Sunday, August 14, 2016

On violence in the Bible

1.     In our first year, first semester class we said that the Bible is a set of books written by human authors. They were “inspired”. Ok, that should be clear by now. If we talk about the violence of God and we do not pay attention to the human-cultural origin of the Bible, we will be in trouble. We will be confused.
2.     In the older times some Christians were so confused they refused to consider violent parts of the Bible as truly part of the Bible. Some cut off the violent parts when they cited the Bible for the liturgy.
3.     Some Christians, however, were so happy about the violent parts that they even said that violence can be justified. They said that God wanted violence, God allowed violence. Some Christians justified their violence against Jews, for example, because the Jews believed in another God, not in the God of Christians. So it was ok for Jews to be massacred; anyway the Christian God allowed it.
4.     For centuries many Christians have also been very violent and they justified their violence with the use Scriptures. Let us not repeat the cycle. Let us mature in our dealing with the Bible.
5.     Maybe we grew up without being so aware of the human-cultural reality of the Bible. We were taught that it was “Word of God” and must therefore be read literally. To read the Bible literally is a serious error and it is fundamentalist. Fundamentalism does not like to see how human the Bible is.
6.     Hopefully by now this is resolved…that we do not read the Bible literally. We approach the Bible more critically. Being critical does not mean that we are rejecting the Word of God. The theology of inspiration has made it clear. The Bible is God’s written Word but it was written by inspired human authors. God did not mind if human authors put in their cultural mentality.
7.     The Bible is not to be simply read. We must dialogue with the Bible. We must dialogue with the human authors and discern their insights about God underneath their cultural mindset. Human authors of the Bible had an encounter—an experience—about God in history. They could not avoid writing that experience with their cultural categories, but we can work to discern what was that encounter. It was in that encounter with God where “inspiration” may have taken place. So what were the INSIGHTS of Biblical authors underneath their cultural ways of writing? To be “critical” is to discern the cultural aspects and to eventually discern the inspired aspects.
8.     It may help us to note that many Biblical books were edited by later authors too. For example the book of Joshua, being a very violent book, contains parts that have been added by other writers centuries after the original book was written. The book of Joshua that we read now is a book of different layers composed of the original text with later added texts. The added parts were attempts of later writers to “soften” the violence of the original Joshua. This is proof that not everyone is so willing to simply accept unconditionally violence depicted. Authors really struggled hard too in writing about how violent God can really be. Can we not say therefore that the struggle itself is part of the “inspiration” of the Scriptures? Authors sense the something is underneath their written texts and they work hard to somehow express that through editions.
9.     In spite of the Hebraic-Jewish cultural elements in the Bible there are insights about our true human condition. The Bible can mirror us and our real human life.
10.            Read the Joseph story for example. Note how each character in the story—including Jacob—is trying to get out of difficulties. While trying to get out they do violence. Jacob hurts his sons by saying Joseph is his favorite. Jacob is in his very old age and he has a new son. His wife dies. Jacob is in pain, so he expresses it in making Joseph his favorite and consequently hurt the other sons. Joseph is in pain because he feels the jealousy of his brothers. So to get out of that pain he tells his brothers of a dream in which his brothers bowed down to him. The brothers were in pain and to get out of it they hurt Joseph by throwing him in a hole and then selling him. They even wanted him killed. So the story is about persons in pain refusing to really communicate with each other and venting that pain on others by doing violence to others.
11.            Is this not about ourselves too? The Bible authors who wrote this may have been writing about a cultural practice but in the bottom of it is a truth about the human condition. And then the story continues to end up with a “happy ending”. The family ends up in Egypt and is able to prosper. Note that even if there is violence in the story that violence shapes up to find a good conclusion. The Bible authors may have depicted the reality of violence but they showed that in managing that violence good things can arise. Note that violence happens, in the story, while God is absent. The absence of God provokes violence. This is true. As God comes into the picture, the violence is slowly shaped to lead to a happy ending. Is this not a beautiful insight underneath the cultural elements of the story?   
12.            Bible authors are humans. They are part of history. Their faith in God is a faith in a God who is not abstract and distant from human life. God is implicated in history. God enters into the human world including the human world of violence. Bible authors cannot avoid pasting their own cultural sense of violence into the intervention of God in history. But they show an insight about God—a true insight. God is not an abstract God. God engages with humans in a very personal way.
13.            Ok, so Bible authors connect God with violence and can even make God look violent. But note that God’s violence is not arbitrary. It is not violence due to an immature and frivolous attitude. It is not a violence of revenge. There is lucidity in the violence of God. It is a violence that limits the violence of people. God is violent to protect the victim from the violence of others. God appears violent and in so doing reveals the deep violence of the human heart. God may be depicted as violent but concludes it by making people have a distaste for violence.
14.            Bible authors struggle with violence and may find it difficult to really accept God as violent. But Bible authors cannot shed off their cultural mindsets. Somehow they cannot avoid projecting violence unto God. But even as they do this they reveal their insights about God. God is a God of presence, a God concerned with the victims, a God concerned with teaching people to give up violence, a God who mirrors to humans their own deep capacity for violence. We may debate on the actual violence of God but the insights are clear. Underneath the cultural elements is the revelation about God who is worried about human violence.
15.            We should not be taking it easy and reading the Bible naively. Dialogue with the Bible.
16.            The revelation of God in the New Testament is clearly historical and very personal in the presence of Jesus Christ. Over the course of time and history we see that in the New Testament God, in Christ, has really taken a clear stand in front of violence. Violence is a reality for God and God is willing to be victim of that violence. Through that God is able to show the path of liberation away from violence.

17.            We also need to have a global reading of the Bible and see the evolution of the way violence is depicted. The books of Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, are interconnected. It will be an error to remove some parts because of our awkward feelings. Face the whole Bible as it presents itself and dare to dialogue with it.    

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