Ancient stories, modern meaning

The book of Genesis records stories that our people have been telling each other for many generations. There are some who see these as scientific explanations of the origins of the universe, but our people knew these stories and were telling them to our children and grandchildren long before there was anything known as scientific method. And previous generations were remarkably accurate in the telling of the stories. Using a process of group memorization, word-for-word accuracy was achieved in many tellings over long spans of time. Regardless of how you interpret them, regardless of your faith perspective, regardless of your understanding of scientific method or modern theories, these stories are treasures that are worthy of our best efforts to preserve them and to expand their telling. From time to time, we see nuances from these stories playing out in everyday life.

Genesis 3 records a brief interchange between God and the first humans after they had disobeyed an instruction they had been given:

“Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

We have been passing the buck and blaming each other for our own misdeeds for a long time.

This story frequently comes to mind when I am working with people or even when I read the newspapers.

I don’t mean to pick on anyone, especially someone that I don’t know, but as I read an article in the New York Times this morning, I was reminded of this ancient story of our people. Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, was questioned the House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday at a formal hearing. There was no small amount of criticism of the costs of redecorating of his office. In part, Mr. Carson said, “I invited my wife to come and help. I left it to my wife, you know, to choose something. I dismissed myself from the issues.” And it was Mrs. Carson, he said, who “selected the color and style” of the furniture.

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

I’m just saying, it isn’t hard to see other people in the old stories that have been both inspiring and informing our people for a long time.

Of course part of the origin of the story was the very human question about human suffering. If God is good and God is all powerful and God made everything that exists, why is it that humans experience pain and suffering - things that don’t seem to us to be at all good? As the saying goes, “Inquiring minds want to know.”

In our story, the suffering is punishment for disobedience, and everyone shares in the punishment. The snake has to remain on its belly and eat dust while it is hated by all future generations of humans. The woman has the pain of childbirth greatly increased. The man has to work hard to obtain enough food to survive. The span between birth and death will be a span of toil and trouble. And that is the way we have interpreted many of the things that are parts of our lives everyday ever since.

These ancient stories help us to understand the harsh realities of life. We may not have perfect answers for all that life throws at us, but we stand in a line of people who have been struggling for many generations to understand this life and some of the truths that we hold are so significant and so meaningful that they could not have come from a single generation - they are the products of our collective pondering over many generations. Big ideas, like our radical monotheism, took generations to be formed.

Recently a young man who grew up in our church and is an adult member of our church was doing his job, serving with the US Army in Iraq. His crew and their helicopter were sent to recover the victims of an accident in which seven people died. They arrived at the scene of the horrible accident and did their work as carefully and diligently as possible. They returned to their base and the young man did his job of cleaning out the helicopter and preparing it for its next assignment. Along the way he saw things and experienced things that were horrible. The death of humans is not a pretty sight. Having to scrub the helicopter was not a fun task. He isn’t complaining about his job. He isn’t saying much except that he did his job and his courage did not fail him.

But we humans can’t erase the things we have seen from our minds. There are sights and smells that you never forget. He will come home when his year of overseas duty is completed as a changed man. He will need to develop skills for dealing with the trauma he has witnessed for the rest of his life.

I am grateful for this young man. I am grateful that I knew him as a child and walked with him through his teenage years. I am deeply grateful that there are people who are willing to do the job that he is doing. Imagine being a grieving family member of one of the victims of that accident. In the midst of the horror of the loss and the pain of grief the fact that the remains of your loved one were carefully recovered and prepared for return to your home would be deeply meaningful and terribly important.

The families of the victims and the witnesses to the accident’s aftermath are connected even though they may never meet face to face. And it isn’t just them. We all are affected by the trauma that occurred. That is why we need the stories of our people. We need common stories to remind us of our connections. We need common stories to help us seek meaning in the midst of a world where pain and suffering are very real and all too common.

We need to tell our parents and Sunday school teachers once again how important it is that they teach these stories to a new generation. We need to be grateful that they do.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!