Reading Bible Course Blog

Reflections on the Bible…

My favorite verse BS2615-1-WI10 Blog #5

March 2nd, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized

For this last blog in the course, we have the opportunity to reflect on any verse or passage that we want. There are many passages that I have found meaningful, curious, or complicated. There are things I could write on end about, and things that create more questions than answers. As I wrestled with all of the choices, I decided to reflect on my favorite verse; and why it is meaningful for me. The reality is that we can (and should) really study the Bible and digest it, reflect on it, question it; however in our academic pursuit of the scripture we can miss the point. I am not talking about the point as in the meaning of the passage, but the purpose of the scripture. The purpose of the scripture is really to give us life. Sometimes we fail to enjoy the scripture because we are trying to hard to figure it out. When I was a freshmen in college (I went to a Christian school) each class had a theme verse that was chosen for them (I know, not the best way to go) and for our class it was Habakkuk 1:5. Habakkuk, a minor prophet that I had not heard of before. A minor prophet who has an interesting and real story. Its complicated in some of the same ways that Job is complicated. His is a dialogue as a prophet with the people and God. He is not happy with the government and the abuses of the government (guess its not a new problem then…) and he offers his complaints to God, which God answers. As a part of their dialogue in chapter 1, verse 5 is nestled that theme verse. It has become the them verse of my life; in times that are good and bad, and with ministry as well. It reads like this:
“Look at the nations and watch–and be prepared to be utterly amazed, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told.”
This verse is more than a promise. It is also an opportunity for an understanding and a lens for life and ministry. It has been a foundation of hope and reality for me throughout my journey of faith. God does have a plan for us…and amazing plan, a plan that we cannot imagine. This is not to say that God controls every aspect of our lives; yet God is aware of and cares about what is going to happen in, around, and through us. In the case of Habakkuk, the answer was ultimately what he wanted, but it did not come in the way that he expected it or probably wanted it to. So it is with life. Somehow it does work out, and God does redeem and make all things good—eventually. Yet the answers to our prayers and our problems as individuals and communities often only come after hard work and with painful processes to get there. We cannot focus on the blame game with this, nor can we dwell in it. It is part of our story. Anyone can believe while on the mountaintop, and sometimes I would argue it is easy to live in the valleys, because there we have to depend on others and on God. Its in the day to day living of life that the real challenge lies; and this is part of Habakkuk’s dialogue with God. Yet, in the midst of it all, this verse reminds me that there is something coming, something to be written in our stories that is so amazing that we would never believe it—even if we were told it was coming. I look back on my life, and I see where that has happened. What about you? How has God written an amazing plan and story in your life?

Job, God & Satan BS2615-1-WI10 Blog #4

February 22nd, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized

Please note that due to other assignments, I had to complete this early, without the benefit of the reading.The passage from Job I want to examine is Job 1:1-12:

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom. One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

The story of Job has always fascinated me. It is fascinating on many levels and is a source of help and pain in the midst of suffering. When I think of the mystery of scripture; and the scripture being ‘fraught with background’ I often wonder about the background of the passage above. I believe the story and recognize it as authoritative like the rest of the scripture, but I have more personal tension with this than most of the scripture. The description of Job is unique to any other character description in the Bible as it talks about both his character and possessions. Perhaps this is meant to set up the story, but it seems to come out of nowhere. And why Job? I am sure Job asked that question more than the scripture points out; at least I think so, and if not; he is much stronger than I. Perhaps that is part of the point. He was wealthy, had a good character, was loved in his community, and was devout. He even felt obligated to offer sacrifice for the sins of others which could be a blog all its own! Again, a very different image than any other character in the Bible.
Moving on in the story we see the scene where the Angels are checking in with God. This seems odd to me, a unique scene. In the midst of the other stuff and issues in Job I think this passage gets overlooked. The larger context in Job gets so much attention, that I think this small piece gets overlooked, but it is so huge! There is no other verse like it, this idea of the angels checking with God. Of course Satan checks in to, and that is a nuance that is interesting as well. Why do the angels check in? Is this normal? Did this continue when Christ was born? Did Christ check in? Does Satan continue to check in? God asks Satan where he comes from, which is also interesting. Of course God knows, but what is the deeper purpose in this question? Was there more to this exchange. This whole beginning (and quite frankly the whole book) screams for a midrash moment! It seems to me that there would have to be more to this exchange. Additionally it seems as though the angels would have been more than observers in this conversation as well. Then the crux of the matter for me happens…God gives Satan permission to attack Job. Did God need to do that? By that I mean, could Satan have already done that and why did God want to do that? If God was trying to prove a point to Satan, was it worth it? I do not say this in the context of the pain that Job dealt with, but more so in the context of giving Satan power and permission when it does not seem that God needs to prove anything to Satan. Was this the beginning of Satan’s power, or did it exist before? What is the nature of Satan in the world now, is it like it is demonstrated in Job, but on a smaller scale or is it completely different?
The other interesting aspect here is that Satan talks back to God and challenges Him saying, well of course he worships you; he has a perfect life. Why does God take the bait? Again, does God need to prove anything to Satan? Is it realistic that someone has everything?
Again, I raise more questions and answers here because this is a very unique and challenging piece of the Biblical story (at least for me) and its implications are pretty profound.
Of course one of the great modern realities of this whole book is that we do not have a healthy view of suffering and we do not know how to handle it. Our view of God is too often based on our circumstances. We do not thank God for what we have, but when things go wrong; God is often first on our blame list.
The journey continues…

