Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When Scripture Has Rocks

One of my favorite things to do is to run on the trails in DeSoto State Park. One trail parallels the Little River, which is a fast flowing river that flows mostly south and mostly atop Lookout Mountain and eventually forges a canyon to the south of the state park. The water rushes along and you can hear it from quite some distance away. Occasionally, as I'm looking at the river, I'll see a large rock, maybe several large rocks just sticking up above the water. The water hits the rock, turns white, makes noise, and flows around the rock, continuing southward.

These rocks add beauty to the river. These rocks make the water rough. These rocks make the river more difficult to navigate. These rocks amplify the voice of the river and sometimes make the flow of the river even more obvious. Ignore these rocks and you'll miss the river's voice. You'll miss the river's beauty. And if you're in the water, ignore these rocks to your own peril. To attempt to ignore them is both futile and dangerous. However, to pick up and go the complete opposite direction because a rock stands against the flow of the river is even more futile and dangerous.

Sometimes we have Bible verses like those big rocks.

What I mean is this. The overall sweep of Scripture is flowing very strongly in one direction, but there are verses that jut out, like big rocks on a fast river. These verses seem to oppose the flow of the "river". When we see those, we have to choose. Will we turn and go against the overall flow of Scripture? Will we attempt to ignore them? Or will we admire the beauty and roughness and navigate around them listening for God's voice in the noise caused by these verses that seem to oppose the flow of Scripture?

Examples of passages that are like these rocks...

Matthew 7:13-14 is a passage that I've wrestled with for some time. There is an overall flow of Scripture, especially in prophecy, toward an earth filled with people who turn to God and who know God. There are innumerable hosts in heaven in Revelation (Rev. 7:9-12; 15:4). There are verses like Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9; Ps. 22:27 and Ps. 98:1-3. Does this one passage near the end of the sermon on the mount suddenly reverse all of those? (That's not impossible because the sermon on the mount begins with a set of reversals, for sure.) Or is there another way to understand this verse that honors both this verse and the overall flow of Scripture?

Other examples include the role of women. You have Miriam, Deborah, Anna, the women proclaiming the empty tomb to men, Phoebe, Junia, Philip's daughters, Gal. 3:28, etc. Standing against those you have 1 Tim. 2:12 and 1 Cor. 14:34. What do we make of that? How do we deal with those rocks? How do we decide which verses are the "flow" and which are the "rocks" in my metaphor?

There is an overall flow of a picture of God as merciful, patient, kind, loving. In fact, that is perhaps the major theme of all of the Bible. There are passages like Deut 5:10 and Deut 7:9 and Rom. 5:15 and Rom. 5:17 that show that God's mercy is orders of magnitude greater than His punishment. We are told that God is slow to anger. But then you have Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-3) and Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:7) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5; Acts 5:10). Do we throw out the flow of Scripture toward a merciful and loving God of grace in favor a few "rocks" that on the surface appear to portray God as an angry cosmic despot? Or do we strive to see what else may be going on in those "rock" verses?

Let's take the more difficult road of wrestling with passages that cause us tension. Let's not settle for pat answers. Let's use the tools available to us, including modern scholarship which can help us understand customs and language and culture and audience and author of the books in the Bible. Let's strive to honor all of Scripture, even the parts we don't like or that present problems to our cherished and long-held beliefs. Let's even consider the possibility that we may not be able to reconcile all of these verses and we're just left to honor the beauty of the different perspectives in Scripture. Let's not be satisfied to read Scripture the way we always have. Let's read Scripture as it has been given to us by God (a beautiful story written from different times and perspectives) instead of turning it into what we may want it to be (a uniform, simple, point by point instruction manual).

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