Bin Laden and the Narrative of Scripture

Not long after President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, Twitter lit up. As you would expect, Christians have played their part, too. One particular way Christians tweeted was using Bible verses to proclaim their feelings on the matter. Christianity Today, the American Evangelical magazine, posted an article on their website that listed data from that told us what were the most tweeted Bible verses 12 hours after President Obama announced bin Laden’s death.

I admit that I was glad to see that the number one verse was Proverbs 24:17, ‘Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice’ (NIV). Of course there were other verses, too – ones that seem to be quite fine with the rejoicing that the enemy had indeed fallen, but 3 of the top 5 indicated that the death was not a celebration. Still, what does quoting one verse do?

Quoting Bible verses in my environment growing up was nearly a language all its own. It’s how you answered questions when people challenged what you thought and it was what you quoted to prove your case. Usually the surrounding context mattered little. It was easy that way. You could find your preferred texts and use them as an axe to cut down any argument that someone tried to make. They were little clues that formed a picture of your own making.

Since that time, I have learned that quoting verses does not always help, and if we read carefully in the New Testament, we see that Jesus and Paul nuanced how they used scripture. For Jesus, I can point to the gospels where he would begin by saying ‘you have heard it said’ before quoting some part of the Old Testament and then deepening its meaning. Paul could have used any number of scriptures that said eating food sacrificed to idols was wrong, but he takes a very long time to get there and in the end doesn’t exclude it all together! In both cases, Paul and Jesus wanted us to hear more than just what a single verse of scripture might say.

While I am not opposed to quoting scripture, and as a general practice I wish I knew more than I did so I could quote them, I think we also have to look at the full story of where scripture is going. It’s a little more difficult this way, and sometimes I have to give up my preferred verses. It also takes discussion and listening, as unlike quoting a verse it isn’t easily doled out in bite-sized portions. The overarching story of scripture has at it centre what Jesus did for a world that was opposed to him. He came to bring forgiveness, and did it amidst people who were cheering and celebrating his death. He even reached out to a terrorist and converted him so that he could take the gospel to the gentiles.

So, I do understand there are verses that would say it’s perfectly OK to gloat and brag that bin Laden is dead. But, there are other verses that say the opposite. I think we have to go to the overarching story for where the weight lies for those verses. If our central story is that of Jesus and his sacrifice, then I don’t see how we can celebrate the death of another.

Grace is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted

I preached on the epistle text (2 Corinthians 12.2-10) this past Sunday. I feel like God is leading me to use this text again (the fact I am using that kind of language leads me to believe that God actually must be doing this). I think this is because I am sorting things out in my own life, dealing with past issues, and looking to the future. I have heard it said the best sermons are those preached to yourself first. Then, I am preaching at Langho this Sunday. This is the church that will be closing at the end of September (after the Fall Synod gives its approval).

The passage contains the famous verse about God’s response  to Paul who asked God three times to remove the ‘thorn’ or ‘stake’. ‘My grace is sufficient for you,’ came back God’s answer.

I can’t help but think that this sound a lot like the old saying, ‘Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.’ So, Paul didn’t get whatever was torturing him removed, but he does get grace. I want to look at this week, what does that mean? Not only for myself, but for my church which is having trouble seeing beyond the building.

I am not looking for an easy or even a deep theological answer that ‘solves’ the problem. I spent a wonder conversation recently with someone telling me that she gets cross with God when she remembers a time he didn’t answer her prayer, so she tries not to remember it. I love that expression! And it expresses an actual relationship with God! How many times in relationships do we sometimes have to simply say that? We get cross with others, but in some circumstances we cannot reach a definitive conclusion, but choose to lay it aside enough to get on with the relationship rather than banging on about it. I have plenty of friends with quirks that drive me nuts, but don’t end the friendship. I am sure they would say the same about me. Why should we think our relationship with God is above getting cross with him?

So, when we get cross with God, we get grace. But, as someone who has difficulty recognising God’s grace in my life, maybe I just want grace to make more sense than it does at times.

Biblical Conversations I Wish I Could Have Overheard

Nick Norelli responded to a meme naming five important books. One of his is the Gospel of Luke because of the influence of the Emmaus story and Jesus’ opening up the scriptures. That got me thinking about the places in the Bible where we are told of conversations, but aren’t given the text of what was said (as opposed to the stories of Jesus and Nicodemus and Jesus and the woman at the well).

So, here is my list of conversations where I wish I had been a ‘fly on the wall’:

  1. The Walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35): Would there be anything better than a Bible Study with Jesus in which he goes through the Old Testament and shows where they point to him?
  2. Peter and Paul (Galatians 1:18): All it says is that Paul stayed with Peter for 15 days! Two of the New Testament Church’s greatest leaders bunking with each other and we get nothing. Come on, Paul, give us a hint of what you talked about!
  3. Jesus and his Disciples (Mark 4:33-34): We are told that Jesus would explain the parables he told to his disciples, and all we get in the gospels is the explanation of one of them (the Sower).
  4. Jesus’ Signs After His Resurrection (John 21:25): Not really a conversation. I realise the ‘other things’ would fill up volumes, but I wish he would have given us a few.

Those are the four off the top of my head. Are there any others that you wish you could have overheard?

Altars of the Unknown God (Part 2)

I’m back home, and still trying to take in the past 2 days. It was 2 intense days filled to the brink. Full, but fantastic! Unfortunately, I don’t take notes fast enough to get everything Bishop Tom said, but hopefully it will come back in time.

On my post from a couple of days ago, Pam asked what answers we came up with in the class where the question came from. There were four main ‘altars’. 1) Environment 2) Lottery 3) Sex and this led to a fourth, what does it mean to be human.

Each of these areas have points of contact with the Christian story, but there are areas where the church must say no to. Pam in her comment gave an example when profits are stressed in a way that it breaks the back of people.

I will post more over the weekend!

What are the altars to the unknown god today?

I am on lunch break on my first day of class, The Bible in Tomorrow’s world. So far, the class has lived up to the billing! It’s great! I also didn’t expect (don’t know why) that I would get the chance to talk so much to other classmates. That has been a welcome side effect.

The first main session, Bishop Wright led us in a sort of Bible Study on Acts 17, where Paul preaches to the Athenians. He takes what may be a minority view in saying that Paul actually is not just seeking commonality with people, but is actually deconstructing them. He does offer some points of contact, but he also takes back. The main way Paul does this is the altar of the unknown god, where he sees a possibility of hope, a window of opportunity where the message of the gospel can reach. He ended the session by asking what are the altars of unknown gods today?

These altars are the way we navigate through our culture, saying ‘yes’ to some and ‘no’ to others (or ‘yes, but’ and ‘no, but’).

So I ask the same question to my readers: what are the altars of the unknown god in our culture?