Of the three streams that will be available in the Growing Disciples program, the Bible Narrative Stream aims to follow the narrative of the bible from beginning to end in a calendar year. We won’t cover every little detail, or even every book, of the bible. Instead, we will hit all the major events and engage all the big ideas and themes of the bible in a year—starting from Genesis and finishing at Revelation. The bible as we receive it today is not organised chronologically from cover to cover.
It is organised like a library into broad categories of literature, and then within those categories there are lesser organising principles. Within the History collection of books of the Old Testament, the books are generally chronologically sequenced, which makes reading them through from Genesis to Esther fairly straightforward. After that, the narrative becomes a little more tricky—but not impossible—to follow.
The books of Genesis, Job and Proverbs establish the foundation for the entire Biblical Narrative, and so our Growing Disciples course begins with them. Genesis begins by telling us that God has created a world filled with beauty and life. He placed people in the world to represent him and he deemed his world “good.”
It perfectly reflected his character and was fit for his purpose. Humans, right from the beginning, were given the task of continuing the work God had begun, making all the world like the Garden of Eden— full of beauty and life and order. However, something goes terribly wrong.
The very first people (Adam and Eve) sin; and so along with them, all of creation becomes subject to decay and death. They become subject to death and expelled from the Garden and from the immediate presence of God. We wonder how will God restore his creation and achieve his purpose? Life outside the garden is precarious and limited. How can humanity live well in their situation where both good and evil are well known to them?
The book of Proverbs collects the best sayings and wisdom useful for addressing the complexities of life outside the Garden. Since the Fall, humanity finds itself wrestling with suffering and the evil that lies behind it. The ancient book of Job probes the issue of human suffering and the cry of the believer for justice. We wonder how God will resolve apparent injustices, the chaos of evil, and the fulfilment of his purpose in creation.
As the book of Genesis progresses, glimpses of God’s response to this problem begin to emerge—and yet, frustration seems to reign. This month, as you read through the first scenes of the Biblical narrative, reflect on what they are telling you about the type of story we are part of, what God’s plans are, and where our hope is.
Ask yourself: 1. Why might God begin his self-disclosure with this particular narrative? 2.What does this part of the Bible tell me about my role in God's creation? 3.How do the various passages shape my purpose in life?
Genesis 1 – 2
Here we have the opening the narrative of Scripture. The scene is set: God is sovereign over a good creation, crowned by humanity. Male and female together are made in God’s image, created for relationship with God and each other, and for a task—to continue God’s work of creation by loving the world, ordering it, and filling it with life.
Genesis 3 introduces us to what gets called “the Fall” of humanity. Adam and Eve listen to a false story, and seek to become like gods themselves. Our first ancestors are then sent into exile—the state of separation from God, broken relationship with each other and with nature-- thereby facing death.
The great question of the Biblical narrative is set up: How will God redirect and restore his now broken and misdirected creation?
For reflection: 1. What do we learn about the human condition in this story? 2. Are there any hints of grace and hope here?
Outside the Garden, things don’t seem all that bad. Adam and Eve give birth to two children, Cain and Abel, and they begin to look after the land as God intended. But the problem of sin has not been dealt with and soon human disobedience escalates into the murder of Abel by Cain.
The story of Noah building an 'ark' -- a primitive container of life and a floating zoo-- is well known. Unlike the protagonist in a contemporary Babylonian flood text, Noah does not outsmart the gods attempt to kill him but rather is graciously saved from out of judgment.
For reflection: 1. God’s mercy shines through the flood, but is this narrative any more than a children's story? What clues do you find in the text to support your conclusions? 2. What is revealed about God in this account?
Fallen Humanity gathers together in a concerted effort to make themselves like God. In their arrogance they think they can build their way to heaven, and from there, perhaps attempt to overthrow God completely.
For reflection: 1. What does this narrative tell us about the nature of ‘Fallen Humanity’? 2. Where do you see the same ‘fallenness’ at work in your ambitions?
God intervenes in history through Abraham and begins to answer the question of the Fall. God makes a binding promise (berit) to Abraham to bless him, and through him, everyone on earth. Blessing is an idea that will come up again and again in the Biblical Narrative.
A simple (and initial) way to think about it is in terms of welcoming people back into the way of life God had originally created humans for; a return from exile back to the Garden. The story of Abraham’s family, and the passing on of the covenant promise to his descendants becomes the controlling narrative for the remainder of the book of Genesis.
For reflection: 1. What do we learn in this scene about God’s plan to restore his world? 2. What surprises you? What encourages you?
Near the end of Genesis, the long account of Joseph is told. We read how he suffers slavery in Egypt, temptation to betray himself and others, and unjust imprisonment, before ultimately being given a break, serving Pharaoh as Prime Minister and through this role, saving Egypt from famine. God shows himself sovereign in the most unlikely of circumstances, all so that his purpose in creation is not extinguished.
As an extension to this Bible Narrative Stream, some participants in the Growing Disciples program might choose to actually read the entire text of the bible in a calendar year. This is highly recommended, if you are willing to set aside 20 minutes a day to commit to this purpose. Each month, we will provide a bible reading plan that broadly follows the narrative stream, but with some diversity introduced to keep it fresh.