What’s wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong with this story?
They’re from The Beginner’s Bible that I’ve been reading to Elliot. I was unprepared for how much these stories reflect my own western, 21st century culture: the bride in white and a veil, the idea of ‘falling in love’, the omission of multiple wives, etc.
It took me a while to work out why these stories had been so cleaned up. (Admittedly, I was sidetracked by the fact that Dinah gets left out when it talks about Jacob’s children.) But eventually, I realised that just about every character is presented as a hero and exemplar, not failed a human (with a few obvious exceptions like Eve, Saul, Jonah and King Herod).
So not only are Jacob’s wives and concubines edited out, but so are Rahab’s profession, David and Bathsheba, the end of Solomon’s life, and the exile. The offer to ‘ask Jesus to forgive you for your sins’ comes up in the section on Acts 2 but any sense of judgement is still absent.
There are things that are uncomfortable about the Bible. A wrathful God doesn’t sit that well with most people. And neither does polygamy and arranged marriage. But did Jacob’s foolishness deprive him of God’s love? Did Rahab’s past or David’s infidelity prevent God from working through them?
This is a safe story, from the bride we recognise to the ‘family values’ approved characters. So it ends up being exactly what you expect from religion: good people, comfortable stories. There’s nothing of the scandal of a God who chooses to love his enemies.
The solution to our discomfort with the Bible can not be to paper over the embarrassing parts, even with children. Because it’s in these that we truly see God’s character. Of course, The Beginner’s Bible isn’t meant to be a comprehensive theology but why begin without the building blocks of good news?
We need to see sin in all its fullness in order to see the grandness of God’s grace.
We need to see part of that grace as God’s willingness to work in cultures that seem immoral to us.
God doesn’t need our help to clean up the Bible and if we do, we lose the chance to meet a God who is in the process of making new all things, including sinful people!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.