A Brief Address to the Children of Adam, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac
John C. Rankin (15 March, 2017)
As we consider the turmoil in the Middle East, and surrounding Jerusalem, “the city of peace,” and how to advance the well-being of all people equally, let us start at the beginning. This means Genesis 1-2, the biblical order of creation, and it is addressed to all the children of Adam.
To the Children of Adam
In Genesis 1, we have Elohim the one true Creator, and his grand design comes through the framework of ordered days concluding with the Sabbath rest. It is tov, it is all good. In Genesis 2, we have Yahweh Elohim, where the covenant-keeping Name of Yahweh modifies Elohim, he who makes the first covenant with Adam, the covenant of freedom.
Yahweh Elohim, grammatically, is the One who is greater than space, time and number, the only such written concept in history. There is no living person who can conceive of time, space and number ending – or not ending. We are finite, the universe is finite, and there is One alone who is infinite. Thus, where do we root ourselves in this miracle of human life?
We all have assumptions about reality, and only in testing such assumptions can we learn if they are true, muddled or false. This is what mathematician Kurt Gödel demonstrated in his two Incompleteness Theorems. Unless we hold the assumption that 1+1 = 2 in a world of positive integers, then all math, science, architecture, engineering, music and cognate joys cannot exist. To understand a closed system, as Gödel’s associate Albert Einstein knew so well, we must first stand outside of it and make key interpretive assumptions.
As well, in the storyline of creation (Genesis 1-2), sin (introduced in Genesis 3) and redemption (introduced subsequently in Genesis 3 and running to the end of Revelation), we see a parallel in classical music – equilibrium, tension and resolution. The original tension was good in the satisfactory work of governing the good creation, it is painful thereafter, and we are all wired for the same journey toward resolution.
At the prior level, we have the greatest and most interpretive assumption of all, the assumption in Genesis 1:1: bereshith bara elohim eth ha’shamayim w’ eth ha’eretz, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Assume this, and all else follows cogently. Assume otherwise, and pray tell, what precedes and defines the Hot Big Bang? Can nothing produce something?
The ethical hallmark in Genesis 1-2 is trust, without which the social and political order cannot exist. In eleven positive assumptions in the storyline of Genesis 1-2, we can see the operational assumption of goodness and trust percolating everywhere, that which also equals the basis for the most rigorous commitment to a liberal arts education.
In the first assumption, the nature of Elohim, he speaks into being all that is good, his power is unlimited and intrinsically creative, and it is employed in blessing man and woman. It is the power to give.
Now, after the fall of man in Genesis 3, broken trust is sown by the ancient serpent separating woman from Yahweh Elohim, woman from man, man from Yahweh Elohim and man from woman. Broken trust thus infects human nature and the social order to this day, even as the ethics of redemption through the promised Messiah present themselves.
Thus, would we rather have people give to us as we give to them, or to have people take from us before we take from them?
In the second assumption, the heavenly court of holy angels is in place, including the freedom for those angels who choose to rebel, and hence warfare in the heavens follows before the creation of man and woman.
Do we expect the protection of holy angels who are commissioned to serve mankind, or do we live in such a way that ha’ satan and his demons enslave and devour us?
In the third assumption, communication, Elohim says “let there be light” and there is light. Light reveals, it communicates, and in all Elohim reveals, he is trustworthy. This begets the power to live in the light.
Do we prefer people who live honestly in the light, in unfeigned transparency of intent in how they treat us, or would we rather they be occultic and deceptive toward us?
In the fourth assumption, we are made in the tselm elohim, the very image of the Creator, as his highest purpose, to steward and govern his creation in the equality and complementarity of male and female.
Would we rather be treated by others as slaves to warring and finite gods and goddesses, where male chauvinism triumphs, or be treated as the by-product of a godless cosmos that spits us forth for no purpose, and swallows us up in the end without a burb; or would we prefer to be given the fullest honor and respect as fellow-image bearers of Elohim?
