Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hard Lesson

Eric Von Salzen has a wonderful post on hard Scriptual lessons on the Agnlican Centrist blog (which is now a group blog). It is well worth a full read, but here are some highlights:



There are a lot of these hard lessons, particularly in the Old Testament, such as God banning Moses from entering the Promised Land because he didn’t do the water-from-the-rock trick the right way; King Saul losing God’s favor because he failed to kill all the Amalekites after defeating them in battle; and Psalm 137, which begins with that poignant lament, “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps”, and ends in a hateful fantasy of revenge against the Babylonians: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”

But the quintessential hard lesson for me is Abraham’s (almost) sacrifice of Isaac. Every year in Education for Ministry, I look forward, with interest and a little trepidation, to the week the Year 1 members read and discuss that story. What are we to say about a God who tells a father to murder his own son, and about a father who is ready to do so? Every discussion is different, but it’s always challenging.

Most of us prefer easy lessons to hard ones. Easy lessons are the ones that tell us that what we already believe is correct, that what we want to do is what we ought to do. The nice thing about easy lessons is that there’s so much to choose from. Given a little imagination and a good concordance, you can find scriptural support for just about any position that appeals to you. That’s why my baloney detector goes off whenever I hear someone try to end a discussion by saying “The Bible says . . . .”

You don’t learn anything from a scripture that says (or that you believe says) that you were right all along. It’s hard lessons that you learn from.

. . .

Jesus made it a practice to take easy lessons and make them hard. When a rich man asked him what to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus could have advised tithing, but instead he told him to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor. A hard lesson for a man who “had many possessions” (and mighty hard for all of us, too). When a lawyer asked Jesus a similar question, Jesus could have been satisfied with the standard scriptural answer, to love God and one’s neighbor, but that was too easy. Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, which says that the most despicable person a good Jew could imagine – a Samaritan! – was his neighbor for these purposes. And as if that weren’t hard enough, Jesus added, “Go and do likewise”.

We can try to dodge the hard lessons, of course. We can dismiss the Abraham and Isaac story as a cultural vestige of a dark and primitive age that has nothing to teach us. That’s pretty easy to do. But you don’t learn anything that way. Our Catechism tells us that God inspired the human authors of the holy scriptures and still speaks to us through them; it also tells us that the Holy Spirit guides the Church and us in interpreting the scriptures. I think that means we’re supposed to work on it; we’re supposed to take the scriptures seriously, even when they’re hard. Especially when they’re hard.


I left out some of the best parts of this essay--read it all here. I agree that it is too easy to use the Bible as a proof text of what we already beleive. Confronting the hard parts--even when we ultimately decide that they reflect the biases of te times and not the revelations of God--are where we learn the most.

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