One of the podcasts I follow pretty faithfully is a non-profit, privately funded resource group called The Bible Project.Headed by Tim Mackie and Jon Colllins, The Bible Project makes videos on different themes and topics related to the Bible along wih producing podcast espisodes that expolore themes and topics related to the Bible, with both videos and podcasts functioning together in a connective fashion.
Their current series for the podcast is called The Family of God with an accompanying video on Genesis and the story of the cosmos helping to set the foundation. As far as the series goes this one does get a bit complicated and messy comparitively speaking. It’s not one that you can simply listen to on the run as it takes a while for the throught process to really come together. You need to be dialed in to parse through where the conversation is heading and what precisely it is trying to say, but I can say that 5 episodes in I am finding it to be landing with me in a very meaningful way. It has reformed my understanding of the stories we find in the book of Genesis, which provide the foundation through which to understand the whole of the Biblical narrative, especially where it has to do with human diversity and participation, two key themes of the Creation pattern. Understanding the typology and patterns that emerge from these early pages becomes the key to understanding the rest of the story, including our own.
You can listen to the series on any supporting platform, but here is a link to the home page: https://bibleproject.com/podcast/series/family-of-god
You can also find decent summaries of the important points on each episode page as well. But to narrow in on what has inspired me in particular, here is a very brief walk through of the idea of the Family of God in these episodes from my perspective.
1. Genesis 1 sets up an understanding of the cosmos, with the heavens (the sky) and the earth (the land) surrounded by the waters above and the waters below- order out of chaos, or nothingness.
2. Genesis is built on a pattern of 7, a number which is woven throughout the narrative structure and the larger narrative of scripture. 7 means completeness. While each of the six days is marked by “morning” and “night”, the 7th day is eternally marked by extending God’s vision for creation.
3. Humanity is placed in the garden as God’s image bearers. But not humanity as in male and female, rather one humanity (the meaning of the word Adam), out of which we find humanity’s diversity, the literal mirror image (male and female). In the ancient world idols were the last thing to be placed in the temple, and in God’s temple, the whole of the cosmos, a heavenly throne room that reaches from the skies as God’s abode to the earth as God’s footstool, singular humanity is the image of God which is called to be “fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth” through its diversity.
4. The diversity of the family of God is captured in this unique sense- humanity as one is divided (male and female in the biblical story), and through these diverse entities we find a unified whole (a child). This whole is then divided (separated from mother and father as its own individual) before becoming whole again. This picture or vision of diversity, a working metaphor that scripture returns to again and again, is what is meant to build the Kingdom of God (the whole cosmos). One divided against itself becoming whole. This is why, with humanity being created in the image of God in a “singular” sense rather than a “masculine” sense is so important to uphold. The mirror image of one becoming two (Adam being divided) becomes the means by which we can also become one. When we encounter another, scripture tells us we are seeing the image of God, and therefore the image of ourselves in our diversity.
5. This question of “family” runs through all the myths of the ancient world, with one key difference separating this Judeo-Christian vision- diversity from the myths that surrounded this nation chosen by God to uphold the vision of creatio. As they talk about in the podcast, rather than fill the earth with uniifed diversity, they fill the earth with violence and “homogeneity”, which literally becomes the basis for the term “Babylon” and the story of Babel. Babel becomes the working picture of these ancient ideas of conquest, which are demonstrated by a dominant people (nation) meant to rule the world as the true people, the true Kingdom. This is where we find the idea of empire which premeates the story of Israel, with Babylon as the all encompassing term for empire and conquest. Babylon then becomes contrasted with the New Jerusalem, an embodiment of the 7th day of Creation made known through what was the covenant promise- a servant people (nation) meant to bless the world.
