I grew up in Sunday School, hearing all the stories of the great heroes of the Bible.
- Abraham, who went out, follwing God in faith, not knowing where he was going.
- Noah, who preached and built an ark, even though he was ridiculed.
- David, small but mighty, who felled a giant with a slingshot and a stone.
- Solomon, who chose wisdom over wealth, and was granted both.
I grew up thinking that everybody in the Bible was prettymuchperfect.
If we talked at all about the dark things the Bible records about these characters, we lingered on the terrible consequences of sin and inevitable repentance of these men who were God's good friends.
We didn't talk about the fact that none of these men ever repented of their polygamy, or their owning of slaves--both choices that would be of sins epic proportion in our culture today.
Why don't we wrestle with that? Why don't we question what it means that The Man After God's Own Heart had multiple wives and concubines? Was that okay? Not okay? What?
I think one of the reasons we don't want to face up to the real stuff in the Bible is that we don't want to grapple with this important fact:
Human culture is the invention of human beings.
Every human culture is unjust in some areas, and in need of change.
Back then it was bad, and now it is bad.
We are nowhere near perfection, then or now.
I think we don't want to deal with that fact in the Bible, because if we did, then we'd have to deal with that fact in our own culture.
You see, I think that evangelical Christianity in America is rooted in the false promises of puritanistic perfection.
The first false promise is this: we can get it right.
The second follows: we must force everybody else to do it our way, because we are right.
When I read the Bible these days, I wonder how Abraham could possibly be a friend of God when he sold his wife into slavery twice, got Hagar pregnant, and drove her away into the desert to die.
It makes absolutely NO sense from the puritanistic, perfectionistic, Sunday School perspective I grew up with. Perfect people can't do those bad things. But they did.
All you can do with those harsh realities is try to ignore them as much as possible.
But when we do that, we ignore the suffering of real people who were really harmed by the real friends of God.
And if we ignore that long enough, we start to think that it's probably okay for us to do the same.
If people are harmed, oh well. We're the friends of God.
If we are willing to face up to the fact that we are none of us righteous: no, not one.
If we believe that the kindness of God leads us to repentance.
If we believe that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, for us or anybody else.
We can read the Bible in all of its fullness, the good and the bad, the dark and the light, and we can finally see that God takes us where we are, loves us where we are, and has unending patience toward all of us who are in such a mess that we don't even know it.
There aren't people God likes and people God doesn't like. There are simply people, created in the image of God, all precious, all valuable, all seriously screwed up.
It's like Anne Lamott said to God the other day: "We both know what we've got to work with here."
Sadly, if we don't recognize that we're ALL a mess--and not just personally, but corporately with our cultural blinders firmly in place--we'll end up like the friend of mine who told me, "But I've repented of my sins."
With that statement, I hear the echo of the Pharisee who said, "Thank God I'm not like other people!"
How quickly we forget that the hero of that story is NOT the person who thought he got it right, but the person who stood in the corner, tearing his clothes, and saying "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)
We have to assume that we don't know everything.
- Because God is God, and we are not.
We have to assume that there's always more to learn.
- Because we are dust.
We have to be willing to keep our eyes open and change when we find that we've been harming others without even paying attention.
- Because we are all of us poor and blind and lame and always in need of healing.
We are commanded to walk in this world humbly, doing justice, and loving mercy.
If we're not able to walk humbly--if we're not able to see ourselves as fallible, finite human beings, if we see ourselves as perfect people who have perfection all sewn up as God's best friends, thankyouverymuch--I doubt we're going to care much about justice or mercy.
If we can't learn to walk humbly, I think we're going to just follow the false promises of perfectionism right past the green grass and and the still waters and the cool pastures of rest for our souls.
And we're going to harm a lot of other people while we're doing it.
And you know what?
I think that's going to keep happening. Because it's been happening that way for thousands of years.
The friends of God don't get it. They mess up. They repent of some things, but other things--horrible, reprehensible, death-bringing things--are just normal in their culture.
The same thing happens to me. I don't get it. I mess us. I repent of some things, but other injustices I just don't see. They're horribly normal in my culture.
The Love of God, rich and pure, measureless and strong?
It's there for all of us, no matter what we have done or left undone.
That's the real story of the Bible.
Not that the great heroes of the faith got it right.
Not that we're going to get it right.
But that the steadfast Love of the Lord never ceases, that His mercies never come to an end, that that they are new every morning.
For all of us.
Every single person.
And I think: maybe, maybe, maybe if we can remember that none of us have it all together, then we'll be able to walk forward as new light comes to us.
Rather than staying mired in darkness, rather than denying, minimizing, rationalizing, projecting, blaming, deflecting, we'll be okay with facing our messes in the light of Love, and we'll be able to finally see where more Love needs to be in our culture, today.
Strangely enough, I think it's when we give up on prettymuchperfect, that we've got the best chance of actually doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly.