Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Don't Fear Reality

Don't be afraid to let your interactions with people influence the way you see the world, your faith, and even your politics. That fear seems to persist among too many Christ followers out of a sense that their experience should not affect or tarnish their so-called "objective" reading of scripture. In other words, they are afraid of the subjectivity of reality and that their literalist understanding of what's being said in the pages of scripture might get called into question if they allow relationships, history, and experience to enter the equation. For example, if you're convinced that women should not be pastors because of your understanding of the bible, you might have a preconceived anxiety about getting to know a woman who is a pastor. Indeed, you'll likely have your defenses up while they're preaching and you'll likely hold them under more scrutiny than you would a male pastor. If you got to know a good woman pastor, if you actually witnessed their success in ministry, heard their heart for the gospel of Jesus and their ability to communicate and embody it, then your reading of scripture might be challenged. You'd at least have good reason to take a second look at the passages you've been using against them.

Also, take for example, the homosexuality debate. Now, if you don't know any gay people or, perhaps more especially, any gay Christians then you probably don't feel any obligation to question those verses that seem obviously condemning of the homosexual orientation. But if you do know them, and you do see that not all of them fit the stereotype of promiscuity, then you might feel relationally obligated to take a second look at what you believe.

The same standard applies to homeless people, immigrants, rich people, liberals, conservatives, Evangelicals, etc. ...Once you get to know them, your knowledge of the individual--actually putting a face to the label--often serves as a catalyst for real re-evaluation of assumptions and notions. When we know people, we can no longer talk as though we don't know them.

And here's the best part... the Word of God can handle our questions. It's never inherently dangerous (at least not in a bad way) to take a second look at the bible. If we are confident that the bible is indeed true, authoritative, and inspired by God, then we should also be confident that it won't crumble under the weight of our examination and inquiry. There's no point at which we can have used too much context to inform our reading. Of course, there are wrong and right ways of being informed by context and history, but we can't overdo it if we're doing it right.

I had a conversation, not too long ago, in which I was explaining to someone how the specific historical context of a specific passage of scripture rendered its meaning quite different from what it seemed to say at first glance. They were shocked and surprised at the conclusion and though the interpretation made sense to them, they were still frustrated and asked, "so do you just pick and choose which verses to do that with?" The answer is no... we're invited to do that with every verse and  passage of scripture. The Bible can handle the scrutiny of history. We should seek after the text's original meaning, even if it seems very different from the meaning we thought it had.

Likewise, the Bible, and indeed our worldview, can handle the scrutiny of our experience. The Bible itself teaches us compassion and so we should not be so uncomfortable when our compassion begins to challenge the way we read the scriptures. It does not mean, necessarily, that our conclusions must change upon second glance. But surely the texture of those conclusions will be transformed by love when we begin to see the face of God in the people who are subject to our understanding. When we begin to affirm humanity, to see the face of the other, then we can no longer prefer our assumptions over their humanity. The goal of exegesis should not be to strip ourselves of our experience, to deny the humanity of our engagement, and to find some static objective position. No. We should take our compassion, in all it's subjective glory, with us as we engage the text. Not that we should impose ourselves onto the text but that we should be motivated by our relationships to examine the scriptures, to question their meaning, and to dive deeper and deeper into the well of God's Word. We should not fear the subjectivity of reality. indeed, we should welcome its invitation.

Humanity is an embodied reality, an existence graciously bound to communal interdependence and social responsibility. The incarnational nature of God in Christ and, by extension, of God's word in scripture, beacons us to encounter God through authentically human embodiment, listening and reading not from some notion of objective idealism but from the position at which our feet are actually touching the ground.

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