Scripture doesn’t make sense….THANK GOD!
Often in my faith life themes arise and connect unrelated events in revealing ways. Currently this is happening over the revelation of scripture. This term has been one of dealing with and confronting difficult scripture and revitalizing the way I understand and approach the Bible as a whole. And in each discovery I grow more intriqued by my faith tradition and at how poorly we sometimes use such a rich scripture….The muse which started me down this path was a blog I visit occasionally by a student pursuing a PHD in OT Theology called Random Collin. He posted on the misuse of the Bible as an instructional tool. He addresses the idea that trying to form a coherent instruction manual out of a Bible which contradicts itself repeatedly and was never formed for such a use is troublesome and irresponsible. Instead Random Collin encourages us to embrace the tension in the Bible, in fact he claims the tension is the best part of the Bible. And I tend to agree. Here is one tidbit of his post.
The great power and theological depth of the Scripture is found within these points of tension, and again within the tension between our lives today and the various parts of this ancient collection of books. The Bible is like a stringed instrument in this respect. It only works because of great tension. Stop trying to take the tension out of the Bible. If you take away the tension, smoothing over and dumbing down and making everyingthing instructions and promises, all you get is a poorly tuned instrument and really bad music.
Music to my ears. So with this foundation I began to approach scripture seeking out the tension in a whole new way. One setting this took place is in my class on the Pastoral Epistles (the books of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). The content of these books have long troubled me. They include detailed portions prescribing the readers to intentionally silence the voice of woman and seemingly upholds slavery and gender exclusion. The lessons in these books are not relevant the way I live out my faith, and for a long time the way I dealt with them was to just avoid them. But by living in the tension I have discovered new truths in scripture that I once hated.
I dealt with the differences in theology between Pastorals and the authentic Pauline letters (Rom, Gal, 1 Thes, 1 & 2 Cor, Philip, Phile), I imagined the context of the audience in a male dominated world, I saw the author struggling to conform to the Greco-Roman hierarchical world in hope of saving a struggling church, and I allowed my differing opinions to be valid and worthwhile. The truth in this text is not instructions for our modern local congregations and when used that way are abusive. Instead the text gives us truth about one stream of the Pauline tradition, it shows us one example of trying to be apart of a hostile world as the embodied Christ, and it gives us hope for a church that is a realized form of Christ and a future reign of God to come.
Scripture is tough, but that is what makes it wonderful. If we can move away from scripture as instruction and deal honestly with the tensions it creates then perhaps our faith will grow richer in miraculous ways. What scripture have you been dealing with? If you have written off some text can you imagine revisiting it with a new attitude? How do you allow for tension in the way you read scripture? Hope to hear from you soon.