When we seek to resolve disquieting passages in the Bible, are we saying that life with God can involve no ambiguities, no times of darkness or absence, no times of difficulty or challenge? Are we suggesting that we would prefer the story of God and God’s people to be a triumphalist narrative of prosperity, where the voiceless and the marginalised have no place, and the abandoned are an embarrassment?
What kind of Christian hermeneutic are we talking about if we say that God cannot be present among the silent, the battered, the rejected; that the voice of God simply cannot be speaking there? Surely, from our collective experience, it is in these places that we should be pricking up our ears and waiting expectantly? In short, I believe it is vital for us to explore a hermeneutic that refuses to skip over the difficult and challenging or awkward passages of the Bible, just as in the Inclusive Church we are hopefully committed to refusing to skip over those who can be made to feel like the difficult, challenging or awkward members of the people of God; a hermeneutic which resists avoiding passages because they are painful for us to hear, just as we are committed to hearing all people’s stories, no matter how uncomfortable they might make us feel.
In reading the disquieting passages of the Bible, the vital question is ‘where is the voice of God in this place?’ And it is important to begin with the recognition that it may not always be straightforward to perceive God’s voice within the pages of the Bible (just as it is not always straightforward to discern God’s voice within life). One of the great modern fallacies proliferating today is that we can assume that God speaks opaquely within the Bible. There is little within tradition to suggest this. As good Anglicans (!), we may be keen to affirm Article VI of the 39 articles: ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation’. But as that important Anglican voice Richard Hooker stresses, affirming this belief does not mean that we must act like those who (quote) ‘grow unto a dangerous extremity as if Scripture did not contain all things in that kind necessary, but all things simply’. God’s voice will not always be simple to discern within the pages Bible. Indeed, if we are to look at the Bible itself, it suggests nowhere that the ‘voice of God’ will be easy to locate and interpret: rather it frequently suggests the opposite.
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© 2016 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.
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