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

Thursday 1.4 Rules and Stories

Many of us know some of the Bible Stories – we learnt some as children though we probably learnt a rather shortened and simpler version. We also know some of the stories Jesus told.

Many of us also know that the Bible is full of rules – Laws, the 10 Commandments and many more; there is a view that it is full of “Don’ts” and “must not”, though again we might be surprised.

Have you ever thought that it is strange for the Bible to have both in it? If it really was a rule book why does it have so many stories? In fact, the rules are mostly tucked away in sections of the story.

As we saw a few days ago, the Bible is made up of many books and the books are very different.

In the Old Testament the first part was known as “The Law” but the Hebrew word torah, which gets translated Law is better understood as ‘instruction’. There are things we must not do and things we should do. Of course there are.

Later in a very different style, the Book of Proverbs has short one-liners (or two-liners) which share popular wisdom, a very different approach from Leviticus! Jesus is reported primarily as one who healed the sick and told parables, stories, teasing stories which you had to work out; though we also have what we call the Sermon on the Mount, which is where Matthew has gathered much of Jesus’s teaching on various subjects.

And the Summary of the Law doesn’t have a “don’t” in it. It has two positives: – Love the Lord your God, and Love your neighbour as yourself.

So much then for rules.

Or – hang on. One of the great themes of the Old Testament is the holiness of God, and how a holy God cannot stand wrong-doing of any kind.

So having some instruction, guidance, help in how to live is important. And Jesus said he came to fulfil the Torah not to abolish any of it.

In the Garden of Eden God gave permission for everything, and restricted just the two trees. When God gave the Israelites the “promised land”, they were given freedom to shape their lives, as long as they remembered God and honoured God.

In the week six days are for “work” and one for worship and rest. Wherever we look we see a God who gives us freedom, freedom to choose. And we see a God who gives, who gives us opportunities to live.

And in the New Testament we find the same. We have the parables of Jesus but also Paul’s letters which are more directive, though all based on how we respond to God’s generosity. Paul does give direction on how Christians should live, and he too calls on people to live holy lives.

So let’s go back for a moment to all those stories. Some are downright shocking, and some we should not share with young children. Some are about people who deliberately do what they want, but some seem to be about God punishing whole groups of people, or making people do things that are bad, and there is often the question, “Why didn’t God stop that?”

This is where our Bible is hard. The various writers, on occasion, present stories about God which test us. They are meant to. We should ask “Why?” We should say “Hang on!”

But we should also note that the troubling stories get us thinking about who God is, what God requires, what is happening in our world, how to live with suffering and injustice, oppression and disaster as well as the good things.

The Bible does not have a philosophical theory on suffering but it has the prayers of sufferers (many of the Psalms, and the Book of Lamentations), it has Job wrestling with his suffering, or Habakkuk, in his watch-tower asking “why?”

Whether or not they get sufficient answers, they are examples to us of people struggling in faith, diving deeper, not giving up, being real in a real world where there is too much that is wrong.

And at the heart of it all is a longer story of Jesus who is crucified, having been flogged and abused, an innocent man, and we believe that Jesus was and is God. In the account of the crucifixion, told in four gospels, the “story” wrestles with “Where is God?” and Jesus says he has been forsaken, but he also says “It is finished”.

St Paul does try to explain some of this to new Christians in his letters, and John of Patmos paints vivid pictures of it in “wild” chapters in Revelation, but at the heart of it all is a story of bread and wine shared, and then of crucifixion, death, and rising again in and to glory.