The fifth assumption is the covenant of human freedom, rooted in an honest definition of terms. Yahweh Elohim defines good and evil, freedom and slavery, life and death, and gives us the freedom to choose between them. Using the metaphor of a feast, he gives us an unlimited range of freedom to do the good, the creative, on the one hand, or to choose the slavery of the deathly choice to eat poison, on the other. This is the quintessential and defining level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally, and thus the power of informed choice. Goodness cannot be forced, for imposition is slavery, it is evil, and thus the “good” forced is itself evil. Only with the radical freedom to choose evil, can we choose the good.
Do we want others to choose the evil of enslaving and killing us, or rather for them to choose the good, and honor our lives and freedom?
The sixth assumption is the power to love hard questions, posed of Yahweh Elohim and one another, the very nature of a freedom lived in the presence of Yahweh Elohim as stewards of his good creation.
Do we want others to address or flee our toughest questions, and do we address or flee hard questions posed to us?
The seventh assumption is the goodness of human sexuality, where Adam learns he is not complete without Eve, where the power to give he has received from Yahweh Elohim is the power he is to exercise toward his wife, she in return to him likewise, and they likewise in return in worship of Yahweh Elohim, and that which they are to model for their children. Give and it shall be given is the prescription for human sexuality and the social order. Also, the Hebrew word bayith\, for the household unit, in the Greek of the Septuagint is oikos, and is that from which we derive the word economics, the management of the household. Across human history, the fidelity of the man to the woman in marriage is the single largest factor in economic well-being.
In marriage, do you want your spouse to take from and disrespect you, or do you wish for him or her to participate equally in the power to give?
The eighth assumption is that of verifiable history. Genesis 2 is audacious in giving the geography of the Garden of Eden, and from there, to trace Adam’s genealogy to Noah, Abraham, David and Jesus, and the Jews to this day – 5777 years, at this juncture. All in the Bible is rooted in the verifiable and candid eye-witness history among thousands upon thousands across the years, with no assertion of fable.
Are our identities and humanity better served by tested history or projected hopes without such a foundation?
The ninth assumption is that of science and the scientific method. In Genesis 2, Moses does not call the sun and moon by their pagan names – and thus confuse the sons of Israel as they make exodus from Egypt – but as the “greater” and “lesser” lights. Namely, the descriptive reality of what today we call science and scientific observation. And too, in Deuteronomy 18, if a prophet is not wholly accurate he is a false prophet, the very ethic that precedes and defines the scientific method and its principle of falsification.
What is the archeological evidence for the land of Israel and the capitol of Jerusalem tracing back to biblical claims, and is there any archeological evidence otherwise?
The tenth assumption is that of covenantal law, where Yahweh Elohim holds himself accountable to the promises he makes to us.
How many of us want others to break their promises, and do we ourselves keep our promises?
The eleventh assumption is that of unalienable rights – the Creator who gives life, liberty and property/pursuit of happiness, as cited in John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Yahweh Elohim, in Genesis 1-2, first gives life in the image of God, second he gives freedom to say yes or no to such a gift, and third he gives the covenant of one man and one woman in marriage, in which the root for joy and economic well-being is found. This equals: God → life → choice → sex.
Do we choose God → life → choice → sex, or its reversal, sex → choice → life →/God? In the latter, sex without boundaries is overwhelmingly male chauvinistic in nature, and drives a reversal choice which can lead to bigamy, polygamy, concubinary, prostitution, fornication and adultery, and thus, to the destruction of human life conceived outside the covenant of marriage such as disinheritance, exposure and abortion, all in affront against the Creator and giver of life.
Thus, to all the children of Adam – whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, polytheistic, animistic, secular, agnostic or atheistic – is there anything unattractive in the biblical order of creation, or any better-known source for all these good gifts? In drawing out four central ethics here, in adding two redemptive ethics from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, we arrive at what can be called the six pillars of honest politics:
The power to give affirms that the unalienable rights given by the Creator belong to all people equally, and leaders in human government should serve such a gift.
The power to live in the light means leaders in human government at every level should be as fully transparent as possible.
The power of informed choice is rooted in an honest definition of terms in political debate, providing a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally, apart from which political freedom is not possible.
The power to love hard questions is in place when political leaders honor and answer those who pose them the toughest questions.
