As I can’t get either of my computers to make proper connections this morning, I’ll just sum up the issues of interpretation which my use of the book of Genesis has thrown up.
1. The book is an edited collection of stories arranged to show how the history of the universe leads into the history of Israel. Very ancient material is laid side by side with much more recent material, and sometimes the ragged edges show.
2. God is a character in the narrative. It is precisely the case that this “God” is invented by the authors. That’s not to say that the invention bears no relation to reality, but it should prohibit readers from thinking that this “God” is the same as theirs.
3. “The map is not the territory; the name is not the thing named.” These principles of thinking should be observed in any theology and are particularly appropriate to the sophisticated, ironical exploration of the human condition called “In the Beginning.” or “Genesis” (Hebrew:Bireshith) The stories invent and re-invent the character of God as they explore what it means to be human first of all, and then what it means to be Israel.
4. If all that seems a bit tricky, you could refllect that it’s exactly what most believers do in their heads all the time: try to understand the character and purposes of God from their own experience, guided by the old stories. In that process sometimes we may think of God as a tyrant, sometimes a s companion, some times as terrifying otherness. Normally we don’t stick at any one of these “masks” of God realising that any true God must be greater than our experience. That’s the kind of thing that’s happening in tne book of Genesis.
5. Children understand this very well. They accept a story as a story, knowing that these charcaters belong in the story and not outside it. They feel free however to use the characters to contruct their own additional stories in play and fantsay. They know that stories allow them to play with different undertsandings of the same issues.