The origin story of mankind as told in the Old Testament is a fascinating one, and tells a great deal about human nature. This sample research paper on theology explores how the move towards community and cultural living may have formed in the early days of Christianity.
Grace, after the fall
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and God confronted him about it, he laid the blame on his wife instead of owning up to his actions (The Holy Bible, New International Version, Gen 3:12). God was not amused, and summarily booted them both from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:23). But in spite of Adam’s pratfall from grace, God did not simply drop the human race and move on.
Instead, he clothed them (v.21), gave Adam a job and the means to support his wife and future family (v. 19), and let them get on with life, and it is assumed from the text that he and Eve straightened out and obeyed God from that point on. The damage was done, but it wasn’t unbearable. From the banishment to the flood in Genesis 7, humanity steadily moved from the wildness of the untamed Earth to civilization, both in physical characteristics and in its ethos; we see similar movement today in crime-infested areas.
Testament and community
Interestingly enough, man makes the move towards community first, both biblically and today. When Cain and Abel sacrifice in Genesis 4:3-5, as Matthew Henry pointed out in his monumental Exposition on the Old and New Testament, that the two vastly different brothers bring their offerings together, and they join in a mandated sacrifice along with their father Adam. Later on, after Cain is banished for murdering Abel, he founds the first city for him and his family to dwell in.
Both the pious and the sinful gravitate towards community, suggesting that it is a natural, innate part of human life. In Tattoos On the Heart, Jesuit priest Greg Boyle recounts how members of warring gangs were drawn to his parish, the Dolores Mission in Los Angeles. The members were brought together in schools and work environments; but it was that mandated togetherness, in spite of their vast differences, that brought a sense of community, even though the gang members hated each other.
When the rest of Los Angeles exploded in rioting in 1992, the neighborhood around the Dolores Mission was quiet, even though it was widely considered to be the most volatile area in the city prior to the riots (1-6). In both cases, community and the sense of togetherness that enveloped the gang members was the first separation from the previously chaotic norm.
Once community is established, however loosely, love eventually springs out of it. While the gang members of Boyle’s congregation were slowly coming together, it was a spirit of love—for them, for the community, for Christ—that kept the innocent members of the congregation going. As Boyle recounts, though there was constant grumbling among the parishioners, the lay leaders of it stuck with their spirit of Christian love to keep working towards their goal.
“We help gang members at this parish because it is what Jesus would do” (4).
Similarly, it is God’s unwavering fondness that keeps humanity alive in spite of its wickedness in Genesis 6. Even though God determines that he needs to wipe most of the human race off the Earth, he finds one small group that he can spare: Noah and his family. Noah remains faithfully obedient to God, who loves him as a son in return and tells him how to escape the necessary punishment for humanity.
Though the Bible does not name everyone who was in the Ark with Noah—while 7:1 says his whole family (which, in ancient times, also meant any siblings, cousins, etc, dwelling under the same patriarch, which was Noah, not just the immediate sons and in-laws), while only Noah himself was found righteous before God—it is clearly enough people for God to keep humanity going. In spite of the grumbling, Noah’s obedience to the mission of God results in his being loved by God, and therefore allowing the community to survive.
Religion, the fall from grace, and war
War, however, threatens the community via both internal and external factors. In Boyle’s case, the community was patched together from warring gangs (1). Gang members would either fight with each other at the Mission school, chasing away faculty and endangering the fragile unity that the parish was attempting to forge and foster. The block was still considered so ripe for violence before the 1992 rioting that the National Guard was sent in (5).
Shootings remained a threat throughout his work as a priest (2). Similarly, in pre-flood Genesis, the Bible mentions “heroes, men of renown” (Gen 6:4). However, these terms are understood in the classical representation of “heroes” from other cultures; Hercules, Achilles, and countless other warrior-heroes. “Renown” is a term used almost exclusively in reference to fighting or exploits in war. When God tells Noah of his plan to wipe out the human population of the world, he expressly mentions that a main reason is a love of violence (Gen 6:13).
Beyond violence, other corruptions and moral decay–drugs in the gang-dominated ghetto, and all sorts of wickedness in the Bible–threaten to tear apart community and the love that fuses it together. Even in the 20th century, numerous conflicts in Rwanda, Kosovo, and Bosnia included war-rape; in the wake of a battle or taking of a city, enslavement, pillage, rape, and murder are all commonplace. So when God tells Noah of his plan to take out the unrighteous, he is referring to not just the violence of battle, but also to all the additional sins that come along with it. Similarly, Henry notes that when the Bible refers to the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of man”, it is referring to the marriage of the righteous to the unrighteous. When the community is corrupted by wickedness, it is in grave danger.
Sometimes, the community needs to engage in a war of its own. God waged a 40-day and 40- night campaign against the wicked men threatening Noah and his family via a catastrophic flood (Gen 7:17-8:10). In one fell swoop, the enemies of the community are wiped out. Boyle’s parish fought against the violence enveloping their community in another way: prayer marches (2-3), lunches and community activities, and the creation of non-profits designed to educate and employ gang members (3-8). The Mission parish was therefore able to keep the community together and repulse the threats posed to its members by the violent culture outside of it.
When a community is formed, and subsequently fostered by love, it has the capacity to experience peace within itself. Boyle’s community was at peace while riots erupted all around it (5). Likewise, Noah’s family was at peace first while the rest of mankind was tearing itself apart (Gen. 6:13a). The chaotic, war-like setting in which man was living gave way, through the flood, to peace and renewal (Gen 7:17-8:11).
The Earth was reborn, and Noah and his familial community were set to enjoy the new world. It unfortunately did not last long, since out of all of his family, only Noah and two of his sons were righteous (meaning that not only Ham, but the extended family that came along were wicked). But it still survived and remained in a state of relative recreation for at least those first few post-flood generations. Peace managed to reign within the community for a little while—as long as the patriarch survived (350 years post-flood, according to Gen 9:28), the community had its leader.
People tend to gravitate away from chaos and towards stability; it seems to be a natural tendency for human beings. This comes first through community, then through a binding love, which then yields peace. Greg Boyle saw it in action on a small scale at the Dolores Mission; the authors of the Bible recorded it on a grander scale in Genesis. The theme remains the same: the chaos and uncertainty of life on our own can be subdued through forming these communities. It does not matter how many times we fall from states of grace. There is always a well-known path back to it.
Boyle, Greg. Tattoos On the Heart. New York: Simon & Shuster, 2010. Print.
Henry, Matthew. “Exposition on the Old and New Testaments.” Christian Classics Ethereal
Library. Calvin College, 6 Sept. 2006. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990. Print.