In Genesis, there are a few recurring themes that are prevalent in the teachings of Christianity in general, the most easy to distinguish being forgiveness. In day to day life, forgiveness is often used as a tool to avoid punishment. When people choose to forgive each other, conflict subsides. This is a principle of basic human interaction. In the Bible, this principle carries over. I’d even go so far as to say that forgiveness is one of the largest appeals that Christianity has to offer. The idea that accepting Christ goes hand in hand with one’s ability to acknowledge their own wrongs and ask for forgiveness is one that holds comfort. Being forgiven means being relieved, and that is a desire I believe to be shared by most, if not all people, regardless of faith.
In addition to forgiveness, there is also the concept of vengeance. The very juxtaposition of these two overarching themes in Genesis is worth a lot of thought on it’s own. They seem like opposite teachings, which is why I take issue with them. Vengeance is something that exists in all faiths, and many gods are vengeful by nature. I would argue that the God written about in the first testament, especially as He is portrayed in Genesis, is a vengeful one. But if forgiveness is preached, why is God so vengeful?
In my own experience, people don’t want to see God as vengeful because vengeance has a negative connotation, and God exists in faith as an image of perfection. However in polytheistic religions, gods are frequently defined by their vengeful nature, for example Thor in Norse mythology or Hades in Greek mythology. Gods in polytheistic religions aren’t viewed as perfect, instead they often resemble much more closely the imperfections of their earthly counterparts. But I won’t make a statement like this about God without backing it up.
Genesis, the first book in the Bible, is often referred to as the book of beginnings, and was presumably written around 1450-1410 B.C. by the prophet Moses. Some notable passages include The Account of Creation, Cain and Abel, and The Flood (Noah’s Arc). Vengeance plays a big role in many of the stories in Genesis. Let’s take for instance the story of The Man and Woman in Eden (Adam and Eve). There is a lot to break down in this story alone, like the misogyny surrounding Eve and the fact that she was created as a “perfect helper” to Adam because “no other animal” would suffice, and was the first one to crave knowledge and commit sin. I feel this instance alone is proof of the fact that the writers of the Bible were not working through the Holy Spirit because details like this represent so starkly the thinking at the time. If God can know both past, present, and future, certainly he would comprehend a future where women were equals?
The entire concept of the Garden of Eden is structured like a test. It is beautiful, an embodiment of life, and within it, there is the Tree of Knowledge. First off, the fact that the fruit they are forbidden from eating is one that would give them the knowledge of good and evil (an understanding of human existence) is problematic on its own. Why is knowledge of anything forbidden? What is the use of preventing people from learning, even if said learning causes pain? What does this say about Christianity as a whole? It makes me wonder if the point is to prevent people from being too curious, from trying to know things that may seem controversial, from asking questions. The fact that God would even create this test in the first place proves that he expects Adam and Eve to fail, otherwise why would he bother creating temptation if he knew they’d be able to resist it? In the end, they are of course punished for what they’ve done (succumbing to temptation) which brings us to God’s vengeance. While forgiveness is something heavily entrenched in Christian faith and a huge selling point of religion in general, it comes at a price. In Christian teachings, it is accepting that Jesus Christ died for the sins of humankind. There is not, however, any price for receiving the wrath of a vengeful God, as anyone can be punished, regardless of faith.
After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam blames it on Eve, saying she didn’t tell him that it was that fruit (??) but they are both cursed with the sensation of shame, specifically for their nakedness, and banished from Eden. Which, when you think of it, is a hell of a burden. A life without shame is something completely incomprehensible to me, it would be such a relief. But at the same time, shame is a necessary thing in society. It is something that arguably aids in the prevention of people committing crimes and doing wrong in general.
Other instances of God’s vengeance in Genesis include the story of the Tower of Babel, which serves to explain the presence of different languages: “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.” This punishment, of course, was in turn for the people of Babel attempting to build a tower tall enough to reach the heavens. This punishment serves not only as an example of God’s vengeance but also shows the lengths He is willing to go in order to prove the consequences of defiance.
The goal I had in writing this piece was to encourage people to explore what it means to actually be forgiving. Sometimes it’s important to adjust one’s perspective when interpreting something as influential as the Bible, or any divisive text in general. How has your definition of forgiveness been impacted by how it is displayed through biblical teachings? Can forgiveness be genuine if it is self-serving? And vengeance, does it negate a person’s positive qualities, or is it all part of just being human. Furthermore, how does human flaw regarding vengeance carry over to God?
If anyone has any disputes to claims I made, alternate translations they would like to bring to my attention, or answers to questions I ask, please reach out to me by email at [email protected]