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Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward

Monday, February 22, 2016

Scripture: Week 1

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward
Monday, February 22, 2016

Life itself is always three steps forward and two steps backward. We get the point and then we lose or doubt it. In that, the biblical text mirrors our own human consciousness and journey. Our job is to see where the three steps forward texts are heading (invariably toward mercy, simplicity, inclusion, nonviolence, and trust) and to spot the two steps backward texts (which are usually about vengeance, exclusion, a rather petty and insecure god, law over grace, incidentals over substance, and technique over actual relationship).

The Bible is an anthology of many books. It is a record of people’s experience of God’s self-revelation. It is an account of our very human experience of the divine intrusion into history. The book did not fall from heaven in a pretty package. It was written by people trying to listen for and to God. I believe that the Spirit was guiding the listening and writing process. We must also know that humans always see “through a glass darkly . . .  and all knowledge is imperfect” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Prayer and patience surrounding such human words will keep us humble and searching for the true Living Word, which is exactly how the Spirit always teaches (1 Corinthians 2:10,13). This is what it means to know something “contemplatively.”

We must trust that there is a development of the human capacity for divine wisdom and human response inside the Bible. We must be honest and recognize that things like polygamy, slavery, genocide, torture, racism, sexism, stoning, and mutilation of sinners—things that are often fully accepted in the ancient text—become more intolerable as the text matures. God does not change, so much as we do. If believers cannot begin to be honest about this, we are going to lose most future generations to any sincere or faith-filled reading of the Bible. Far too many have already thrown the Bible out when they really did not need to. But they had no good teachers to guide them.

Woven throughout these developing ideas are what I call “the Great Themes of Scripture.” (This was the title of my very first recordings in 1973.) I try to mine these timeless, essential themes from the text. My approach is almost so simple, it is hard to teach. It is what I call the “Jesus hermeneutic.” (Hermeneutic is a method of interpretation.) My approach is, quite simply, to interpret and use the Bible the way that Jesus did.

When we get to the Risen Jesus, there is nothing to be afraid of in God. Jesus’ very breath is identified with forgiveness and the Divine Shalom (see John 20:20-23). If the Risen Jesus is the full and trustworthy unveiling of the nature of God, then we live in a safe and love-filled universe. It is not that God has changed, or that the Hebrew God is a different God than the God of Jesus; it is that we are growing up as we move through the texts and deepen our experience. Stay with the text and with your inner life with God, and your capacity for God will increase and deepen.

Just as the Bible takes us through many stages of consciousness and history, it takes us individually a long time to move beyond our need to be dualistic, judgmental, accusatory, fearful, blaming, egocentric, and earning—and to see as Jesus sees. The Bible itself is a “text in travail,” according to Rene Girard’s fine insight. It mirrors and charts our own human travail. It will offer both the mature and the immature responses to almost everything. In time, you will almost naturally recognize the difference between the text moving forward toward the mercy, humility, and inclusivity of Jesus and when the text is regressing into arrogance, exclusion, and legalism. Even a child can see the difference, but an angry or power-hungry person will not. They will favor the regressive and violent passage every time.

Gateway to Silence:
Astonish me with your love.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 12-13;

and Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament, (Franciscan Media: 1988), 1.

Image Credit: Photograph by mercucio2
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