Writing to free the prisoner of one idea, crossing the bridge of paradox to truth, serving the legacies of Chesterton and Lewis who defended their faith in Christ
Recently, ChristianityToday featured an interview with Slate’s Editor, David Plotz who decided three years ago on a whim to read the Bible after attending a BarMitzvah. He was “bored“, he states in his interview with ChristianityToday. ChristianityToday describes his book’s purpose this way: “..he allows readers to see the Bible anew through the eyes of someone who set out to read it merely because it’s so compelling.” I set out to read ChristianityToday’s interview not out of boredom but in puzzlement with his purpose.
I appreciate the legitimate questions in Mr. Plotz’s comments, but as I read what he was saying, my mind started formulating a couple of questions for him myself, the way you do when you see someone who is driving just fine but making a wrong turn down a one way street: what are you doing? Why are you going this way?
There were many things that seemed amiss in his observations but a couple of statements stood out to me and made me think where and why did you you reach that conclusion? “In Joshua, we see the slaughter of innocent people. Why isn’t that the subject of discussion rather than the celebration of the conquest of the land?” and “Anyone who can make you look differently at something you love—that’s of great value.”
My first question, inquired from a perspective of knowing the end of the matter rather than just its beginning, is why does Mr. Plotz believe Joshua is slaughtering “innocent” people? If I was watching a movie about people defending themselves in a conflagration and I came in on the middle of it, I might be inclined by the success of their efforts to believe they might be the “bad guys”. Who is “innocent” then depends upon perspective. With God, innocence depends upon Him. Secondly, his statement of accepting “…anyone’s perspective as being of value if they made you look differently at something you love” made me wonder. I wondered if Mr. Plotz would truly appreciate someone making a loved one look differently at him? The expected response to that logic coupled with his question about Joshua above, I think, tells us that something is being missed when reading the Bible on your own (or in an institution), if these are the conclusions you reach.
Interestingly, Mr. Plotz points to the answer he is seeking in each of those statements. Let’s take the last first and that will pave the way for answering the first.
I agree when he says:”Anyone who can make you look differently at something you love—that’s of great value.” The “anyone” here in reading the Bible is God. And I would challenge anyone if they would allow God to do that for them. God is trying to make us look at things differently. God’s plan to respond to the choice of fallen man was to look about the earth and see anyone who had a heart that was complete towards him, meaning that they understood the whole package deal: love does all those things it claims in 1 Corinthians 13 including not ..”rejoicing in evil but rejoicing with the truth.”
God had a situation: man decided to choose a course of separation from God. What would the consequences of that choice be? A lot of nice people making informed decisions about themselves and their neighbors if left alone? Or would it mean the “messiness” Mr. Plotz refers to when discussing the Old Testament. I think for Mr. Plotz and for some others, the way things were “cleaned up” and the time it took to do that are what truly are in question for them.
If you walk into a room full of people who all want a job with only one opportunity for that job, guess what? Only one person will be able to get it. Now if you walk into a room full of people who are not even interested in the job you have to offer, except for one person off there in the corner, who are you going to be giving the job to? That is essentially what you have starting off the Old Testament with Abraham and why the nation of Israel was favored and guarded by God to whom the “room”, our planet earth belongs to. Abraham (and his decendents) is the “job applicant” for the position of being the example to the rest of the world, the way God is going to start the training for Salvation and on the way, the “cleaning up of the mess”. There’s a lot of stuff to learn: its not easy. It’s a hard life because it goes against everybody’s natural inclinations. It’s stuff that takes generations to “get”. And yes, they are promised that they will get the “promised land” if they keep their agreement with God and obey.
Now there’s the rub: who does this “promised land” belong to in the first place? Well, from God’s everlastingly “fresh perspective” it belongs to Him…not us or them. And He tells us it is within His prerogative to give it to whom He wishes. Mr. Plotz, I realize might take exception to that when it comes to the “slaughter of those innocent people”. But if Mr. Plotz has done his history, he will agree that the character of these people was not in any way innocent…and neither was the character of the nation of Israel (as we later see in a number of episodes of scripture where God is being just as just in dealing with His own people of the time. Especially when He allows Babylon to raze the temple in Jerusalem to the ground in Jeremiah’s time for His chosen nation’s cruelty and selfishness to each other and their disobedience to Him.)
That’s the ‘bright sadness’ of the lessons taught throughout the Old Testament: God is telling His creation to obey Him by being just and kind and loving with each other and He will provide for them and protect them. Don’t and the consequences you know are a result of treating each other that way will happen. Not to mention that He will ultimately take action if those consequences aren’t enough to get their attention. He has a love for those who are suffering and doing right and He keeps His word.
Yes, what happens in the Old Testament is appalling : How could we as human beings do that to each other? How can we do it to ourselves now? Are we any better? What does history show us? History has proven that in countries who were ruled by atheistic regimes, the number of those murdered by those regimes staggered the statistics of any previous war dead.
Yet those very same scriptures, filled with bloodshed, do not leave us without hope. Every time one reads them with an honest consideration of our own responsibility in the matter, we see that it is not hate, but love for the human race that is in those pages. We see the truth. It’s the “fresh perspective” of God, the paradox of a just and merciful Father who helps us see that. Because if we are honest, we stop looking at how wrong we think God is, and start looking at what we really are: seeing the depths of selfishness inside us, of the evil we are capable of without Him and what it would lead to if He didn’t show us some discipline in love to get our attention. And getting our attention is hard at best. As one early Christian wrote: “Repentance is a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.”(1) Yet He is a “God of tender mercies”. The only way to see that is to see through ourselves.
Yes, we may think times like these are better. Some of us may even think that God has gotten a lot better since those days of the old Testament. But there is where the “fresher perspective” of God draws us back to reality and reminds us of who we are. That the change in circumstances and treatment is not so much due to us but rather to Him and His satisfaction in the outworking of His plan for us. It is not nor ever will be due to how much better we are in understanding the Bible with our much touted fresh insight.
Recently, ChristianityToday featured an interview with Slate’s Editor, David Plotz. Mr. Plotz began a series called “Blogging the Bible” which eventually was turned into a book, Good Book, which is available at ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
(1) St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent