Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gen 30-31 for Jan 14

One kind of specialty in the movies, and in detective stories, is a complicated plot that all gets explained, but not until the end.

The ancient world loved these kinds of stories -- even the ancient Greek plays sometimes had stories that were incredibly complicated, only to be explained at the end by the "deus ex machina." Is the story of the universe something that will be explainable and explained, at the end? Christianity, among the theistic religions, says with all of them, yes (e.g., Rev 21-22). So this part of the story of Jacob (Gen 31:11-13), in how it ends with explanation.

What needs explaining? For one thing, who is doing what? Is it Jacob's strategy (30:37-41) that causes the increase in the flock to belong to him, not his devious father-in-law ... or is it God (31:12)? Does Jacob think that it was his strategy, at first, and then change his mind, to thinking instead that it was God doing it all along (31:7-10)?

Meanwhile, intertwined with Jacob's strategy, we hear that Laban was strategizing too (31:7). Many people point out that in telling the story this way, Genesis is magnifying the aspect of Jacob's own character that was evident in the stories about him from the beginning, and even his natal position toward his twin brother (Gen 25:26).

Is everything significant? Are all the details of this man's life, from his natal position, to the promise he makes to God in exchange for safety, significant in some kind of plan, laid out like the plot of a movie -- to God? A similar claim is what Jesus makes toward His disciples: "the very hairs of your head are all numbered." Mt 10:30.

In a way, we all say "that's crazy: who can even get out of bed in the morning if they have to worry about what piece of a plot in a movie they have to enact during the day today?"

But the answer to that frees us up. You're not the writer of the plot. You're an agent in the plot. You and I don't have to know or worry about how the intricacies of the plot will be resolved. We're not keeping count of our hairs, and don't have to.

The idea that Jacob's behavior, which is some of the most detailed, spelled-out description of personality and character in the Bible, is circumscribed by the plan of God, may make you mad, especially if you think that means you don't have freedom to do this or that. But take this story and look: one of the main conclusions we should get from this story is definitely that Jacob acting as he chooses to act. And so is God. And things are going forward.

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