Sunday, June 26, 2016

Story First

This has been rolling around in my head for quite some time and it’s time to get it from there to this blog.  As I start, know that I’m not looking for validation on what I’m thinking and I’m certainly open to discussion (if not debate).  My intent here is to continue processing what I’ve learned as I continue my journey along this Crooked Path.

I took a challenge from my family to do something for Lent this year.  I reinstated my annual “listen through the Bible” and chose to only play that in the car during any drives during the Lenten cycle.   To date, I’m into Paul’s letters and should wrap up before very long.  What this venture has reminded me is that our Bible is Story first and foremost … and everything else after that.

I’ve heard people say it is history or a “manual for life” or a dozen other equally diverse things.  Some of them are rather absurd when you think about them.  And what they do is water down and take away from what I’ve come to believe very deeply is the point of what God has revealed and continues to give us.  It starts with a massive story arc that reaches from before time until after and focuses on the redemptive nature of God.

In thinking about the Bible as Story, I have to align everything I read with everything else contained in it.  As such, nothing will ever truly contradict or be out of synch with anything else.  It’s about context, pretext and subtext of the narrative and it all points back to the focal point of Redemption with heavy emphasis on Reconciliation.  One friend who had been to seminary described this position as meta-narrative theology and I’ve become very comfortable with that position. 

The literary flow of what we read supports the Bible as Story as well.  So much of it is presented as dialogue in so many ways.  The writing shows reflective thought gathered over time.  John wrote his pieces of the Story decades after they happened.  Luke was presenting first-person accounts gathered over years of journeying with Jesus and Paul.  Ruth and Esther read more like novels than anything else.  Paul’s writings were entire letters, usually emphasizing one or two themes.  And when I listen to (or read) large portions of the Story, I get better perspective on where things fit and how they align with that much bigger idea of Redemption.

Once you’ve framed it as Story, you can look at the two distinctive chapters we know as Covenants.  The first one is the Covenant God made as part of the Old Testament.  In short, it set God’s “gold standard” that he knew was impossible to keep.  It was, after a fashion, a classic literary setup.  It paved the way for the second one in which Jesus did what no other created human could accomplish with the first covenant.  He fulfilled it completely and, rather than nullifying it, gave his completion to us.  God’s standards hadn’t changed – rather God new viewed us as his own beloved children because of what our Divine Older Brother had done on our behalf.  That’s a pretty awesome plot twist if you ask me!  And it’s completely consistent with the Story and the very character of God.

So especially in a year where we’ve seen so much happen  in our country and around the world, I’d caution everyone not to pull out small passages (or worse single verses) of the Bible and try to interpret news headlines or apply them to events in some particular way that suits your own point of view.  We’ve been doing that for far too long (yes, I remember 1976) and I think it’s high time to step way back and embrace the Story again.  That’s what guides us on the Crooked Path.  Remember (and thanks to Matt Hammett of Flood Church for this thought), the Bible was written for us … not to us.

And if you really want just a simple verse that’s nearly impossible to take out of context, skip the single verses from Chronicles or Jeremiah or Revelation and consider the following timeless thoughts from God through one of his trusted spokesmen …

“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.  It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.”  (Micah 6:8, The Message)

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