So, I was listening to a podcast…
I love podcasts. I listen to them when I work out, drive around, and throughout my day. It’s a wonderful medium to learn and listen in to the most amazing conversations. I like these conversations. I even started a podcast years ago to highlight the ones I’m having and we are having as a church.
While at the gym the other day I listened in to a conversation on The Armchair Expert between Dax, Monica, and their guest Pete Holmes. As they interviewed Pete about his family a story from the Bible came up. To describe his relationship with his mom, Pete described himself more like Jacob and his brother like Esau from the book of Genesis.
The conversation continued a bit more then returned to the Bible. Dax Shepherd refers to the story in Genesis when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion to God. This is the stopping point for him. This is the moment he puts the Bible down and dismisses it as ridiculous and irrelevant to modern life. Pete Holmes does his best share why he loves that story and how he sees deeper meaning.
I loved this! Two guys who create stories and comedy for a living were talking about the Bible and asking how or even if it should matter. I’m in. Turn it up. What’s going to happen? And it was a great conversation.
But there was something missing.
What was missing was someone who understands how to read and understand the Bible. I’m not knocking these two men. We don’t know what we don’t know. As a matter of fact, I think this is a conversation that happens a lot. One person expressing frustration with a confusing sacred text, and another who appreciates it at a deep level, but neither understanding how to actually read it.
Too many times the Bible is misunderstood simply because it’s a huge collection of writings with so much to say from a long time ago and we just don’t know how to read it.We also don’t understand what it is and what it’s trying to do. I’ve heard conversations where people were sure they knew what it was saying but missed the mark by a long shot.
I’m not saying I’m the “end all, be all” of biblical interpretation. But I do love it. I do study it. I’m always growing in it. And it’s disheartening when people miss the point of something simply because they don’t know how or why it matters. The Bible says a lot. And a lot of what it says is confusing. Which is why we have to ask…
“What does it mean?”
Then go full in, deep dive, research mode and work to understand it in its original context FIRST!
“When we open the Bible and read it, we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey. That journey was recorded over a thousand-year span of time, by different writers, with different personalities, at different times, under different circumstances, and for different reasons.”
Let me start by addressing this story…
The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is pretty popular in biblical lore. I say that to mean that many people who don’t regularly read the Bible or go to church know about it. And I’m certain many people have their way of making sense of it, rejecting it, or understanding it in terms of myth.
Basically, God tests Abraham by asking him to take his son to a mountain top and kill his in the name of God. This, despite Isaac being the fulfillment of a deeply held promise and commitment between God and Abraham. What did Abraham believe was going to happen? At face value we don’t know. Although, later we find out he believed God would raise his son from the dead.
Directly in the story we aren’t told how Isaac felt. We simply see he obeys his father, but wonders where the animal is for sacrificing. They get to the mountain top and Abraham binds his son’s arms and lays him on an altar. With knife raised, ready to plunge it into his son’s heart, Abraham hears the voice of God and is stopped. A ram is provided to sacrifice instead and God is happy with Abraham. I’m sure Isaac is pretty happy too.
This sounds insane. Ludicrous.
For many “Bible-believing” Christians this story is taken and trusted at face value. Although I doubt many of them would comply if God asked this of them, even though this is consistent with their view of God. For those who reject God, the Bible, Christianity, or religion in general this is fodder. It’s reasonable to assume that a god who does this isn’t a god we should worship. It’s a god who doesn’t understand love and has no credibility to teach them about love. But…
Understanding how the Bible works, what it is, and the context within which it was written changes everything.
The skeptic and cynic are right! A god who asks this of people is no god to love or serve or follow at all. Certainly no god worthy of worship. And that’s the point of the story.
This story wasn’t written last year. It’s an old story from and ancient mindset. Human consciousness has developed over time and with that development has come an evolved understanding of God. If I read this as an American in 2019 I’m horrified and confused and angry and frustrated.
This story was written in a time when gods asked for children to be sacrificed. This was not an absurdity for Abraham. This was actually in line with his only understanding of the nature of gods. If your village needed rain, you asked the gods for rain. If it didn’t come you sacrificed something. These gods demanded something of value. A life for life if you will. If you want your village to survive, sacrifice your child to the gods.
This is not our current understanding of how the God of the Bible, the one consistent with the character of Jesus, operates. As a matter of fact we know that this God turns this mindset on its head by sacrificing his Son.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is about a new understanding of a different God compared to all other gods. This God is providing a way out of the oppressive, violent worship of other gods. This God was pulling humanity in a different direction. Moving them further. Growing understanding. Developing their consciousness. Showing them a better way to be human.
If I was sitting with Pete and Dax this is how I would explain this story. I would hope it bridges a gap between the heart of God and the heart of a skeptic/cynic.
Understanding the Bible, as it really is, changes everything about the way we read and apply it to our modern world.
What now you ask…
I’d like to quickly give five questions to ask when reading the Bible to truly understand what you’re reading…
- When was this written and how did people see the world at that time?
- Where was this written and how did that culture view diety?
- Who is writing this and to whom, and how did they understand God and the world around them?
- Why was this written down and preserved at all by the author and readers?
- In light of what I know about Jesus, what does this tell me about God and the world?
I believe if we use these simple questions and search out their answers we will begin to view the Bible, God, Jesus, others, and ourselves differently. My experience has been one of openness and unexpected surprises in each book of the Bible. Every character comes alive when I ask these questions.
What are some tips, tricks, and ways you read the Bible to help you understand what’s really going on? Join the discussion!