Today’s readings (click below to open in a new window/tab):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Genesis 16:1-14, Hebrews 9:15-28, John 5:19-29
Some days the biggest stumbling block to faith is scripture itself. Amid its inspiration, today’s passage from Genesis contains some truly horrifying ideas. God promised Abram he would father a nation, but he and his wife Sarai did not immediately conceive a child. An impatient Sarai suggested Abram impregnate her servant Hagar. Under the law, Sarai could have claimed legal possession of the child. The law also claimed that if Hagar started acting “uppity” after conceiving, her mistress could punish her – so naturally that’s exactly what happened. When Hagar ran away, God advised her to return with the promise her child would also beget a nation.
Forced surrogacy. Abuse. Slavery seemingly endorsed by God. Is it any wonder many people find it so easy to reject the Bible wholesale?
Many Biblical literalists and devout atheists approach the Bible in the same way: either it’s all factual or it’s all useless. They simply come to opposite conclusions. Moderate and progressive Christians can find themselves caught up in defending why they bother with the Bible at all, if they don’t find scripture inerrant. Convoluted excuses and justifications for stories like this one (and worse) erode faith rather than strengthen it.
The Bible is not all there is to God. And specific translations or interpretations (and in the modern age that’s all most of us who don’t read Hebrew and Greek have got) even less so. Treating it like it is might be the most acceptable form of idolatry going today. God can withstand our questions and criticisms of Bronze Age culture. Just because Jesus didn’t explicitly condemn slavery doesn’t mean we should approve it. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 advises: “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” God has given us the ability to discern what is moral and what is immoral, though in some cases like slavery it takes us far longer than it should to make the right call. Acceptable practices become unacceptable, and “abominable” practices such as short hair on women grow inoffensive.
The fact that people have been able to use the Bible to both justify and condemn slavery tells us the truth it contains needs more consideration than the popular “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Trust that truth is Godly, wherever it is found.
Comfort: God and truth withstand all scrutiny.
Challenge: Meditate on what previously acceptable practices have been morally rejected in your lifetime, and vice versa.
Prayer: God, help me to approach all things, including scripture, with your guidance. Amen.
Discussion: How would you describe your relationship with the Bible?
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