Our Contentious Scriptures

messy-libraryI once heard “Community” defined as “a group of people who say many different things about the same thing.”  A community is not people who have all the same answers, but rather it is people who agree on what questions are worth arguing about.

Take, for example, the United States of America.  We are a community that has latched onto this concept called “Liberty.”  We barely know what it means, but we all know it’s worth dying for.  The question of Liberty is at the heart of our deepest and bitterest disagreements.  It is the one thing we agree is worth arguing about.

Imagine what it would look like to put together a library dedicated to this centuries-long national argument.  What texts would you include in the library?

Let’s see… the Constitution, certainly, and the Declaration of Independence… For the library to be truthful, it would also have to include some embarrassing texts, like the revised Constitution written by the Confederate states, a big volume of broken Indian treaties, and photos of Japanese internment camps… But it would have more inspiring bits too, like the Gettysburg Address and “I Have a Dream”… The library ought to include a songbook, a collection World War II propaganda films, and maybe the whole list of names from the Vietnam Memorial…

Our “Liberty Library” would be a collection of texts that have arisen from our contentious yet fruitful national conversation. In other words, it would look a lot like the library we call “The Bible.”

The Bible is our collection of texts that have arisen from our millennia of grappling with the Holy Trinity in the world. We, the People of Yahweh, are a contentious bunch, and our long life together has produced a contentious collection of scriptures.  In the past I have been tempted to harmonize this collection and paper over its jagged edges. I have been tempted to twist this dialogue into a monologue. Because the nice thing about monologues are that they tell you what to do, freeing you from the hard work of making good choices. But in the real world I live in, I am responsible for my decisions, regardless of what I think the Bible says. In the real world, “I was only following orders” doesn’t cut it.

In engaging the Scriptures I cannot be a passive recipient of a monologue.  Instead, I must be an active participant in an ongoing conversation.  I participate in this long dialog because I believe the True God is truly present in the conversation, revealing Godself in the midst of it, even in its contentiousness.

The Good News is that that Triune God of grace has breathed on us.  And this breathing (a.k.a, “inspiration”) has produced among us a conversation through which God is pleased to reveal Godself to those willing to participate in it.

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