God, God, God: Homage to Eugene Peterson

One of my favorite Christian writers, Eugene Peterson, passed away last October. I’ve been reading Eugene for years, ever since early books with such great titles as Run With the Horses or A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

Of course, the book Eugene is most famous for is The Message, his modern paraphrase of the entire Bible. Curiously, for a long time I didn’t like this book. Its language seemed too common, lowbrow, unrefined, not suited to the gravity of scripture. 

My opinion changed all of a sudden. One day the scales fell from my eyes and I’ve been reading The Message ever since. I guess I was ready for a change, ready to hear scripture from a fresh and surprising point of view. Lately, as well as scripture itself, I’ve been reading through Eugene’s introductions to all the Biblical books. I highly recommend these one- or two-page intros as morning devotional reading. Here are some samples just from the Old Testament.  

Consider this passage from the Introduction to Genesis:

“First, God. God is the subject of life. God is foundational for living. If we don’t have a sense of the primacy of God, we will never get it right, get life right, get our lives right. Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends. God at center and circumference; God first and last; God, God, God. 

“Genesis gets us off on the right foot. Genesis pulls us into a sense of reality that is God-shaped and God-filled. It gives us a vocabulary for speaking accurately and comprehensively about our lives, where we come from and where we are going…. There is immense significance in everything that we do. Our speech and our actions and our prayers are all, every detail of them, involved in a vast building operation known as the Kingdom of God. But we don’t build the foundation. The foundation is given. The foundation is firmly in place: Genesis.” 

Here’s the beginning of the Introduction to Exodus:

“The human race is in trouble. We’ve been in trouble for a long time. Enormous energies have been and continue to be expended by many, many men and women to get us out of the trouble we are in—to clean up the world’s mess. The skill, the perseverance, the intelligence, the devotion of the people who put their shoulders to the wheel to pull us out of the muck—parents and teachers, healers and counselors, rulers and politicians, writers and pastors—are impressive.

“But at the center and core of this work is God. The most comprehensive term for what God is doing to get us out of the mess we are in is salvation. Salvation is God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. The Exodus is a powerful and dramatic and true story of God working salvation.”

This next is from the general Introduction to the History Books:

“As far as the writers of the Old Testament history books were concerned, the only reason for paying attention to people and events was to stay alert to God. This is a difficult mindset for us to acquire, for we are used to getting our history from so-called historians, scholars, and journalists for whom God is not involved or present in what they study and write. We are thoroughly trained by our schools, daily newspapers, and telecasts to read history solely in terms of politics and economics, human interest and environmental conditions. If we have a mind for it, we can go ahead and fit God in somewhere or other. But what is taken for granted is His absence, not His pervasive presence. The Bible’s historical books—Joshua through Esther—are radically and refreshingly different. They pull us into a way of reading history—and current events—that involves us and everyone around us in all the operations of God.” 

Finally, consider this from the Introduction to 1 & 2 Kings:

“Sovereignty, God’s sovereignty, is one of the most difficult things for people of faith to live out in everyday routines. But we have no choice: God is Sovereign. God rules. Not only in our personal affiars, but in the cosmos. Not only in our times and places of worship, but in office buildings, political affairs, factories, universities, hospitals—yes, even behind the scenes in saloons and rock concerts. It’s a wild and extravagant notion, to be sure. But nothing in our Scriptures is attested to more frequently or emphatically.” 

Thanks, Eugene, for your passionate devotion to scripture and its Author. 

Next Post: Logos: The Mystery of the Word

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