May 11, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Second part of Genesis: The four patriarchs

John F. Fink(Fourth in a series of columns)

Last week, I briefly discussed the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis.

Before leaving the first part completely, I’d better say something about the Catholic Church’s teachings about creation and evolution. Keep in mind the principle that science and theology cannot be in opposition. Also, the fact that the Book of Genesis, or any of the Bible, is not a scientific treatise.

The Catholic Church does not have a problem with the theory of evolution if this is how God decided to create humans.

Pope John Paul II said in his catechesis on creation in 1986, “The theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not exclude divine causality, is not in principle opposed to the truth about the creation of the visible world, as presented in the Book of Genesis.”

However, he added, “The doctrine of faith affirms that man’s spiritual soul is created directly by God.”

Now, let’s move on to the second part of Genesis. Chapters 12 through 50 tell us the truly fascinating stories of Israel’s four patriarchal figures: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. I encourage you to read these stories. I guarantee you won’t be bored.

Since the first part of Genesis told us that humans as a whole proved unresponsive to God’s self-revelation, the second part says that he then turned to a new plan. He would work through a single chosen people who would respond and witness God’s blessings to all nations.

Both the Jews and the Arabs claim Abraham as their ancestor, and Genesis confirms that. It tells how God led Abraham from Mesopotamia to Palestine and about the covenant God made with him to make him the father of many nations.

Abraham was a nomad with a large flock of sheep, such as you still see the Bedouin in the Holy Land. His adventures with his wife, Sarah, and his nephew, Lot, are told over 14 chapters, beginning with Chapter 12. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is in Chapter 19.

God made his covenant with Abraham in Chapter 15, giving him the land we now know as the Holy Land. This is important for understanding the modern conflict between the Jews and the Palestinians because the covenant was made before Abraham had any children. His first child was Ishmael, whom he had with Sarah’s slave girl Hagar. As his part of the covenant, Abraham had Ishmael circumcised and Muslims as well as Jews to this day continue that practice. Ishmael went on to become the father of the Arab nations.

Sarah then bore Isaac, Abraham’s second son and the one from whom the Jews are descended. Abraham’s biggest test of trust in God took place when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Mariah, on the huge boulder that was eventually enclosed in the Jewish Temples and which today is in the Muslims’ Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

An angel stopped Abraham from killing Isaac, and he passed God’s test. †

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