Thursday, July 27, 2017

Culture informs the Bible?

"I must have read Genesis 30 half a dozen times in my life, but I never realised exactly how disgusting it was until I watched The Handmaid’s Tale. In case you’ve been enjoying life away from the 24-hour news cycle, the television adaptation of the 1985 book by Margaret Atwood follows the story of a woman who is forced into sexual servitude in a society plagued by widespread infertility."
'The Handmaid’s Tale: religion gone wrong', by Tess Holgate, July 26th 2017, Eternity News

This text opens an article that considers a television version of a novel.  The novel establishes a dystopia - a harrowing mix of patriarchy and screwed-up Biblical legalism.
Image credit: Eleni Kalorkoti, In the New York Times.

I had read about the book, and the television production, some weeks before.  Indeed, the author of the book presents an excellent summation of the television production in this linked article.  However, I could not bring to read the Eternity News article beyond the opening sentence. 

Let's go through that opening sentence in detail:

"I must have read Genesis 30 half a dozen times in my life..."

I've no issue here.  It is a statement of fact.  There is possibly some poetic license as to the count - 'half a dozen' not being literal.

"...but I never realised exactly how disgusting it was..."

Critical here is consideration of the subject. "It" is Genesis 30.  So, Genesis 30 is said to be disgusting.

"...until I watched The Handmaid's Tale".

By construct of the sentence there is an implication that the television program has shed light on Genesis 30.  The author, in effect, identifies that she was informed about the Bible - and drew a conclusion about the Bible - through a secular television program. 

The book and television production's title stems from Rachel and Leah's handmaiden's Bilhah (verse 7) and Zilpah (verse 9).  I am inclined to think that the core issue developed through the book and television production is the sinfulness of man - the handmaiden thing is just a clothes hook for the story to swing from.

Let's push past the first thought that came to my mind - the curiosity of a journalist employed by the Bible Society of Australia leaving the reader with the impression that part of the Bible is disgusting.  Let's push on instead to the problem of allowing modern culture to inform us about the Bible.

I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies.

John Piper captures an important consideration.  It is not culture that informs us, or enriches us, about God's Word.  It is God's Word that informs us and enriches us about God's Word and culture.  We are to look from the Bible to culture, not from culture to the Bible.  The lens from which we judge culture is completely set for us by the Bible.

Genesis 30 is filled with magnificent beauty.  Where the Eternity News journalist identifies with  Genesis 30 as a whole, the relevant verses are only part of chapter 30 - Genesis 30:1-24.  While those verses may open with Rachel's jealously (verse 1), it comes to a wonderful point where "God remembered Rachel .. and opened her womb" (verse 22).  Rachel gives birth to Joseph (verse 24).  In this way, Genesis 30:1-24 can be read as being about God's providence of children despite the sin of Rachel. Indeed, it is a vital story as it identifies the birth of all of Jacob's children (see also Genesis 35:23-26) - including Jacob's lineage to Joseph.  The balance of Genesis 30 - verses 25 to 43 covers material that is not immediately relatable to The Handmaid's Tale.

The Handmaid's Tale potentially informs, or dystopically illustrates, a small part of Genesis 30.  Viewing The Handmaid's Tale should not draw a Christian to disgust for Genesis 30 but instead for disgust for current culture.


Note: all links good as at 27 July 2017


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