Sex in the Bible??!! BS2615-1-WI10 Blog #3

February 16th, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized

I have been teaching a class in church for parents called “The Spiritual Formation and Development of Children,” and this week I was talking about spiritual maturity. I was sharing that spiritual maturity cannot happen without challenge, and that the Bible is a dangerous book. Spiritual maturity requires one to really know what you believe and why it is that you believe that. I shared several stories that have come from my career in youth ministry. Sex was of course one of the topics—that our message in Sunday School is ‘Sex is dirty so save it for the one you love.’ This message is of course not scriptural and it is amazing how afraid we are to talk about sex. I shared that I once was turned down for a job as a youth pastor because I used the word ‘masturbation’ when talking about how and what we need to talk about in youth group with our teens about these issues. We are afraid to talk about certain things in the church, and the things that we are afraid to talk about—the things that we ignore come with a cost. One of the readings for this week was Song of Songs. The commentary we also had to read related to this book by Weems was very complete and helpful. It looked at the background and issues in a concise and effective way. What was most helpful was the end of the commentary where the author talked about how we must not look at this book as just a book about love; a proof text that God is both for love and sex. The author noted that doing so would simply force our modern assumptions on this text and would completely miss the point. I often wonder if the reason that God allowed this to make it into the canon was to blatantly prove that we ignore some scripture and focus too much on other pieces of scripture. After all, when was the last time you saw Song of Songs listed as one of the readings in church? How many sermons and Bible Studies have you seen offered on this book of the Bible? Not only is not never talked about, I would argue that it is often ignored. The Bible is a dangerous book. I have heard many call t he Bible an ‘instruction manual’ for life. I have never had an instruction manual of any kind read like Song of Songs! So what do we make of this book? There are a couple observations that I would like to offer as I continue to think through this book. First, we must recognize that the Bible does not read like a manual. There are many forms of writing in the Bible and this is a poetic piece. To take poetry and read it like a factual instruction manual would not make any sense. A second observation I would like to make is that God created the sexual and sensual; and we are sexual beings. The notion that sensuality or sexuality is to be shamed is an American construct-not a Biblical one. Something else I have often thought of this book is that controversy is ok…we must have challenge, conflict, and controversy in our lives, in our faith and of course in the Bible; however we must not shy away from this at all. Beyond that, I can honestly say that this book is complicated, and cannot be easily explained or understood, and so I continue to think through it, look at it both in its form and context and in the greater context of scripture.

