Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Is This What God Looks Like? – Part 9 in a series on 2 Samuel 11 & 12
One of the most frequent criticisms leveled at Christians relates to the character of the Book from which they draw their doctrine and inspiration, the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation it is a bloody record of fratricide, parricide, patricide, matricide, infanticide, and genocide. “How,” critics ask, “can a book like this reveal a loving God and provide a model for living?”
Those are hard questions to come to terms with, to say nothing of answering them for the sake of critics. No answer will convince or quiet all critics but there are some ways of seeing this record that are consistent with the notion of a loving God whose will and purpose is that “the world might be saved through [Christ].”
We have been looking, for the last several blogs, at the David/Bathsheba story. It raises as many hard questions for me as any story in the Bible. I can understand all aspects of the sin of David (and possibly Bathsheba) because I believe with all my heart that man is deeply sinful. I can understand God’s forgiveness of their sin because I believe with equal fervor that God is a forgiving God who wants nothing more that to restore sinners to fellowship with Himself. But I struggle to understand why God would seemingly reward David’s and Bathsheba’s sin by putting their son on the throne and bringing the promised Messiah through their line. Are there no consequences for the heinous sins recorded in 1 & 2 Samuel?
If Christians struggle to understand these things, what hope is there that the Bible will have any beneficial effect upon un-believers? Many believers manage their doubts by pretending that large portions of the Bible don’t exist, or at best are irrelevant to our era. I think that is dishonest, and counterproductive. Either the Bible is what we say it is, an inspired revelatory Word from God, or it is simply a human record of no greater import than any of the other ancient writings that have come down to us.
Perhaps God should have selected from among the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, or even Jesus, and left out all that other detail. After all, God’s goal must be to teach us how to live morally and civilly. All the stories of brutal or immoral living by men and women, later held up as champions of the faith, only muddy the waters and tempt us to believe that God approved their lives. I assure you, He did not. He approved their faith that a righteous God existed.
I’m wondering if we’ve drawn the wrong lesson from the Bible. We’ve declared it to be a revelation of God and a consistent picture of God’s redemptive work in action from Genesis to Revelation. No doubt, those lessons can be drawn, usually by Christian theologians seeking to show the “scarlet thread” which they say runs through the Bible. Paul the Apostle saw it somewhat differently. He called the law, by which he meant the regulations of the Mosaic Law, but also the entire Jewish scriptures, as a “schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” Perhaps the “scarlet thread” to which we need to attend more attentively, is the murderous history of mankind flowing through Scripture. And we need to observe that it flows right past the Revelation and into our own time.
We can see ourselves in the pages of Biblical history as easily, and perhaps more profitably, than trying to figure out how God could show grace and forgiveness to a murderous king of Israel. Our question should not be, “How did he get forgiveness?” Rather it should be, “Where can I find it?”
Rather than telling critics of the Bible that it is our beloved record of God’s love for us, and twisting ourselves into pretzels attempting to prove that every deed recorded in its pages, performed by “God’s People,” was justified and necessary, we should tell them we value the Book as a picture of the human race, an honest, unvarnished, indictment of who we humans are. It is not a Book we are proud of, it shames us each time we open it.
David’s sins were heinous. There is no excuse for them. But they are simply an example of human depravity not unlike that of our day. Today, Christians condone the killing of husbands, wives, children, in the name of righteousness. Still, many of us would blithely write what David wrote near the end of his life: “Is not my house right with God? Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part?”
The Bible reveals that God worked through those who allowed him to work through them, calling them his people, indeed, people after God’s own heart. However, the Bible contains proof that cherishing God does not equal cherishing his righteousness. It contains proof positive that all our righteousness is like filthy rags – menstrual cloths – and that God our Father, through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, is our only hope of salvation.
The next time someone holds up a Bible, literally or figuratively, with the challenge, “Is this what your God looks like?” answer, “No, that is what you and I look like. Don’t you think we need a savior?”