Genealogical research has become enormously popular in the last few decades. What used to require countless hours of study in dusty archive libraries can now be accomplished with a few clicks of a mouse and a DNA sample. Four years ago, TIME magazine reported that genealogy had become the “second most popular hobby in the US after gardening” and the “second most visited category of websites, after pornography.”
Author Gregory Rodriguez credits the advent of digital technology for creating an industry worth billions of dollars. But he also recognizes that the Internet didn’t create this seemingly innate, human desire to understand our origins. The real reason runs deeper. He identifies a “new found need to locate oneself in uncertain cultural terrain.” It’s a search for personal meaning, a restless hunger to know our place in the world. I couldn’t agree more.
We live in a world that is increasingly fragmented. The social and communal identities of centuries past have been replaced by individual autonomy. You can be whatever you want to be – so we’re told. But after a while, the thrill of our newfound “freedom” becomes strangely dissatisfying. When everything is “good,” nothing feels good. Our pursuit for absolute, personal freedom – to be and become whatever we desire – has left us with an acute sense of loneliness, isolation, and despair.
We don’t know why we’re here. We long for meaning. We long for purpose. Becoming whatever we WANT to be isn’t enough. We want to know, especially as we grow older, “Am I becoming what I am SUPPOSED to be? What I was MEANT to be?” So we look to the past, we look to our ancestry, hoping to find a sense of belonging and identity. There’s something deep inside of us, something hard-wired in the human psyche, that longs to be part of something bigger than us. We want a big story that will give meaning and purpose to our little stories.
Maybe you’ve only asked those questions more recently. Maybe you’ve been asking them your whole life. Regardless, friend, know this. You won’t find the answer you’re looking for in your family history. You may learn some cool things. But best-case scenario, you’ll simply understand the biological ties between you and other people who wrestled with the exact same questions during their own lifetime. That’s not an answer to the question.
If you want an answer to the question, don’t look to your past. Don’t look to your ancestry. Look to the Word of God. For it is He who created you. He knows you far better than you will ever know yourself. And in the pages of his word, and especially in the book of Genesis, he explains with breathtaking simplicity and clarity why the universe exists, why we exist, and the ultimate purpose for our lives. It’s written to orient us. And for that very reason it doesn’t start with us. It starts with God.
Genesis was originally written for the nation of Israel as part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Most likely, it was written by Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt. That dates the book to sometime between 1300-1500 BC, though the events recorded in Genesis all reach back to a far earlier time.
Genesis divides into two main sections, the primeval history or origin of the world in general in chapters 1-11, and the patriarchal history or story of a particular family line in chapters 12-50. Major transitions within those sections are marked off by the phrase, “These are the generations,” which function as literary markers, zooming in on a particular person in the preceding section. For example, Genesis 11:27 says, “These are the generations of Terah,” or “this is what became of Terah,” which focuses on the story of Terah’s son Abram and his descendants.
Genesis sets the stage for the rest of the Pentateuch and the Pentateuch sets the stage for the entire Bible, which makes Genesis one of the most important books in the Bible because it functions as an introduction to the whole. We tend to think of a book like this as ancient history. But it is more than history. It’s history in the service of theology. Why do I say that? Because the primary aim of the book is to help us understand the nature of our identity as the people of God.
Genesis traffics in the big questions. Where did we come from? Why is the world the way it is today? What’s our purpose? And where are we going? To answer those questions, Genesis tells a story, a true story, a story of creation and re-creation.
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