Chapter 4

When God Embarked on a Quest

In every human tale, the hero shows some kind of reluctance to leave the land of life-as-we-know-it and set out the solve the problem that the plot introduced. In the Bible, God isn’t a scared hobbit afraid to leave the Shire, nor is he unable to bring himself to do what must be done—and that will prove surprising. But the course of the Bible’s narrative still invites us into his journey to undo the sinful rebellion of Adam, undo Adam’s curse, and restore creation and the order of rule to the earth, ultimately bringing humans back into his own presence like it was in the garden before deceived and rebellious hearts believed a liar.

The first step on the journey is a total reset. Through the flood in Genesis 6–9, God hits a giant “start over” button on the process of creation. He wipes away every vestige of sin and corruption, literally washing the planet clean. He keeps a few righteous humans to start over with, as well as one pair of each kind of animal. In chapter 9, we find a near-perfect reproduction of the original creation story. Dry land arises from the water, birds then animals venture out into the world, and finally God reinstates humanity with a commission to rule the earth and fill it as God’s representatives.

As the readers of the story, we might assume it should work. But as Noah and his sons run smack into more corruption, the story introduces a facet of the overarching problem: Humanity’s sin isn’t a product of environment, and changing environment won’t make that sin disappear. In fact, all of humanity gathers together at Babel in high-handed rejection of God’s sovereignty. God takes the failure of Noah and his sons, as he took Adam’s before, in stride. Though readers may be understandably tempted to believe that the promise God made to Adam and Eve about a coming deliverer could be fulfilled with each new character that steps into the story, God’s prepared for the long-game, as it were. For the quest to stretch on through the years.

And that’s why in Genesis 12 when God calls a single person—Abraham—we buckle in for the long haul. God promises to bless Abraham in much the same way he intended to take care of the first humans. It’s as if he’s working to slowly prove to the human race that he can be trusted to love them, care for them, and bless them. His promise comes without gimmicks or fine print. God shows love and blessing to Abraham without any further requirement than he simply follow. His promise to Abraham sounds like both the blessing at creation (and re-creation after the flood) and hints at the fulfillment of the promise to undo all that had been broken.

The story of God’s relationship with Abraham plays out over several chapters in Genesis. And at each juncture, God offers Abraham opportunities to respond to his loving protection by trusting him and carrying out blessing to the world around him. As each successive generation inherits the promised blessings (first Isaac and then Jacob), God’s relationship with them continues to grow. The promise remains the same: Abraham’s family will inherit the land (like a reboot of Eden) and will be a blessing to the world as God’s representatives.

God’s still looking for a new Adam, still searching for that one who will do what Adam couldn’t. But the balance of Genesis shows that he’s working with flawed people. Abraham has doubts, Isaac plays favorites, and Jacob gets what he wants by hook or by crook. And then Jacob’s sons doubt, play favorites, and get what they want—ultimately selling one of their own brothers into slavery. But through all of these flaws and failures, God is showing people who he is. His love for humanity demonstrated in his patience. His ongoing commitment to his creation expressed in his forgiveness and grace as subsequent characters in God’s story continue in Adam’s failure.

Throughout the lives of the patriarchs, the problem that became evident after the flood surfaces again: No matter how faithful God is to his promises, no matter how far out of his way he goes to show compassionate care and provision, no matter how many times he proves the depths of the well of his forgiveness and patience, the human heart will always wander into rebellion. But in the midst of the repeated failures in Genesis, we do get glimpses of humanity functioning the way God wants it to.

Abraham demonstrates incredible faith in trusting the life of his son to the God he serves when he goes to offer Isaac on the altar at Moriah. Joseph trusts God implicitly, even when it means constant suffering. And, when given the chance to leverage power and position against the brothers that wronged him, Joseph chooses to trust God and forgive instead.

Slowly, a picture begins to take shape. The true heir of Adam, the descendant promised by God himself, who would crush the deceiver who planted rebellion in the heart of humanity, is going to have to be an extraordinary human being—someone who trusts God to a degree no one else has. Someone who will give of himself until there’s nothing left to give. Someone who will obediently submit to God’s direction and care. Until he comes, God’s people wait in anticipation and expectation. And God waits, not in anxious anticipation, but in patient deliberation, showing his people his care, and how much they need him; gently (and sometimes not so) correcting them when their rebellious hearts run wild. But always moving toward the revelation of the new Adam.

The opening book of the Bible not only sets the scene, paints the problem, and introduces us to the hero on his quest, but it also starts giving us clues to how the story will eventually play out. These bits of foreshadowing don’t point directly to Jesus—they draw a line around a silhouette. We know that God’s looking for a new Adam, and we now have a better idea of what he can’t be: unfaithful, vengeful, and centered on himself. But we do also get a bit of a picture of what he should be: trusting, forgiving, and obedient.