One of the joys and challenges of participating in The Bible Challenge and reading through the entire Bible rather than just selections from it is that we read all of the Bible. We read each story – even tragic and disturbing episodes.
Private reading of the Daily Lectionary or listening to lessons read aloud in church from the Revised Common Lectionary is different. These approaches offer a “sanitized version” of Scripture. I understand the reason why.
It would be hard to read the story of the rape of Tamar or the assault on the unnamed concubine in Judges 19 whose body is dismembered and sent throughout Israel. How would it sound if we read such tragic lessons, then said, “The Word of the Lord,” and responded, “Thanks be to God?” We shield children and ourselves from such stories.
As a clergy friend once said, “It is difficult to hear some Bible readings in church and think of them as the Good News of God. Some are very frightening and apocalyptic.”
Life, however, can be frightening and apocalyptic. A glance at the newspaper reminds us of nuclear weapons, oil spills, toxic chemicals, terrorism, plane crashes, political corruption, pedophile clergy and the outrageous worldwide proliferation of weapons.
Our world is a lot like the world of the entire Bible, not the sanitized and censored Bible read in worship or found in the Daily Lectionary. The Bible can be raw and shocking.
I was recently reminded of this while reading I Kings: 15-16, which tells how Baasha son of Ahijah killed Nadab son of Jeroboam, king of Israel. Baasha took Ahijah’s place immediately exterminated Jeroboam’s entire family to secure the throne.
Later, Elah son of Baasha succeeded his father as king. One of his military chiefs, Zimri, murdered Baasha, claimed the throne and killed all of Baasha’s family to secure his rule.
As I read this, it seemed like little has changed in much of the Middle East. Syria’s despotic President Assad, an optometrist by training, has spent years like his father crushing political opposition.
In waging war upon his own citizens, Assad embodies evil in our modern world dressed in fine western attire with a wife who enjoys European shopping sprees while her husband tortures and exterminates their fellow citizens.
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth encouraged every minister and priest to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. It would be wise for Christians to read the Bible and the newspaper each day and read from the entire Bible, not just selections from it. Reading the entire Bible provokes much deeper theological wrestling.
It forces us to grapple with God and evil, what theologians have called “theodicy.” If you wonder about the relationship between God and violence and wish to comprehend it better, join us on Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to noon in MacColl Auditorium at St. Thomas Church for what may be the most stimulating lecture of the year.
In our Forum Professors Walter Brueggemann, Carolyn Sharp and Pete Enns will address God in Recovery: An Examination of the God of the Old Testament and the Relationship between Religion, Righteousness, Violence and God.
They will focus on some of the Bible’s most challenging stories. What are Christians, Jews and others to make of these terrifying texts? Where is God when bad things happen to people? Why does God permit evil to occur? Is God ever the instigator of violence?
If you cannot attend our Forum, then visit the Center for Biblical Studies website at: thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org Under articles you will find a great short essay entitled “God in Recovery” that we asked Dr. Brueggemann to write for lay persons to address issues of God and violence in the Bible.
Dr. Brueggemann has also written a fine article about the differing natures of God in the Old and New Testament, entitled “The Biblical God who goes to and fro on the Earth.” Both articles make for excellent reading and are very thought-provoking.
If you haven’t signed up for this weekend’s incredible Bible conference, walks-in are welcome. You are welcome to join us. Dr. Brueggemann will preach at the 4:30 p.m. Choral Evensong on Sunday. He is one of America’s finest preachers. Don’t miss it!