Part of a series for our CWOTI study group, this session we are reading “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans.
We began our reading of ‘Inspired’ with Origin Stories, now we’re talking about Deliverance Stories.
And again we have the question, what do we do with these? RHE draws parallels, as countless others have, between the captivity stories of the Israelites in Egypt and the struggles of African people in slavery. She shares her own story of delivering a child and 40 years, 40 days, and 40 weeks of Mary’s pregnancy.
“The rich history of reading new meaning into the Bible’s deliverance stories reminds us, too, that in an effort to understand the unique context from which Scripture emerged and the original audience for whom it was intended, we dare not forgo the long and crucial tradition of sacred appropriation, of allowing these ancient stories to speak fresh life into new, fitting, contexts.” says RHE
Are there really parallels between the history of the Israelite people and the struggles of African slaves of more recent history? Are we meant to take these stories and learn from them? Or are they just history.
“Bible stories don’t have to mean just one thing.” RHE continues.
And I….. I don’t know what to do with that.
I am a big advocate of CONTEXT. When someone takes a verse or a passage of scripture and uses it to justify some argument or they claim it is ‘meant for them’ I am troubled. One that irks me more than nearly any other is the use of Jeremiah 29:11: “”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.””
In CONTEXT this is a message from the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel in exile in Babylon. In context, it’s a promise that the Israelites will be brought back from Babylon to their land.
But we modern people put it on plaques and pendants and graduation cards. We carve it on guitars and print it on bumper stickers and believe that God intended it as a personal message just for us.
I honestly believe the only way to understand what the Bible says is to understand context. Not just the context in which a particular passage or verse exists within a chapter or book, but the context of history, of the circumstances of the earthly author, and the context of the original audience that would have received the books, songs, or lettters.
Context is KEY. In my opinion.
However, I do get her point. “Bible stories don’t have to mean one thing.” And if by that she means we can apply the lessons and experiences of those stories to events in our lives, then yes.
It’s not wrong to take hope in the liberation stories of the Israelites when you are facing a “captivity” of your own. And RHE states, too that just because these stories can mean different things, it doesn’t mean they can mean ANYTHING.
Let me get personal again.
Remember me telling you in the previous post about my growing up years and church camp and how I was taught that the origin stories were meant to be taken literally? Those same camp counselors were famous for having a verse to apply to every situation.
Every night of camp we had ‘chapel’. A good time of camp songs (church camp songs) and teaching and of course the obligatory alter call, during which we were encouraged not only to come forward if we were ready to “be born again”. But also to talk privately with one of the counselors if we had something we wanted to talk about.
And being a tweenage boy from small-town Nebraska with nothing in common with the kids in my grade, with parents who were struggling, with an absent (at least emotionally from my point of view) father, and an angry, abusive brother, I had a lot to talk about.
So every evening during the altar call, I came forward. I talked with ‘Randy’ and ‘Doug’ and ‘The Other Doug’, and ‘Dave’. And I talked about the stuff going on at home and I talked about not having friends in school and I talked about stuff that I might have made up just so I could have something to talk about during the altar call.
And invariably, the counselors responded with out of context verses, meaning to encourage me.
And now, all these years later, I can’t honestly say I remember a single verse they mentioned nor can I say that I actually was able to take anything away from those discussions. When I went home from camp I faced the same lonely days in school, the same late-night arguments my parents had, the same punches and bruisings from my brother.
The Bible stories can mean many things, but they can’t mean anything. And in my experience, without context, they can mean nothing.
It wasn’t until decades later, when I discovered that the seeds planted back in Jr. High camp needed to be nurtured if I was to find my real faith, that I found meaning that would only come with understanding the context.
And yes, you can take a lesson about money and apply it to your struggles with money. You can take a lesson about compassion and use it to guide your own morality in dealing with others.
But I think we run aground when we take a lesson about 40 years in the wilderness and apply it a hard day at work.
But I cannot deny the overall lesson we can take away from those stories.
If God can make a way for THEM He can make a way for US. But sometimes that DOES mean going through a metaphorical (or maybe even literal) wilderness.
You might learn something, and God might see you through it, but it might mean a long and rough time.
There is no easy way.
“…we’ve been entrusted with some of the most powerful stories ever told.” RHE shares, “How we harness that power, whether for good or evil, oppression or liberation, changes everything.”