Thursday, March 30, 2017

This Week in Church: The Old Testament, inconsistencies, and the difference between description and prescription

Welcome to the series wherein I share my take-aways from church. The things that, I think, are beneficial to all of us to know or think about, whether or not we believe in any church-related things.


This week in church we talked about the Old Testament.

What Christians call the Old Testament is also known as Scripture to Jewish people. So, if you're not Jewish and you're reading the Old Testament, you are reading something that wasn't written to you. That doesn't mean you're not allowed to read it (or does it? We basically took it without permission. Although, Jesus was Jewish... This is a conversation for another day.), but it does mean that in the Old Testament, we are listening in on a conversation between the ancient Israelites and their God, so we have to come at it with a lot of humility.

I like this as a reminder for anytime we engage with material that's outside our cultural context and history. If it's not a part of your tradition, then come at it from a "low" position: approach with humility and be ready to learn.

Ohhhh boy, imagine how much better the world could be if we all managed to do this!

This week in church we talked about inconsistencies.

Here's an example of inconsistency in the Bible: in Numbers, a man was caught working (picking up sticks) on the Sabbath, and God instructed that he be stoned. In John, Jesus heals on the Sabbath and says that he breaks the rule because he represents a God who doesn't do harm but heals. It doesn't really sound like the same God, does it?

The answer, according to Sunday's sermon, is that the Bible is not a flat text, in which all scripture should be treated equally. For Christians, the words and actions of Jesus are the context through which everything must be interpreted. So inconsistencies like this must be read "backwards" through the lens of Jesus, who spent a decent amount of time turning traditional interpretations of scripture on their head (he did a lot of "you have heard it said.... but I say to you...."-type teaching).

From a Christian perspective, it makes perfect sense to interpret the entire text in light of Jesus. I wonder what Jewish people would have to say to that concept, though, as well as how they might approach the gnarly or inconsistent bits of the scriptures.

Personally, I don't feel I need a God who acts entirely consistently across generations. If the Bible and human history is the story of God trying to meet us where we're at, he will not always act the same. I also recognize that people sometimes think God is telling them to do something when he isn't, and don't know that Biblical stories are exempt from this.

This week in church we talked about the difference between description and prescription.

Specifically, we talked about the Bible being a descriptive text, and not necessarily a prescriptive text. In the sense that, we are not intended to emulate the actions of everyone in the Bible, which is good because this book contains all sorts of gross stuff: genocide, incest, rape, and murder, to start. The point is simple: just because something is described in the Bible doesn't mean it's condoned.

On one hand, this is obvious, on the other, it's really not. As a theatre person, I have spent a decent amount of time in my life explaining to people that just because a play contains swearing, sexual violence, homophobic language, or whatever else, doesn't mean it is condoning those actions. A story about forgiveness is pretty weak if you don't see the darkness a person is living in.

So basically, I like this point and wanted to share it because it supports a perspective I have had about art and the world for a long time.


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