Week 1 – Bible and Literature
In the first week we think about the Bible, our Scriptures, the book of God, without which we would know so little about Jesus.
We think about its richness and variety – it is not really one book at all, but 66 documents gathered into sections, with two main sections, what we call the Old and New Testaments.
It is full of stories, narratives, poetry, drama, characters, instructions, challenges, images, but sometimes we make it dull and flat.
Good Christians all rejoice
Saturday 1.6 An Unfinished Symphony
On the whole we like our books to have a good ending. More than that we like it if the hero prevails and the baddies get their due desserts.
In the heroic / ‘superman’ type films, James Bond or whoever the hero is may come close to disaster, may get beaten up, but always emerges triumphant to save the world.
Should we read the Bible as if Jesus is akin to Superman, beaten up but ultimately victorious. At one level, Yes. The Bible speaks clearly of time when God’s Kingdom will triumph, of the new heaven and new earth, and even of how God will redeem and make good things that got broken and destroyed, but there are huge differences too between Jesus and Superman.
First, Jesus dies. He is killed and buried, and – we read – God raises him up. From an earthly perspective, Jesus has failed and is dead and – raised to new life – Jesus does not smash his enemies but appears to some of his friends and calls them to continue to live as he did, opposing unjust power, but not abusing power themselves, putting others first.
Second, the Bible speaks of the future coming of the King and Kingdom – to use its language – but this is still in the future, and, if we are honest, the world continues to be a mess in so many ways.
Hope is for what is not seen; faith is in what God has promised. Believers live in the present, assured by the past and in hope of a future.
In 1.2 we looked at the big story. Intriguingly, if we look at the big blocks of story in the Bible they tend to end with more questions than they started with. At the end of Genesis all the wonderful promises to Abraham in ch 12 are still pretty much unfulfilled – in fact the people are not even living in their land anymore – they are in Egypt because of famine. OK – you say – but they will come true. And Joshua does lead them (back) into the land, but the story continues with Philistines and other enemies, a brief high-spot under King David, before things get worse and 2 Kings ends with the people in exile, out of their land, and with the Temple destroyed and the monarchy over.
And the Old Testament ends with things very fragile and uncertain and unsure. The last book in our order of the Old Testament – Malachi – does speak of a prophet who will come, like Elijah, but no one could say the Old Testament ends on a heroic note; this movement of the symphony ends with a plaintive clarinet suggesting a future.
Isaiah spoke of a tree chopped down, but a shoot growing from it.
And our New Testament also promises a future but the fragile congregations that Paul writes to are not conquering, successful, perfect congregations but troubled and split and often persecuted. Our New Testament also is predominantly “unfinished” in that the people in it continue to wait for the End.
This is good news! Because we too live in a world where things are up and down, sometimes very down; where at an individual level we live with health issues, in body mind and spirit, we remain living within the “confines” of sin and our mortality; and at a social level, injustices are sometimes sorted but others spring up, and in some places there is systemic injustice, systemic violence, persecution of believers and persecution of people simply because they are “different”.
We live in a world where we see some people discover the good news of Jesus, where we find peace and hope in our church, but where we also know the churches are all too often in decline.
It is universally true that you can cut something down quickly but it will take years for it to grow.
And into this world came Jesus, to live in it, to breathe and eat and laugh and suffer and die.
And in our Bible we have stories of human triumph and human resilience; we have stories of people waiting on God, lamenting, crying out; we have stories of women and men making choices and bringing up children.
If you started with the world you would say it was ephemeral – it changes – there is decay as well as growth but in this world decay seems to win out. If the world we live in is ephemeral, changing, passing, then we have an inner hope for that which is eternal, and the Bible speaks of this, but it is in the future, and for now we live with the choices and limitations of this world, but in the secure knowledge that God has shared this world and this life, and offers his world and his life.
We triumph, only in God and through God and God’s triumph came from taking suffering on himself not causing it.