Thursday, June 9, 2011
The Uses of Scripture: Part 10 in a series on 2 Sam. 11 & 12
I once knew a teacher who prided herself on her brutal honesty. She was fortunate to work among professionals who respected her for her skills and dedication to her job. Students either hated her, and attempted to avoid her classes, or tolerated her for the benefit they could gain from her expertise and demanding standards. None that I know of were deeply attached to her. If they, or her colleagues, had chosen to associate with her for her warmth and humanity they would have been sorely disappointed. In fact, as one might guess, she had few close friends.
We tend to like brutal honesty when it is revealing the truth about someone other than ourselves. That may partly explain why so much of the Bible is off-putting. On the surface it appears to be talking about the “other guy” but we sense that it is not – it is, in fact, being brutally honest about “me.”
The Book is a treasury of story, poetry, history, theology, and psychology, all of it brutally honest. I won’t contend that every word in the Bible is historically or scientifically or even theologically accurate. They are, after all, the words of men and women of “like passions” to ours. But I do hold that those who penned its pages were brutally honest in portraying what they believed they saw or believed was true. We are told that they were “carried along” by the Spirit and made to say, perhaps without full knowledge of what they were saying, what the Spirit desired to have said. Men and women, speaking their mind were, at the same time, speaking the mind of God. We don’t have every word that Jeremiah or other Bible authors spoke, but those we do have, the Holy Spirit preserved, and brought together as an honest and instructive record of mankind’s rebellion against God and God’s gracious plan to redeem his fallen creation.
To those who have become comfortable with the Bible’s “brutal honesty” either by choosing to discount those aspects of it that could indict their own character or behavior, or by accepting the fact that it is a true picture of themselves and, David like, seeking the righteousness that comes through faith, it can be a joy in their life. Secular Jewish and Christian scholars find, in the Bible, a beauty and power of expression equal to or greater than that of any other comparable ancient writings. These men and women often bring to light, useful and truthful information about the Bible, its language, its culture, its structure, and the role it played in the context of its own era. Believing Jews and believing Christians often share their secular contemporaries’ appreciation of the Bible as literature, but add to that pleasure a willingness to see in its pages evidence of God’s redemptive work. Christians particularly see the old, prefiguring the new, and the new, confirming the old. They find elaborate parallels between the Old Testament stories and the events in the Gospels, the book of Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament.
In 1946 R.G. Collingwood’s posthumous publication of The Idea of History posed important questions about the philosophy of history and spawned additional works by other authors exploring “the uses of history,” i.e. the different purposes to which history has been put across the years since the “art” was invented by Herodotus.
Likewise a series of studies have appeared on the “uses of Scripture.” It is not hard to find evidence in the New Testament about the uses to which Jesus, the Apostles, the Gospel writers, as well as the Jewish leaders of the time, put the Old Testament Scriptures. Further we hear that in the early Christian worship psalms were used along with hymns, and spiritual songs, the first of which most certain was a use of Scripture. The other two were no doubt heavily dependent upon it. Paul the Apostle argues that the Law, by which he likely meant all of the Old Testament Scriptures, was used by God as “a school master” to bring mankind to faith in Christ. In another place Paul says of Scripture:
All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
It is obvious that the Bible has been given to us for use. And if it is to be of any fruitful use it must be brutally honest. I’ve spent several days considering the story of David’s sin with Bathsheba. The story told in 2 Samuel 11 & 12 is brutally honest. The Bible could have been written without it, and without the other stories of David’s failures. Since, as Christians believe, his life is something of a “type” of Christ, and his royal lineage was intended to lead to the Messiah, it would be more convenient if nothing were known of his failings. The same could be said of almost every “hero of the faith” from the Old Testament. But what would that say to me, to you? That God uses only perfect men and women? The fact is that he uses only weak, flawed, and insignificant men and women. That is the only kind available to Him. So, no one can say, “I saved myself by my own righteousness.”
David seems to have reached the end of his life still believing that the blessings promised to his “house” stemmed from his righteousness. But the story of his life, told with brutal honesty, warns us not to make that assumption. It is said that a lawyer who represents himself at court has a fool for a lawyer. It could likewise be said that one who leans upon one’s own righteousness for salvation, leans upon a tissue of lies.