Like all stories, the Bible opens on a life-as-we-know-it scene playing out with the fuzzy glow of normalcy. The first chapters of Genesis waste no time in introducing us to the hero of the story (“In the beginning God…”) and in setting the scene. Creation takes place across two chapters and settles into the idyllic wonder of a brand-spanking-new world. So new, in fact, that the dew hasn’t even dried.
In that world, God sets up a crucial kind of order. The planet itself is full of life, if a bit untamed. Birds and fish teem in the air and sea, livestock and wild animals roam the dry ground, and plants grow with wild abandon. It’s in that chaos of infant creation that God creates a bit of structure—a garden we call Eden. Into that garden God puts both of his new humans—creatures he’s made in his image. That concept “image” gets thrown around quite a bit, but the gist of it in Genesis is simply that humans were to be God’s representatives to the earth. He was God over the universe and humans were the physical representation the invisible God on the planet.
So long as that order—God-humans-earth—stayed put, the idyllic world of early Genesis would also stay put. God in his grace would give humanity everything it needs to not only to survive but to thrive. Humanity, in turn, would live in trusting obedience to him, exercising dominion and care for the world around them.
But as with every story, conflict hovered not far away. In the third chapter of Genesis, a trickster waltzes into the garden and drops the thought into the humans’ minds that maybe—just maybe—God’s holding out. If they disobey his command and decide for themselves what is good or bad and eat of the forbidden tree they could be their own gods. Rulers of their own destinies.
At the heart of the Bible’s story is that problem: God created humanity to rule the earth as his representatives. With great love he gave them his authority and power and life. But humanity chose (and would continue to ever after) autonomy over trusting submission. The first humans wanted to be masters of their own lives, and so chose rebellion. That rebellion brought death as God had promised. But it also corrupted the order of rulership. Earth and reproduction would no longer submit compliantly to humanity. Humanity would suffer in hard work on both fronts. And their ultimate relationship to God broke too.
That’s the conflict that sets off the story. The balance of Bible then shows the hero—God himself—on a quest to fix what humanity broke. To restore the order of rule, to bring human hearts back into loving submission to him, and to find a replacement Adam—someone who could rule the earth in perfect obedience to the Father and be the living, breathing, physical representation of the invisible God. Reading the Bible, we follow in that journey in which God goes to incredible, even shocking, lengths to reclaim humanity. We sit with bated breath and watch as he moves through the events of human history on his quest. And we wait with anticipation for the climax and resolution of his journey.
If that sounds like Jesus is the inevitable answer to you, great. You’ve been through this story before. But we have a long way to go before we get to Jesus, and every bit of ink in the Old Testament is crucial for understanding how the story gets us there. We can’t skip ahead; we can’t just “sum up” and say everything in the pages of Genesis through Malachi points to Jesus and ignore the rest; we have to do the work of reading the story. Because every story has an author and that author puts everything in the story for a reason.