We are nearing the end of our Twelve Scriptures summer worship series. After this Sunday, focused on the Beatitudes of Matthew 5, we have only one Sunday remaining. It has been a rich time whose learnings can hopefully keep informing the mission of the congregation long after the series ends.
If you remember, the Twelve Scriptures was one of two parts of the survey we issued in the spring. The other part was called the Six Scriptures in which you were invited to name up to six of the most troubling and difficult passages in the Bible. The idea was that if we are going to hit the highlights, we should also be willing to come to terms with the shadow side of Scripture – the parts which portray God or the life of faith in a way that do not fit with our present convictions. A number of you have asked about these Scriptures, some with great anticipation, some saying you’re looking forward to these more than the Twelve!
We’ve delayed finalizing the list because there was so little overlap in the results. Lots of scriptures got chosen, but few got chosen multiple times. So rather than a clear Six Scriptures, what we ended up with was several themes, represented in various Scriptures.
A clear theme was the treatment/mistreatment/lack of treatment of women in the Bible, including parts of the New Testament. In a book that starts with the whole created order being pronounced very good, with male AND female equally bearing the Divine image, things go downhill rather quickly and stay that way in this area. The Scripture getting the most votes overall was Ephesians 5:22-24 which counsels, “wives, be subject to your husbands” (NRSV).
Another clear theme was violence, especially violence initiated or commanded by God, such as genocide against the Canaanites who possessed the “promised land” before the nomadic Hebrews entered it. There are whole chunks of the Bible in which God not only takes sides, but does so in a violent way. God’s “wrath” is a dimension that shows up to the very end of the Bible.
The way the worship calendar is working out this fall, we are dedicating the month of October, four weeks, to look at difficult passages that fall under these themes. Two for the treatment of women, and two for Divine violence. The broader question of how to relate to a holy book with such a mixed bag of portrayals of God will also be present. Another significant theme that arose in the survey was the book of Revelation. This would make for a good series on its own sometime down the road.
As a pastor, I do not feel that my job is to defend the Bible. My approach to passages like these is informed by another passage, found in Genesis 32, in which Jacob wrestles with the angel of God and won’t let go until receiving a blessing. Through this experience he received a new name, Israel, which, roughly translated, means “God wrestler.” So in my mind, one of the ways for us to think about this month of October, when we look at difficult passages together, will be joining Jacob and others who wrestle with God and hold on for dear life, trusting there is a blessing to be received.