Note: This is part 1 of 5 in a series looking at the overall story of God’s plan, or redemptive history, as told across the breadth of Scripture and ancient Near East history. I am preaching this series as the beginning of my time serving as pastor of Foundation Baptist Church in Rosebud, Texas, and will be posting a blog version the following week.
Have you ever experienced a blinding epiphany that permanently changes how you look at something? Maybe your eyes widen. Maybe you freeze in place. Your brain races between feeling smart enough to see it and feeling dumb enough to have not seen it before. I remember one such moment early in my seminary experience. I believed in a God who had a plan, who was involved in yet beyond our sense of time and worked accordingly. But history and Scripture, other than individual moments of radiant providence, seemed a bit helter-skelter. That is, until professors and resources pointed me to the overall story of God’s grace. For the first time I saw one cohesive story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, with God as both author and protagonist. Since then I’ve been increasingly convicted by our tendency to teach the Bible as a book of fables, loosely connected stories that each end with a cute, moralistic nugget to guide our day. We get lost in a seeming oddity of God’s actions in one story. We get hung up on the moral failures of the humans we’ve turned into main characters. But what if these stories are just the smallest details in a much grander narrative?
All stories, whether they cover mere minutes or millennia, share certain things in common. If you grew up like I did, you had this burnt into your retinas during grade school using the plot graph method. The first point on the graph, the beginning of the story, gives us our setting. Where, when, who. Some authors are a bit more vague about their setting early on, but Scripture makes it pretty easy. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, God’s story starts at the very beginning and takes places in our reality. But who is in the story?
Scripture tells us that God made humanity in His image, a status unique across Creation. But the man was alone. And God, before any of our failures, saw his loneliness and expressed disapproval for the very first time in Scripture. I believe that’s very telling. Human community is that important to God, because it’s that important to how he designed us. Notice, when God created the first human community, we were yet to fall. Human community is not a crutch that we may limp through our fallenness; it is part of God’s perfect design for us. And if the story ends with a return to perfection, it will include a return to perfect human community.
Surely God immediately remedied the situation, right? Take a look at Genesis 2:18-20. In one of those details those of us who grew up around the Bible often fly right over, God first shows the animal kingdom to their steward…and none of them were suitable to be the man’s helper (a term also used of God elsewhere). Did God catch just forget about His community project and come back to it after the zoo parade? Of course not. I believe there’s a critical lesson in this narrative order: only human beings will fulfill that God-given need for human community. Adam had animals; we recreation, work, and 7 billion people we don’t actually no strung together across broadband and 3G. But among the corporations and smartphones a suitable helper cannot be found.
If you’re keeping score on any 4th grade worksheets you have lying around, we have the where, when, and who of our setting lined out. And all too soon we’ll have the problem or conflict. Story always has conflict, something the protagonist works to overcome. In God’s story that problem is humanity’s broken relationship with God. Sin has damaged our connection to our Creator, and immediately took down human community with it. Selfishness, greed, theft, murder, sexual violence, war, all symptoms of our broken community with God and each other. But God, like any protagonist who can keep us glued to page or screen, won’t sit idly by as destruction reigns. Next week, we’ll be looking at the moment God sets out to overcome our brokenness and restore community.