Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Bible: Story Of God, Story Of God's People

My mentor and friend, the Rev. Cn. Mark Shier, five months from retirement after an extraordinary third of a century's rectorship at the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew in Fullerton, California, on reading the Bible:
Only the simple or the lazy would look at the events and attitudes of the Bible without realizing that they are colored by the lens through which they are reported. The text of the Bible did not descend miraculously out of the clouds of heaven and the mind of God. The Bible as we have it is the result of a long and complex development, guided indeed by the Spirit of God but nonetheless the work of different men and women with different personalities (different neuroses!), folk observing and interpreting events out of different societies and cultures, most of them far more harsh and primitive than our own. If we don’t do the work of compensating for the shortcomings of the reporter, we will get a skewed idea of what is reported. If we read a book about Sherman’s march through Georgia to the sea in our Civil War, we will want to know whether the author is a Southerner or a Northerner or a third party presumably free from bias. If we want to know of the contributions of Jewish culture to Europe, we will want to know if our author is a Nazi or an Israeli. It will make a difference.

So it is with the Bible. We will want to know what period of history the book comes out of, who were the friends and who the enemies, what experiences of conquest and injustice might have colored the narration in front of us, how was God conceived, what was the idea of mercy (it is not always our idea of mercy – for example, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was not a harsh prescription of punishment but a merciful way of limiting retaliation for wrong (Exodus 21.23, Leviticus 24.19, Deuteronomy 19.21), and so on. The Bible is the story of God’s people every bit as much as it is the story of God. If we are wise, we will make and know the distinction.

1 comment:

John Whittaker said...

Fr. John,

In a word, hermeneutics. Mark sounds like someone I'd get along well with.

Great sermon today.