Thoughts on the Bible

Haden Clark over at Help Me Believe shared an article by Jeffrey Poor of Rethink concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testament. I wrote a comment that criticized the original article on the premise that it suggested that there was a difference in how God work in each Testament. I’ve decided to expand on that comment in this post and explore a little deeper into the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and reading and understanding the Bible in general.

I encourage you to read the original post on Rethink and I’ve posted my full comment here:

I am not sure if I agree that God seems mean in the OT because he is “operating under a different set of rules” and that “when Jesus entered the picture he changed everything.” Everything that is contained with the NT is hidden in the OT. The reason for this is because the core message of the OT the covenant between God and humanity is revealed in the NT through the Body of Christ and His sacrifice for our salvation. I think that the problem with this post is that it starts from a premise that the OT and NT are different, unique and distinct which they are not, both are a unifying force of each other. I like to think of the OT as a giant forest with trees, and rocks and small streams and uneven pathways. We walk through this forest without the NT and without Christ in the dark. Our foot hits something hard on the ground and we can reason and suppose it to be a rock. Walk into something wet, and assume it is a stream. By the end of walking through this forest we get a pretty good idea of what the whole area is like (little stream here, big tree there, hike up a hill over there) but it is not the full and complete picture because we did it in the dark. Christ is like a giant flashlight, now we know that the wet thing we walk through was a stream, but that hard thing our foot hit was actually a stump and not a rock (close before, but now we know for certain what it is). The OT is like a facet dripping slowly overnight and the NT is the sink that is filled with water at the end, and if I want to beat this analogy to death, Christ would be plug in the drain keeping the water held together.

I think that the first place to start when we talk about the Bible as a whole to is to understand that the Bible is not entirely a Christian object. It is a collection of books that stretch over 3000 years, through many different eras from the perspective of many different people with many different faiths and written originally in many different languages (many of which do not even exist today). There is a tendency among Christians to ascribe a singularly Christian (and I’ll even add modern western) perspective on the entire Bible which has no historical or theological support.

When we start from the premise that the Bible is in fact a collection of many books with many perspectives, interpretations, translations, understandings, themes, lessons and imagery we can automatically understand why there are entire faculties of learning dedicated to the study of this wonderful book. From viewing the Bible holistically, splitting it in two by the Old and New Testament or deep into each book and letter individually, we gain a better understanding of the deposit of faith through the Word of God present in the Bible. We can even understand why some strains of Christianity, especially those more catholic oriented, insisted upon the interpretation of the Word of God falling to a formal magestrium that brings together the whole of the Deposit of Faith. We can also gain a better understanding why some Christians reel at the thought of the Word of God being capable of being read and understood by any single person at any single point in time– I would wager that this concept is one of the great failings of the protestant wing of Christianity. It fundamentally undermines the realities of the Bible as a sacred text that spans thousands of years. It immaturely presupposes that a person brought up in a western world removed completely from the world present in the Bible can somehow pick up the book and simply “get it.” If that was honestly the case we wouldn’t need Jesus, and we wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit because from the moment the Israelites were brought out of Egypt they would have “got it” and everything would have been fine.

When we pick up the Bible there is a temptation to want to open the cover and start reading. Doing so is certainly one way to take in the Word of God but doing so will also generate confusion. Genesis was certainly not the first book written in the Bible, it actually has two creation stories and is hard to understand if read literally without an understanding of Jewish literary techniques. For example, in the OT we are told that Abraham lived to be 175. No human has actually lived to be 175. We can watch some Christian bend and twist in order to provide “reasoning” why this is the case for Abraham, but there is a simple explanation albeit one with profound implications for how to interpret the Bible as a whole. It is in fact a common Jewish literary device to ascribe a long life to being in favour with God. This comes from the Jewish understanding of sin which supposed that the cause of sin and death in general was being unfavorable with God (for whatever reason). Thus, the flip side of this is to promote the fact that a person is in favour with God by adding years on to his life in the story. A Jew living in the desert hundreds of years before Christ would not have read that part of Genesis and thought, “oh my Abraham lived for a long time” he would have thought, “Abraham had great favour with God.” It is for that reason that Abraham’s age is even mentioned in the Bible.

