Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Facebook #12 The Bible is What I Say It Is

A friend posted an article, actually more a list of sayings, that has made the rounds over the past few years. The sayings reframe various Old Testament events as being superseded or completed in Jesus. Here are some:
Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.
It goes on to make a dozen similar connections to the Old Testament.

My friend, like many, use a list like this to give a poetic licence of Grace to the Old Testament. However, one does not need to be a Hasidic Jew to realize this rendering of the ancient scriptures cannot help but lead to misunderstanding. 

But - this is my point - UNDERSTANDING is not the point. Feeling good about the God of Jesus is the point.

In order to do that, the Old Testament... and some of the New... must be emasculated. All the blood, death, genocide .... the pages saturated with violence and gore must be ignored, glossed over, or re-imagined. Spend too much time in the Bible, reading it as it is, and any person of good conscience is going to struggle to feel good about the God of Jesus.

I appreciate the views of  Walter Brueggemann, a noted Old Testament scholar, who eschews the Christian tendency to avoid the violence of the Old Testament. Rather than avoiding it, or denying it, he attempts to name it for what it is... a reflection of the character of God. He states:
" the God of the Bible is “in recovery” from a propensity to violence, a recovery that requires, on God’s part, intentionality and resolve against an easy reactive treatment of any opposition."
This is not how Christians are instructed to wrestle with the Old Testament. When they think of Noah, they picture cute Arks and animals that children play with in nurseries... not children drowning. When they think of God's commands, they think of the Ten Commandments - not the ones where God encourages the owning of slaves and justifies their beatings. When they think of the armies of the Lord, they picture God as the great and just commander; not one who tells the soldiers to kill every man, woman, and child... but to keep the virgin girls for their own use. You don't tend to hear these scriptures quoted or sung in this fashion on Sunday morning.

No - Most Christians proclaim the bible to be the inerrant Word of God without ever having read it. They grant it unquestioning authority without ever having wrestled with it. This is the definition of blind faith.

Passages like the one I referenced at the beginning serve as a type of inoculation. Having read such items, the Christian feels they have a sense of the "true" heart of the Old Testament. Objective views in church culture are rare, but any that surface will be quickly rendered inert by proclamations of a grace-filled God... who bears little resemblance to the God presented throughout much of the Old Testament.


jonni said...

To a christian, the bible is like the terms and conditions on their itunes account. No one actually reads it - you're just supposed to scroll to the bottom and click "I agree"

Andrew said...

Heh! That is very astute Jonni!

And it is the truth. Nowdays when I hear people say they believe the bible to be inerrant, I know they haven't read it. Of course, they will insist they have... they have been to bible study, heard plenty of sermons, they may even make bible reading a daily practice.

The reality is though that much of the bible goes unread. It is like the Christian who tells me they understand the Atheist perspective because they read Lee Strobel or some other Christian giving their commentary on Atheism - it is a very filtered examination.

When I was a Christian, I considered myself more knowledgeable than the average bear when it came to scripture. Yet it still shocks me, now that I read the bible in a critical rather than devotional sense, how much slid right past me.

Michelle said...

Your observations and the video very much remind me of my days of doing Beth Moore bible studies. She was/is a big one for painting the entire Old Testament over with kinder, gentler Jesus stuff, and for awhile it made me think, "Yes...this is all ok." Oh, dear.

I remember even as a believer getting a chuckle out of abbreviating in my calendar something like, "7pm BS." Some small part of me already knew. :)

Andrew said...

Michelle - It is fascinating now for me to watch bible study curriculum spin a softer OT. It is all about the filters.:)

Sarah T. said...

I hear you. And. I have read my Bible...thoroughly...from cover to cover, more than once. And I used to get pissed about the harshness of God in the OT. It was not something that I could embrace or love about Him. I don't think anyone really can, if they're honest, which is good. But something happened to me last year when I realized that the point of the OT is not to reveal the character of God. The point of the OT is to reveal the brokenness of humanity. It is the way we view God when we're blind...which is why no one...not even the guys who had the scriptures memorized...recognized Jesus when he came. Jesus said that 'No one knows the Father except the son.' Pretty bold statement when you're speaking to experts of the Torah! Jesus came as the only truth...the full revelation...the exact representation of the Father. And his humble, gentle, merciful, nonjudgmental character allowed both Jew and Gentile to vent their murderous rage and wrath on him, and instead of retaliating he redeemed. He raised us ALL up to new life with him, tore the veil and showed us the truth that we'd missed since the fall about our Father. If God is love and 1Corinthians 13 is love and the cross is love, then the OT is meant to teach us about fallen humanity. It is not the means to which we know God. Jesus is.

I love your heart and agree with so much of what you say. Your questions are beautiful and pertinent and SO MANY Christians struggle with these things. But the struggle is rooted in the fact that Abba wants to be truly be known.

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