Monday, June 27, 2011

The Diversity of the Bible

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;  with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.     --  Ps. 89:1 

How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?    -- Ps. 13:1 

After Pentacost, the Daily Common Lectionary goes in two directions.  One strand is called Complementary and the other is called Semicontinuous.  I have no idea why, but it does give pastors some choice as to which passages, and messages, they would like to emphasize.  The passages above were the choices for the Psalm reading yesterday. 

The diversity of these two verses, chosen for the same day, fascinates me.  The Bible contains something for everyone!  When you are feeling high on God's love, there is Psalm 89 to confirm your thoughts.  And, when you are feeling lost and alone, there is Psalm 13, to echo you.  Either way, you find support.

Different viewpoints like these occur throughout the Bible, not just in the Psalms.  That's understandable:  different writers have different perspectives, or even the same writer is not always in the same frame of mind from one day to the next.  This diversity suits the diversity of our experiences.  But sometimes there are out-and-out contradictions between passages that tell the same story.  What is that about?

Why, for example, are there two different histories of the Israelites during the later part of the First Temple period?  1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles, hold much in common, but there are also striking differences between them.  Both histories are found next to each other in the Bible, and both are valued equally.

And why are there four different Gospels?  Wouldn't it have been so much easier to have one?  Many people obviously think so because there have been many attempts over the years to harmonize the Gospels into one story.  The wonderful thing about them, however, is that though each one has a unique point of view, and though there are some contradictions between them, taken together they illustrate the life and death and resurrection of Jesus more fully than any one of them could have ever done alone.

Does this diversity, and sometimes contradiction, make the Bible nonsensical?  No, but it does make it challenging.  And that is as it should be.  Because God is the God of everyone.  We are all different, and we sometimes understand God in completely contrary ways.  This too is challenging.

That a few people of great wisdom and understanding chose to contain such very diverse material in one book is a wonderful affirmation of unity.  For here, in this one book, we have a place in which we can all find recognition.  If we didn't have this diversity, or if we tried to erase the differences in the Bible, by lifting up certain passages as the truth and ignoring other passages which say the opposite (which many people do when they are trying to argue their own viewpoint), then we would lose something very important.   God would no longer be able, via the Bible, to speak to each one of us.  For, we cannot erase our own differences. 

Peter W. Marty, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Minnesota, writes about the church in similar language.  "[People] find out that no matter how flawed the individuals within it may be, the church still happens to be the garden of God's grace... with so many people...with whom you have nothing in common except your common humanity... and God. ... [The] church is the primary expression of the embodiment of God."  (The Lutheran Magazine, July 2011, pg. 11)  The same could be said of the Bible.  The Bible is also the "garden of God's grace," and is also common ground for so many people.  The Bible embodies us all.

So perhaps, instead of trying to separate ourselves over our differences, or harmonize the differences away, we should take a leaf from our own book.

Dear God, may I always remember to value the diversity of your people.  Please help me keep in mind that there is also much to learn from those who understand you differently than I do.  Love always, Pam

1 comment:

Pamela Keane said...

"Humans try to make all people alike. The Holy Spirit makes each person different." - Bishop Stephen Neil