Friday, April 04, 2014

Out of Chaos and Darkness

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I've started learning Biblical Hebrew through an online program called Mango Languages, offered through my local library.  I've slowly been making my way through Genesis 1:1-5, and last night was working on verses 4-5.  During that learning time, I tweeted the following:

"There is often a criticism that people have head knowledge but not heart knowledge, which has often made me sad, because I love to learn. It has made me question and second-guess myself so many times. But as I am going through @MangoLanguages Biblical Hebrew --which is an academic endeavor and is head knowledge, learning these first few words of Genesis is also speaking to my heart in ways I can't articulate."

Part of what has affected me has been when Mango has explained the literal meaning of the words (our translations are not literal; they are a mix of literal and intended meaning, which means any translation is open to interpretation) read like this:

"In beginning God created the skies and earth. And the earth was chaos and darkness upon the face of a deep. And God will say will be light and will be light. And God will see the light that is good and God will separate between the light and the darkness. and God will call to the light day and to the darkness called night and will be evening and morning one day."

Even though I'm not completely understanding all the grammatical rules (it would help if I didn't skip over those slides so quickly, I'm sure), I am intrigued and fascinated by the literal meaning of tohu v'bohu (chaos or, as we usually see it, formless void) as well as the use of the future tense.  

In Walter Brueggemann's Interpretation Bible commentary on Genesis, he writes

"The text is likely dated to the sixth century B.C. and addressed to exiles.  It served as a refutation of Babylonian theological claims...Against such claims, it is here asserted that Yahweh is still God, one who watches over his creation and will bring it to well-being...To despairing exiles, it is declared that the God of Israel is the Lord of all of life....it is a theological and pastoral statement addressed to a real historical problem.  The problem is to find a ground for faith in this God when the experience of sixth century Babylon seems to deny the rule of this God." (pages 24-25).

How beautiful is it to look at the opening verses of Genesis as words of hope?  In the midst of Israel's exile, as they are living in the chaos and darkness of the control of other nations, we can see the hope and joy that can be present in knowing the Creator can--and will--bring order and light out of chaos and darkness.  Creation is not a one-time past event, but is ongoing.  God will see the chaos and darkness in our lives, and will see the goodness in our lives, and will make a way for that light to shine.    

Too often, we read these words and insist on reading them in a flat, scientific way.  But when we do that, we lose so much.  If we read them in a more meaningful way, the text opens up to us in ways we may not imagine.  Instead of reading it as an account of how the earth was created, we see the background with real people.  We can look at when our own lives descend into chaos and darkness and know that God is still present, is still working, and will continue to be there.  

I never really got all of that until I started learning Hebrew--and so my "heart knowledge" was lacking.  It wasn't until I was able to get some "head knowledge" that it then made its way to my heart in a new way.  Reading and saying these words in Hebrew have made them come alive for me, and have brought tears to my eyes, even though they've always been some of my favorite verses. I wonder what else I have missed out on over the years as I have felt that "head knowledge" is often looked down upon in the Church--it's too "complex" or "nitpicky" or "deep".  Perhaps, with this new knowledge of these words, God is bringing some light and order to my own chaos.





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1 comment:

Jim Fisher said...

One of my Jewish coworkers pointed out one time that the very first letter of Genesis is Beth (ב), a kind a bracket-shaped letter which may have a fuller, and maybe even whimsical tangential meaning ... as in there is nothing before this (to the right) that you need to know. This is where it starts. Everything you need to know is left of here. I just think that is so cool.