Confounding Expectations

This post is about how we read the bible (if or when we read it!).

We need to find ways to be sure that we are listening to what God has to say, rather than what we are prepared (happy?) to hear or what we expect to hear. In other words the danger, when reading the Bible, is that we allow our prejudices, preconceptions, expectations and ‘Christian culture’ to overwhelm what God is saying.

The clearest - and yet at the same time most obscure - part of the bible is the gospels. It’s clear because it’s God, walking amongst people, living life as a human, doing what humans do, and therefore we see him most clearly here. It’s most obscure because he mostly talks in parables… Even when he isn’t telling a story his words tend to be parabolic. It’s not just his stories - his actions tend to be enigmatic too - he usually confounds people’s expectations with his actions.

We have to remember too that his parables are stories; they’re analogies; they’re similes; they’re metaphors… They aren’t ‘real’ - but they seek to illuminate particular facets of reality. We cannot, must not, read them literally. We could though, read them literarily.

The Wedding at Cana

John's gospel is replete with symbolism to the extent that, sometimes, I think we get so busy interpreting the 'symbols' that we forget the basics of the stories.

Last night I was reading the story of the Wedding at Cana in John’s Gospel:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Some Thoughts on LGBTQ+ Inclusion

As I said in an earlier post, I have been helping facilitate the CofE’s ‘Living in Love and Faith’ course - which is basically a conversation about the church’s attitude to LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Being me, I felt the need to do a bit of deep mining and examine why the church has, traditionally, failed to include LGBTQ+ folk fully in church life, and whether I feel that’s justified. In this post, I’m only going to deal with the ‘LGBQ+' part - we’ll come back, at a later date, to look at the transgender issue - because it’s quite different and therefore deserves different treatment.

There are about seven places in the Bible where it has traditionally been supposed that homosexuality is condemned. These verses are known to LGBQ+ Christians and their supporters as the ‘clobber passages’. They are as follows:

Genesis 19:1-14 and 24-26

Judges 19:1-30

Leviticus 18:22

Leviticus 20:13

Romans 1:18-27

I Corinthians 6:9-10

I Timothy 1:8-11

In English bibles the issue seems pretty clear. But the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, which was later (circa 300-200BC) translated into Greek, giving us the Septuagint. Most English Old Testaments are translated, instead, from the very much later (circa 600-1100AD) Masoretic text. Some scholars argue that that was partly re-written (particularly in key passages, such as Isaiah 53) in order to make it seem less likely that Jesus was the Messiah (though Christians seem to have ‘accepted’ those changes readily, despite them appearing to set God the Father in opposition to the Messiah); it’s not that simple though, because the Masoretic text seems to follow some fragments of the (1st century AD) scrolls found at Qumran pretty closely.

The Cry of Dereliction

The pandemic has been tough on everyone. Whether or not you’ve had Covid, whether or not you’ve lost friends or relatives to this dreadful plague, it has been tough. We have an excuse, if we need an excuse, to be struggling simply to get through the days. I’ve been fine, physically, as have most people I know (though one or two have suffered unbelievably); but there’s been this sort of ‘existential threat’ hanging over me (and everyone else) for almost two years. So, if you or I are feeling a bit low at times that is, you know, excusable…

It’s okay to not be okay.

During one of my ‘not okay’ moments, I fell to thinking about Christ’s ‘cry of dereliction’ - uttered on the cross:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Traditionally, in evangelical circles, the view is that Jesus taking on humanity’s sin makes him ‘unacceptable’ to a God who cannot abide sin and hates sinners, so the Father turns His back on Jesus, and that’s what the ‘cry of dereliction’ is all about. That doesn’t make logical sense, when you think about the nature of the Trinity... I don’t think the Trinity is ‘breakable’, but what that ‘standard’ view of the crucifixion implies is that the love shared between the persons of the Trinity is weaker than the alienation caused by sin.

An Angry, Wrathful, God?

Most of what I’ve written in the past few posts has been rather cerebral and intellectual… And in a sense that’s inevitable, given my background and training. But actually, the ‘underpinning’ of my faith is something entirely ‘experiential’ - and without that, there would be nothing - in fact, I’d probably still be an atheist.

It was an experience of ‘something’, which I’ll call God, that finally ‘tipped me over the edge’ into belief way back, more than forty years ago now - rather than anything intellectual. Yes, I’d spent the best part of a couple of years ‘exploring’ ideas around God, but I think it was just a sort of ‘idle intellectual curiosity’, and I’d been around in circles several times, never really getting anywhere other than deeper into more complex questions.

But there came the point at which that ‘someone’ appeared in my world, in a way I couldn’t deny or explain away. Initially, it was pretty darned scary. Going from ‘nothing exists which can’t be measured or explained’ to ‘there’s someone else in here with us as well’ is a pretty big, and threatening, ‘leap’ of experience and understanding.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022