Our small group recently started a new book which walks through the Bible to re-examine the Story, looking at the parts and stories we’ve heard many times over and linking them together to help us see the bigger Story. So far I’ve enjoyed it, but probably not for its intended reasons.
Within the writing I hear echos of theology I’ve heard and spoken over and over; now, those statements cause me to pause for question rather than nodding my head in agreement. It’s not that I believe them less, but rather I wonder how we could see them differently. We only know what we know through the lens of our personal experiences, the way its been explained to us, what is common to us. I’m doing a lot of wondering through peeling back those layers of “what we know.”
For example, the throne.
Key to the story of Esther, which I breathed for nearly 2 months, was her moment of glory to approach the king and ask a favor. Quite clearly the story hinged on the fact that she couldn’t simply saunter in to the King’s throne and demand an audience – to do so would mean death unless he extended the royal scepter (Imagine me saying that in a very game-show like voice. The rooooyallll sceeeepter!). Ultimately Esther had won Xerxes’ favor over time so he gave her that pass and she was safe.
Today I read that with the Fall and eating illicit fruit our eyes were opened to evil; we were dismissed from paradise as God created it and “we cannot approach God without facing judgement.” It’s a biblical statement; we hear in Hebrews how such a situation becomes rectified through Christ and we “boldly approach the throne.” It’s standard theology even in our hymnology because I can, without being able to name the song, give the lyrics boldly I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ my own. (Two points to whomever can name that hymn. It escapes me and I simply don’t feel like googling it right now.)
The rebel in me wonders: do we believe this to be true because the understanding of men back when scripture was written came through their understanding of how Kings interacted with commoners? Do we use throne-approaching language because that’s what the Bible gives us, but the Bible gives that to us because it’s what was common? I’m not trying to negate the truth of the concept, I simply ask because I want to know how we reframe that for our current context. We now live in a society that has no understanding of loosing our life in order to approach our national leaders. We might show respect out to the office and refrain from eating onions the day we visit the President, but fear our lives? Not our first thought or concern. Jack Bauer will bust through the door to the Oval Office and we don’t hold our breath because we think the President will order him executed for lack of invitation.
The original writers and hearers of scripture knew Kings and authority to have this power to execute based on lack of invitation. One of the ways that Paul described the work of Christ included giving us the power to approach God through the life and blood of Jesus. No longer need we fear God cursing us to death if we come to him – Jesus is the Royal Scepter.
Nice use of props, Paul. Kudos.
But what does this mean for a culture who does not understand the fear of death from authority? We don’t even need a Royal Scepter, so why would Jesus be effective?
I’m not questioning the theology. If this is the understanding of God and Jesus we’ve been given, we start there. But one reason I’ve always appreciated Rob Bell and some of the more contemporary envelope-pushers comes in how they reframe understanding – I believe it to be the call of the prophet and the preacher. There are times when our Biblical language falls short or is simply too disguised. How do we translate that? How do we shed light on its meaning? How do we retell the story without having to convince a generation that we need a Royal Scepter? Is there a better way of describing and illustrating Jesus’ life, death and resurrection while holding true to the meaning?
I also wonder if we’ve oversimplified through theology work and language; we made Jesus’ death the Hall Pass to God / Royal Scepter. But what if it’s not only his death? What if it was also his life? What if the significance comes from the ways in which Jesus was able to to say, “You believe God to be like this, but actually, He is like that.” What if it’s not just the fact that Jesus died that we have a Royal Scepter – what if Jesus’ entire life reframed God so that people began to understand that God wasn’t like a Pagan King killing off those who needed Him most? When I think about the common quotes of Jesus, a top candidate is “The kingdom of God is like…”. It makes me think, perhaps, that people didn’t quite understand that God is not like the kingdoms in which they found themselves presently living.
If this could possibly be true, then… well, we no longer need to focus our efforts on convincing people that they need a Royal Scepter. We need to focus our efforts at understanding the nature of God.
Much like Jesus, we do that in the way we live our lives. God isn’t like this, He’s like that.
If I’m on to something, this means a lot more work for the average Bible-reader and Jesus-follower. No longer can we simply quote scripture and hope people understand why this means something to them. It also means not using means of marketing to convince them of their felt need. It means asking the hard question of how we view the world and what God is really like.