Nehemiah 8:1-10 | Luke 4:14-21
We in the Church have, I think it’s fair to say, a complicated, ambiguous, relationship with the scriptures.
We know them as the story that shapes our worldview, our perspective on life, but find much in them that jars with our experience: a creation story that bears little relationship to the evidence of science, a set of laws designed for a mono-cultural, religious state almost entirely unlike ours, a history that seems to mix mythical and historical elements without any distinction being made.
And we turn to the scriptures for moral and ethical guidance, and find the profound insights of the people of God in the voices of the prophets – ‘what does the Lord require of you, but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God’ the words of the law ‘I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before me’, and of course, in the sayings of Jesus ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … do not judge, so that you may not be judged’. But alongside these words which challenge and inspire us we also read of God’s command to genocide: ‘When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.”
We have a complicated relationship with the scriptures. For some believers it seems to be simple – the scriptures are to be read and accepted as given to us, and any difficulties we have are problems with us, not with the text. And while there can be great humility in such an approach, it doesn’t seem to me to do justice to the very human nature of these writings, and to the simple impossibility of encapsulating God in words – a God who could be truly described in human language would not be a God worthy of worship.
And yet we cannot escape from these words. For they are the story that has formed us into the people we are, the story that continues to form us. And at crucial points in the history of God’s people, it has been these words that have guided them, defined them, called them to be the people they really were. Continue reading