Essay, Research Paper: Genesis Theology

Religion

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Pentateuch is considered to be the most important part in the Old Testament. It
recorded the account of creation, the fall of man, the Law Code as well as the
experience of the Ancient Israel. Among them Genesis is the first book recorded
incidents happened from the creation of the world to Joseph's time. In chapter
one to eleven, the origin of the world and human race are introduced and in
chapter twelve onwards are the stories of the Ancestors. In this passage, we
will concentrate in discussing the theology of chapter one to eleven which
contained much valuable and important message for the readers who were probably
Israelites in post-exilic period (which would be discussed later). In order to
understand the text it is important to have some knowledge about the background
of the readers as the author should compose his work under their background so
that they may understand easily. Hence brief introduction of the background of
Ancient Israelites and Genesis as well as its authorship would be given before
we go into discussing its theology. The discussion will be within four topics
---(a) Yahweh has supreme authority and power, (b) Man---as image of God, (c)
Mankind's failure and God's reaction and (d) Creation---a continuing process.
(B) Background of Canaanites' Religion and Ancient Israelites Both Biblical
record and archeological evidence showed that beside the Israelites, there were
many other people living in Palestine. They included Kenites, Kenizzites,
Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girga*censored*es
and Jebusites. In this passage, they are all regarded as Canaanites. Basically,
the Canaanites' religions are polytheistic. They believed in many gods in many
different levels including those national god, functional gods and family gods
or ancestors. In the following paragraphs, a brief introduction of Canaanites'
religions would be given as a background for the studies of religion of ancient
Israelites. Religion in Ancient Near East Although the gods they worshipped were
different, tribes in Ancient Near East did have similar although not exactly the
same doctrines. As mentioned above, their religions are polytheistic. Each god
in their religion had different function and statues. They had different
characters and might fight among themselves. We are going to discuss the
religion in Canaan and Babylon as examples. One point must be noted is that the
functions of the gods in Canaan are closely related to natural phenomena . For
example, Baal Hadad was known as the thunder god who was responsible for
raining. Other examples included El Elyon who was known as the sun god , Yamm
who was the god of the sea and Mot who was the god of death . Some of the gods
were related to daily life. For instant, Anath was the goddess of war and
Astarte was known as the goddess of love and fertility and also of war. Another
function of Baal was related to fertility. The Canaanites always explained
natural phenomena using myths. The alternation of the seasons and the death and
renewal of vegetation were believed to be explained through the following myth.
When Baal had his temple built, he sent a message to the god of death Mot in
which he threatened Mot's life. After that there was a struggle between Mot and
Baal and Baal was killed in the battle. After some times Baal's sister Anath
went down to the underworld and defeated Mot. Baal was resurrected from death
and returned to his power to bring about raining to the Earth. The Canaanites
believed that the death and resurrection of Baal happened every year. The defeat
of Baal indicated the death of vegetation due to winter frosts or summer
drought. The resurrection of Baal revealed the vegetation grew because of annual
or seasonal flooding. In this myth, one could easily observe that other that a
thunder god, Baal was also a god of fertility. In the sight of the people in
Ancient Near East, men were just the slaves of gods. For instance, in Babylon,
people believed that mankind was created only because of the laziness of gods .
