The Bible means different things to different people. For some, it is a valuable spiritual guidebook pointing to the nature of God and his plans. For some, it is a powerfully written piece of literature rich in metaphors and figures of speech.
And for some, the second leads to the first.
What is literature?
- Literature portrays the human experience.
- Literature interprets the human experience.
- Literature is an art form. The style of expression is as valuable as the content.
The Bible uses skillful technique and beauty to portray and interpret the human experience in the light of God’s nature.
Let’s take a look at the story of Cain and Abel. (I’m not really stuck in Genesis but the Genesis stories are rich and deserve analysis.)
The story of Cain and Abel is a classic tale of sibling rivalry. We meet the perfect child contrasted with the problem child and we encounter violence within a family. We see the consequences of a grudge nursed to bitterness. We learn the consequences of giving in to evil impulses. None of these are lightweight topics and each topic studies human experience.
Cain, jealous that God has approved of Abel’s sacrifice while rejecting his, lures Abel into a field and kills him. God had urged Cain to resist the lurking evil and it was God who called Cain to accountability: “Where is your brother Abel?”
In God’s confrontation, we learn that evil actions have consequences. Obviously, Abel was dead. That alone was a severe consequence for submitting to bitterness and jealousy. But not the only consequence.
We read Cain’s trial. God confronts, listens to Cain’s defense (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) and sentences Cain.
All the elements of a classic criminal story are here. We meet the criminal, learn his motive, witness the crime, and then watch the arrest, trial and sentencing.
The story contains a beginning, middle and end. We discover artistic story crafting and word choices.
For example, when God speaks to Cain before the murder, he describes the danger in a powerful imagery: “Sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you but you must rule over it.”
Earlier, God had given Cain the way out by explaining that “if you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”
There, in a nutshell, was the problem and solution. Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted because he had not done what was right. That was correctable but Cain not only refused to do what was right, he chose to do what was wrong.
In a gripping story that probed deeply into the human experience, a powerful lesson was taught. Skillful technique brought vivid meaning.
We’ll continue next Friday.