Delight in This?
Part of last weekend was spent in Calgary at a provincial gathering of Mennonite churches and organizations where our time together was focused upon the theme of “Delighting in Scripture.” It’s a very pious sounding theme, isn’t it? Good Christians are supposed to love the Bible, aren’t they? It sounds like something we should all be doing all of the time. It calls to mind impressions I had in my childhood that if you were a follower of Jesus, you couldn’t wait to read your Bible and eagerly did so whenever the opportunity presented itself.
It also calls to mind the uncomfortable reality that for most of my childhood—and even beyond!—Scripture was not exactly a source of delight for me. Something to wrestle with? Certainly. Something that provided a mixture of comfortable, reassuring passages and uncomfortable passages that made me squirm and had to somehow be forcibly reconciled with the other ones? Um, yes. Something that contained stories and people and cultures and often horrific realities that seemed to come from another planet, and seemed to have very little to do with my everyday life? Regrettably. Something that, at times, made me wonder exactly what kind of God I had cast my lot with? Undeniably. But a source of delight? Not so much…
I’m hardly alone, I know. While Scripture has certainly been a source of wisdom, insight, comfort, illumination, and salvation for many, it has also produced uncertainty, confusion, anger, and apathy. Indeed, during at least one of the plenary addresses at the conference the simple reality that even Mennonites—people of the book!—often have a very hard time living with Scripture was openly acknowledged. We don’t always know what to do with these curious words, these strange stories that simultaneously speak of the love and grace of God alongside harsh words of judgment and rebuke. The Bible is not always the easiest thing to delight in.
Well, the conference came and went. The sessions offered some good and helpful lenses through which to look at Scripture, and it was good to have been there. It was also good, as always, to come home. Later in the weekend, I was having a rather rambling conversation with my daughter that ranged from a permission form we were supposed to sign to allow our kids to attend a sex-education class (eww!! gross!) to kids in her class whose parents are split up to how many kids God must have with Jesus. I groaned inwardly. God and Jesus as co-parents?! “Well, there you have it,” I thought. Exhibit A in the category of decidedly non-delightful theological/biblical minefields that we get to wade into as Bible-people. Sigh.
Being generally exhausted and mostly wanting to steer the conversation in another direction, I said something to the effect of, “You know one of the really neat things about God’s family is that it’s all full of adopted children!” She paused (our kids are adopted and have always had fairly well-tuned radar for adoption language). “Really?” “Yeah,” I said. “No biological children in God’s family—we’re all adopted kids. That’s how God works.” “Huh,” she said. “Cool.”
Yeah. Cool. Delightful, you might even say.
It’s good, I think, to periodically lift up our eyes from the proverbial trees to the forest. Because whatever difficulties we might have with this or that part fo the Bible, the big-picture story of Scripture is of God creating and redeeming an adopted family. It’s about all kinds of different kids coming together under one roof to learn how to love each other and their adopted Father better. It’s a story about a big, diverse, colourful family that is loved, graced, forgiven, and learning and growing into what that might mean for themselves and for the world.
This big picture doesn’t magically make the nasty parts of Scripture more intelligible or palatable. It doesn’t make all of those strange names of people and nations any easier to pronounce, nor does it make the endless lists of laws instantly exciting or compelling. It doesn’t make the parts we disagree with any more agreeable. It doesn’t make God less gloriously strange. It doesn’t even make the parts that we do understand but don’t have the will or desire to put into practice any easier to incorporate into our lives. But it does, I think, give us a safe place from which to ask these questions, express these struggles, work through these issues. It is a big picture that can accurately locate us, whether we are delighting in the story, raging against it, or, more likely, we find ourselves somewhere in between.
Last Sunday after the conference, I returned home to preach a sermon from Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is a beautiful, poetic passage about the coming day when YHWH will write his law on his people’s hearts—where confusion and disorientation will give way to forgiveness and knowledge of the Lord. It’s a powerful hope—all of God’s adopted kids being healed and forgiven, and having new hearts and minds that naturally reflect the beauty and goodness for which they were made.
A hope worth delighting in, if ever there was one.