The gods created men so that they could take over their work and serve them. The
gods needed the sacrifice of men. However, due to the noise and din of men,
Enlil, the King of the lands wanted to destroy men. Another god Ea brought about
deliverance to Atrahasis in a series of plagues. Finally, Enlil sent a flood and
again Ea warned Atrahasis who made a ship to save himself later. The Gilgamesh
Epic had another record of the flood story. When the gods sent a flood to the
Earth, Ea warned Utanapishtim in Shuruppak and Utanapishtim built a ship to save
himself and his family, together with all sorts of animals. The rain and storm
continued up to the seventh day. The story told that the gods became hungry
without sacrifice and repent for their decision. Utanapishtim sent out
respectively a dove, a swallow and finally a raven. When the raven did not
returned which indicated that the flood was gone, Utanapishtim went out and made
a sacrifice. The gods then gather around him immediately indicated that they
really needed the sacrifice from men. The flood story was very popular in the
ancient Near East. One interesting point must be noted was that the record in
the Gilgamesh was in a large extent similar to that in the Biblical account. We
will go back to the story in Section E. The Canaanites, as usual, using myth to
explain the origin of the world. In the creation story of Canaanites' religion ,
the sea god Yam got the approval of El to attack Baal. However, Baal victor over
Yam and seized his royal power. Sea was thought to be evil in the sight of
Babylonians, Canaanites as well as Israelites. We could find examples in the Old
Testament describing the struggle between Yahweh and the sea, for instance, Ps
77 : 16 - 19 and also Isa 27 : 1. One of the creation myth stated that El was
drunk during creation and so some deaf, blind and disabled people was created.
The Canaanites might use this kind of myth to explain the imperfection of human
being. Background of Ancient Israelites When one read through the Old Testament,
the text seems to tell us that Israelites were descendants of Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob who worshipped Yahweh as their God. Gen 12 : 1 stated that Yahweh told
Abraham to leave his own country to where He would show him. It was strange that
Abraham would know the name "Yahweh" in Haran in the North East of
Canaan. There was no archeological fact showing that the name Yahweh was known
in Haran, Ur as well as Canaan. The Biblical text also showed that God appeared
to Abraham was not using the name "Yahweh". For instant, in Ex. 6: 3
we find "To Abraham, Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai", a
general name of gods, El, was used. Living among the Canaanites, Abraham himself
was no doubt full of their concept in religion. As mentioned above, the
Canaanites were polytheistic and there was no idea about monotheistic, Abraham
himself would not be exceptional. His religious practices, for example, in
making the covenant with God in Gen 15, Abraham split the animals down the
middle was a common practice of the Canaanites when they made a covenant with
their gods. Moreover, when Yahweh told Abraham to have his son sacrificed, he
did not bargain with God since sacrificing sons was common in Canaanites'
religion. As we read through the Bible from Judges to Kings, we may find that
the Israelites would turn away from Yahweh and worshipped other gods easily. It
would be strange if the concept of monotheism has been well developed. For
instant, when a believer turned away from God nowadays, usually he would just
believe in himself or simply not believe any religion. Cases in which believers
turned to believe in religions which are polytheistic were not frequent. The
point was that once the idea of monotheism was fully developed, turning to
worship gods like Baal, Asherah etc would mean to have a complete change in the
concept of belief. It would not be so easy to change one's concept that has been
developed since his childhood. However, it would be easily to explain the fact
of Israelites turning away from God easily in Judges if their concept of
religion were still polytheistic and Yahweh was only one of the god they
worshipped. In such a hypothesis it was logical that they worshipped gods such
as Baal and Astarte who were god of fertility in Canaanite religion. The idea of
polytheism of the Israelites before the exile could be clearly seen in Psalms,
for example, in Ps 82 we found that Yahweh was giving judgement in the divine
assembly, which was similar to El Elyon to rule over other gods in Canaanites
religion. In Deu 32: 8 - 9, the text described Israel was Yahweh's portion when
the Most High (El Elyon) distributed the land among his sons. The king Manasseh
had his son sacrificed through fire and built up image of Asherah (2 Kgs 21
:1ff). All these show that before exile the Israelites' mind was full of concept
of Canaanites religions that are polytheistic. (C) Background of Genesis and
Yahwists The origin and authorship of the Pentateuch has been discussed over
past few centuries. Many scholars had different point of views and no final
conclusion has been made. In this section, the writer is not attempting to argue
and compare the reasons proposed by different scholars in this issue but to give
his own viewpoint and reasons supporting for the sake of convenient in the
discussion of the theology of Genesis in the later part of this passage. As we
read through Pentateuch, the books seem to telling its readers that there are
one and only one God ruling over the Earth. In other word, they are presenting a
religion that is monotheistic. As we mentioned before, the Israelites had no
idea about monotheism before the exile or at least till the late pre-exilic
period. It would be strange that such a monotheistic material was widely
accepted and being kept if it was written in the period of monarchy during which
people were full of idea of polytheism. Rolf Rendtorff rejected the idea of the
traditional source criticism (JEDP) but he regarded the Pentateuch as basically
the composition of Deuteronomists together with some priestly contribution.