Another good example of the dangers of jumping into the Bible without any sort background is when we talk about dinosaurs. I have heard some pretty amazingly irrational arguments as to why the Bible never mentioned dinosaurs. We have their bones plain as day before us today. We can use technology from the brains that God gave us to even date the bones in order to better understand our world. From undermining the very legitimate science (without any reason evidence other than the Bible) to claiming that dinosaurs and man lived on earth together (insane with absolutely no science to back it up) to even claiming that Satan put the bones in the earth to make us question God (probably with the assistance of Darwin himself somehow), Christians the world over have bent over backwards to explain the dearth of something so real and so present before us today in the Bible. And yet there is a simple explanation. The Jews in the desert didn’t have time to sit around and dig up dinosaurs (especially while in exile which is when most of the best parts of the OT were written down), they never even had a concept or understanding of their existence. So of course they do not make their way into the Bible. They also have no relevance on any stories or lessons within the OT. The whole purpose of the creation stories in Genesis are not about how God made the world (we will never know that while here on earth, even with the Bible) but that He made it and it was good and pleasing to Him and even more so it is about Him creating mankind in His image and marking us uniquely among His other creations. So we have to ask ourselves, when we dive into the creation story and take the seven days literally or the listing of animals created in the process literally are we really taking away from the story what we are supposed to take away? I say no absolutely not, we miss the mark when we undermine the Biblical teaching and focus on the wrong aspects of the story.

It might seem like I have digressed a little from my point but I am going to bring it all home now. Reading the OT and NT is a lot like how we approach the Bible as a whole. The law contained with the OT makes no sense if we do not have the teachings of Christ to back it up. Just the same as reading the OT requires us to have a broad understanding of Jewish theology, culture and literacy, so too does it require us to have a deep understanding of the NT. And in typically God fashion, it all hangs together (to steal a C.S. Lewis line) and comes back full circle. We cannot understand or grasp the importance of the NT without the messages and the coding in the OT. Together each book forms the yin and the yang and each have an eye within each other. Amazing how even the composition of the Bible itself is a fingerprint of the nature of God and man here on earth!

In closing, I firmly believe that it is fallacy and a vector for Satan to do his most effective work to attempt to interpret the Bible on a personal basis. We need the Church, we need our history, we need the history of the authors and we need a broad understanding of the cultures at play. We also need the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is amazing that we are able to hold this book in our hands and that it has been compiled and bound over two thousands years plus and counting.

God be praised!

2018 Summer Series

The summer doldrums are in full effect and if you are like most catholic oriented Christians you are grateful for the rest after very busy Christmas and Easter seasons (still can’t get over the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve being the same and then shortly diving into Lent and Easter this year). Now that we’ve had some peace and quiet around here you’ve probably noticed an uptick in activity around this blog. We’ve been busy preparing a series of posts from the Proper of the Saints in the Christian Prayer that forms part of the Liturgy of the Hours and Anglican saints from the Anglican Church of Canada publication All of the Saints. We intend on keeping these posts up through-out the entire year (although we have yet to decide what to do once the full year cycle is complete).

Book of Common Prayer

In addition to the saint posts, we will be introducing a summer series for this year (and hopefully all of the rest of the years to follow). We’ve decided the first theme of this series for summer 2018 will be the catholic liturgy. We will explore the catholic Mass in its entirety with a historic eye toward the development of the Roman Missal and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The liturgy that we will focus on will be the catholic one specifically comprised of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I will rely on two main sources for inspiration of the posts, namely the Oxford History of Christian Worship and For The Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann.

Each instalment of the series will focus on a particular aspect of the Mass. We will explore the historical development of how the Mass exists today and the biblical and theological roots of the service itself. Two final instalments will close out the series, one on the overall development of catholic liturgy and another on music within Mass. I hope to have a new series instalment out each week over the summer period. It is my hope that by the end we will all have gained a better understanding of the catholic liturgy and that this knowledge will enrich our participation into the future.

Image credit.

