The Boring Parts of the Old Testament
At the age of 13, God spoke to me for the very first time. I was at a youth camp in Michigan, and the preacher that night had invited anyone who wanted to hear a word from God to come forward. All my friends went up, so of course, I went up too. I don’t think I’ve ever been the first guy up front at an altar call. It’s one of the great evangelical secrets. No matter how much the sermon speaks to you and how strongly you think you should probably go up there, you’re going to sit back and wait for some other schmuck with the same issues as you to go first. Ah, the psychology of church going. I should write a book about THAT.
Regardless of what got me up there, here I was surrounded by a sea of teenagers, all with their heads bowed in solemn assembly, and I had no idea what to do. I think the leader said something like, “Just talk to Him,” but that didn’t help much. Talk to who? The air? I felt kind of silly, like I was five years old again talking to my imaginary friend. But everyone else seemed to be taking this seriously, so I figured I should too. So I thought, “Well God, do you want to tell me anything?” Immediately, one word pounded into my head and didn’t stop. I still remember it to this day, like a jackhammer. “Writer. Writer. Writer. Writer.” It just filled my thoughts completely. I guess God really knew who He was dealing with, as He was making VERY certain I didn’t misunderstand Him. At that moment, I knew that I was supposed to be a writer.
After that, I got about as seriously into writing as a 13 year old kid can get. I read every book on writing I could get my hands on, wrote tons of terrible short stories, and dreamed of one day being rich and famous. Thankfully, I grew up in an artists home, and my grandfather was a struggling writer as well, so I had some grounding in the reality of making it as a professional. My dad made no bones about the fact that it was a million-to-one shot that I’d ever make it as a writer. Far from deterring me, though, it just fueled me on to show him, and myself, that I could do it. I knew it was my destiny, but I also knew, even at that age, that I had a long road ahead of me. So I continued reading, continued writing, and it soon grew into an obsession. It was all I thought about, all I wanted to do. I wanted to understand the ins and outs of storytelling, to be a master at it.
By the time I got to college, I was a full blown writing addict. My college friends can attest to the fact that I was about as big of a writing nerd as you can get. Too often than I care to remember, I turned down some Friday night invitation to something fun because I had to get through 20 pages that night. In 18 months I wrote 5 terrible books. But still, they were books, and I was proud of them.
Then I moved on to grad school to learn the craft of screenwriting, and became even more steeped in the art of storytelling, drama, conflict, dialogue, character, dilemma, and pacing. Slowly, after nearly two decades of this, I got to the point where I felt I had a fairly decent grasp of the art of storytelling.
In case you missed it, the title of this chapter is “The Boring Parts of the OT”, and at this point you may be wondering what in the world any of this has to do with the Bible. Well, it partly explains why I feel I have to address any of the boring parts of the Bible at all. I am a professional storyteller, and I believe God is the greatest Storyteller of them all. Why, then, is there so much stuff in His book that is almost unreadable?
First, I should probably define what exactly I’m talking about when I say “the boring parts”. It’s pretty simple. You know those parts of the Bible you never read? That stuff.
Specifically, genealogies. So-and-so begat some-other-so, and they begat this-guy who begat that-guy, and so on and so forth until you feel your eyes are going to bleed. I NEVER read this stuff, unless I heard there was some interesting bit thrown in, like that guy Peleg. If you’re not familiar with Peleg, he shows up in Genesis 10:25. Right in the middle of a bunch of begats, you get this little gem:
“Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.”
What the heck is that all about? In his day the earth was divided? What does that mean? Go ahead and look it up in your commentaries, you know you want to. It’s too tantalizing, too strange to just ignore. But then after that, we’re right back into begatting, begetting, and begutting, and I’m snoring in my Laz-y-boy.
