Monday, April 23, 2012

On reading the Bible as story – perspective counts

As my church spends most of the year looking at the Old Testament – through sermons, in home groups and in individual readings – I've been reminded many times of the benefits of the approach of more liturgical churches. It's like for this time we have a year-long scripture-shaped liturgy that follows the shape of the Christian canon and looks not just at individual parts. Of course we can't be entirely comprehensive, so there's always picking and choosing – that's inevitable – and the issue for me isn't avoiding such selectivity, but being still remaining consistent while also trying to be balanced. Scot McKnight covers this issue wonderfully in his delightful book, The Blue Parakeet and has also blogged about it.

So yesterday when the sermon was on the huge topic of the exodus, I wasn't surprised when significant parts of the story didn't get mentioned: all of the familiar threads were woven together to fashion a  redemption story that had parallels to the gospel.

But here's what I was left wondering about: in both the exodus and the gospel, the salvation story realises both hope for the oppressed and judgement for the oppressor. If we only ever spiritualise the exodus (reducing it to a prologue for the gospel), we will always only ever identify with the oppression of the Israelites (because that stands for our universal oppression under sin). But for many people, as for the Israelites, oppression isn't an abstract spiritual concept but rather a concrete economic reality. In our picking and choosing we have maintained consistency with (part of) the gospel, but have forfeited balance by only ever reading the scripture from one perspective.

For those of us who live privileged and prosperous lives in the West (i.e. most of those with the technology, resources and liesure time to blog and read blogs - me included) it's not enough to read the story of the exodus and find hope in the ways that we are like Israel. No, it's also necessary to realise that our perspective shares much in common with the Egyptian oppressors. The text of the scripture hints at a contemptuous disregard for the sanctity of creation culminating in a blasphemous disregard for the sacredness of humanity as bearers of the image of God. It explicitly condemns the Egyptians for their economic exploitation of foreign workers. In our globalised economy we must pause to examine whether our own consumer choices, and indeed our system of economics also oppresses foreign workers and despoils creation, placing us under the same damning judgement. 

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