An important and interesting reaction from Diana Butler Bass.
An important and interesting reaction from Diana Butler Bass.
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!
This verse spoke to me at the start of my journey and is my prayer for today.
The days are growing shorter and the celebrations nearer. A time when being together matters; where the two or three gathered to the Light, Jesus, God’s own Son, the Truth, are a beacon for life. Light and truth!
The opening of the meaning of scriptures is a spiritual event. We can devise all manner schemes to know the meaning of the words but only true insight is gained through knowing the Word, Jesus. It is right that we have sound doctrine but the message for life is in the whisper, as well as the whirlwind and thunder, and rooted in Jesus. For many this mindset is difficult as it seems to undermine our understanding of authority.
It is not clear on mount Sinai whether God spoke or thundered and Moses wrote. In both cases Moses was the mediator of the “voice” of God; the human who responded to God’s message. There is an ambiguity in the word. For the Jews, the tradition and the text become a means of encountering God because of this ambiguity. Study, doubt and debate about what happened on the mountain become an act of worship. In listening to one another, what God is saying or thundering becomes a living encounter.
Jesus enters this tradition. In his anguish, Jesus called out to his Father to glorify his name and God thundered. Some heard thunder and some an angel. Jesus heard, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” The message to the people was, “Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out…” Jesus interpreted the event and the message was mediated through him. The thunder became words.
God thunders and whispers in the scriptures and we are commanded by Jesus to respond in grace, mercy and peace with faith. Jesus is the fount of our understanding and without love our interpretations become a noise and a clang. Without love, we close-down the voice of God in others and stand between God and his children.
Basing our faith in Scripture commits us to perpetual reformation. In scripture, Jesus teaches us that every jot and tittle of the scripture is to remain and points us to him being the accomplishing of it. He talks about the random distribution of the seed and its generous and wasteful throwing out, of sun and rain falling on all, of treasures old and new being brought out and of new wineskins and old wine. He speaks of a small seed becoming a tree and providing shelter, a miracle of faith we can only watch and wonder at. The seed of God’s word is planted and we watch and wonder as it grows into a tree. God provides the rain and the sun; mountains are moved.
John says no one has seen the Father except the Son and we are left to ponder the scriptures that say otherwise. Paul takes the roar and rumble of scripture and compiles them into meanings hard to follow but rooted in tradition not the scripture and makes them scripture with gay abandon. No word of scripture is to be abandoned, it is breathed by God for a reason. One of those reasons may be to challenge our mindset and perpetually renew our thinking.
The rigour of our mindset that brings us to a scientific understanding of everything is disrupted by the words of scripture. We approach them subjectively needing certainty and a firm foundation. Jesus says faith in him is the firm foundation. The very words we would set our foundation on, on the tongues of men, shift their meanings like sand. Some rail and rant at us and call us to abandon reason or what we feel to be true. They label us as filthy and baying wolves, dehumanise us, because we dare to question their precious tradition or interpretation.
The scriptures throw is into the arms of Jesus. In the roar and rush of life, the power-plays of humanity, Jesus pulls us up out of the anger and violence of humanity, into the embrace of the One who walks on water and stills the storm. We have one Mediator, the Holy One, Jesus Christ crucified.
We need to listen to the doctors and luminaries to hear the foolishness of the good news of Christ. We need to be those who are learning and are teachable. Our faith in scripture is because we see Jesus and are saved. In the preachers’ and teachers’ words we hear the truth and can be set free, because we know Jesus and are lead to worship him and him alone. Scripture and teaching digs the hole but the rock and foundation is Jesus.
It is faith in who Jesus is that is the rock on which the Church is built. Yes, our faith is in scripture, but only read through the eyes of the knowledge of the crucified Christ. Jesus sets the words on the page alight in a consuming fire burning up our pride and arrogance so that we can live forgiven and forgive and live generous lives full of hope and love. In Jesus, we are enabled to live life in its fullness without fear.
 The Crucified God, Jurgen Moltmann, SCM Press, 2015, page 118
What if it is, as some would say, that the whole of human history is to be viewed through the lens of the cross? If the cross and Christ crucified is what brings meaning to our reading; what do the scriptures become?
The scriptures are God breathed. The scriptures are written by humanity in all its flawed nature, each word inspired by God for a purpose- the revelation of Christ. This is the self-attesting truth of the scriptures. Every word and sentiment is a literal and intentional presentation of Christ and him crucified.
