Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Seeking clarity

The church my wife and I go to has embarked on a rather ambitious endeavour to go through the whole Bible in a year: "a whirlwind tour," our pastor says. Now, this isn't like some of those "One Year" Bibles where you read every word of the Bible, usually averaging out to about three chapters a day. (A laudible goal, but unrealistic for many people.) Rather, our worship committee intends to survey, over the course of a year, the "story" of the Bible ("God's story: Our story" to use another quote our church is employing). If one thinks about it, there are good reasons for such a "survey" approach, as opposed to the "every word" variation. In a given year, there are 52 Sundays (most years, anyway). There are 66 books in the Bible, so there would be no way to give a sermon on every book of the Bible in a year, let alone dealing with every chapter and verse. So some areas are highlighted (we actually spent several Sundays on Genesis and Exodus alone) while others are used in summary (I expect we'll deal with the prophets as a unit, rather than dealing with each one). To encourage more Bible-reading outside of Sunday morning worship, the church distributes bookmarks every month with a list of 5-10 chapters to be read for each week, roughly corresponding to the part of the Bible the sermon for that week will deal with. While it's not the "every word in a year" approach, it's still clear that we are encouraging the members of our congregation to get deeper into the words of the Bible itself.

One of the advantages to this format for me, personally, is that we are focusing on the Old Testament far more than I have been used to. I'm so used to churches dealing almost exclusively with the New Testament and the Psalms. Being able to reincorporate the Hebrew Scriptures into "our story" is something I'm anxious to learn more about.

But as I spend more time in this not-quite-so-familiar (I can't really say "unfamiliar." I am a seminary graduate, after all.) part of the Word, I'm finding myself more and more frustrated with just how un-clear so much of the Bible is. I'm already jaded enough to scoff as those who insist that the Bible is "clear" to all who wish to be led by God, regardless of educational background (although I'm not really talking here about the anti-intellectual streak that goes through so much of Evangelicalism. That's for another time.), but I really find myself wishing I had a complete set of commentaries readily at my disposal. I'm not talking about a complete set of all the volumes of, say, Word Biblical Commentary. By "complete," I mean multiple commentaries for each book of the Bible to reflect the variety of different perspectives available on each book. Of course, the fact that, in some cases, so many different perspectives exist is enough to make my point on the lack of clarity in many passages.

One way or another, I'm definitely being challenged. It's impossible to read the Old Testament in depth and come away with a bland theology of God as loving creampuff. Here we see a God who, for example, strikes down a person dead for catching hold of the Ark of the Covenant, because the oxen pulling the cart it was on stumbled. (The TNIV translation for 2 Samuel 6:7 cites the poor sap's "irreverence.") So God would rather the guy have allowed the Ark to fall off the cart? I'm sure there's something about the story I'm not getting, and I'm sure that there are completely reasonable explanations. But the Bible itself doesn't spell it out and make it clear. All we get is a guy who God zapped for doing a forbidden act in a moment of accident. I could cite lots of similar examples, but you get the idea.

I'm sure further revelations and frustrations will present themselves as this "whirlwind tour" continues....

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