Erhard Blum views the priestly material as a correction of certain part of the
Deuteronomistic theology. Unlike Rendtorff, he accepted the possibilities of
some stories as tradition before the period of monarchy. Blum then drew a
conclusion that the Pentateuch was a postexilic compromise between the thought
of Deuteronomists and Priestly Reformers. In Leviticus and Numbers, the holiness
and uniqueness of God were stressed. The Israelites did not have such ideas
until the return from exile in Ezra and Nehemiah's time. Together with the
monotheism presented in the books mentioned above, the writer supports the
viewpoint of Rendtorff and Blum that the Pentateuch we have now was actually
finished in postexilic period. However, concerning about the authorship the
writer has different viewpoint. In Genesis, we found many stories that are
similar to those in religions of Ancient Near East, for example, the creation
story and the flooding story (we will investigate in more detail in later part
of the passage). However, in Deuteronomy no elements from Canaanites religion
can be found whereas the identity of the Israelites as Yahweh's chosen one was
stressed. Moreover, direct warning to Israelites was used when explaining the
laws and urging them to observe the law instead of using stories. Deuteronomy
and Genesis is quite different literally and the way the witness was made, the
writer agrees to the point of view of Van Seters that "Yahwist "did
exist and participate in the composition of the Pentateuch. Among the five
books, Genesis to a large extend was the witness of the Yahwists. One strong
evidence showing that the Pentateuch was a post-exilic composition was that some
story in Genesis is similar to Babylonia stories but with modification. The
flooding story is one of the examples. The author and readers should know
nothing about Babylonia culture till the exile. The implication was that its
composition should not be earlier than the exilic period. In conclusion, the
writers believed that the witness in Genesis was done by Yahwists which was
later composite in the book Genesis we have today by some redactors.
Nevertheless, the book as well as the witness itself should not be earlier than
the late pre-exilic period after the discovery of Deuteronomy law in Josiah's
time. The theology of Genesis discuss below is based on this hypothesis. (D)
Purpose of Genesis Under the background of polytheism, people living in ancient
Near East, including Israelites believed that each nation had her own national
god. To the people of Judah, their national god was Yahweh (Deu 32: 8-9). Wars
between nations were understood as the struggle between the national gods. Under
the hypothesis of Pentateuch being exilic or post-exilic composition, ideas such
as Yahweh was defeated by gods of Babylon and that Yahweh was powerless in
protecting them would by all means appear in the mind of the Israelites. In this
circumstance, gods in Persia and their religions, which to the Israelites seems
more powerful would be much attractive to them. In fact, in Nehemiah we can find
Jews married wives from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab and their children even knew
nothing about language of Judah. One of the priest even married the daughter of
their enemy Sanballat the Horonites (Ne 13: 28). Marrying foreign wives and
teaching children foreign language revealed invasion by foreign culture and
religion. The author of Genesis tried to give a correct understanding of Yahweh
to the Israelites at that time. The authority and power of God over the whole
world could be seen in the witness. Moreover, attitude of God towards human
being was also presented which differed to those in Canaanites and Babylonia
religions. The explanation of man's suffering due to human's sin was also
introduced. The message was clear --- the poor experience of Israelites of being
exiled was due to their sin but not that God was powerless. Furthermore, God's
grace came upon usually following the punishment giving a hope to the
post-exilic Israelites that God would never forsake them. Finally, the purposes
of creation and the process were also described in Genesis 1 - 11. (E) Yahweh
has Supreme Authority As we have discussed above, the religion in Canaan was
polytheistic and different gods had different function in their concept.
