Two Things I Learned from THINK image

Two Things I Learned from THINK

Earlier this month I hosted the THINK conference at King's Arms Church in Bedford, and it was on the theme of "Understanding Genesis." You always learn a lot running conferences like this—particularly in the preparation, and in the answering of people's questions—and this year I think I learned two big things in particular.

The first is the number of ways in which your approach to the origins debate shapes your reading of everything else. I had assumed, somewhat naively, that if I spent one of our nine sessions focusing on the way we integrate science and Scripture, we could spend the other eight sessions talking about other things like blessing and covenant and exodus and God (which are, let’s face it, much closer to the focus of interest of the author). But every time I thought I’d thrown the origins theme out of sight, it just came back and hit me in the back of the head, like a boomerang. If you read human origins that way, what does that do to your reading of the line of Cain and the line of Seth? What does it do to your take on the Nephilim? How does the flood work in that account? What about Aboriginal Australians? The table of nations? Babel? It was only on working through the whole book together, and seeing how every exegetical decision is linked to every other one, that I realised quite how far-reaching the implications of one’s view on origins actually are. If I had my time again, I’d restructure the material by bumping the most controversial stuff to the end, to ensure we spent less time on it.

The second, which came more through the preparation process, was the prominence of the theme of reconciliation amongst brothers, and its implications for relationships between Jews and Gentiles today. Cain and Abel, the first siblings at war, were of course never reconciled, and their strife is the primal tragedy of the postlapsarian world. But the rest of Genesis presents a picture of hope on this point, one which extends forward throughout the rest of Scripture. Ishmael and Isaac end up burying their father together. Jacob and Esau meet on the road and are reconciled. Joseph’s reunion with his brothers becomes the most spun-out (and, in my view, the most moving) story of interpersonal restoration in the Bible. In the first two cases, one brother represents Israel and one the Gentiles, which points to our subsequent coming together in Christ. In the Joseph story, it is only once Joseph has brought blessing to the Gentiles that, prompted by his success—you could even say “moved to jealousy”—his Israelite brothers come to be restored to him as well. This pattern of blessing to Gentiles, jealousy among Israel and then reconciliation between them will itself return, boomerang-like, in numerous other scriptures, not least in Romans 9-11.

Oh, the depth of the wisdom and the riches and the knowledge of God!

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