Friday Week III, Office of the Readings

The first part of psalm 69 that is read in today during the Friday Week III of the Office of the Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours (using the Christian Prayer breviary) really jumped out at me today during my prayer. I would like to share the psalm extract with you here as well as some Lenten flavoured reflections.

Antiphon: I am worn out with crying, with longing for my God.

They offered me a mixture of wine and gall (Matthew 27:34)

Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen to my neck.

I have sunk into the mud of the deep
and there is no foothold.
I have entered the waters of the deep
and the waves overwhelm me.

I am wearied with all my crying,
my throat is parched.
My eyes are wasted away
from looking for my God.

More numerous than the hairs on my head
are those who hate me without cause.
Those who attack me with lies
are too much for my strength.

How can I restore
what I have never stolen?
O God, you know my sinful folly;
my sins you can see.

Let those who hope in your not be put to shame
through me, Lord of hosts;
let not those who seek you be dismayed
through me, God of Israel.

It is for you that I suffer taunts,
that shame covers my face,
that I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother’s sons.
I burn with zeal for your house
and taunts against you fall on me.

When I afflict my soul with fasting
they make it a taunt against me.
When I put on sackcloth in mourning
then they make a byword,
the gossip of men at the gates,
the subject of drunkards’ songs.

What an amazing psalm to read in the middle of the Lenten season! What an insightful and powerful Spirit guided the hand that ordered the Hours in such a way.

Part of my Lenten obligation for this season was a commitment to begin praying the Liturgy of the Hours more completely and in order to do that I reasoned that it was about time to get the prayers off of my phone and into my hands in physical book form. Last week, my Christian Prayer book came in and since that time I have been that busy Catholic with book tabs and prayer cards marking the various points of prayer through out the day. Having the large book and making a real attempt to pray the Hours entirely means that I have to lug the thing around with me wherever I go– including work. Right now the book sits on my desk with me and I have had some people ask about it. A few times I’ve walked around my work with it in my arms (usually headed toward a quiet spot to pray a particular hour) and I’ve heard some sneering. A big thick red book with gilded pages, coloured cloth book tabs and gold lettered “CHRISTIAN PRAYER” in the front, it becomes pretty obvious that I am carrying some sort of religious book around. The prayers themselves have caused me to “burn for zeal for [God’s] house” as we say in the psalm but they have also caused “taunts against [God] to fall on me.” This psalm speaks to me on such a deep level, it actually gave me a little shiver after I read it this morning.

Reflecting on the Way of the Cross this Lent (which is something I try and do each Wednesday after Low Mass in the evening), Jesus calls us to take up the cross and pick up the yoke. He assures us that “my burden is light” but the devil is literally in the details here, because the Evil One is the reason Christ has to remind us that the burden is light. Satan is always there to make things far worse, or rather seem far worse than they really are. But this psalm put that reluctance and that struggle into context and by context I mean it puts it right at the feet of Christ Himself. This is more than just a poem complaining about life, this is a person reaching up toward the Heavens and calling out to God, placing their burden and their own struggle at the feet of God. What a powerful and moving sentiment. What a perfect image for the middle of Lent when our obligations and our own temptations are beginning to mount.

During this Lenten season there is no doubt in my mind that when you fast you will be taunted. When you wear sackcloth and mourn and deny yourself certain pleasures in the face of those who take no issue indulging during the Lent season, you will be taunted and call out. You will be made to feel small and worthless and made to feel as if the waters are indeed rising all around you. Your throat will become red and raw from crying out to God but this is what we are meant to do, this is how we deal with struggle in our faith. We lift up, we reach up and we lay our struggles at the feet of the Lord.

I feel that it is appropriate to end this reflection with the prayer from Morning Prayer (Friday, Third Week of Lent), which also the prayer I used today to close out the Office of the Readings.

