Thursday, June 3, 2010


It's always tempting to skip the lists. Lists of names, interminable lists of who begat who. Then there are other lists -- lists of sins, lists of sacrifices, lists of festivals, lists of laws. I once owned a Bible that put the lists in smaller print, as if to say "Nothing to see here, folks, just skip over this part ..."

And most of the time that's okay. I would never encourage someone new to reading the Bible to plow through Leviticus, for instance. I would never encourage a newcomer to ponder the genealogy in Matthew 1 or the one here in Genesis 5. It's not worth their time.

But later ...

Later on, when you've read the stories in the Bible, when you know the characters and the names and the incidents in the Bible's overarching story, then it can be fun to dig through these lists, sifting through a lot of gravel to find an occasional nugget of gold. It's in the genealogy in Matthew 1, for instance, that we learn that Jesus is descended from some women who highlight the sins of Israel's past -- Tamar the unfairly shamed daughter-in-law of Judah (see Genesis 38) Rahab the prostitute from Jericho (see Joshua 2), and "the wife of Uriah" more commonly known by her own name, Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11). These three women, specifically highlighted in the genealogy of Jesus, bring up some of the most troubling, most unpleasant aspects of Israel's history. Where's the gold in that? Well, isn't it comforting to know that out of these disgraceful things, God brought about Jesus? And isn't it comforting to know that out of the disgraceful episodes of your life, God can bring good? (See Romans 8:28)

So what's in Genesis 5? Lots of really old people, for one thing. But the gem here comes late in the chapter, when Enoch "walked with God" and so didn't suffer a normal death -- he "was no more, for God took him." What does that mean? We don't know exactly. But out of this humdrum list of names that reads like reading stones in a graveyard, we get this little glimpse of something better. Enoch walked with God. In Jesus' own time, Enoch was something of a folk hero. They had written a book about him, the Book of Enoch, that made up all kinds of interesting tales about the derring-do of Enoch and the way that angels and demons fought in the heavens and what would come about in the end times. It was very popular reading in the time when Jesus walked the earth, though no one ever thought it a proper book to be included in the canon of Scripture. Many New Testament books are influenced by the Book of Enoch, however, and Jude even alludes to it. I suppose in that day it would have been equivalent to the Left Behind series of books today, or maybe The Shack. Interesting, thought provoking, but it will get you in trouble if you try to make it a book of the Bible.

So what about Enoch? I keep coming back to that phrase, he walked with God. It takes me back a couple chapters to the garden where God walked with Adam and Eve. Enoch walked with God, and somehow his death wasn't like a normal death because of his relationship with God. The implication, I guess, is that God took Enoch bodily into heaven after 365 years, sort of like God took Elijah bodily into heaven when he was too burned out to continue his ministry (see 2 Kings 2). I'm not too concerned about what happened to Enoch at the end of his earthly life, but the association between his non-death and his walk with God intrigues me. Because I've seen it. I've walked with people right up to the edge of death many, many times, and I know that there is usually a striking difference between the death of one of God's holy ones -- those who intimately know what it is to be carried by Jesus' love and mercy -- and one who has limped along on their own two feet all their lives, never trusting quite enough to be carried. Those who know from experience how to trust Jesus face death with the assurance that here, too, Jesus will carry them as he has carried them many times before. Those who always have to stay on their feet tend to grasp at straws at the end of their lives, even as those straws dissolve one at a time until finally they are left holding nothing, and they exit this life in a sort of helpless wishing for more to hold on to. When Jesus carries his beloved from this life, they look like they're getting away with something, slipping away like the delicious punch line in a joke that the rest of us, standing around the bed in tears, can't quite get yet. When the schemers and the limpers leave this life, they hang on to their last breath like it was their last nickel and they didn't want to go broke.

It's about trust, I think, and trust comes from walking with God. As we spend time in his presence, in his holiness, we begin to see life from a radically new perspective. We begin to find ourselves a little pathetic, a lot humorous, and unbelievably loved. We rediscover wonder. We begin to see ourselves and our surroundings -- even if we're in a vacant lot in downtown Chicago -- as examples of a fearful and wonderful creation. The God who made this is the one who, in Jesus, promises to meet me on the other side of death and carry me through.

Peggy taught me this. She was in her mid-40's and about to leave a husband and two children. Several days before her own death, we talked frankly about her relationship with God. She was having a ball planning her funeral, picking out songs and enjoying the opportunity to throw one last big party. She had worked through the anger and frustration and resignation and grief of leaving her beloved ones, and she and I shared a few quiet moments while her family went for lunch one day. I asked if she had any concerns about her relationship with God, if she was at peace. She straightened up just a bit and stared me sternly in the eye. "Pastor Jeff, I figure all I need to do is die, and Jesus will take care of everything else. If there's something else I need to know, you'd better tell me right now!" I laughed and said, no, Peggy, I think you've got it straight. More straight than anyone else I know. Peggy knew about trust.

Part of the truth of this is that when we walk with God, we can't choose the pathway. He gets to direct the route. We end up walking in a lot of places we might not choose to go. The valley of the shadow of death from Psalm 23, for example, or the deep waters of Psalm 69. Difficult places. But he leads us in green pastures and still waters as well, and he restores our soul, and we learn to know his voice and follow his lead.

Enoch walked with God. I like the sound of that.

1 comment:

  1. "When Jesus carries his beloved from this life, they look like they're getting away with something, slipping away like the delicious punch line in a joke that the rest of us, standing around the bed in tears, can't quite get yet."
    I love this picture. I have not had the honor of personally seeing a loved one slip into the arms of Jesus but this made me not fear to. Thank you.