Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reading the Bible as If God Is Working

“[W]e preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” —1 Corinthians 1:23 CEB

The Bible is the most unique book ever written. The reasons for this are many, but the fact that it claims to be the word of God and that the central figure claimed to be God, but that God was killed on the cross makes this the most unusual kind of story ever. As Paul wrote, it is foolishness and a scandal. This one attribute, the reality that God died on a cross, while the most shocking claim in history, reveals a God that is at work in this world in ways that we cannot predict or control. It reveals truth that comes to us from God, not something that we could ever drum up. This foolish truth of the Bible must cause us to ask: What kind of book is this?

Of course, we often read the Bible by domesticating it. The truth of the Bible is so beyond what we expect that we try to fit its message into already conceived notions. We read it to confirm what we already believe. Like a dog chasing its tail, we find passages that reinforce what we already think is true. For instance, for years I assumed that almost every passage pointed to a call to conversion, to an invitation to unbelievers to become believers. Later I realized that the only reason I assumed this is because this was the way that sermons were crafted in my tradition. The sermons were preached to lead to a call to conversion.

With this mindset, once one is converted then the point of biblical truth is to retell that truth so that others can get converted. Since the converted are supposedly on the inside of the truth, the insiders are tempted to feel like they have control of Biblical truth. The foolish scandal is not for me; it's for others.

As a result, we read the Bible as if God is not working in the text.

But to say that God is at work in the Bible, that we should read the Bible as if God is at work in the world, is to say something that's devoid of meaning. It's something to which we too often agree with too quickly. Familiarity has bred banality. Of course God is speaking and working through the Bible, we silently ponder.

But God is working, by the Spirit, through the grand story of the Bible. And as soon as we lose the ability to be shocked by the scandal and the foolishness of this story, we lose touch with the God of this story.

This is not a story that reinforces my already entrenched beliefs. This is the story of God that comes from outside of me, outside of my experiences, outside of our established preconceived notions to reveal God and God's ways. The only way to know God is for God to pull back on the curtains. Our kind of thinking would never come up with the God revealed in the Bible. Who would ever create a story with a God who dies on a cross, rises and then ascends? And then he leaves behind a group of followers who are told to mimic this cross-like life.

This is foolishness. This is scandalous. 

The story of God does not fit, and until we are shocked by this story—again and again—then we are stuck trying to domestic God into what we think God should be. We are mired in our own thoughts about God, self and this world. This is the reason why the story must be repeated.

God is at work in this world, but the work of God never looks like something we would come up with. The way of God is a revelation, something that comes from outside of us. This story reveals a God who washes feet and invites the rest of to join him in washing the feet of others. This story reveals a God who invites the first to be last. This story challenges us to take up our cross and follow Jesus. This story invites us to believe a foolish scandal. 

There God is at work.

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