Much Too Holy, And Not Holy Enough

The Bible is a holy book—the holy book, in point of fact. It’s the only one we’ve got, as far as holy books are concerned (I once had a pastor tell me that William Young’s The Shack should be considered a holy book, but that’s a different post). So what does that mean for our reading and reception of it?

To be holy is to be dedicated or reserved for God’s service. But it means one thing for a bowl in the temple to be dedicated for God’s service, and another for a priest in the temple to be dedicated for God’s service. They’re both dedicated, both holy—but that holiness is expressed, as it were, in different ways.

Both weddings and funerals can be holy, but that doesn’t mean they should share the same playlist.

For the Bible to be dedicated to God’s service means that it does what God intended it to do—that it is a witness to the work of reconciliation. And the Bible does this in its own unique and infallible way.

Here’s my point. I think that Bible-believing Evangelicals who have a high respect for God’s Word can sometimes treat it as though everything it says is serious, normal, and unsurprising. It’s the kind of seriousness with which we treat sacred things. But if you show up to a wedding and think that because this covenant is a sacred thing, you must not laugh or cheer or whoop when the newly-married couple kisses at the end, you misunderstand sacred things.

The Bible is holy. It has been dedicated for God’s service, and that service is telling you and me about God’s work of salvation in Christ. In order to do that, to diagnose and expose our sin and show us how we may be saved, the Bible says some surprising, counterintuitive, strange things. Therefore, certain qualities must be cultivated in order to revere the Bible as holy, that is, to understand it as ordained by God for the purpose of understanding its message. Humor, surprise, and the ability to recognize irony are some which come to mind.

Treating the Bible as holy means laughing when Jesus does the bit about the Pharisees and the camel, weeping when Isaac asks his father where the sacrifice has got to, gasping in surprise when Samuel actually shows up to talk to Saul, and so on and so on. the Bible is a weird, funny, surprising, unexpected book. If we can’t recognize some of these little non sequiturs, how can we feel and communicate full force of what the Bible is meant to communicate? The uncreated and undying Son of God was born, lived, and died to make his enemy his bride. To see that, to understand it, and to feel the impact of it—that’s what it means to revere the Bible as holy.

Fight Before You Fight

In reality, there are a thousand, thousand good reasons not to sin, to be holy, to pursuit purity; and there are no good reasons to sin. Our sin problem, then, concerns the word “good.” “Good” is a word concerned, here, in the making of moral value judgments. However, that faculty within us which makes those judgments is broken. This, therefore, gives us a problem with the second word, “reason.” “Reason” has to do with rational decision making. You and I are, sadly, incapable of true rational in this process because we love sin, our faculty for making moral value judgments being broken. Continue reading “Fight Before You Fight”

Israel’s War on Sin

Joshua recounts the conquest of Canaan by the children of Israel. Throughout theschnorr_von_carolsfeld_bibel_in_bildern_1860_068 conquest narrative, the repeated refrain is that the Israelites struck their enemies “with the edge of the sword” (6:21, 8:24, 11:10). Of course, God tells the children of Israel at the end of the book that “it was not by your sword or your bow” that their enemies were driven out, but by the Lord (24:12)– this is why the man Joshua saw in chapter 5 had a drawn sword. Nevertheless, the Israelites fought and killed their enemies with the sword.

Continue reading “Israel’s War on Sin”

A Tale of Two Brothers

I just ran across this post from last fall over at my friend Chad Bresson’s blog, about Genesis 38 and the scandal of the gospel. I was interested, because just this morning I was reading John Currid’s Against the Gods, and Currid points out that Genesis 38, the story of of Judah’s misconduct and immorality with Tamar, serves as a foil to Genesis 39, Joseph’s encounter with the wife of Potiphar.

I love Chad’s treatment of Genesis 38, but what’s catching my eye right now is the contrast between Judah and Joseph. Take twenty seconds to google “Biblical marriage meme,” and you’ll find a number of doubtless well-informed haters reminding us that marriage was abused in good ol’ Bible times, so it should be anything goes today.

Yes. It’s true. Abraham slept with Hagar. Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. David murdered Uriah so he could have Bathsheba. There are directions in the law for taking the widow of your brother, for marrying war captives, for marrying women you’ve raped, and for pairing together your male and female slaves. It does no good to list every weird account of marriage in Scripture indiscriminately and then sit back with a self-satisfied smirk. The question that should be asked is what view of marriage and sex does the Scripture commend?

This is where Joseph shines so brightly. The fact that the account of Judah and Tamar appears in the middle of the longer story about Joseph and right before the account of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife says something about both accounts.

First, this is an intentional pairing. We’re meant to look at Judah and Joseph together. Two brothers, two temptations, two responses. As I said, Judah serves as a foil to Joseph. There are, of course, more levels to the story of Judah and Tamar, and Chad has covered them admirably. But the placement of the story at this point in Genesis reveals that, whatever else is going on in redemptive history, Joseph is the main character right now, and he’s drawing everything else into his narratival orbit.

Second, the contrast preaches. Judah condemns his own actions, both by his decision not to burn Tamar and by his statement, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah” (38:24-26). No one who reads the text well can come away with the impression that Judah is somehow commended for his immorality. Similarly, it is impossible to read the following chapter and conclude that Joseph is not being commended. He recognizes that to sleep with Mrs. Potiphar would be a sin against his master and his God (39:8-9). He refuses temptation steadfastly (39:10). And when push comes to shove, Joseph gets right out of dodge, leaving his coat behind (39:11-12). This last bit, by the way, is an intentional echo of Joseph’s previous betrayal at the hands of his brothers: though innocent of wrongdoing, he is punished, his garments are used in a deception against him, and he is put someplace unfavorable where God gives him success in all he does. The flow of the story itself teaches us that Joseph is to be commended.

There is no doubt in these accounts that, regardless of the social mores of the time concerning sexuality, Judah’s example is to be condemned and Joseph’s to be praised. In the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts, “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”