God-breathed

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“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

2 Timothy 3:16, NRSV

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:21, NRSV

Growing up, those words in 2 Timothy explained the Bible — well, not all of them. “All scripture is inspired by God,” or as my Bible at the time put it: “All Scripture is God-breathed” (NIV, 1984). All Scripture is God-breathed. Period. Full stop. Those words were some of the most oft-quoted in my church. The Bible, after all, was central to Southern Baptist life and identity. This has always been true about Southern Baptists — from the beginning, it was founded as a separate denomination because of its insistence on the Bible’s support for the owning of slaves. To the present day, the Bible remains in this elevated position bolstered by these words: “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

I had a problem with using this verse early in my life. It did not make sense to me that the Bible could talk about itself — so what was this getting at?

It made about as much sense as Moses writing the first five books of the Bible, one of which contains the story of his last words and death. But those were the books of Moses, even Jesus said it, so it must be true. After all, “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

The truth to which the “God-breathed” verse points, according to my church, was that the Bible was not only inspired by God but therefore inerrant. So, when I started biology classes in high school and thought evolution just made sense, I was told that I was wrong. The Bible doesn’t say evolution is true, and if the Bible says it, it must be right. After all, “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

If that Bible is inerrant, all its words are true and have prescriptive impact on our lives, I was told. For, “all scripture … is useful for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (NRSV). So, when I started to learn that multiple friends of mine were gay and I began to have less and less of a problem with that — and eventually come to affirm and celebrate their personhood as children of God — I was told that was wrong. It was wrong because Leviticus and Paul said it was wrong, and they were in the Bible. And if it’s in the Bible, it must be true. After all, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” Continue reading

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God Who is Community

God who is community in Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost, bless us as we go forth from this place that we might be in community with you, one another, and the whole world. Give us strength, compassion, and conviction as we go that our hearts might break with yours, our passions might stir with yours, and our spirits lift with yours. Let it be so that we might enter into everlasting life with you. Amen.

The God I Want

One of the earliest images of Jesus from a Coptic church in Cairo.

One of the things you will find when you delve into the life of Jesus of Nazareth is that he is not the kind of Messiah that people expected. When people expected a Messiah, they did not expect God the Son, Person of the Holy Trinity. They expected various things, primarily human: emperors, priests, warriors, etc. I grew up hearing sermons to that effect: Jesus is not who we expect Jesus to be. Jesus is not the Savior we want, but Jesus is the Savior we need. Then we get into conversations from liberals and conservatives alike that claim the other is making Jesus in their own image. In reality, Jesus is not who we want Jesus to be.

Over time, I have grown comfortable with that notion. I have become comfortable with the fact that Jesus makes me uncomfortable. That is obviously a life-long journey and requires the continual effort toward humility. But I was fine with it, so long as we were talking about Jesus. The problem is that when, as Christians, we are talking about Jesus, we are talking about God. Lest we forget that we believe that this human Jesus is unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably divine, we must remember that when we speak of Jesus, we also speak of God.

Theologian Catherine LaCugna once said: “In Jesus Christ and the Spirit, we do not know a shadow image of God, but the real living God. This real living God who saves — this is God!” Elizabeth Johnson, another theologian, adds, “We know God from the way God has acted in history, through the incarnate Word and renewing Spirit.” Thomas Torrance perhaps put it most simply: “There is no God behind the back of Jesus.”

From Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland.

From Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland.

I think we always want there to be a God behind Jesus. We want some idea of God we have to really exist behind Jesus’ back. We want a God playing the strings of the universe like a harp, delicately strumming each string to the melody of a predetermined tune — that way, we do not have to worry about anything because God controls everything. We are thus absolved from our concerns for things to be made right in our lives and in the world, because God is in control. When God is in control, we need not be concerned.

But if there is no God behind Jesus, that isn’t the way it works. Continue reading