Wednesday, August 19th
I have never been tempted to read the Bible from cover to cover. Why would you? Some bits would be good for sending you to sleep. Other bits portray the image of a monstrous God capable of deliberately hardening Pharoah's heart so he can slay the Egyptian first-born. Some Old Testament heroes are devious or tricksy at the expense of innocent family members or bystanders. Then the Bible ends with an apocalyptic fantasy that no film-maker has been tempted to recreate.
If that sounds rather harsh, perhaps it is because I'm getting fed up with the URC Daily Devotional choice of Bible passages for reflection. I have always been familiar with the stories of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges and Kings. Along with Jesus' ministry and Paul's missionary journeys, they were the stock content of Sunday School syllabi and the annual Scripture Exam of blessed (or otherwise) memory. But having become aware of the use of the Old Testament to champion Israeli supremacy in Palestine and of Pauline theology to justify slavery, male supremacy and a lavish helping of guilt complex, I am firmly in the court of those who hold the Gospels close to their hearts - Christmas stories excepted.
Does all this Biblical cynicism mean I've no time for sixty two books of the Bible? Not at all. What it means is that I try to see the Bible for what it is - two collections of books chosen by committees of leading Jewish and Christian leaders who selected these particular books for their representation of the orthodox stance of their faiths at that time. You may have gathered by now that I do not support the view that every word of Scripture is inspired by God and worthy of our digestion. I hope God is with me on that one!
WWJD was an acronym embroidered or printed on bracelets and badges some years back. 'What Would Jesus Do?' As Christian slogans go, that's one of the few that I would use as an acid test in looking at both real life situations and at those found in the Bible itself. That is why I find many of our scriptures hard to swallow when applying the questions 'what would Jesus do? or what would Jesus say? to each passage I'm looking at. My theology tutors used to say, 'look at the Bible through the lens of the Jesus of the New Testament.'
The Baptists and the Congregationalists have always been essentially New Testament churches, emphasising the primacy of the person and work of Jesus for its pattern and authority. I'm happy with that as long as the primacy is squarely focussed on the Jesus of the Gospels. And that might explain why I am not happy with the antics of some of the Old Testament heroes I was brought up on any more than I am happy with the selfish and egotistic antics of the Donald Trumps and Boris Johnsons of the 21st century.
What would Jesus say about much of what we see and hear in the news every day, both at home and overseas? I have a good idea that he might have a great deal to say which wouldn't make easy reading. Maybe, he wouldn't say much at all. Perhaps he would do what he did just before that first Easter - sit on a hill, look down on this teeming mass of humanity and weep. 'If only you knew the things that make for peace. I would have gathered you in my arms like a mother gathers her chicks under her wings.'
We do know the things that make for peace. We can find them in the Gospels if we care to look. We can see them in Jesus the Servant, Jesus the Healer, Jesus the Champion of Justice and Mercy, Jesus the Crucified Forgiver and Redeemer. There will need to be a lot of healing process to work through in the aftermath of this pandemic before we can find an inner peace. As for the world's peace, it's tempting to conjure up an Old Testament styled God who can rid us of the self-centred leaders of many countries at a stroke - but that would be very unchristian of me! Here's a better clue to a way forward:
From heav’n You came, helpless Babe,
Entered our world, Your glory veiled;
Not to be served but to serve,
And give Your life that we might live.
This is our God, the Servant King,
He calls us now to follow Him,
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to the Servant King.
There in the garden of tears,
My heavy load He chose to bear;
His heart with sorrow was torn,
‘Yet not my will but Yours,’ He said.
Come see His hands and His feet,
The scars that speak of sacrifice;
Hands that flung stars into space
To cruel nails surrendered.
So let us learn how to serve,
And in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other’s needs to prefer,
For it is Christ we’re serving.
Copyright © 1983 Thankyou Music/PRS
Well, that was a bit indulgent of me, but I feel better for getting that out. Sorry if it's stirred you up or upset you. If you would like to take me to task on this or any other 'musing', you can contact me by logging in and commenting.