Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Biggest Story Ever Told

My children discovered early on that you're only going to get a few stories in Sunday School: the creation of the world and the fall; Joseph; David and Goliath, David and Samuel; Shadrack, Meshack, and Abendigo; the Christmas Story; Palm Sunday/Good Friday/Easter; Pentecost; and Saul's trip to Damascus. There may be a few other stories, but basically you get the same ones, over and over and over. Child I said that everything was learned by about third grade, and basically tuned it all out after that.

There are many more stories, characters, and events in the Bible. At our church we take a book or two a year and try to dissect it, to learn who wrote it, why, for what audience, its historical importance, and why we should study it today.

Over the last year, for example, we spent about twelve weeks on Paul's Letter to the Romans. This is generally known as Luther's source for the doctrine of justification by faith, but it's also Paul's statement to the Jews about his belief that Jesus was the looked for Messiah.

Anyway, Slate's David Plotz recently discovered that the Bible has more to it than he learned in Hebrew school, so he's begun to blog his way through the Bible. He's currently up to Genesis 25, Abraham's death. So far he seems surprised, I think, to see that the Bible is a rather bloody book, and that there aren't too many real heroes in it.

Just wait. We've been working our way through various books of the Bible, and there are a lot of things that are at least as, uh, interesting as what he's read to this point:

  • You do not, ever, want to buy a used car from either Jacob or his father-in-law, Laban (around Genesis 30). (I started this entry a week ago. Plotz has since gotten to this part.)
  • You think Abraham almost sacrificing his son is bad? Look at the story of Jephthah and his daughter (Judges 11:29-40).
  • All of Joshua and Judges (basically the founding stories of Israel) show that the conquest was a lot bloodier than you might think from reading about Jericho. There was a lot of internal bickering, e.g., the fate of the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20). Oh — stay away from women with hammers. (Judges 4:21)
  • David and Goliath? Well, maybe it was "Elahanan son of Jaaretoregim, the Bethlehemite." (2 Samuel 21:19). The books of Samuel and Kings are basically court histories, maybe they forgot the official story here.
  • Speaking of David, look at his death-bed instructions to Solomon in 1 Kings 25:9. Read them aloud, as Brando in The Godfather.
  • The prophet Hosea was hopelessly in love with a prostitute.
  • Job? Patient? Actually, the book has three parts: Job's "friends" telling him how he must be the biggest sinner, ever; Job whining about his unjust fate, and demanding that God come down and talk to him, right now; and God delivering the most poetic "because I said so" in the history of parenting. (Job 38-42) I had to become a parent to understand this, and why He might have done that.
  • Jesus's disciples are essentially clueless throughout the Gospels and Acts. Peter denies Christ. John ("the Beloved") and James want a guarantee of the Head Jobs in the Kingdom. Paul has to be hit in the head with a rather large club before he believes.

The point of this all isn't to run down religion. The Bible is a book about People. Mostly, they're people just like you and me, which means that they are mostly driven by self-interest, and aren't necessarily nice to be around. Yet God works (in his mysterious way) to make everything come out the way He wants — not necessarily the way we think it should come out (go back and read Job again), but the way He wants.

I'm aware that reading the Bible this way can destroy faith. But so can the traditional Sunday School version. In any case, I submit that a faith that can be destroyed by learning and thinking about its origins isn't much of a faith.

So I hope David Plotz keeps up with the blog. He's slowed down since the beginning, I hope that's not boredom. The good parts of Exodus (you know, Charlton Heston and all that) are coming up next. Then, of course, there are all the laws and regulations in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but the story picks up in Joshua and Judges, and then we get all the stuff about David, which would make a good movie in and of itself. Keep it coming, Mr. Plotz.