Genesis 11:10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpach’shad two years after the flood; … 26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde’ans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sar’ai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sar’ai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.
This section of Genesis brings us to the birth of Abram, whom many consider to be the father of the great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Genesis offers that overarching metanarrative which ties all of humanity together. It is a story that helps define our common human nature. We are all part of God’s great unfolding narrative, and it is His story which gives our lives and our individual stories meaning. Many think that at the beginning of the 21st Century, the philosophical outlook which shapes our current understanding of the world is “postmodernism.” While the ideas of postmodernism are complex, as a philosophy it seems to accept the notion that there is no real way to “measure” the truth or validity of any story, since each person’s life experience is true to them and can’t be measured against any standard or canon as any one story is as true and valid as any other from the point of view of each person. Postmodernism would say everyone’s story is true and right from some perspective and it would deny there is a shared human nature or shared human story to tie us all together. This philosophy is a theory of intellectual and moral relativity. As in the theory of relativity in physics, “truth” is limited to the vantage point of the observer – time and space are all relative to the position, speed and direction of the observer. “Perception” of an event is completely shaped by one’s position relative to the event. Any one perception can be true for that observer but others seeing the same event from other positions relative to the event will see the event differently and yet their perception will be true for them.
In postmodernism we may all share the same planet, but our lives relative to one another are not all that connected. There is no one perspective that is the correct perspective and so truth, right, wrong, good and evil vary from person to person. A movie which captures this quite well is the 2005 movie, CRASH. In that movie all of the characters live in the same city and their lives are tied together by a series of otherwise random events. However, despite being tied together by these events, none of the characters are aware of their connection to the others – only the viewer of the movie has the perspective of how they are all tied together. But for the characters, their lives are a series of accidental “crashes” into one another. The movie suggests that individuals longing for feeling some connection to others – longing to be sprung from the isolation and alienation of extreme individualism – “crash” into each other, sometimes intentionally just to feel alive or to get some sense that they belong to something greater than themselves.
In certain ways this postmodern thinking is an intellectual Darwinism where all events that happen are ultimately random not giving direction to life, not serving any purpose, but definitely shaping present experience and the future of humanity. Like Darwinism, postmodernism, denies teleology (the idea that life purposefully moves toward some conclusion or end). The Bible certainly accepts teleology – there is a purposeful beginning to humankind and there is a God who is guiding the world and this God has a plan for the world which includes an ending toward which God is guiding things. The Bible offers the beginnings of the story, shapes the direction we are headed in, and offers some specific thoughts about how it all will end. In postmodern terms, the Bible offers a meta-narrative, a story that ties together all peoples, all lives, and all human stories. It is not one person’s story, it is rather the story of everybody, a story that shows our common humanity and which ties together all the individual stories of humans. It is a story with a purpose, in which it is possible to discern right and wrong, good and evil, beginning and end.
Each life is important, not random, and not meaningless. Even the use of typology or a prototype within the biblical narrative (that one story can somehow foreshadow a later story and help us recognize and understand later stories) argues against pure postmodernism. Figurative thinking and symbolic thinking help us recognize patterns in life – they help us make sense of past historical events, they help us to recognize the significance of current events. They help us realize each life is not totally unrelated to all other lives. Each life contributes to the bigger picture, the tapestry or mosaic or narrative. No one life is self contained, no one life can measure the worth of all other things, because every life is part of a bigger whole, which is purposeful. Each life and each person’s story will get measured and evaluated in terms of this bigger narrative, and it is this bigger picture which offers meaning to each life, no matter how great, how long, how short.
The important insight of monotheism is that there is a meta-narrative; there is a way to understand all the individual stories, even if we can’t fully grasp that meta-story yet – even if there is mystery, even if there are unresolved contradictions in the Scriptures which contain the revelation of this one God. The Bible contains in a written form the known elements of this revelation, and it gives us perspective on life, gives direction to life, gives meaning to life. The Bible also tells us that the world is confusing, and at times every bit as uncertain as postmodernism would affirm. The Bible does show us that events do occur which from our limited human perspective do appear to be random, unfair, inexplicable, and ambiguous.
The Bible does take perspective – it traces history and humanity through particular peoples’ lives, and does not pretend to be neutral or objective, but rather is either biased or ambivalent or both. Perhaps the most postmodern event in the Bible is when God creates light in Genesis 1:3. There was light – it had no source, no direction, it simply was. There existed no perspective in that verse, it is all about simply being. And since nothing else existed it had no direction, no goal, no purpose, and no movement. Even Einstein’s relativity didn’t exist in that event for light was all.
The Bible however doesn’t end with this directionless and perspectiveless light. That light serves to connect and illumine all else that exists. The Bible says this is the truth of humanity as well – we each are not merely individuals, but we are communal beings. We are created to be in communion with God and with each other. We are by nature beings of love (meaning we are by nature oriented toward others). Genesis tells us in narrative form the story of each of us and any of us and all of us. It reveals to us our humanness and thus our interdependency on all else that exists. It helps us realize there is a way, a direction, and it tells us we have lost that way, but it is still available for us to find. Genesis helps put us on that right path. Even the ambiguities in the story and the contradictions tell us we need to find a better perspective to understand what is. That gives us purpose, motivation, and direction – we need to move to that new perspective. And the Scriptures will help us find that way.