Roadmap Genesis documentary: What is the meaning of Genesis for today?
Published: 29 October 2015 (GMT+10)
Many times, people seek a ‘magic bullet’ to help them solve problems, whether it’s with their family, or with perceived cultural problems. And when someone claims to have a solution, it’s not surprising that many people want to hear what it is and gravitate to us.
Roadmap Genesis claims that the book of Genesis has the key to help fix our economy, culture, and families. In a time where many people feel uncertain about the future, this is a ‘feel-good’ message. The director, Nolan Lebovitz, a Jewish rabbi, interviewed people from a range of religious views for their take on the applicability of Genesis for today. In many ways, it is eye-opening, if only to see what happens when people from other perspectives interpret Genesis.
When Genesis isn’t actual history
For many of the interviewees, Genesis seemed to be full of great ‘stories’ with good morals for people to apply today, but didn’t see Genesis as actual history (with one notable exception, discussed below!). Unmoored from the history of the text, some of the ‘experts’ come up with baffling interpretations. One opines that perhaps the lesson of Sodom isn’t its sin, but that no one righteous stood up to be counted! (The text indicates clearly that Lot was the only righteous man in Sodom, because all the rest, “down to the last man” were lining up to rape the angels! Genesis 19:4). Another claimed that at Babel God blessed the world with “the gift of differentness”; a perspective that one certainly does not find in Scripture.
The problem is that the same sort of acontextual, ahistorical reading of Genesis could inspire truly horrifying ideas. For instance, one could say that because Canaan was cursed, we can be racist against those who are deemed to be his descendants (see our refutation of essentially that idea). Or we could say that because God killed all the animals worldwide except those in the Ark, that we can wantonly slaughter and not care about the environment (after all, the global Flood was an environmental disaster far larger than any oil spill ever was!). Of course such views would be unbiblical, but if Genesis doesn’t mean what it says, then anything in Scripture can be squished to fit whatever we want it to mean. Only if Scripture has an objective meaning that isn’t subject to one’s personal interpretation can we guard against racist and other flawed interpretations of Scripture.
While evolution was not a focus in the documentary, it came up a few times. During one of his ‘people on the street’ interviews, one young woman stated that she didn’t think Genesis was relevant because she believed in evolution. The director responded, “And you can’t believe in evolution and the morals of Genesis at the same time?” The young woman responded, “I don’t think so.” In fact, the young woman was actually being consistent, because the morals taught in Genesis are dependent on the history taught in Genesis. A few people were clearly biblical creationists but didn’t get a chance to explain much about why.
When God is not the main character of Genesis
The interpretations featured in Roadmap Genesis were centered on human activity, human initiative, which fit well with what they were trying to achieve in the documentary. However, God is properly seen as the main ‘character’ in Genesis: “In the beginning, God…”! God is the one who creates the world, and promises a future Saviour when Adam sins. God is the one who judges mankind’s sin in the global Flood and the Tower of Babel accounts. God is the one who calls Abraham and Sarah out to the Promised Land and allows Sarah to conceive in her old age. God is the one who protects the small family who will become as numerous as the sands of the seashore. God is the one who promises, the one who saves, and the one who is sovereign over the whole storyline. Yes, the human actors are important, and we can learn from them. But we must learn about them in the context of their relationship to the Creator and the grander picture of the Gospel that Scripture’s history leads to.
When Scripture is not allowed to interpret Genesis
The director is Jewish, so he does not accept the New Testament as Scripture. While that is a flaw, there are plenty of Old Testament passages that aid in the interpretation of Genesis (see Yahweh the Creator God of Israel and The Use of Genesis in the Old Testament for an overview). If, rather than reading a particular text and then flying off on whatever interpretive spin felt good, the interviewees looked more at how Genesis is used and referenced in the rest of Scripture, some of the more bizarre interpretations featured in the film would have been avoided.
Genesis is history!
A welcome respite from the more liberal views represented in the film came when creationist Ken Ham was interviewed. He gave a clear outline of the historicity of Genesis and its importance to our faith, which was an impressive feat for the small amount of airtime he was given. “Genesis is the history that God has revealed to us concerning who we are, where we came from, that is actually the history that’s foundational to every biblical doctrine, foundational to the whole of the rest of the Bible.” Hopefully viewers of the film will see the contrast between the ‘squishy’ interpretation of the other interviewees and the clear historical presentation. Unfortunately, he seemed to be the only ‘expert interviewee’ who held a biblical view of creation and Scripture.
When Genesis doesn’t point to the Gospel
For Christians, Genesis points to the need for a Saviour. Creation fell because Adam sinned, and that’s why we die. We can’t save ourselves, so we need God to save us, and that’s why Jesus died for our sins, so that we can have a relationship with God and live with Him forever on the restored New Earth.
But the message presented in Roadmap Genesis is that Genesis will help us to do lots of things for ourselves—to reboot our economy, to become more family-oriented, to clean up the beaches (really!). But if it is not truth, that is if there is no real basis in history, and just a nice collection of stories, how does it have any authority to lead us to a better economy or whatever?
There is no Gospel, there is no salvation, there is only ‘pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps’. (To be fair, it is entirely possible that some of the Christian interviewees talked about the Gospel in their interviews, and that those portions were excluded in the editing process.)
So what is the message of Genesis?
If there is anything the movie should have gleaned from Genesis it was that its history that God created a very good world, and He created humankind to be His image-bearers and the stewards of creation. We were supposed to have the most special relationship with Him and with His creation, but Adam, and we, messed up and we’ve been failing ever since. When we look at the world today we should be reminded how far it, and we, have fallen. Genesis provides the reason why we all die (hence the “and he died” refrain in Genesis 5 and 11) because we all sin.
But the generations that followed longed for the offspring who will crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), who will “bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:29), and through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Jesus is the true fulfillment of those promises, and we can only understand Genesis properly if we see it pointing to Him and to salvation from the sin and death that Adam introduced. We look forward to His coming again when He will restore creation and we will live forever with Him (Revelation 21–22).
Genesis of course has good things to say about stewardship of the environment, race relations, and many other topics. But we can only correctly interpret those passages if we get the foundational and most important point right—the Gospel. Sadly, another movie that reinterprets Genesis will only encourage more of the same. These are the very notions that ministries like CMI oppose.