The Book of Genesis is peopled with fascinating figures, but no portrayal is more striking or memorable than that of God. Whether the reader sees the Bible as divinely inspired or as the work of human ingenuity (or both), the power of this text is undeniable. The God of Genesis is deeply etched into the culture and history of Europe and the Americas.
Where many creation stories from other cultures show the forces of order and chaos, or good and evil, locked in equal combat, Genesis 1 describes a God whose goodness alone is the source of all life and all form. The abyss – the primal chaos that is “formless and void”—before creation is not depicted as an evil force that must be overcome. Rather, the abyss needs to be ordered to reach its full potential.
Other origin stories tell of many different gods who themselves are created, and who work together or fight against one another, to create out of the remnants of previous creations. In contrast, the first part of Genesis describes one God who is self-sufficient, powerful, and benevolent. The God of Genesis, who needs nothing, chooses to create anyway. God creates not from leftovers but out of that chaos, or as the contemporary scholar Robert Alter translates it, “out of welter and waste.”
The description of God continues to expand throughout the Book of Genesis, gradually revealing a God who loves zealously, who chooses favorites, who inflicts terrible punishments, and shows mercy beyond measure—but who is never distant or detached. Genesis is the account of this very personal God’s powerful relationship with humanity.
TRANSCRIPT of a family conversation
Setting: A family of four is sitting down to dinner
Participants: P = the mother, J = the father, D = their 20-year-old son, M = their 17-year-old son
D1: Mom, I, give me a rest, give it a rest. I didn’t think about you. I mean, I would rather do it. <unclear> some other instance in my mind.
P1: Yeah, well I can understand you know, I mean <unclear> Hi I’m David’s mother, try to ignore me.
D2: I went with a girl like you once. Let’s serve this damn chili.
M1: Okay, let’s serve the chili. Are you serving or not dad?
J1: Doesn’t matter.
P2: Would you get those chips in there. Michael, could you put them with the crackers.
J2: Here, I’ll come and serve it honey if you want me to.
P3: Oh wait, we still have quite a few.
D3: I don’t see any others.
P4: I know you don’t.
D4: We don’t have any others.
P5: Yes, I got you the big bag I think it will be a help to you.
J3: Here’s mom’s.
M2: Now this isn’t according to grandpa now.
M3: The same man who told me it’s okay <unclear>
P7: Are you going to put water in our cups? Whose bowl is that?
P8: Mike put all the water in here. Well, here we are.
P9: Will y’all turn off the TV.
J5: Pie, I’ll kill you, I said I’d take you to the bathroom.
P10: Man, get your tail out of the soup – Oh, sorry – Did you hear I saw Sarah’s sister’s baby?
M5: How is it?
P11: She’s cute, pretty really.
Biber, Douglas, Conrad, Susan, and Leech, Geoffrey. Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Edinburgh Gate: Pearson Education Limited, 2002. (Print.) (428-429).
From time to time I’ve heard it said that people should “write the way they talk.”
For most of us that would be a very bad idea indeed.
Please read all Talking vs. writing posts:
Transcript of a British conversation 9/9/2012
Serving chili (transcript) 9/13/2012
Talking is old, writing is new (comma splice intentional) – John McWhorter 4/24/2012
Written language took centuries to develop 4/3/2012
Linguist Jim Miller on talking vs writing 3/31/2012