In the garden BS2615-1-WI10 Blog #2

January 30th, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized

Perhaps the most well known story in the Bible, found in Genesis 2:5-3:24 is the story of the Garden of Eden. There are many ways to look at this story and the story has been used in the church and culture in both positive and negative ways. If I am honest, this is not a passage that I have spent a lot of timing thinking through. I think there are two primary reasons for this; first, I have never had a need to. Secondly I have always accepted that the world is not as it should be, so I never felt the need to question the possible origin of that reality. I decided that perhaps it was time to examine this piece of the puzzle. There are some basic assumptions about the Bible that I approach it with. I believe the Bible is true and that it is God’s word (yes it was written by human beings). I also assume that there are various forms of writing, but that it is still inerrant and infallible in my view. Truth is not just about every exact detail being true, but also about the truth found in the meaning and intent. I see this story as a metaphor and part of the story of God. Some details may be exact while others may not be exact. Was it a specific garden? Maybe or maybe not? Did Eve really come out of Adam’s rib-doubtful, but possible. Did God create man and woman to live on earth in relationship with Him and each other? There is no question in my mind that this is absolutely true. The geography matches places that we understand today and so the location seems to be more specific. Why is that detail in there? I believe it all comes from God, but was the purpose of this to speak to the various cultures that existed in that time in a way that answered their questions and drew them in using information that connected to their current worldview? That is my suspicion from reading some of the stories of the ancients. God did not just seek to create the story, but to do it a way that spoke to each culture while being able to speak to the generations that followed. Let me digress and talk about the ways I have seen this passage abused. First and foremost this passage is abused in placing blame. We have demonized the snake for tricking Eve. We have demonized Eve for falling for the trick and then talking Adam into the decision that leads to all the fall of humanity. The blame game is not healthy. Not only is it unreasonable to find a way to place blame, it does nothing for our relationship to God and each other. There is no greater Kingdom purpose in it. So what is the greater meaning today? What does it mean for us now and in the broader perspective of the Christian faith? For me, this story demonstrates some important realities about God. First, God is creator and is responsible for all of creation. The exact details of how all that can happen is debatable. The second piece of the puzzle for me is that this story shows me that not only did God want to have a relationship with us, but God had an idea of the perfect world and the perfect relationship, but God offered up choice to us (this is the proof text for me regarding choice) and that choice opened the risk for the tainting of that perfect world. For me the story is not so much about a “fall” of humanity as it is the beginning of a complicated and tainted relationship. From there the story unfolds and continues to unfold as we work our way back to the perfect relationship and the ideal world (Jesus called it the Kingdom) together in relationship with choice and the power of God working with us all along the way.

Both/And? BS2615-1-WI10 Blog #1

January 14th, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized

In a short video interview, Marcus Borg talks about how we interpret the Bible. He offers two categories of literal interpretation and then offers his approach, one that he believes churches should be teaching and training their people to practice. Based on his categories, I find myself resonating with two categories at the same time. I do fall in line with the soft literalist view. I do believe scripture has authority and comes from God. I also recognize the human involvement, but trust the Holy Spirit’s work in that midst. We have to recognize that there are ways to read and interpret the scripture that are not the intention of God. We are not God, therefore we are cannot fully understand, we have limits. The paradigm Borg suggests is not perfect, but I cannot say I fully disagree with it. We must understand context. God is still speaking, and speaks in many ways. That said, if it is contrary to scripture (and I believe scripture is the test) then we have a problem. If it is all about what we see and hear in our culture, we ignore history and in doing so negate God’s work in the past. If we follow this path, we end up on a slippery slope that soon elevates our experiences and limited understanding of those experiences to a God-like level, we become God(‘s). I have been wrestling with all of this for years, because I see myself falling into a both/and mindset. This is part of what happens with the more orthodox portion of the postmodern/emergent movement. I think both can exist, and I still believe that we do not just read the Bible, the Bible reads us.
The authority of scripture as the divine word of God stands on its own, but yes we get to choose how we apply it and in that way how much authority we give it, but I do not believe that the authority of scripture is limited to our choice and to our permission giving…if it were, it would be about us creating God in our image instead of the other way around. Of course we can give it more authority or less in our own lives…and that is a choice but I assert that its authority is not limited to us.

We do not have to ignore the nature of the formation of the cannon, the transcription, the translation. That said I do believe in the inspired Word of God. I believe that even though the human hands were on it, the spirit can transcend that and therefore it can maintain its character as infallible and inerrant…the issue of error lies more in interpretation than in the scripture itself. There is no control over how the scripture might be interpreted and used or abused…infallible in intention. Innerant in spirit in terms of the nature and meaning of scripture but recognize the possibility of fallibility of human hands being involved.

Part of this rests on whether or not we see the scripture as a living document or not. and how we understand our relationship to it, is it just to be read and understood or is there more? I think Borg is on to some things, but these bigger questions seem to be unanswered in this video at least.

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