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Biblical Objections

Biblical Objections

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 — Week of Proper 15

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)

Psalms [120], 121, 122, 123 (morning) 124, 125, 126, [127] (evening)

Judges 18:1-15

Acts 8:1-13

John 5:30-47

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life… But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. John 5:39-40, 42

Sincere and conscientious people search the Bible and come to conflicting opinions. We can acknowledge and respect that each has honestly come to their conclusions. We can accept that their interpretation makes sense to them and in some way works for them. But there does come a limit to what we can agree about. There are times when we must agree to disagree, and do so respectfully. We each must make our case and stand by our conscience, but not all Biblically based arguments are equal.

There were so many ways that sincere and conscientious people could look at Jesus and hear his words and they could object to him on Biblical grounds. He seemed to take familiar liberties with God, claiming an intimacy that by some strict interpretations sounded blasphemous. He did acts of compassion and healing on the Sabbath, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments by some judgments. He did not meet the conventional expectations of the Messiah, for he had no political or military impact to drive out the Roman occupation and restore Israel’s glory. He did not observe many of the purity laws and consorted with sinners of various kinds — tax collectors, prostitutes, outcasts, the stricken, demoniacs, a man living in the tombs, women outside his family, Samaritans and foreigners. There were many Biblical grounds for someone to reject Jesus.

How did those who responded to Jesus recognize the presence of God in him? What overcame the “Biblical objections” to his ministry?

I think there are two things. The first and primary is love. Jesus’ ministry was characterized by love and compassion. In the passage from John today, Jesus remarks that those who “refuse to come to [him] to have life” are those who “do not have the love of God” in them. When Jesus summarizes the Law with the Great Commandment to love God, neighbor and self, he offers a lens for interpreting the commands of scripture. When those who had the love of God in them experienced the incarnation of that love, they recognized one who was performing God’s will, even when those acts seemed contrary to conventional interpretations of scripture. Jesus said, “my judgment is just, because I seek not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (5:30b) Jesus reveals that God is love. Love trumps law and tradition.

Jesus was also fearless. He did not play to the fears that so many of his hearers carried, fears often based on scripture. He was not afraid to touch the unclean, to speak intimately with God, to do good on the Sabbath, to show hospitality toward the marginalized.

When we think about the Biblical interpretations that tend to divide us today, might not love and fear be lenses for us to make judgment. Where do we see love in the unexpected place or unexpected person? Where might the appeal to fear be groundless? After all, perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

I wonder what it would be like if we took all of the contentious issues that separate believers and put them under one test: Fear not; Love.

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John Barton III

This post hints at my main problem with using the Bible as the primary source for authority about the mystery we call God and the standard for answering questions about God’s relationship to us in the modern world. Most people view the Bible as the first and foremost expression of truth. As one preacher I heard this summer expressed it, “If the Bible says so, it must be true.” This makes no sense to me. Before the author of any Biblical book wrote a single word, he had a direct experience of God. (Think of Paul’s conversion – what words can describe such an event?) Only after that experience did the author attempt to put that experience in words to share with others. The words are not the experience of God, merely the author’s attempt to describe that experience and are subject to the limitations of any written work such as ability, cultural outlook, etc. Words are important but they merely point to the mystery of God that cannot be explicitly stated in words. We should us use the Bible not as a touchstone of truth but as a guide to discovering the truth as revealed to us today through unceasing prayer and contemplation.

John Barton

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