My project to read the Bible this year has gotten me up to Genesis 30. I’ve had an amazing insight that has never occurred to anyone before..

Here is my amazing insight that has never occurred to anyone before. The folks in Genesis were more than a little shady. And by the folks in Genesis I mean Jacob. Yes, its a different cultural context. Yes, each individual sketchy episode can be explained. Or at least you can make up additional facts not actually in the scriptures that would provide an explanation, if they were true. But with Jacob, sketchy episode piled on top of sketchy episode, you start to wonder if maybe its not just a coincidence. Maybe the guy himself was sketchy. Not only did he bribe his brother for his birthright and cheat his father out of Esau’s blessing, he also engaged in a little magic to cheat his father-in-law out of the good flocks. Jacob was a cheat and a deceiver.

Yet God blessed him. Why?

It could be that Jacob had some pretty sweet redeeming qualities. It could also be that God blessed Jacob to fulfill the promises made to righteous Abraham and faithful Isaac. In other words, it could be that Jacob’s blessings were at least partly unearned.* The scriptures come right out and say that Isaac was blessed for Abraham’s sake, that Laban was blessed for Jacob’s sake, that Sodom and Gomorrah would have been spared, not for their own merit, but for the sake of a handful of the righteous, and even that Abraham’s righteousness would bless all the nations of the earth. Jacob was probably also blessed for the sake of his fathers and of his seed.

Jacob’s children shared his faults. Like him, they quarreled with their brothers. Like him, they deceived to improve their own position. You can find about a dozen examples of each in scripture, including the famous episode where most of Jacob’s son hucked his favorite son Joseph into a pit then lied to their father about it.

*Arguably no blessings are actually earned, because the blessings we receive are out of proportion to the good we do, and because the good we do is itself a gift from God already. But in the sense that God promises blessings in return for certain acts or commitments on our part, it does not abuse the language to say that we have earned those blessings by doing the acts or making the commitments. These quarrelsome and deceptive traits haunted Israel from generation to generation. Though we’d like to blame Jacob for it, he didn’t totally originate these faults himself. Both his father and his grandfather passed off their wives as sisters at times; Abraham blatantly deceived Isaac about the sacrifice on Mt. Moriah; and Abraham with Isaac and Ishmael and Isaac with Jacob and Esau both appear to have done little to discourage and much to encourage sibling strife. Just as its difficult to pin down precisely who earned the great blessings that Jacob received, we find in the scriptures that there is a great load of wickedness floating around with no one certainly and uniquely to blame.

The scriptures that say that God curses and blesses the children for their fathers’ iniquity, unto the fourth generation are not unjust. Or rather, they are unjust, but the injustice isn’t God’s arbitrary command. The injustice is the inherent injustice of a world with more than one person in it. The scriptures say that Eve brought about the Fall because as long as there was only one person in the garden, no injustice could be done. The good that Adam did would accrue to himself and no other, the evil he did likewise. In fact, Eve plainly tells Adam after she takes the fruit the deprivation he will suffer because of her choice regardless of what he chooses to do. Can it be a coincidence that in LDS belief the act of disobedience that brought consequences to Adam unjustly was also the act that made having children possible? There is something profound in the LDS belief that the Fall and having children were inseparably connected. As we can see from scripture and our own experience, families and injustice are inseparable.

But as we also see from the scriptures and from our own experience, the injustice is not always against us. We get blessings we do not merit, happiness we don’t deserve, and the wild joy of making other people happy because we wanted them to be, not because they earned it.

And, as a consequence of the Fall, we get the ultimate injustice, Christ’s atonement. I sometimes wonder if the object of the Atonement is to entwine Christ so closely in each mortal life that the hopeless task of weighing out the fault of the good and evil of each mortal life becomes even more hopeless, such that the judge of nations decides to exonerate us with Christ, since Christ must be exonerated. I sometimes wonder if all the evil we do may not be so interconnected down the generations and up the generations and across relationships that each sin is our own fault but also in a way the fault of everyone, so that Christ, who participated fully in the web of humanity but never committed evil, may be *literally* said to have overcome the Fall.

I don’t have full answers to these questions yet. I havent’ even figured out exactly what the questions are. But I do know that unearned blessings and unearned cursings are inherent in the idea of families and a key to understanding the atonement. I know that Mormonism’s emphasis on family is not just a nice afterthought to the core message of Christianity but an inevitable complement and reflection of it.

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