What is the Bible? Part 52: It’s Friday My Friends
It’s Friday, so let’s take some questions…
erichrobinson1969 asked you:
Which Frederick Buechner should I start with?
I’d start with his book Listening to Your Life.
diduhearme asked you:
This study has been an incredible journey. I expected nothing less from you though. I thought it was amazing that this discovery has just come out in regards to a 3,700 year old tablet that describes a Noah’s Ark, but that it is round and not rectangular in the Bible story. Are you involved in some sort of conspiracy with your “What is the Bible?” project, this new archeological discovery, and movie about Nash coming out? ;) Maybe you posted on this already. I am still catching up.
First, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.
Second, do you mean Noah not Nash? Because I’ve been watching those great new Steve Nash clips on Grantland (Lakers/Suns fans are nodding approvingly right now) and you had me wondering what the NBA has to do with a flood several thousand years ago.
Three, I love that fact that you asked me a question about my possible involvement in a conspiracy.
Four, I had to read your tumblr name several times to appreciate it’s full beauty.
And Five, No my good friend, it is I who am stilling catching up…
finalewiz asked you:
Rob, I couldn’t help my surprise that you didn’t address the common historic misunderstanding about the word “apocalypse”. It has nothing to do with destruction, be it prophetic or timely. It means something else entirely. The preachers of years past who took the book of Revelation/Apocalypse in literal terms, and saw it as bloody and destructive (or bloody destructive, if you like), completely missed the point. It is a book about a wondrous beginning… the unveiling of Christ in all of us.
I love it when you’re a step ahead! I was thinking I’d write about this in a future post because the word apocalypse literally means uncovering or disclosure or unveiling. It’s about things being exposed for what they truly are…a true apocalypse, then, wasn’t something to be feared or dreaded but something to be anticipated and celebrated as evil is crushed and violence ended and injustice brought to an end as God makes all things right.
themoment asked you:
Adam from Portland here. What do we do with all the blood language regarding Jesus and the cross?
In the ancient world people offered sacrifices to their gods to please them and keep them on their side. That’s how people understood the gods, that’s how people talked about religion. They shed the blood of sacrificial animals to hopefully make peace with their gods. So when the first Christians talked about Jesus dying on the cross, they naturally talked about him in language their world would have understood. And ONE of those ways is all that blood language. Their claim was that Jesus had brought an end to that bloody way of conceiving of the gods and the only thing left to do was celebrate the peace we have with God and then offer your life as a living act of gratitude, chiefly through loving your neighbor. Which was, of course, a giant leap forward in human consciousness.
Blood language, then, was one of many images they used to talk about Jesus on the cross. They also used economic, family, and relationship images as well. (I wrote more about this in my book Love Wins.)
One more note: It’s interesting to hear modern people sing songs in church using blood language. It’s not that those images can’t be powerful, but we don’t live in a blood sacrifice culture where people still understand the gods like that. Perhaps the reason why you wrote the question is a sense that those images don’t have the same cultural resonance they once had. Which raises a question: What are the images and metaphors of our world that would help people connect with the cross? (Here’s one: Have you noticed with the birth of the internet how many more people are talking about being connected with God and each other?)
andyhallsdiary asked you:
How do you deal with accusations of heresy and “not taking the Bible seriously because you didn’t take it literally”? What can you do in Christian cultures that have such an aversion to intellectual questions that demand more than a “His ways are higher than ours” answer?
First, there is a difference between reading it literally and reading it literately. You’re reading it literately, reading it according to the form it comes in, like poetry or gospel or letter. Reading it literately is actually taking it more seriously than a surface, shallow, literal reading that doesn’t take into account what form it actually comes to us in…
In regards to what to do in such settings, I’ll be writing about this at some length in the next few weeks…
cookiain asked you:
Rob, brilliant blog, as always. The nature of God revealed in blessing the Ninevites is essential. But doesn’t the fish part add such stunning detail? The fact that it foreshadow’s Christ’s death and resurrection (Matt 12:40) is stunning to me, as well as the fact that the Ninevites worshiped Dagon, a fish-god of the sea, which could mean that Jonah was seen as a prophet because he was in the fish. Furthermore he may have appeared ghostly white from the digestive acids, which is pretty epic.
Yes, Dagon! Great point. The Ninevites were devoted to Dagon, the fish-god of the sea. So in the Jonah story, Jonah is swallowed by (a representative of) their god, but it’s there that he cries out to a different god, the God of the Israelites. He has a change of heart-at least for the time being-and then he’s puked up on the shore. It’s a brilliant bit of storytelling because this God of the Israelites uses another god to further this God’s purposes. Clever, to say the least. The audience wouldn’t have missed the dis-very similar to the mention of the sun in the Genesis poem.