Monotheism began to develop in Exilic and Post-exilic period. As monotheism was
a new idea towards the audience, the author has used many stories and myths that
were well known to present his idea. Sometimes myths from Canaanites or
Babylonia religions with modification have been applied. In some occasion, we
found that the story told in Genesis was speaking again some concept in
Canaanites or Babylonia religions, the creation story was one of the examples.
We have seen in Section B that in Canaanites religion, there was struggle
between Baal and Yam in the creation story. It seemed to tell us that Yam had
power comparable to the creator Baal. The implication was that although Baal was
the creator, he did not seize supreme power. However, in Genesis 1: 2, we found
"a divine wind sweeping over the waters". When one read through
chapter one, one could find that God did divided the waters under the vault and
above the vault, made the water under heaven to become a single mass and created
different kinds of animals and plants living in waters, we could hardly find an
evidence to show that waters was directly created by God. However, the main
different from Baal's creation story was that God did have power over the water.
Instead of a struggle with the waters, God's wind sweeping over the waters which
revealed His supreme power. The text seemed to tell us that the waters were
actually co-exist with God before the world was created. One may doubt that
should the waters created by God. However, in the concept of the readers at that
time, the sea represent evil which existed before creation and hence the story
presented in such a way could be easily accepted and understood by the
Israelites at that time. The writer believes that the author was trying to
stress the supreme power over the waters as against Baal's story. The waters
were actually under God's rule and control. Another point must be noted is that
in the creation story in Genesis, we could find that God caused plants to grow,
which revealed that fertility was in the hands of God. The sun, the moon and the
stars were just creation of God and were not gods as presented in Canaanites
religion. Throughout the creation, all kind of creature was made by God's word.
The word of God was powerful in the creation so does his promise to the
Israelites. It was an encouragement towards the Israelites in the post-exilic
period that God would remember them as he had "promise" and brought
about salvation. In section B we found that the gods in Babylonia religion
needed man's sacrifices. The gods repent for sending flood because they were
hungry and needed sacrifice. Utanapishtim in the story acquired eternal life
only for the sake of the gods. We could find similar account in Noah's flooding
story. However, at the end of the story, it recorded that when Yahweh smelt the
pleasing smell of the sacrifice from Noah He promised that He would never curse
the earth and destroyed all living thing in such a way again because humans'
heart contrives evil from their infancy. In other words, God's promise was due
to His mercy that He understood the weakness of man and not a need of sacrifice!
Through the creation story and Noah's story, we could find Yahweh is the one who
owned supreme power. He was the Lord of the whole land and has authority over
all creatures. He did not share some power with other gods as in Canaanites and
Babyonia religions. (F) Man---As Image of God "God created man in the image
of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created
them." The Bible used only one verse to describe the nature of man. This
verse also reveals the importance of man in God's creation plan. The purpose of
man's being created is also explained. In this section, we are going to discuss
the rights of man as God's image and his limitations. As we have mentioned in
Section B, a creation story in Babylon gave definition to man as gods' slave and
mankind was created due to the laziness of God. People living in ancient Near
East believe that gods would use them to serve their own needs, for instance,
offering to them, to fight for them etc. The author at the beginning of his
witness gave a new understanding of God's view towards mankind. The purpose was
clear---to correct their attitude about the relationship between God and
mankind. First of all, let us look at what actually mean for the word "the
image of God".Michael D. Guinan explained in his book "The
Pentateuch" that the living God of Israel can be imaged only by living
beings who do what God does. The writer agreed to his explanation due to the
following reasons. Firstly, we could hardly find any sound argument to support
if we treat the image of God as really physical appearance like God. In the
concept of the Israelites, they believed that they would die when they saw God.
