Monday, April 20, 2015

The Bible is Not a Sword

I've been to more than one church or youth group that referred to the bible as a sword. I visited one church where, as part of its liturgy (though I am sure this church would scarcely identify itself with the word "liturgy"), the Pastor would hold up a bible and say "sword up!" (pronouncing sword like "word" with an "s") and the congregation would pull out their bibles and says "ready to defend!" 

Let's be clear. The bible is not a "sword"... 

...nor should it be wielded as one. When we use that metaphor, if we decide to continue down this path, we need to be clear about the sheer irony of doing so. If the bible is the Word of God, as the Christian faith has confessed in various ways, which witnesses to the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us in the crucified body of Jesus Christ which was raised by God to life from death, then the Word of God is not a sword wielded against the world but a word wielded against death itself and against the wielding of swords - swords which pierce the ears of slaves and penetrate the flesh of the condemned. If the bible is a sword, it is an un-sword - a sword beaten into a plowshare. If the bible is compared to a sword it is only in critical irony to criticize the use of all other swords. 

"Sword drills" (and I wish more of you had to look that one up) might be an exercise in the rhetorical dismantling of critical irony.

Some of the worst theologies in the world are the product of missed irony.

Calling Jesus the "lion of Judah," we miss that in Revelation when the author is instructed to "behold the lion of the tribe of Judah..." he is confronted not by a lion but by a lamb "...as though it had been slain..."

Calling Jesus a king, we miss that his crown is made of thorns. Calling God the "almighty God," we miss that God's "might" is displayed in the broken body of Jesus, "broken for you" (Luke 22:19), for "only love is almighty" (Eberhard J√ľngel). Calling Jesus our "Lord" we miss that he was the servant who washed his disciples feet. 

If we miss the irony of these confessions, what we get is a ferocious, privileged, domineering, and tyrannical master who demands obedience from his slaves... instead of the lamb, the humble Jesus, who spoke courageously and prophetically against the privileged and the powerful, called his disciples his "friends," and went to a cross instead of a throne. 

If we call the bible a sword without seeing that it is utterly not a sword - without recognizing the critical irony of identifying a weapon used for killing with a collection of stories and poems and songs and letters about a God who creates, empowers, and gives life even in death and suffering - then I'm afraid we might be better off without it. 


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