In my posts so far, I’ve focused on the argument from lesser to greater which we find in many of Jesus’ teachings. I hope I’ve at least begun to show that this approach treats Jesus’ parables fairly, for what they are and how they really work to explain the ways of God and of human life transformed by God’s love. The idea is to listen to the parables themselves instead of laying upon them some doctrine we already hold as correct or orthodox. We are seeking to learn rather than to reinforce our already standardized beliefs.
I want to make clear, however, that recognizing this one teaching method is not some special or secret “key” to unlocking the truth of scripture. People like shortcuts and simplifications, but the Bible does not surrender its truth to them. On one level, we’ve observed a way Jesus taught by using the familiar as an analogy to the hidden, when the hidden is like the familiar in some way, only much, much more so. God is like a loving parent, only much, much more so.
There is another level of understanding we have already encountered but may not have recognized. The philosophically minded might remind us that all talk about God is, of necessity, reasoning by analogy, but that’s not the level of understanding of which I speak now. True, because we cannot observe God or God’s will and work the way scientists observe natural happenings in the world we inhabit, we must speak of God by analogy to what we know and have experienced. But the more important insight for understanding the Bible and, therefore, beginning to understand life in biblical terms is this: the Bible’s truth is relational. The prophets and Jesus insist upon confronting us with the God who cares, who feels for and with us, who has freely and willingly committed to relationship with the human creatures of flesh and blood and will neither give up on us nor enslave us (for our own good, as a tyrant would say). The notion of an apathetic or indifferent God is utterly unbiblical.
For those who would read the Bible as what I have termed the vindictive bible, divine truth leads to judgment and so to the rewarding of the good or faithful and the punishing of the wicked or unfaithful. For them, it’s all about heaven and hell (since the faithful recognized many centuries ago that in this earthly life neither the good nor the wicked reliably get what they deserve before they die).
Biblically, however, God’s truth leads, not to judgment that apportions “just deserts” to human beings, but rather toward the healing and restoring of loving and respectful relationship. God respects our freedom and integrity far more than we respect each other’s or even our own. So it is that we can discern a sharp contrast in the ways people use the Bible to support change and legislation in the society of the United States. Those who read what I have called the salvific bible, seek to legislate freedom and equality, as we saw during the Civil Rights Movement. In contrast, those who read the vindictive bible seek to legislate restriction and suppression, as we now see in the right-wing Christian attempts to return women to the dominion of men and all people to the strictures of the “normal,” as that normal is defined by traditional prejudices that have found Bible quotes to support themselves.
The very language of the Hebrew Scriptures is relational, which makes it quite difficult for us modern Western-thinking people to comprehend. So, an emerging goal of this blog is to explore the Bible’s relational thinking in hope of rendering it less strange to us. We have become detached and objective. Having learned to see the earth as a warehouse of resources for us to use and then discard when we have exhausted their usefulness, we have dulled ourselves further into seeing people the same way – as resources or things for our use, to be discarded (laid off) when we have exhausted them. In ancient Egypt, the Hebrews were slaves. They were things to be used and used up. The God who spoke through Moses adopted those slaves, calling them “my people” and committing to them forever. Remarkably, God chose freely to become vulnerable to mere human beings. Love is by nature vulnerable. The mystery of the Bible and of life is this terrible vulnerability which looks so weak and foolish to those in love with power but is, in truth, the strength and wisdom of God.
The truth of the Bible is steadfast love and faithfulness. It is relational always, never just objective and never, ever, indifferent. To understand biblical truth, we must learn to think of life as a relational matter.