Reflection October 21, 2018
"Friendly or Unfriendly?" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday, October 21(2018), I used something from the famed physicist, Albert Einstein. I’ll not replicate my sermon here (the sermon and service are available on my personal Facebook page and on the Morgan Park Baptist Church Facebook Page - under “posts“). There is debate about Einstein actually writing this but I believe it serves as an important discussion point regardless of its source.
The question revolves around whether one sees the universe as a friendly or a hostile place. The way one answers this question determines a great deal about how that person’s life will unfold.
I extended that question on Sunday to include this question: is God friendly or is God hostile? Much of the God-images uncovered in the Old Testament portray a pretty hostile God. In the pages of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (and also many other places) we encounter a warlike tribal God who seemingly kills whenever the “urge” comes upon him.
I believe many of the more ancient Biblical images of God make belief in a loving God practically impossible. Yet many believers argue that all of the Bible has been “magically” written by God.
Most of us were raised to believe that God is somehow the anonymous author of the Bible. We were taught to see the Bible as “The Word of God.” We visualized God whispering the words of the Bible into someone’s ear while he or she wrote it all down as a divine dictation.
God can be considered the author of the Bible only in a roundabout way. The Bible is NOT the result of divine dictation. The Bible is the result of divine inspiration. There is a world of difference between these two words. The universal church holds that the Bible is “inspired” not “dictated.”
The Spirit of God came upon the authors of the Bible, breathing into them, giving them the necessary impetus to write about how they saw God working among them. The Spirit “inspiring” the biblical authors was the same Spirit that “swept over the face of the waters” of creation. (Genesis 1:2)
While all of the Bible should be taken together, like a giant mural, some of the “brush strokes” are rather strange. Take, for example, Deuteronomy 25:11-12: “If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show her no pity.”
I suggested once that this passage is a biblical forerunner of the Marquess of Queensberry. Yet in all seriousness, can anyone imagine such an invective coming from God? The God revealed to us in the Gospels could not author such a devilish decree.
The 613 commandments found in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) make for interesting reading but they truly strain belief in God as the One who wrote these books. Many of the laws have to do with preventing diseases. There are also many proscriptions concerning blood.
Since God’s “life force” was seen as being contained in blood (see Genesis 9:4), blood was considered especially sacred. The Israelites were forbidden from eating anything with blood in it. They sacrificed animals to God in the Temple because in slaughtering the animal, the blood was drained and the “life force” returned to God who could then reuse it.
A goodly number of godly people proclaim everything in the Bible to be divine, inerrant truth. Many people proclaim there can be no historical inaccuracy in the Bible. If the Bible states that the world is about 6,000 years old (which the Bible doesn’t!) then it must be so. This is where Christianity and science come to blows.
The Warrior God of the Old Testament (found again in the Book of Revelation) who kills easily and often is deeply disturbing to many religious people. For those who would like to read further about this dilemma, I suggest Professor John Dominic Crossan’s recent book, How to Read the Bible & Still Be a Christian.
As I have noted before, we Christians are confronted with two different images of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. We have the humble Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey to show he is coming in peace. We also have Jesus riding the white warhorse in the Book of Revelation. I believe we must choose which image we will embrace. I choose to embrace the humble donkey-riding Jesus. I have trouble embracing the sword-wielding warhorse-riding Jesus of Revelation 19:11. I trust the Gospels more than any other part of the Bible. I use the Gospels to understand most fully and correctly who God is and how God works within us and among us.
One of the problems we encounter regarding the Bible is that most of us are relatively illiterate regarding what’s exactly in the Bible. We think we know but unless we’ve read the entire Bible at least once in our lives, we cannot say we know what’s in the Bible. Multiple readings would even be better! As a congregation, we’ve worked our way through many books of the Bible.
We’re called to be comforted by the Bible and also to be confronted by the Bible. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote years ago: “It (the Bible) continues to scatter seeds of justice and compassion, to echo God’s cry to the world and to pierce man’s armor of callousness.”
All of us who share in the Judaeo-Christian tradition have had our world-view immensely influenced by the images and truths of the Bible. We are truly Bible people. But being deeply rooted in the Bible doesn’t require us to understand the Bible as without error. The Bible is much more the work of humans than it is the work of God. Yet we find God again and again in the pages of the Bible.
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643