The power to love enemies recognizes that even the harshest of political opponents share a common humanity and are to be treated with respect.
The power to forgive recognizes the need to address our individual and societal transgressions against one another, and to work toward justice and reconciliation.
What could change in the Middle East conflict if all the children of Adam embraced these pillars? Can anyone say no to them, if so, on what basis, and if so, what is a better model? One way to sum them up most simply is: A Love for Freedom and Hard Questions.
To the Children of Abraham
In Genesis 12, Abraham is called by Yahweh out of pagan Babylonia, where his father Terah is part of the whole idolatrous culture that has swallowed up human civilization. Abraham is a remaining non-idolater who can recognize the voice and nature of Yahweh, and is given a covenantal promise for his lineage – leading to the Messiah – to be a blessing to all nations. He is to have a son, even in his old age, through whom the Messiah and the blessing to all nations is to come to pass. And this promise of the blessing through Abraham is honored by Yahweh across the millennia, and will be fulfilled in the Messianic kingdom.
Genesis 12 is situated in the original saga of human sexuality. In Genesis 1, the social order is created for male and female together as the image of God to govern his good creation. In Genesis 2, man and woman become one in marriage as the foundation for the social order. In Genesis 3, the ancient serpent divorces the decision making between the woman and man in order to destroy marriage and the social order. In Genesis 4, this brokenness leads to murder and bigamy. In Genesis 5, the reassertion is made of the equality and complementarity of male and female, marriage and parenthood. In Genesis 6, the judgment of the Flood is due to the reification of women in the building of harems – the very mockery of marriage. In Genesis 9-11, the stage is set for the Canaanites and Babylonians to advance the triad of sorcery, sacred prostitution and child sacrifice, further degrading faithful marriage. In Genesis 16, Abraham yields to taking a concubine, and this broken marriage yields endless wars between the nations. In Genesis 19, the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah is due to a sexual anarchy that morphs into social anarchy and the trampling of the poor and needy, as the biblical concept of marriage is but a distant memory.
To the Children of Ishmael
Yet, even as Abraham falls short, Yahweh’s promise and covenant remains. Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, is born out of human effort. Sarah becomes impatient in their old age for Yahweh’s timetable, and tries to have a son through the concubine Hagar. But as Hagar sees how she is being manipulated, Sarah casts her out, and then seeks to keep Ishmael away from his father Abraham, who loves him. Undeserved shame roots itself in the soul of little Ishmael, and he grows into the quintessential fatherless boy, “a wild donkey of a man,” and the many nations that come from him carry the same undeserved shame.
To the children of Ishmael, the Arab peoples, and 2400 years later, the beginning of the Muslim peoples: You are ravaged by sin as we all in our own ways. And yet you are honored as the children of Abraham, and you are offered the same religious, political and economic liberty as are all people equally, and then the resurrection life, as found in following the biblical storyline from beginning to end.
To the Children of Isaac
Isaac is born thirteen years after Ishmael to the aged Sarah, the one through whom Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham is to be carried. Through Isaac come the tribes and nation of Israel, and despite how often Israel, then Judah, turn away from the covenants with Adam., Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, Yahweh’s promise remains.
To the children of Isaac, your remnant survived against all odds for the appearance of the Messiah. And against all further odds, you, the Judahite remnant, the Jews, survive to this day as the heirs for why the Messiah has come.
An Interpretation and a Hope
This is written by a disciple of Jesus as the Messiah, Yahweh Elohim incarnate, Son of God and Son of Man, King of kings and Lord of lords. It is not expected that Jews, Muslims, polytheists, animists, secularists, agnostics and atheists will necessarily embrace certain parts of this interpretation of biblical and human history.
But any biblically literate disciple of Jesus embraces the original power to give, and the final power to forgive – the bookends of the Bible – in our conduct toward all people. And thus, we labor for the genuine well-being of all people equally, willing to sacrifice our own well-beings to that end.
Thus, in the face of the turmoil in the Middle East, is there any better means to pursue justice and mercy for all equally, for the wholeness and integrity of shalom, than by affirmation and pursuit of the eleven positive assumptions in Genesis 1-2, and their concomitant six pillars of honest politics?