I have to think that most people don’t think much about the boring parts simply because they don’t ever read them. Why worry about something that you’ll never read anyway and doesn’t seem to mean much? That was the attitude I had for a long time, until I grew deeper in my understanding of storytelling. I never doubted that God wrote the Bible, nor did I ever doubt that He knew what He was doing the whole time, which is what made these boring parts such a problem for me. If God is such a great storyteller, then how did he ever let this stuff get past the rough draft stage?
The first rule of any storyteller is to entertain. The second rule is that every part of the story must serve a purpose. If a story isn’t entertaining (ie, interesting) then no one is going to stick around long enough to finish that story. If people don’t stick around, you don’t have a career. Sure there’s other parts of a story that aren’t always entertaining–parts for setting, mood, etc… but these boring parts don’t do any of that. They don’t further the story at all. It’s just…a family tree. What does the inclusion of this stuff tell us about the Author?
As I write this, I am 37 years old. Young enough to not be old, but old enough to not be young either. As such, and as a father with children who are getting bigger and older right before my eyes, I can’t help but begin to ponder the finiteness of this life. When I was younger, I never thought about death, because I didn’t care. I had other things to worry about, like girls. Life was just something I took for granted, because I had so much of it in front of me. But now I’ve got a lot more road behind me, and I’m beginning to realize that eventually this road is going to run out of pavement, and that’s going to be it.
I was very close to both of my grandparents on my father’s side growing up. But now they are both gone and I hardly ever think of them. I barely knew my great-grandmother, and I never think of her anymore. I never met any of my ancestors beyond her, and as much or as little as they may shape my genetic makeup, I’ll never know, because they’ve been gone for so long they have faded from everyone’s memory in my family. Eventually, my parents will pass away, and I’ll grow old, and I’ll tell my grandchildren about their great-grandparents, and how similar to them they are, and they’ll barely think about my mother or father because they’re young and have other things to worry about, like girls.
And then I’ll be gone, on to the next great adventure. And while my films and books may keep me on some people’s radar, eventually the people who really KNOW me will grow old or move on, and soon there will be no one on this planet who can ever again say they knew me. Yet life will go on, and children will be born, and love will flourish, and families will grow, and the cycle will continue. The whole thing may seem somewhat poetic, but in reality, it’s kind of depressing.
Having made movies that have profoundly impacted many people around the world, I often get asked what it feels like knowing how many lives have been changed from something I created. In all honesty, I hardly ever think about it. It’s not some noble, humble thing either, I can assure you. The reality is I have no idea who those people are who have been so impacted, other than a few emails or short encounters when I speak somewhere. I know there is some large contingent out there who I’ve impacted, but they’re just that, “out there”. I don’t know them, so they don’t really affect me.
Which brings us back to our main topic. Boring stuff of the OT. In essence, these genealogies are God’s record of the lives that led to His Son. They are lives fully lived, and He was there for every second. I look at these lists and immediately grow sleepy. I have a feeling God looks at these lists completely differently, though.
While I’m sure there are many theologians out there who will roll their eyes at my rudimentary lack of understanding in regards to the cultures and purposes the Scriptures were “historically” written for, and who understand that the Bible can’t be read like a spy novel, and who take issue with my central conceit that God actually “wrote” the Bible, I hope those reading this understand where I am coming from and what I am trying to do. These are not the only ways to read the Scriptures, nor should they be. But just as there are infinite depths to God’s love, intelligence, and character, I don’t see it as much of a stretch to think that there might also be many, many things we can learn from the book He wrote.
That being said, I have to believe that God is whispering something to us, even as we skip over these boring parts without the slightest glance. The truth is, and it is shown by His insistence on these genealogies making the final cut, that He cares, a lot, about families. And even more than that, He cares about individuals. He cares about your life. Your legacy. You. And even though we may forget who our great, great grandmothers are, He most certainly does not. And while we may have no idea how our actions today will affect our great, great grandchildren tomorrow, He, most certainly, does. Your life will come to an end, and eventually no one will remember you were even here.
Well, almost no one. And somehow that’s comforting. So I guess there is a point to all that boring stuff after all.