If we understand these passages in this light, two things emerge. First, these texts become a clear polemic against the violence and homogeneity they see in the ancient myths and nations that surround them. The best way to understand Genesis is as a “temple text”, and to see it as a temple text is to see the story of Israel through Jacob and Moses first, with Moses on the mountain marking the “covenant” while the people down below form Yahweh into an image, an idol, thus confusing their role as image bearers. In this light, the stories of Abraham and Noah and Adam can be seen as origin stories. When you see it this way you can recognize what these narratives are trying to say in relationship to the stories that surround Israel. In the light of empire and conquest, Israel becomes unified through of a different narrative.
Second, we are given a lens through which to understand the unfolding drama of the biblical story, a greater vision through which to frame its trajectory. And as we move from the creation story we can begin to locate these necessary patterns of creation, decreation, and ultimately recreation. If Genesis seperates the land and the waters creating order from chaos, then the flood story becomes the decreation pattern, the divine order that holds back the waters being removed and order giving way to chaos once again. This story is equally marked by the creatures of the earth which come in pairs (diversity upheld) and a single family or single humanity once again purposed to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Noah is an Adam type, partaking of fruit which leads to his nakedness and the covenant, and with the sons once again symbolizing the unfolding violence of the nations being established, dividing them and setting them against one another. Just as the nations form out of Adam’s (humanity) sons, out of Noah’s sons come the nations that will dominate the conflict in the Biblical story.
This sets the stage for one humanity being expressed through Abraham, and through Abraham one family and through Jacob one nation raised up as a blessing for all the world. What becomes most important here though is that this does not happen through conquest, as in one nation ruling the world, but rather it happens through serving others in their diversity, a unfied family of God made up of all tribes, nations, peoples and tongues. This becomes the antithesis to Babel where it says they “all spoke one language”, only, as we will quickly see, the pattern of violence and homogeneity will repeat itself through the human stories from Abraham onwards until it is brought to its fulness in Jesus, which in the larger story we understand as the bringing together of this story- the new Adam, the new Moses, the new Temple.
Perhaps what struck me even more is that out of this pattern of human diverstity we find the means through which all this diversity is brought together- adoption. I am a father to an adopted son, and thus this picture, this metaphor is powerful to me because it means “family” happens through many different forms and realities. As we see Israel being formed out of Egypt, we see it being formed as a mix match of diverse peoples unified by a single reality- oppression. This Exodus narrative becomes the framework for understanding what the vision of “the new Jerusalem” has to say to those under “Babylon”, with the people of God (Israel in its fullest sense) raised up to attend to this oppression by embracing the diversity of humanity. It’s a beautiful and liberating picture.
THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS: REDISCOVERING GOD’S VISION FOR OUR WORLD
I found myself thinking about this series as I was rewatching Disney’s recent and woefully underrated and underappreciated adaptation of the familiar Nutcracker story called The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. I think people misrepresent its simplicity, its grass roots story and its refreshingly dialed back vision which incorporates genuine set pieces into its CGI as its dominant aesthetic, as cheap and superficial. This is a nod to more classic, storytelling techniques, a lost art in some of what dominates even Disney’s vast aray of remakes today.
(Spoiler Warning Ahead)
In this story we have a young woman, a daughter named Clara, who comes to discover on Christmas Eve that her dying mother had left her a final present- a mysterious egg that requires a key to open and an accompanying note that says everything she needs is inside this egg. Thus she must figure out how to open it, a quest that takes her to a parallel world called the four realms where she encounters the Nutcracker.
As she discovers the story of the realms, she discovers that her mother was the queen of the realms and as the “image” of her mother, a fact those in the realm repeatedly point out, she is the princesss, the heir. She is given a grand tour of the realms origin story, not unlike Genesis gives us a grand tour of the cosmos, by way of a special dance production.
As the story unfolds through this lyrical dance we get this vision of a land once unified in its diversity. We also get the corrupted idea of this vision in the story of an evil force (Mother Ginger) who divides the land by attempting to elevate one realm over the others.
