Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ancient stories still make sense? Yes, if you actually think about it

In my personal tradition for Lent, I've been listening to selected books of The Bible while running. Now, if you're unfamiliar with The Bible, hang on with me  - the best is yet to come. This year, I have gone through 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles and about to get through 2 Chronicles.

From flickr by Adam Dimmick
Those are very interesting books from, in Christian-speak, the Old Testament. In short, these are the stories of God's people, their constant pendulum of accepting and following God, moving away and ignoring God, then back again. And again. And again.

Much like real life.

The first time I went through these books of The Bible, I came away confused but intrigued. To me, having some knowledge about these years of kings and kingdoms helps explains so much the teachings of Jesus and his followers that came later. Get even a little grasp of the Old Testament, and the New Testament makes a lot more sense, in terms of location, groups of people, what people do and say and why, and much more.

One book that helped me a lot in my journey on this is the book "Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today," written by United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton. I downloaded the audio version from my local public library and listened to it several months ago.

A second possible way of making sense of the violence of the Old Testament, particularly related to war, is to recognize that Moses, Joshua, and David were Israel’s heroes. They were warrior-saints. These stories were written down long after their time to inspire others to courage and absolute commitment to God.
An analogy would be the story of William Wallace of Scotland. Wallace died in 1305, but to this day he is a legendary hero in Scotland. He fought against the English in the wars for Scottish independence. Every Scottish child is taught about William Wallace. Memorials to him are found throughout the country. Sir Walter Scott expanded the legend with his writings. And Wallace’s story was told in the 1995 Oscar-winning film Braveheart, with Mel Gibson playing the part of Wallace. Only the English criticized Wallace’s methods in war, accusing him of killing civilians. In Scotland he’s remembered for his heroism.
Here’s what I’m suggesting: Perhaps the stories of the conquest of Canaan were to ancient Israelites what the stories of William Wallace are to the Scots. Written long after the time of these heroes, they were meant to demonstrate courage, resolve, and faith and to inspire later generations still struggling against their own enemies. These stories were written from the theological perspective of the ancient Near East, where gods sent heroes into battle and fought alongside them. No one reads Sir Walter Scott’s book on William Wallace to find a model of ethics of war. They read it to be inspired by a national hero.
The same was true of the Book of Joshua.
There’s a lot more about this topic that should be said; entire books have been devoted to addressing the issue of violence in the Bible. My goal is to point you toward some possible ways of making sense of this violence without justifying it. The answers that make the most sense to me require that we recognize the humanity of the Bible’s authors, their intent in writing, and the culture that shaped them. This approach also invites us to question those parts of Scripture where God is portrayed in a way inconsistent with Jesus’s life and message. Where a particular teaching in Scripture is at odds with what Jesus said, we are right to consider that the passage may reflect the culture, the worldview, or the perspectives of the human author of Scripture rather than the timeless heart, character, and will of God.
What's this got to do with my own blog?

When something like a stroke occurs, or some other bad thing happens, it's easy for someone to say something about "God's will." But by building a better understanding of faith, you can do a better job seeing through the overly simple answers and finding truth, which is not always so simple.

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