Saturday, June 17, 2017

how to read the bible in a way that makes all the difference

[theres a "too long; didn't read" at the end]

Your picture/image of God is wildly important to how you live your life, the world, and the people around you.

We're talking about this at The Table right now. But one thing we aren't going to cover on Sunday that I think is VITAL to our faith journey is this: how do we reconcile the Old Testament and the New Testament?

The Old Testament (OT) is the first 2/3rds of the bible before Jesus. It has wonderful stories like Adam & Eve, Moses, Abraham, King David (and Goliath), the Psalms, the prophets, and many more. But it also has these stories about God that make God appear to be mean, distant, violent, excessively wrathful, and many more things.

The New Testament, on the other hand, is the story of Jesus and the birth of the Church in the wake of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The thing that makes Christians unique in the traditional faiths is that we believe Jesus is God.

SO, how do we reconcile Jesus with the God of the Old Testament?

Every Christian has to answer this and has to answer it well to have a coherent faith. If we don't want to think about it, we live with a sense of cognitive dissonance where we have these two competing stories going on in our lives.

One of my favorite heretics of all time (just being real with you - I have favorite heretics :)), Marcion, thought the best thing to do was just get rid of the Old Testament. The Church said we couldn't do that. There is too much continuity. There is too much to learn. There is too many valuable and life-giving revelations we would lose. Jesus, after all, is an early, traveling Jewish rabbi bathed in the OT. He understood his life and mission to spring from what was happening in the OT.

Without going into all the details of how the Church has done this, from Origen to Dispensationalism, I will give you the best advice I can, boiled down, and probably over-simplified, but hopefully a good starting place. It will probably bring up more questions than answers, but that's how you know you're on the right path:

Jesus is the fullest revelation of God.
We read the Bible through Jesus - if that makes sense.
The Bible is the word of God (little 'w'),
but Jesus is the Word of God (Big 'W').
Jesus shapes the reading of every other story.
If the God we find in a story doesn't look like Jesus - then we need to dig deeper, rev up that imagination, and sit there for a while. There is a theological truth to be mined there, but it might not be the most obvious or most literal.
If your reading of the Bible leads you to a view of God that doesn't look like Jesus - you're doing it wrong.
We're looking at you too, St. Paul.

Make sure you know the Gospel's (Jesus' story) intimately before you venture on and out.

St. Ignatii Brianchaninov in the 1800's gave this advice to every monk entering into the monastery, and I give it to you for the same reasons:
"From their first entry into the monastery a monk should devote all possible care and attention to the reading of the Holy Gospel [Jesus' story, life, and teaching]. They should study the Gospel so closely that it is always present in their memory. At every moral decision they take, for every act, for every thought, they should always have ready in their memory the teaching of the Gospel ... Keep on studying the Gospel until the end of your life. Never stop. Do not think that you know it enough, even if you know it all by heart" (quoted in The Orthodox Way by Bishop Ware).
WHY? Why am I writing about this? Because it seems to me that when Christians want to justify treating other people in a less than loving way they skip all the things Jesus has to say and use the Old Testament to defend their actions and positions. It is a big book. There are so many things that can be justified. Almost anything. Anyone looking for ammunition can find it. But prioritizing Jesus' teachings and actions as THE definitive life and teaching will minimize the cherry-picking we all want to do and help us truly become follows of Jesus.

What do you think? You have any tips on how to reconcile these two? You have any pushback? Help me out here.

tl;dr
Sometimes the bible is hard to read. (that's probably a duh).
God sometimes seems different between OT and Jesus.
The over-simplified solution is that Jesus is the fullest and best picture of God we have. Jesus reshapes everything, and helps us re-read everything more faithfully.

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