Genesis begins with the story of creation and the beginnings of human society. The stories of the ancestors then set the stage for the birth of a nation that would be intimately related to the creator God who continues to create relationships of covenant with people of natural faith (like Abraham), people who laugh at the prospect of God’s help (like Sarah), people who actively try to bring about God’s will (like Rebekah), people who must learn to accept grace only after long struggle (like Jacob), and people whose life is tragedy and yet they find a way to show grace (like Joseph).
This ancient text does not present us with a simple, easy-to-process picture of God. The creator shows both severity and mercy when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, decides to destroy humanity when humans behave in ways that destroy community, but shows mercy on the few who are faithful. In the end, the narrative focusses on God’s relationship to a single family, the family of Abraham, and on a single branch of that family, the children of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. Again the relationship is complicated. The final hero, Joseph, is not innocent, but is blessed anyway. In fact, multiple times in Genesis blessing falls to someone seemingly undeserving, and the book ends with just such a story, the blessing of Joseph’s younger son over his elder brother for no explicitly stated reason.
This complicated picture of the relationship between God and specific characters reflects the lived experience of people of faith around the world. God is not easily explained, though easy and superficial attempts at explaining God are abundant. There is no systematic theology here, only stories that make us think.