Friday, September 1, 2017

A Bit of Context

Of course, it is always possible that I'm wrong on this whole idea of women in the Gospels being images of the people of God. I've been wrong before. I will be wrong again. Maybe this is just another one of those times.

Maybe Jesus really is the radical feminist that modern Christianity makes Him out to be. Maybe these are stories about sex and waste and inappropriate social dynamics. Maybe the women at the tomb were chosen precisely because they were women and their testimony would be a radical step in a new direction for a new faith that was about to take the world by storm.

What do I know?

But we have to at least consider the possibility that God uses women in the Gospels, at least in part, the same way He uses them throughout the rest of Scripture. That can't be offensive to us; it was a different context, a different time, a different place. And if we read into everything our modern sensibilities, we're going to miss a lot of what God is doing.

Because we can't make sense of the Bible if we're so busy either being offended by it or championing it as something that it never intended to be, and these are the extremes that we're drawn to when we don't consider how God crafts His story but focus too intently on what we think it says.

Just take one example - one of the biggest complaints that modern minds have regarding Christianity is that God is a warmonger. He loves to wage war and kill people. How can we reconcile that with the God of love that we see in Jesus?

The simple answer is that we're wrong on both counts; we're not reading either testament correctly if these are the dichotomous images that we come up with. The truth is that the God of the Old Testament did not relish blood, and the Jesus of the New Testament is not all love and unicorns. 

In the Old Testament, we have witness that God condemned the sin of Cain (which was murder). God told David that the reason he could not build the Temple was because he had too much blood on his hands, even though God was the one who led him into battle (there were a couple of murders in there, which undoubtedly also play a role). Over and over again in succession battles, we see the cautionary tale being offered that killing off one's competitors is not the way to go. It's not as simple as blood, guts, and glory - that's not at all the image of God that the Old Testament paints when taken as a consistent witness.

In the New Testament, we see Jesus lose His temper a few times. He storms through the Temple, throwing over tables. He calls the Pharisees all kinds of vile names. Snakes. Hypocrites. He weeps at the death of His friend, grieves over Jerusalem, agonizes over the fate of God's people. He doesn't go around hugging everybody and telling them He loves them and that He doesn't care what they do; He's invested in their stories, which is His story, too. 

But we bring our modern minds into it, and we read war and love, blood and "tolerance," and we say, how can this possibly be? It is only because we are not reading God's story, but our own fantasy. We are not reading His sensibilities, but our own.

That's why we have to be willing to at least consider the idea that there are scenes in God's story that aren't what we thought they were or even, sometimes, what we'd like them to be. I mean, yeah, it would be great if everything was just straightforward and convenient, but the Bible wasn't written to people of our time. It wasn't even written to people of its own time.

It was written to God's people of all time.

So we have to be able - and willing - to step out of our own culture and into the Kingdom if we ever hope to understand what it is that God has to say to us. And in the Kingdom of God? I don't know. Maybe it is about sex.

But maybe it's not. 

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