Hence no one should have seen God and recognized that man was actually had God's
appearance. Secondly the verse following 1: 27 gave some support to Guinan's
argument. "God blessed them, saying to them, "Be fruitful, multiply,
fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of
heaven and all living creatures that move on the earth." Fertility and
being master of creatures were originally what God did. At that very moment
people were told to do what God should do. In other words, mankind should
cooperate with God and take part in creation of God. This also explained the
purpose of creating man. We could find an example to see how mankind
participates in the creation of God. Yahweh allowed man to name all sort of
animal. Naming throughout the Old Testament usually revealed one's situation and
character. For example, Moses named his son Gershom which mean he was an alien
in a foreign land, Gideon named one of his sons Abimelech meaning his father was
king in certain degree revealing his hope to become a king. In Genesis, naming
of animals means fixing their character ---- God allow man to fix the character
of animals which should be a part of God's creation. God's love and concern of
human could be seen as he would go to find mankind in Eden but not leaving them
on their own. When man sinned against God, his gracious love and grace was
presented in the clothes he made for them. Yahweh loved and concerned man but
not treating man as his slave as those gods in Babylonia religion. One point
must be noted was that being image of God does not mean being identical to God.
In the creation plan of God, man had his own limitations. We must accept and
recognize ourselves being image and that God had power and authority over us.
Moreover, we should live in God's purposes of creating man (Gen. 1: 28) Mankind
was forbidden to eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as well as the
tree of life that were also limitations to mankind. The writer believed that it
did not mean man should not have the ability to judge right and wrong but that
man did not have the power to fix the rule of which things were good which were
bad. For example, we all know that murder is something wrong according to the
rules that originally set in our heart. However, we have no authority to set
rules to say that murder is something good. Moreover, in God's plan man did not
have eternal life in his physical body (but not the spirit). These two were what
God preserved for himself. However, mankind was not willing to accept his
limitation imposed by God. In other words, they wanted to become God themselves
thus sinned again God. We will go into detail on man's failure in the next
section. (G) Mankind's Failure and God's Reaction Throughout the history one may
find that human being would try to explain the "imperfection" and
suffering of man. Different nation has different explanation towards such kind
of problems. In ancient Near East, as discussed before, man may blame their
national god for his lack of ability in protecting them when they got lost
before their enemies. Concerning about the "imperfection" of man such
as deaf, blind and lame, people usually thought that that was due to their sin
or simply blame the creation god that his creation was imperfect. For instance,
in the creation story of Canaan, "imperfection" of man was because of
El Elyon who was drunk during his creation and creating some people who were
blind, deaf and lame. The author was trying to defense for Yahweh and correct
the wrong concept of the Israelites about God. In Gen. 1 - 11, one may have an
impact after reading that Yahweh is a God owned all sort of power and authority
and work following his own will. The author tried to explain the poor experience
of Israelites was due to their owned sin and not the disability of Yahweh to
bring about salvation. Moreover, although there were punishments God was still
love and concern His chosen people as he usually did in the story in Genesis.
First of all, the Bible used the word "very good" to describe God's
creation. The word "very good" in Hebrew actually means perfect. Hence
the "imperfection" of man was clearly not of God's fault in creation.
However, the author did not give a clear explanation about the
"imperfection" which did really existed. Nevertheless, implication of
suffering due to man's failure to serve as God's image could be found in Gen. 3:
16ff The consequence of failure of being God's image was recorded in Genesis.
The instruction from Yahweh was that man would die if they ate the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil. One may misunderstand that God is telling a lie as
Adam lived for 930 years but not died immediately as God said after eating the
tree. Guinan explained that in God's creation everything existed in right
relationships. Death means breaking and collapse of such relationships. Such an
explanation was valid as we can see different relationships were broken after
man's failure. For instance, the partnership of God and man in creation (Gen.
2), the relationship between humans themselves (the story of Cain and Abel), the
relationship between animals and humans (offspring of woman and snake) as well
as the relationship between men and women were all broken due to man's failure.
