I returned on June 29th with our youth and chaperones from Alamosa, Colorado where we served with Habitat for Humanity and La Puente. A fuller report will come via our church newsletter and at our fall luncheon where we’ll show pictures and youth will share stories. But here are a few photos to share in the meantime.
On our day off we visited a number of sites including the Sand Dunes National Park. We also visited the town of Creede, once a mining town where they mined silver until 1985. Now a tourist/artsy town, there were plenty of shops to visit. And plenty of signs/shirts/gifts with slogans leaning both left and right. One t-shirt logo caught my attention: “Two things every American should know how to use (photos of gun and Bible on t-shirt)…neither of which are taught in schools.”
And I thought, “wow” there’s a lot to unpack with this shirt. The t-shirt message indicates that learning to use a gun is just as important as learning how to use the Bible. And it made my head spin—how do people put these two things together?
I decided not to buy it.
But it does lend itself nicely to what we are trying to think about today. Because when I hear people say they believe the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament, I think it has to do with interpreting God as a violent God in the OT which doesn’t match up with Jesus, the Prince of Peace, in the New Testament.
In light of this t-shirt message and having to write this sermon, I’m grateful for two very important resources which I have printed in the OW. My first resource is Dr. Tom McDaniel, who was my Old Testament teacher at Palmer Seminary in Philadelphia. He is since deceased but his life-long theological studies and teachings continue to enrich my life. My first class with Dr. McDaniel was the Study of the Old Testament. And one of the first things he shared was this:
To state simply, “The Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God,” is to make an incomplete sentence. The complete sentence needs to include prepositional modifiers which affirm that “the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God (1) about the way and will of God and (2) about our human condition.” The Bible includes countless case studies about human sin and pathologies— including the sins and pathology of some very religious people—as well as case studies of God’s therapeutic intentions and saving activities. He then said to us that it is our job to discern which voice is speaking—is the text speaking of God’s way or is the text speaking of our human condition?
Further developing this thought, Dr. McDaniel said that “The human pathologies evident in the Bible are revealed, in the words of Timothy, for our “reproof ” and for our “correction.” There are case studies of bad behavior and bad religion revealed in the Bible which should never be followed, lest we suffer the same consequences as did the biblical characters. Let’s think about this. It’s the human pathologies in the Bible that are for our reproof and correction. We are to learn from them. On the other hand, God’s will and ways are revealed for “training in righteousness” and for “every good work.”
So how do we discern when a text is teaching us about God’s way or when a text is teaching us about the human condition? Again, Dr. McDaniel provided this answer: “The guideline for distinguishing between the human pathology and the divine therapy in the Bible is to note first that whatever blossoms in the light of the Cross is the word of God about the divine will and the divine way. Secondly, whatever withers in the light of the Cross is the word of God about our human condition. Christ, the Living Word, clarified the ambiguities in the two parts of the divinely inspired Written Word. Anyone having difficulty distinguishing between our human pathologies and God’s will and saving acts must simply come closer to the Cross. The Cross demonstrated the difference between the therapeutic “loving enough to die” in contrast to the human pathology of “loving enough to kill.” When we approach the Cross, we become “equipped for every good work” to fulfill God’s will.
For me this guideline is very helpful and, also deeply transformative in my understanding of how to interpret scripture. Whatever blossoms in the light of the Cross, is the word of God about the divine will and divine way. Whatever withers in the light of the Cross is the word of God about our human condition. This guideline is asking us to always consider how violence plays out our religious lives and influences our behavior. And this leads me to my second resource—Seven Stories: How to Study the Nonviolent Bible by Anthony Bartlett.
I’ve read and reread this study book and try to find ways to use it as a resource for middle school Sunday School and my goal would be to find ways to use it for elementary age kids. I’d love to study the book with any of you if you are interested.
The book is nothing less than a schooling in necessary Christian atheism about a God of violence…Not only does it show that the God of the Old Testament is consistent with the God of the Sermon on the Mount, but it carries a sea-change in the meaning of the church. As we study this book, we are challenged to live into a fullness of life where violence has no part.
Through a comprehensive study of the Bible, the book challenges us to understand the default violence of human identity and how this affects our perception of who God is. It raises good questions: How can God’s face be seen clearly when the eyes we see with are framed and focused by cultural roots and memes of violence? Violent minds understand God violently; and perhaps nothing more violently than God. Think about all the stories, tv shows, movies we grow up with that present violence as the normal means to solve problems and dismantle evil. It just is. It seems to explain why guns and the Bible are pictured together on t-shirts.
Jesus knew of the default violence of human identity and named it clearly. Instead of original sin (the belief that we are all born into sin) as the core of the human problem, Jesus, the book of Luke, identifies murder as the original sin when he refers to the story in Genesis of Cain killing his brother Abel. It is here that violence and sin enter the world. “The foundation of the world is built with the shedding of innocent blood, which is then covered up with lies.” This is the human pathology that we are to learn from—it is there for our reproof and correction.
What becomes incredibly clear in the book Seven Stories is the progression of understanding in the Bible of people’s perceptions of who God was. And where we see an enormous shift in perception about violence and how God is perceived is in the Book of Isaiah. The Suffering Servant that is written about in Isaiah is presented as the Nonviolent Servant and a new revelation of God. Using the guideline from Dr. McDaniel we can see that The Suffering Servant shows us about God’s will and God’s way because this presentation blossoms in the light of the Cross. The story of the Suffering Servant is there for our training in righteousness.
Okay, so that’s a lot of theology I know. But what does it mean for us? For me? For me the story of the Bible is very convincing—God’s love for the world has always been and will always be a nonviolent, non-rivalrous love. Jesus’ new covenant is written on my heart by me directly embracing Jesus’ personal nonviolence and non-retaliation. The call to follow the nonviolent Jesus is a call for me to move from rivalry to servanthood, to move from hatred to compassion, and to move from violence to forgiveness. In our world of deep mistrust and polarization, the call of Jesus has me question who I think my adversaries are and my behavior towards them. I’m invited to live this call out every day—in my family, extended family, my workplace, with those I struggle with—to always be moving from violence to forgiveness.
And we are all invited into this journey—which is a journey that brings fullness of life. As Bartlett shares, “Our Christian identity is a profound journey of human change in this life, one always intended by a God of unimaginable love and vitality.” Thanks be to the nonviolent God. Amen.