Salvation in Small, Messy, Intimate Spaces

For the last three years I've used a Bible reading plan where I read through the entire Bible in a year, starting on the First Sunday of Advent. As a part of this journey I pick a translation for the year. Sometimes this is the same translation for the entire Bible, sometimes it's a different translation for the Old and the New Testaments. This year, for my Old Testament reading, I'm using Robert Alter's translation and commentary of the Hebrew Bible

In his introduction to Genesis Alter makes an observation about how, in the Tales of the Patriarchs (Genesis 12-50), we find ourselves, quite shockingly for a book purporting to be a Sacred Text, in small, intimate, messy, domestic spaces. And messy to the point of embarrassment. As readers of Genesis, we bear witness to familial and domestic pettiness, squabbling, deceit, and betrayal. Between spouses. Between parents and children. Between siblings. 

Alter's point is that Israel's salvation history doesn't play out on a grand, cosmic, metaphysical or mythological scale. Salvation history is, rather, worked out in these small, messy, intimate spaces. 

And for a lot of readers, it's all a bit of a scandal and stumbling block. As we wade through the troubled domestic waters of Genesis, we scratch our heads asking, "Seriously, this soap opera is supposed to be an inspired religious text in which we learn about God?" 

And yet, instead of a scandal, I think all this is a part of the Bible's genius. For where else is salvation supposed to play out except in the small, messy, intimate spaces of your life? 

As we know, the Bible doesn't hand us a moral rulebook to follow. The Bible isn't an ethics class. Nor is the Bible a deep treatise on theology and metaphysics. The Bible isn't for philosophers. And nor is the Bible a richly textured symbolic and mythological tale revealing timeless spiritual truths. The Bible isn't a Jungian geek fest. The Bible is, rather, a collection of stories about real people in real places, and about how God comes to them, and to us and the entire world, in small, messy, intimate spaces. The great drama of salvation is playing out, as it always has, right here and right now, in the soap opera that is our life. 

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