Merciful Father,
fill our hearts with your love
and keep us faithful to the gospel of Christ.
Give us the grace to rise above our human weakness.
Grant this thought our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ in Social Media and Current Affairs

The world is a complex and a complicated place. There is a lot going on whether we are talking about the local level, around your community, the state/provincial level, the federal or national level and right up to the international community. In our modern age, we seem to be bombarded with current events that are happening all around the world. The 24 hour/7 days a week news cycle and the instantaneous nature of the internet have collided to bring every day people reams of information and data about the world around them; not just what is happening close to home, but what is happening literally on the other side of the world. This is both a blessing and a burden in disguise. Never before in the history of our humanity have we have such readily access to such a vast and articulated amount of information. Never before has the entire human race been so connected, so close. And yet, it seems, never before have we felt so far from one another, so isolated in our own little worlds and ideologies.

Social media plays a huge role in how we see the world– certainly a larger role that I think most Christians realize. In a world where information is boundless and accessible, we have built systems that serve to filter what we see and hear and this in turn creates pockets of intense ideology and thought often with little or no dissenting opinions or ideas among the ranks of followers and collaborators. Take Twitter for example. Users are able to curate their own list of followers, they can block (and are encouraged to block) users which opinions or ideas that they do not agree– opinion and ideas that are fleshed out in 280 character snippets, leaving much to the imagination in most cases. If you are a Marxist, chances are your followers and people you follow lean along the same flavour of the political spectrum and chances are you are validated over and over by fellow Marxists, content in your own comfortable worldview without ever feeling challenged in your opinions and formulations on the activities of the world. This is not necessarily a good thing and from a Christian perspective I would like to unpack that issue a little here.

Anyone can create a social media account and begin spreading their thoughts and opinions on the internet. This is a good thing. It is wonderful to see such a broad range of opinions and diversity of those participating in the discussions. But what also comes from this is the fact that consumers of user generated content are left holding the bag to determine what is false, true and actually worth exploring more. Tweets generally do not contain enough information to dive deep into issues and explore all sides of a coin, generally they are short, snappy statements that capture a sentiment related to a larger concept or idea that is shadowed in the Tweet. This rapidly makes the fact that anyone can create an account a bad thing. Often the most retweeted and popular remarks on Twitter are not from so-called subject matter experts, but from clever users who are able to capture the perfect balance between wit and common sense in a 280 character Tweet that is relatable to the broadest group of people.

So what can Christ teach us about social media? Perhaps it seems a little silly to ask that question. Literally no one in the Bible had a Twitter or Facebook account. Jesus did not take selfies during His Sermon on the Mount to share on his Instagram account. Saint Peter didn’t create the hashtag #RealMessiah to share the Good News with his friends and family. And #HeIsRisen certainly was not trending in the aftermath of the Resurrection. But Christ does have a lot to teach us about the use of social media in our lives and the formation of our opinions on current affairs around the world. For the average Westerner, the message from Christ regarding these things may be a little hard to swallow, because in this age of social media and the internet, we’ve come to believe that as humans we are all little gods who are entitled to opinions and ideas based on the sheer fact that we are capable of cooking them up in our brains.

The first, and obvious, lesson that Christ teaches us about our use of social media as Christians is that we ought to comport ourselves online in a manner that does not permit us to surrender the fundamental aspects of our faith. Namely, our Tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook likes and Snapchats should be aimed at the glorification of the Lord. The anonymous nature of being online does not change the fact that we are held to account for our actions individually, and as much as Twitter doesn’t know who you are when you Tweet, God does. And regardless of the username and the creativity of the fake name you’ve used, God knows everything that you have said and done online. Everything. Even the “in cognitio” feature of Google Chrome cannot withstand the all seeing eye of God. The same rules of how we ought to act among real people in the world apply to how we act around virtual people in the online social media universe. So ask yourself, does your online presence bring glory and honour to God and to His Son Jesus Christ? Do you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your online footprint, or do you hide behind a false impression of anonymity and become a little less Christian when sitting behind the keyboard? If that answer is a yes, you need to rethink your use of social media and perhaps consider this warning from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:

And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)