In other words, they did died under this explanation. Despite the provision of
clothes when God drove them away from Eden, we may find many other vocations
that God's grace came upon following the punishments. When Cain killed Abel,
God's judgement came upon him that he should became a restless wanderer but
Yahweh promised that no one could killed him as "whoever kills Cain will
suffer a sevenfold vengeance" . Due to mankind's corruption and immorality,
Yahweh decided to destroy the generation at that time by sending a flood.
However, God's grace could be seen through Noah's salvation and the covenant
that made with Noah after the flood that he would never destroy human beings and
other creatures in such a way. Such a witness was important to the people in the
post-exilic period under the circumstances that many people doubted the ability
of Yahweh in protecting them as mentioned in section D. Not only it was remind
to them that their poor experience was their own fault but not Yahweh's
disability but also the hope of salvation that even at that moment God did not
cast out his people. Instead Yahweh was an infinite patient and forgiveness God
and waiting for the repentance of Israel. The Israelites at that very moment
should trust in God who was the origin of all power and authority instead of
turning to other gods. Following the punishment God's grace would come upon. (H)
Creation---A Continuing Process "God saw all he had made, and indeed it was
very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day. Thus heaven and earth
were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God had completed the
work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had
been doing. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he
rested after all his work of creating." In God's creation plan, every
creature was perfect and that the seventh day would come after his perfect
creation. As we have seen due to man's failure to act as am image of God,
relationships between God and mankind has been broken. In other words, the
perfection of the creation has been broken. This leads to a question that
whether the creation has been finished? Whether the seventh day has come? From
the Bible, it seems to tell us that the creation of God has been finished.
However, the purpose of which, i.e. the perfection of the creation, seemed has
not been attained. Furthermore, we could see that God continued to participate
in the history of man from Old Testament to New Testament and even until now.
God has never took a rest! If we take perfection as God's final purpose for his
creation, the creation is clearly still in process. We are now still in the
sixth day of creation. God would really take a rest when the creation work is
really finished i.e. every thing returned to the perfect situation when world
has been created. The coming of the seventh day is under God's plan and so it
must come after every thing returned to order. Actually, creation is a process
through which formless become having order. Throughout the history, God has used
different methods try to return the situation to perfect. He chose a people
Israel for himself and hope that through creation of that particular nation can
bring all other nations back to the original relationships. Seeing the
corruption of the Israelites, it seemed that through humans themselves can make
no help to complete his creation, he himself walked into the history by sending
his son Jesus Christ becoming flesh. Through him the relationship between God
and man is repaired. Through acceptance to be image of God, we could become
partners of God in creation, by bringing people back to the Lord. The Lord will
come and that all creation would have been completed and then the seventh day
arrives. (I) Conclusion Genesis 1 - 11 sometimes is classified as prologue of
the Pentateuch. More than that it contains much valuable message that reminded
and encouraged the Israelites in the post-exilic period. The center of which is
in the creation story. The failure of mankind is a result of unwillingness to
accept our position as image of God. Adam and Eve behaved in such a way, the
ancient Israelites behaved in such a way and even people nowadays behave in such
a way when they are self-centered. The message is clear that God is the one who
owned power and authority and he loves and concerns and waiting us to return.
"There is nothing new under the sun" The message is for the
post-exilic reader as well as all of us today.

Bibliography(1) Helmer Ringgren. Religions of the Ancient Near East. London : The Camelot
Press Ltd., 1973. (2)Isaac Mendelsohn. ed. Religions of the Ancient Near East :
Sumero-Akkadian Religious Texts and Ugaritic Epics. New York : The Liberal Arts
Press, 1955. (3)R. Norman Whybray. Introduction to the Pentateuch. Michigan :
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1995. (4)Michael D. Guinan. The Pentateuch. The
United state of America: The Liturgical Press, 1990. (5)
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