The twist of the story comes when it is revealed that the Sugar Plum Fairy, the ruler of the land of the sweets, is actually the one who is dividing the land. She is angry at Clara’s mother’s precieved abandonment of their lands, leaving them to seemingly figure things out on their own. Thus she wants this invention initially intended for good so that she can rule the lands through conquest rather than blessings. A picture of the cyclical patterns that we find in the concept of “Babylon”. This inventions requires a similiar looking key to the one that opens Clara’s eggs, a concept that echos these two trees set in the garden. One brings life, the other brings death.
Clara comes to realize that the gift that her mother imparted her was in fact the image of herself- a mirror hidden inside the egg. A mirror in which she sees herself empowered to be the answer to this division, which in light of the tragic outcome of this Babylon type conquest of uniformity and violence must confront these competing visions of the world and rediscover its intended vision as a unified whole within its diversity. What’s beautiful about the way this story draws that vision out is that it usese this parallel realm as a kind of cosmic viewpoint through which to see her life and her family back home. Torn apart by the death of her mother, that Christmas had to contend with her absence. Death divides. Instead of dancing with her father that Christmas Eve, she rejects that invitation and separates herself from that world. It is in the realms that we get this moment where, from the position of this clock (which represents the notion of time in this story) which sits high above looking down on the room in which she left her father, she gains a fresh perspective, a larger perspective on what is going on. In grieving the loss of her mother, she fails to see her father’s grief for this divided picture, her father’s desire to see the answer to that grief in her. As she sees her father sitting alone on the bench in obvious sorrow and pain, she begins to recognize what it means for them to reunite, to come back together as a family. Thus when she utlimately returns home with this newfound identity as the “image” of her mother, the image of the queen and the ruler of the lands in tow, the dance she shares with her father becomes a unifying work. A way of healing the divide.
For me, this becomes a picture of how it is that we can heal our own divided land, our own divided spaces. God knows that for all that 2020 has brought with it, a unifying global pandemic which has brought us together through a shared struggle, it has also brought equal potential for division. It feels like we are stuck between these two competing divisions made more accute for this present generation than ever before- unity through our diversity or division through our homogenuity, with ideas of conquest and peace clashing at every turn. On one hand we hear loud voices from their differing sides clamoring to convince the other that their side is the right one. We see political lines being drawn even more firmly in the sand. And at the heart of this we see the consequences- violence and conquest, even if that conquest is more ideological in the digital age. We see depression and isolation and further demonstations of power. We see death.
And then we arrive at Christmas, the culmination of the Judeo-Christian story. The unifying work of Christ being made known through the very image of God made flesh. The new Adam out of which we find the fullest revelation of our role as image bearers of God, called to be imitators of Jesus. For us to be called image bearers, God first “imaged” Himself in the form of his creation, in the form of humanity. Christ is like that mirror being turned on ourselves before repeating that oft phrase that follows the call to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth- be a blessing to all that fill the earth. This becomes the Christmas message. As the ministry of Christ on earth begins, so does ours. We are to follow in the way of Jesus. Thus as we come to the birth of Jesus, we are returning to our own origins story. We are being afforded a grand, cosmological view of the vision for a humanity unified in our diversity, and thus unified in our dividedness. We are called to be God’s hands and feet in the building of the New Jerusalem, the very image of completeness, fullness, healing, peace, joy and love. As The Bible Project people so aptly put it, on the 7th day God rests. We should not, as they did in the story of the Nutcracker, take this to mean God’s absence. Rather we should take it to mean God’s image dwelling among them, God’s residing in the throne room of the temple, the bringing together of heaven and earth, the “realms” and the “land”, the filling of the earth with its diversity as a unifying whole. The very vision of God with us. The very vision of the kind of “dominion” that God imagined for the original creation (embodied in Jerusalem), and the very vision of “dominion” God imagines for the people of The New Jerusalem (new creation). God with us, Jesus’ self giving ministry, frees us to be a blessing to others, and thus begin the work of “recreation”. The call to begin the work of bringing good will and peace to all humanity through the singular acts of our own self giving.