Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Politics of Immigration: Genesis 12:1-4a

In his now classic work, God: A Biography, Ancient Near Eastern scholar Jack Miles offers a developmental reading of the character of God in the Bible. Taking seriously the characterization and chronology of the narrative, God, Miles says, has never been god for anyone before. His potency notwithstanding, God’s lack of experience will manifest itself strikingly in the opening chapters of Genesis, as he struggles to deal with his surprisingly non-compliant creatures who thwart his plans and subvert his intentions at every turn. First, the couple placed in the garden could not live within its basic limits. When cast out of the garden, the family did not learn its lesson, but set upon one another, one child killing his brother. The consequence given to the murderer this time also does not work. Having already lost the idyllic garden through disobedience, the sibling slayer is marked and condemned to live as a nomad. Yet the creatures do not learn from this experience any more than they had from their previous punishment, and therefore violence spread from the first family outward over the whole earth.
In exasperation, God himself becomes violent, reverting the creation to its watery, chaotic, pre-Adamic state, in hopes that a fresh start might yield a different outcome. This time, however, discontented and unsatisfied with their place in the order of things, the creatures collectively decide to build a tower to the heavens in quest of becoming like their creator. Having recoiled in horror at the ferocity of his own wrath in the Flood, and having vowed never again to bring such devastation upon the creation, God foils the schemes of humankind by confounding their ability to understand one another, thus scattering them to follow their own paths alone.
Genesis 12, the Old Testament reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the Second Sunday in Lent (Year B) harks for Miles a decisive shift in the orientation of God to the creation. Having tried twice before to work with humanity on a macro level, attempting to guide their affairs collectively, God instead decides that this time he will invest his time and energy in developing a relationship with a single family, and through that family to bless everyone else.
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