I have just finished reading the book of Genesis in my pursuit to read the Bible back-to-back this year. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, which has left me with a deep curiosity to want to learn more about the Bible as both a philosophical and a spiritual book.
Unlike in the past, however, this time around, I found myself pausing frequently. The pauses were because I started grappling with some thoughts coming from what I was reading, which I did find amusing. Some of the stories in Genesis reminded me of the books I read in my leisure time, while others brought back my childhood memories in the streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Interestingly, The Vital Question by Nick Lane aroused a burning curiosity in me to understand more what Genesis 1–2 entails, posing a question: What was happening before “In the beginning [that] God created the heaven and earth”? How to Talk to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell made me wonder what my reactions would be like had I been Abraham that miraculously met the Lord, who was on the way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham asked. “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place in their sake,” the Lord answered.
Well, in the end, the city was divinely set on fire. Because it turned out that Sodom had only four righteous people — Lot, his wife, and his two daughters — so God did not spare the city. But, when the spared four were running to safety, something grievous happened: Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt.
“Wait a minute,” I said to myself. “I thought Lot’s wife was righteous, for righteous people supposedly do not do what she did,” I wondered. Either way, what happened, happened. But how I wish she had read Jordan Peterson’s first rule — “Stand up straight with your shoulders back,” and, yes, don’t look back — in his work 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos.
Chaos indeed prevailed as I kept reading Genesis. I put question marks at the end of some of the verses; I tried to read different Bible versions to deepen my understanding. From this struggle, I found order in a mind-blowing way: I was amazed by a small, calming voice in me that stirred me into understanding what I was reading by sometimes using some books in my past reading list as examples.
Among the thought-provoking books I read, Olaudah Equiano: The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings related closely to a spiritually-awakening story from Genesis about Joseph-the-dreamer.
Olaudah Equiano was born in what is now southeastern Nigeria in 1745. At eleven years of age, he was enslaved and sold to English slave traders, who then transported him to the West Indies. From there, his dreadful life as a slave officially began. Eventually, he ended up traveling to Virginia in North America and then to London in Great Britain. In London, Olaudah became a slave of a British navy officer that gave Olaudah the name Gustavus Vassa. After ten years in slavery, Gustavus Vassa was able to buy his freedom from his entrepreneurial activities, which saw him becoming a wealthy businessman and an influential person in spiritual and social reform, paying a crucial role in abolishing the Atlantic slave trade.
Joseph-the-dreamer, on the other hand, perhaps does not need a big introduction. He is among the famous personalities in the Bible, Israel’s most loved child. Because of Joseph’s moral compass and his dad’s love, he got into trouble. And at a young age, he was sold into slavery to Egypt by his brothers, contemptuously. In Egypt, he worked under a military commander responsible for the Egyptian King’s security. And, as if slavery was not enough, Joseph’s personality seemed not to be the only thing that could put him into trouble. His look — both of form and of appearance — sexually attracted his master’s wife, who then accused Joseph of attempted rape when he disagreed to “lie with her.”
The prison was Joseph’s next stop; but, it was in the prison where he found himself rising the social ladder with a new title — the Prime Minister of the kingdom — and a new name — Zaphenath-paneah. “Zaphenath-paneah is a cool name to have,” I thought. Its meaning: One who discovers hidden things.
Undeniably, from reading Genesis, a lot was revealed to me spiritually, emotionally, and even intellectually. And who would have thought that an enslaved Nigerian boy would become a wealthy businessman in London when black people were reportedly receiving the worst dehumanizing treatments? Who would have expected that a despised Joseph would become the second most powerful person in the social hierarchy of one of the earliest, most advanced world civilizations? Probably, nobody — or, maybe, very few people. Whatever the answer is, Olaudah and Joseph lived inspiring lives, full of wisdom and wonders.
Genesis: The beginning of the beginning. The ‘beginning’ that saw the creation of, perhaps, the most powerful entity in the universe — human. And if anything, Genesis taught me a big deal about this entity and about courage, humbleness, righteousness, power, faith, and forgiveness — that spirit of forgiveness that made Zaphenath-paneah wept in front of his brothers when he said, “I am Joseph! [Therefore:] Don’t be afraid. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Honestly, I’m not sure if most of us dare to forget our pains and forgive our enemies just like that.