Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Why Would We Believe a Scripture that Does Not Mean What It Says?
8Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
The sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, . . . well, how do you handle such an explicit reference to homosexuality? According to the ELCA, Scripture does not mean what it says here. Scripture did not know PALMS (personally accountable lifelong monogamous same sex relationships). Scripture was speaking about those who were forced into homosexual relationships (rape). The discussion goes on and on. OR, you can say, as some in the ELCA have, that Scripture DID mean this but that the GOSPEL has trumped the law on this point and led the Church to a higher goal and good. Which still means, you cannot trust what you read in Scripture.
Now, I am not speaking of hard passages in which there is uncertainty and disagreement about what the Scriptures mean. I am speaking of those unmistakable passages in which something is stated clearly but which is also clearly offensive to our sensibilities.
While I am picking on this one passage (in part because I am looking forward in the lectionary and preparing the bulletins for the coming Sundays), there are many other passages and issues that could be named.... The point is this, what good is a Scripture whose words are not fully reliable? Why would we believe a Scripture that does not mean what it says?
Scripture offends me all the time. It calls me a sinner. It insists that death is the result of sin (mine and my first parents). It tells me that there is nothing I can do to fix what is wrong with me. It teaches me that the desires of my heart may be natural to me but because of sin my nature has been corrupted and my desires flow from this corruption. It asks me to accept full responsibility for my sins and for the original sin into which I was born (without my consent). It compels me in love to swallow my pride and kneel before my Maker pleading the merits of a Savior who is not my choice but the Father's will. It leads me to forgive as I have been forgiven and warns me against duplicity in this forgiveness or in the way I treat others, etc. Never mind the stuff about creation and the lurid history of a people clearly unworthy yet whom God calls His own... I could go on...
Scripture is offensive but it offends so that I might be saved from all these things. Either I believe its Word is true and true for all time and all people... or I am left with a pick and choose truth that is not bigger than me and has no power greater than what I grant it. In all of these things, I would be lost to choose the right path were it not for the Spirit who breaks through the barrier of my hardened heart that I might believe and trust in the Word written by God through the ages of the Word made flesh in time for me and my salvation.
Why bother believing at all if you believe only that which does not offend you or your sensibilities? The Gospel is radical grace -- so radical that reason cannot serve it without the transformational power of the Spirit at work in our minds as well as in our hearts.
I am at a loss to understand which anyone would pick and choose the truths they will believe in Scripture. Why believe in anything of Scripture if you cannot believe in it all? What kind of faith are we left with if we cannot believe that Scripture means what it says and does what it promises? Ultimately we are back at square one with a guilty conscience, an accusing law, a real death, and a fairy tale belief that somehow it all works out in the end... Jesus is not some Polly Anna who puts sweet frosting on a bitter cake to make it all right. He speaks the truth in love to us and this is the truth we speak to others. It is hard. It is offensive. But it is the only truth that has the power to save and redeem...