The Word of God for the People of God

Day 9/30

I managed to graduate seminary, get ordained and work in full-time ministry for over a decade before I read the Bible cover to cover. I lacked the perseverance or accountability or knowledge of habit formation. So every road paved with good intentions dead-ended at a Leviticus-sized wall.

So in 2012 I started Armchair Theology on Twitter.

I needed the accountability of reading, thinking and posting something thoughtful (or at least sarcastic) about scripture everyday. I needed the attainability of only having to read one chapter a day and only writing 140 characters. And I needed the anonymity to say what I really thought about it without fear of repercussions in my aforementioned ministry positions.

At a chapter a day, it takes almost three and a half years to finish. I started the first run with a few trusted friends Jan 1, 2013 and finished Apr 2, 2016. Then I did it again. I’m now in my third run. I’ve added a partner and podcast. And my faith has grown in a lot of unexpected ways.

One of my first realizations was the directionality of scripture. It’s not just a collection of maxims or prooftexts. The Bible is going somewhere and that somewhere is grace. In the earliest writings God is militant and retributive, even genocidal. The prophets speak more of God in more universal terms and salvation not from enemies but from ourselves. The gospels find that salvation in the person of Jesus and raise the bar in personal morality and kingdom ethics.

But it’s not as simple as that.

It’s not as though the Hebrew scriptures are outdated or the Christian scriptures favorable, as the terms Old and New Testaments imply. There is grace throughout. Look at God’s care for Hagaar and other vulnerable persons, Jubilee and other laws favoring equality and justice, or females and other surprise protagonists who save the day. There is a tension throughout scripture, a tug of war between old and new, between the familiar and the transformative.

That’s why there are so many contradictions.

They’re not accidents. They’re purposeful. The writer of Chronicles knew that the writer of Samuel attributed David’s sin to God when he or she attributed it to Satan. Whoever edited the Torah knew there were two stories of creation, multiple accounts of Sinai and three names for Moses’s father-in-law. Ruth probably hated Ezra. Luke and Matthew have very different resurrection accounts. Peter and Paul both claim credit for the Greeks.

I used to think those differences didn’t exist. Then I feared they were mistakes. Now I believe they’re an invitation to wrestle with the gray areas of life and to grow in faith just as we see God’s people doing so in scripture.

Because the goal of reading scripture isn’t to know scripture. It’s to know God. And, while it’s been wildly transformative for me, you don’t have to read scripture to do so. It wasn’t normal daily practice for 3/4 of Christendom.

This was, perhaps, my biggest revelation: that the word of God isn’t the Word of God. Daily reading could never take the place of time spent with (or seeking) God. Scripture itself speaks of the word of God as God’s acting agency in the world, God’s purposes ultimately fulfilled in the Word made flesh. The Bible never claims itself as the ultimate authority. It claims to be inspired, theopneustos: God-breathed. A lot like you and me, mounds of clay breathed into God’s image.

I couldn’t imagine reading “slaves obey your masters” and following with “the word of God for the people of God”. Or “Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them.” The word of God for the people of God.

And no one with a retirement account who’s starting to get defensive right now reading this want’s me to read “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” The word of God for the people of God.

In the same way that Qohelet read Proverbs and said “yeah but…” or how Jesus read Torah and said “but I say…”, how Ezekiel interpreted Genesis or Matthew read Isaiah, we have to read scripture as scripture reads scripture.

Which is a great segue into tomorrow’s blog…

Thanks be to God.

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