think back to elementary mathematics. long ago are the days of simple arithmetics; adding and subtracting, dealing only with whole numbers, finding the sums and the differences of simple problems and equations.
2 + 2 = 4.
5 – 3 = 2.
these simple truths, once learned, became the foundation for understanding numbers — and would be the building blocks of more complex equations once we crashed into the awkward age of jr. high school, and into more complex mathematics in sr. high, and then on to mathematical sciences
back in the classroom of simple arithmetic, we were taught to count:
‘0, 1, 2, 3…’ and on and on we’d go. (i prided myself in my kindergarten class in warren, ohio when we were asked to count to 20 and i continued on past 50; though, somehow — perhaps because i was nervous, or perhaps God saw fit to humble me — i jumped from 59 to 100, and was quickly corrected). we were later taught to subtract, but this new skill came with some new rules not present in the discipline of addiiton: one could subtract 5 – 3 = 2, but NOT 3 – 5. we were taught, and told — repeatedly — that the latter equation was not possible.
and then, as we matured and graduated one grade level to the next, we were land-blasted with a new set of rules. we found out that we could, in fact, subtract 3 – 5, and we would end up with -2.
negative numbers entered the picture, as did fractions, decimals, and a host of letters
a… b… x… y… z… in our homework and classroom discussions. statistics, geometry, algebra, calculus, and theories of numbers, game, and probability plagued our exams and after school study sessions. we had moved on from the simple applied mathematics of mrs. marsh’s classroom; and now our teachers were professors, with a PhD. after
this begs the question: were we lied to in our early childhood as we sat in mrs. marsh’s (or whomever your elementary math teacher’s name was) classroom? had we been bamboozled? was it a trick? or, more accurately, was it a period of time where we were being taught, trained, and developed to handle the problems that would come up later in our academic career — a time, perhaps, where the foundations were laid for our understanding of numbers?
similarly, the stories of the bible carry with them a graduated understanding. the building blocks of the narrative of scripture were woven together in a divinely orchestrated symphony for the purpose of gaining knowledge of the holy. think back to the children of israel, coming out of generations living as slaves in egypt. they had remained faithful to the unseen God of their forefathers; yet at the same time were heavily influenced by the pagan and polytheistic environment in which they lived (one immediate example of this influence is seen directly after their escape from egypt, as they awaited moses’ decent from mount sinai. instead of waiting for the law, the israelites worshipped an image of a golden calf created under the leadership of aaron, their high priest).
these are the chosen people of God — the israelites — who were living under the covenant promise that YHWH had made to their ancestor Abraham. they were chosen to be blessed (chosen and blessed in order that they may be a blessing to all nations), to be the example of what having a covenant relationship with the Creator looked like (for more on this subject, read my friend’s post here).
but they weren’t ready. they needed time in the land between their slavery and the promised land; a time where they would learn more of who God is, and time to learn that God is faithful to provide for and protect his people. they had already learned, through the ten plagues of egypt that their God was more powerful than the idols worshipped by their oppressors. they’d later hear– again and again — that this God was One (e.g., in deuteronomy). bit by bit, through the law and the prophets, God revealed himself as powerful, righteous, just, holy, jealous, independent, unchangeable, eternal, omnipresent and omnipotent, invisible and wise, and full of knowledge and truth that supersedes our own finite ability. he also revealed himself as both wrathful and peaceful, beautiful, merciful, good, loving, glorious, blessed and perfect.
2 + 2 = 4.
as the people of God continued along the spiritual journey of knowing their Creator, and knowing who their Creator had called them to be, they began to move beyond just the basics of their knowledge of the God
throughout both their successes and their failures in knowing, remembering, and keeping God’s law and statutes, the narrative of scripture records an ebb and flow from simply ‘i am one God, i am unified,’ to ‘be unified as a people as you follow me.‘ (e.g., in joshua)
they moved from simply ‘i am more powerful than any other God and will bless you as a people,’ to ‘i care for the oppressed and unfortunate and want you to bless them as i have blessed you.; otherwise your ‘worship’ is worthless to me‘ (e.g., in amos)
they moved from simply ‘i am righteous and just and care for issues of justice on an individual level,’ to ‘i want justice in your society: social justice for the oppressed and disenfranchised, for the poor, the outcast, the orphans, and the widowed.‘ (e.g., in deuteronomy or again in james)
they moved from simply, ‘i will smite those who sin in my wrath and anger,‘ to ‘i am full of compassion and mercy and will deal with you in lovingkindness.’ (e.g., the story of hosea or the example of jesus)
these (and multiple other) graduated understandings of the person and character of God are, of course, culminated in the story of gospels, revealed in the person of jesus christ.
think about it. a day is coming, said jesus, when where you worship — on this mountain or that mountain — doesn’t matter, but that what matters is worship in spirit (not in material ways) and in truth (not in falsehood). the veil of the temple, separating the presence of God that had been cooped up in the ‘holy of holies’ was ripped — from top to bottom — and God is on the loose. he is no longer confined to a specific part of the temple in jerusalem, nor the temple itself, nor in the jewish (or dare i say, even christian?!?) religion, but is rather to be experienced through reconciliation with our Creator God.
it may be wise to stop here, reread and consider the implications (both in theology and practice) of the preceding paragraphs (including, of course, the references from the sacred scriptures).
as we seek to emulate the God of the bible as we understand him and as we have seen him — in the flesh, in the God-man, jesus of nazareth — this graduated understanding allows for and even demands a grace and freedom in our thinking and dealing with people of other theological persuasions, other denominations, other religious backgrounds, and even other faiths (can you imagine!?).
many will disagree, based on their upbringing, their doctrine, or the indoctrination of a historically biased evangelicalism which places the bible (and the traditional constitutional reading of that bible) on a pedestal that (to me, at least) mirrors idol worship. there are texts woven throughout the scriptures that can be used to refute any tolerance of ‘sin’ or more often (as we tend to overlook, rationalize and excuse our own shortcomings and those of our preferred faith communities) any tolerance of a view that contrasts our own and is therefore viewed as ‘Other’ or ‘foreign’ or ‘alien.’ we prefer to worship our God with people who believe like us, behave like us, and affirm those beliefs and behaviors. it’s much more comfortable that way.
yet if jesus is in fact God (and i believe he is) and if colossians is correct in stating that he is the image of the invisible God (and i believe it is), if he is in fact the one who the rest of all the scriptures point to (and i believe he is), then how erred we’ve been in allowing a constitutional reading of scriptures, torn out of context and applied haphazardly to our current crises and situations, to dominate both our theology and our practice.
we must ask ourselves how jesus related with people who did not believe as he did (like the samaritan woman), and view the entirety of scriptures through his life and example, rather than viewing his behavior through the theological lens of a constitutional reading that is equivalent to 2nd grade math.
perhaps it’s time to approach the scriptures in a new way — a way that more accurately reflects who christ is, and who we are called to be.
we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. and that, as you may have guessed, is the subject of next post on the WayWard follower.