You’ll find this often in the Bible-little asides and references to the gods of that time, always pointing to a greater, more expanded understanding of the divine. For example, in the city of Ephesus the dominant goddess was Artemis. She was the goddess of lots of things, but especially childbirth. Miscarriage rates were around a half in the first century (According to my guide when I hiked there) and so as a follower of Artemis, when you were pregnant you would go to her temple and give an offering as a way of hopefully protecting you and your child from any harm or illness. So when Paul is writing to Timothy (who’s from Ephesus) and he tells him that women will be saved in childbirth, he’s saying something that had tremendous cultural resonance. Why? Because Paul and Timothy were calling people to the story of their God and the savior named Jesus they believed their God had recently sent. And to follow this Jesus you would need to turn from Artemis, who they never mention by name.
One more thought on all this cookiain, I also find it fascinating that Jesus referred to The Sign of Jonah. The religious establishment wanted a sign from him, something impressive to prove that he was who said he was. Jesus, in a typically surprising move, tells them the only sign they’re going to get is the sign of Jonah. Which is about three days in the fish, three days buried in the earth. It’s a pattern, a mystery, a movement built into the fabric of the earth-you want life? You have to die. You want to find your life? Then you have to lose it. You want live large? Give yourself away for the well being of others! You want to be first? Then be last! You want to be the greatest? Then serve.
It’s the great mystery, often called the paschal mystery, that undergirds all of creation.
douggunsalus asked you:
Rob, I am really interested in how you see the Bible as it relates to prophecy (foretelling or forth telling), and what we can learn from an appropriate approach to Matthew 24:36-25:46 as an example (I just read “left behind and loving it” and it has flipped some things upside down in my mind and I am trying to deal with the implications).
First, there’s a book called Left Behind and Loving It? That’s one of the best titles ever.
Second, there is foretelling which is predicting the future. And then there is forth telling, which is bringing the heat. (My term!) Forth telling is when you call out an injustice, when you warn someone, when you see oppression or abuse or deceit and you shine the bright lights on it. Jesus in Matthew 24 is warning his tribe of the consequences of their actions, trying to help them see the futility of the path they’re on… He’s calling them back to their identity, their destiny, their true calling in the world.
craig281 asked you:
Hi Rob! You are doing your usual awesome job on the Bible. Keep up the good work! I have an off topic question. The conservative evangelicals keep telling me that God is really upset with gay people and gay marriage. If God is so upset then why did he forget to include that in the ten commandments he gave Moses? Did it slip his mind? I like to refer to the commandments as “the memo” from God. Then after a thousand years or so…
Why would God be upset with fidelity, companionship, commitment, and sacrificial love? Aren’t those the very things God is unequivocally for? What kind of God would be upset with people for being who they are?
preenbean asked you:
what if you can’t reconcile that there is a god because if there is, then he HAS to be good, and you can’t fit in a “good” god into your life? and what if you “followed” this god for years and years, readjusting a pushing through, until you simply couldn’t push through anymore and you finally asked, who are we following and where are we even going? and what if the closest thing to ecstasy you’ve felt is when you stopped? you stopped the following and the trying and the readjusting and believing?
It sounds like you have a lot to be thankful for, getting rescued from a horrendous god like that. Have you paused and sat in the stillness and with each breath let your mind and heart feel the freedom and grace? Gratitude is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
haydenjbrowne asked you:
I could talk for hours about the specific arguments and experiences which have brought me to this point but I’m sure you get a ton of messages so I’ll try to distill it for you. Even if we can argue down every disproof of God, even if we can show how every horrific tale was a step forward for its time. It could still be argued that we’re seeing in the bible a movement in human understanding towards atheism. What if I’m not sure religion or Christianity is benefiting my life at all? Thanks Rob
First, I don’t think horrific acts are EVER a step forward. That’s crazy. What you see in the Bible is something far more profound and powerful: Within truly horrific acts you often see something new being birthed, some new idea, new perspective, new way of understanding who God is and what it means to be human.
Second, you make an excellent point about atheism, but you don’t take it far enough. True growth and spiritual maturity often occurs when you stop believing in a toxic and destructive image of God. That may look like atheism, but it’s more accurately simply a denial of a god who isn’t worth believing in or following in the first place.
Third, I couldn’t care less whether or not religion or Christianity is benefitting my life. I don’t think about it like that. If you’re not sure something is benefitting your life then you are sure: It clearly isn’t! For me, it’s far more personal and compelling than that. I follow and believe and trust Jesus because of my very real experiences of the resurrected Christ pointing me to the divine presence in all people, places, and things. (I’m thinking I ought to do some posts about this in the future…)
What is the Bible? Continuing a week from Monday:
Predestination, Election, and A Shout Out to the Lonely