible dashes after our questions. God rushes, like a zealous car salesman, to push a model than meets our every whim. But though we may drive off the lot with all the bells and whistles, are we any better for the transaction? Are we any more joyful? Any more alive? Any more human?

We may finagle a god who makes us comfortable or endorses the life we are set toward (with minimal adjustments as a nod to the Almighty). We may sigh contentedly if we locate a god who delivers quick pithy lines to our struggles, the immediate relief we demand. But if we settle for this god we think we want, we will never engage the true God who rules over the Earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Mary and Peter and Paul, the God who raised Jesus from the dead. If we are committed to the God we think we want, we will never know that the questions we are asking aren’t the right questions at all.

God is God, and we are not God. And the Bible is the book that tells us both of these things.

If I you will allow me to indulge in a moment of ridiculous oversimplification: some of our most vitriolic theological battles of the last two centuries seem to pivot on this question: Is theology fundamentally humanity’s story or God’s story. I have no desire whatsoever to enter the slugfest, but between these two choices, I opt for the latter.

But – it’s no better to go the other extreme and say that God (and God’s book) is so otherly, so divine, that we ought not expect it to engage the complexities and harsh realities and the wild joys of being human. By this way of thinking, you go to the Bible to discover whether or not it is okay to kill, but you have to go to a shrink to talk about why your heart feels like it may break in two. In other words, you go to the Bible to hear God’s story, but you have to go everywhere else to learn your own story.

The Scriptures – and our wisest voices over the centuries – have refused this dichotomy. They have taught us that the Bible is about God, first – but that it is about us second. And it must be in this order because the way we most truly know ourselves is to know God. As Augustine said, we know ourselves better in God than in ourselves. Our stories matter because God has made the remarkable (and at times seemingly foolish) move to intertwine our story within God’s story. God does God’s will, but God doesn’t rush past us. God wills that humanity be more than a blip on the celestial radar. Quite the opposite – in Jesus, God vested God’s full self in the human condition. Jesus was not a lab experiment. Jesus is the revelation that God is not distant. God goes local. God knows, as Hebrews tells us, all our human travail and weakness.

God knows these dark spaces intimately because God has suffered them, with us. Our pain matters – not because we are the center of the story – but because the God of the Universe endures our pain with us and longs for our pain to be no more. Our joy matters – not because the Universe will melt if we are not sated (our burden is heavy, but not that heavy) – but rather our joy matters because Jesus defeated everything opposed to joy and invites us into God’s kingdom where joy is evermore.

And every place where sin and death prevail and every place where joy is thwarted, every place in our story where we encounter injustice or loneliness or longing for freedom or a place of belonging – those are the places where Jesus wants to make our stories new.