The second lesson that Christ teaches us about social media is about the content of what we share and the opinions that we are forming while we use social media. Especially for those of us who are maybe a little more political when we are online with our social media accounts. A concept that I have been fleshing out for a long time in my head, but have been unable to fully grasp, is the idea that Christ was killed by real geo-politics that were alive and well at the time of His ministry in Jerusalem. You had a Roman governor who was already in hot water with the emperor of Rome for having some issues holding down dissent within the region. No doubt, Pilate was not a fan of his tenure in the Middle East and we know that historically the man was a careerist who most likely wanted nothing more than to end his time in the Holy City without issue so that he could move on to bigger and better things in Rome. On the flip side we have the leaders within the Temple who represent a segment of Jewish society that are affluent and are willing to work with their Roman overlords in order to keep the peace and maintain their own power over the Jewish people in the region. It was the mutual intersection of the Jesus-problem for these two worlds that the cross literally comes to bear upon the world. It would have been difficult for Jewish leaders to seek the crucifixion of Christ from the Romans had the Romans not already been troubled by any sort of dissent during the largest religious festival of the year at the time. Equally, it would have been hard for the Romans to assert their authority in the punishment and eventual killing of Christ had the Jewish authorities in power at the time in that region not wanted to work with the Roman leaders in order maintain the status quo. The death of Jesus in Jerusalem can easily be explained from a historical perspective using a cursory understanding of politics and specifically geo-politics that was present at the time of Christ. But what does that say about politics in general? I think it is a lesson of what happens when the wishes and desires of mankind (which are the driving force of all politics) do not include Christ. When we remove Christ from our political lives, we contribute to His death on the cross– and to add injury to insult, often under the guise of a well-intentioned policy or idea. Because no one would deny that keeping the peace during a large religious festival is a bad thing– unless in that process you murder the Son of God.

How often do we remove Christ from our politics? In the Western world, I would wager that for most of us it happens all of the time. Indeed, the vague concept of separation of Church and State has seemed to manifest itself into a public policy process that is completely void of Christ and worse void of almost any sort of Christian inspiration or basis. Given what we unpacked earlier, this is a dangerous road to be heading down. Separating the Church and the State when it comes to having an official state religion or having civil leaders who are interchangeable with religious leaders is one thing (and something that is good and Christian actually), but separating the State from the Church when it comes to how we individually formulate our ideas and opinions on matters of current affairs is dangerous and entirely unChristian. And I go back to the sentiment that I expressed earlier in this post; never before have we had access to so much information, so many events to form opinions and ideas over. For the Christian who has removed Christ from that opinion formulating process, it can all seem very confusing and overwhelming. Which is exactly why we need Christ in our lives and in the formation of our political understanding of the world. For example, perhaps you are confused over the migrant crisis and the issue of immigration to help those around the world who are poor and in need. Perhaps you are having trouble finding a balance between welcoming these people in need and the security of your own country. And yet, Christ is clear on all fronts regarding this issue. We are to help the poor. And if our brother strikes us, we are to turn the other cheek. Very clear. A funny thing happens when we bring Christ in our political realities, things start to fall in place and the path becomes very clearly illuminated. Albeit, no easier to walk and actually put into action (which is I wager the hang up for most people). The bottom line is that Christ teaches us that in our use of social media and specifically when formulating/sharing our opinions we must include Him, otherwise we are lost and confused without a compass to guide us through these current affairs.

Lent is the perfect time to reflect on how we are using social media as Christians and how we are formulating our opinions and ideas about the world around us. Do we cut Christ out of the equation? Do we find that we are lost and confused when it comes to working how we think and feel about a particular issue of the day? Do we profess to be Christians in the pews but rapidly lose that sentiment when we are typing on our phones in the church parking lot? Perhaps it is time to invite Christ into our political lives. Perhaps it is time to ensure our social media accounts and online presence is reflective of the Christian nature of our real lives. We also focus on fasting from certain foods during Lent, and this is an old tradition. But I propose an idea, perhaps we can start to consider fasting from social media and the internet. Just as food nourishes our body and can be bad for us if we eat bad food, so too does social media nourish our brains and souls and can be bad for us if we consume bad social media. Perhaps this Lent, consider fasting from social media and the internet. You might be surprised what starts to happen with your relationship with Jesus.

God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.
Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the  government leaders around the whole world.
May they always seek
the ways of righteousness, justice and mercy.
Grant that they may be enabled by your powerful protection
to lead our country with honesty and integrity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.