Dirty Bible Reading
I’ve been reading Genesis again (Yes, I’m one of those poor saps who opened to the front of his Bible on January 1. Check back with me at spring break when I’ll be lost in Levitical law.) This time through, I’m noticing just how dirty the story is. I don’t mean naughty-dirty. I mean dirty-dirty. As in, covered with soil. Consider:
- God made Adam out of the earth.
- Then he made animals the same way.
- The name Adam, in Moses’ original Hebrew manuscript, was a play on the word for earth, Adamah.
- All of creation started in a garden where mankind was meant to cultivate and get its hands dirty.
- At creation, God separated the waters to create land; in Noah’s flood, he un-created by rejoining the waters over the land.
- When God called Abraham, one of his first promises was to give him land.
- The first land Abraham owned in Canaan was a gravesite — a place to put his wife in the ground.
Time and again in the Bible’s first book, God’s plan involves land. Dirt. Earth. And it’s a theme that will continue well past spring break. The earth will swallow up sinners, mark holy places, pelt enemies, and serve as metaphor for human hearts. Jesus will spit in the dirt before the blind man and draw in the dirt before the adulteress. And at the book’s end, God will make a new earth from a world that’s as old as, well, dirt.
Why? Honestly, I don’t know. There are a lot of things God does that I can’t explain. But I can tell you one of the results of all this Biblical dirty talk: it grounds our faith (pun intended.) It removes the temptation to practice escapist Christianity, to think about Gloryland to the neglect of our homeland, to achieve illumination by transcending the stuff of earth. God does not intend his children to ignore or denigrate the earth with aspirations of heaven. He did not make men with eternity in their hearts and dirt under the fingernails as a sort-of cosmic prank. Our story begins and ends in places with trees and water and spacial measurements. Our faith is to be lived out in the fields and tables, cubicles and bus stations of the real world.