When Jesus was taken up to heaven he opened the scriptures to his disciples. Before that he had opened them to disciples on the road to Emmaus. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, for followers of Jesus, the Bible becomes plane.
Here the hard work begins as we embrace the truth. The truth is that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are what the scriptures reveal and their meaning and the character of God is revealed in the life of Christ. Jesus is the mystery from the beginning, glimpsed in every word; the truth that sets us free. Our experience of Jesus- the relationship we have with him – is our anchor. Our rock is faith in Jesus and obedience to his commands; Jesus, born of a virgin, crucified, victorious over the evil one in life and in death and raised from death to life on the third day.
We are secure in the knowledge of the Holy One, who died in our place, taking upon himself our guilt and the wrath of God at sin, so that by faith we are washed clean and clothed in righteousness and holiness. It is not us in our old natures that live, but Christ lives in us and through us. We become partakers in God’s nature, adopted into his family. In Christ, we are predestined to eternal life.
So, the hard work begins. Our one true source of knowledge of God is Jesus; Christ crucified.
When we gaze into the scriptures, often, what is reflected is ourselves. Jesus warns us of this and says that in our studying, what we should see is him. Paul says that all prophecy is a glimpse of God. Moses encountered God, as did Gideon, David and Solomon but what is it of God we see in their story? Paul himself heard God and persecuted Jesus’ followers. God intervened and he received a new revelation which meant that his zeal became the knowledge of Jesus and his energies were transferred into battling against principalities and powers not flesh and blood. The new revelation took him from a way of violence to a way of peace.
God, in his humility stepped into Paul’s life and spoke. God, in humanity, steps in and speaks in Jesus. This is the mystery. God himself steps in and brings holiness into the mess of who we are. God is pleased to dwell with humanity.
There was dissent in the camp and Moses saw the purposes he had been shown by God, the future that was possible, being denied. He was angry. God was angry that the people failed to see his loving kindness and how they would be blessed; how he would stand in their place and fight in their battles. Moses heard God and demanded that the rebels were flayed alive and set before God to avert God’s anger. This was the demand, Moses heard- God said…
Are we to think God was more immediate in Moses’ times? We know Christ and have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are more privileged than Moses. Would we expect God to be speaking more then that now? If Jesus is the truth, we can expect to know the truth and to hear his voice. That is what Jesus’ says. Jesus, the Son of God says we will hear and know his voice.
Do we think that God spoke more clearly before the revelation of Christ than after? Do we accept that Moses knew God in a more real way?
I have spent time with those who claim direction from God and call their gift prophecy. I believe they are attentive. If they demanded I went into the streets and slaughtered all those who claimed to be Christians but fell short of the virtue expected, the high calling of Christ, I would listen but I would hear their voice and seek to discern Jesus’ voice. I could not claim they had no example in the scriptures, but the whole Bible and Jesus in the Bible would say they were wrong. But God does inhabit their voice and he is glimpsed in the truth behind what they say. They have heard God but they have not found Jesus in fact they have spoken sin.
I have been around those who profess supernatural and close encounters with God. I have witnessed diverse and incredible physical manifestations. In these they may have heard God’s voice. But if they then called me to rip the children from the wombs of my enemies, rape their young women and not rest in my slaughter, but persevere until all are dead, I would be disgusted. Yet such are the words of the Bible.
Jesus came and taught the way of passive resistance, standing up for the poor and needy, dying for others and bearing persecution. He taught us to love our enemies. And this truth is glimpsed even in these abhorrent scriptures- tenderness and loving kindness are found and we are called by God to allow him to fight our battles. The life of Jesus is the message.
The cross reveals that God himself stands before the community and is flayed alive. God himself stands before God and averts his anger. Moses missed this. We may think we have found God in the raging of the God saids…, but as on the cross, there is Jesus, the Son of God, speaking to us amid the mess.
This is the lens we must use when reading the scriptures. We must gaze into them and see the folly of flawed men and their words, their violence and hypocrisy. Does God demand human sacrifice to avert his anger? Really? But in it God reveals his purpose. God exercises his sovereign power and we gaze and glimpse Christ. On the cross Jesus was sacrificed once, for all and for ever and we live a new reality.
We must stand true to the revelation of scripture as followers of Jesus and do the hard work of finding him. The life of Jesus is the message and we are his followers.