How to Read Yourself Into Genesis

You’re part of the story of this dysfunctional family. And that’s a good thing!

My wife ’s college roommate would sometimes tell people, “I’m a descendant of George Washington!” It was an interesting way to start a conversation at a party, but more than that, I think, she was claiming a connection to the founding father as a way of writing herself into the history of America. Her story was America’s story, through this somewhat dubious lineage.

We do something similar when we read Genesis. The best way to read the first book of the Bible, with its sprawling story of a dysfunctional family, is to read ourselves into the text. We need to find ways to find ourselves as part of the narrative.

It is natural for most of us to feel a strangeness, reading Genesis, because we come to this story as outsiders who have been invited in. We are, as the apostle Paul said, grafted in through Jesus (Rom. 11:17–24). We have been adopted into this narrative about God’s family, and become children of Abraham, so that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, ESV).

If you’re reading it for the first time, or the first time in a while, you’ll see pretty quickly that the story of Abraham is a story of profound family dysfunction. We find our place in the narrative easily, because that family is so fractured. But then it is also the story about a promise of restoration—a story where we can be re-storied, re-narrated, restored. That’s the power and promise of Genesis.

But as we read, we really have to prepare for the dysfunction. Consider perhaps the most upsetting bit of parenting in Genesis: when Abraham attempts to sacrifice his son Isaac. If the parent of one of your child ’s friends confided in you, “God is telling …

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