Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Are you treating the Bible like Cinderella?

Years ago, Bill Moyers led a series of discussions on PBS called Genesis: A living Conversation in which a group of various authors, clergy, and scholars from diverse religious backgrounds discussed the Genesis narratives. This group read the stories at face value and grappled with what they found there.

Why, they wondered, did Abel die a brutal death although he obeyed God, and Cain get to build the first city although he was a murderer. This fact seemed much more troubling than Cain's actual act of murder. What hope is there for those who live in Abel-like obedience? What do you do with a story like this?

Reflecting on watching this discussion, John Sailhamer, an OT scholar, observes that

As I watched it, it occurred to me that, as evangelicals, the Bible may be our Cinderella. We have opened our homes to her, but we have relegated her to washing our dishes and scrubbing our floors. We have used her to make our lives theologically comfortable; and she, never one to complain, has remained faithful. But we have been blind to here true loveliness and oblivious to the possibility that others might see real beauty in her. As the series clearly showed, our Cinderella has been to the ball, and the glass slipper has been found. The king's men are now knocking at our door, searching for the beauty they have seen in "our" Scriptures.
Sailhamer then reflects on the fact that these unbelievers were taking the stories seriously and attempting to discern how these jarring accounts affect our reality. He wonders why Evangelicals waited for PBS to produce a serious, penetrating look at the book of Genesis:
The answer in part, I believe, is that we evangelicals have become adept at defending the Bible from its adversaries; we have produced a formidable and effective body of literature supporting our case. In the process, however, we have forgotten to ask seriously what it all means. Perhaps we mistakenly assumed that because no one was interested in the stories of the Bible, the stories themselves were uninteresting.
Sailhamer insightfully concludes, "We must look our Cinderella in the face and see her beauty. We must be willing to take her on her own terms--to live in her world, to see our lives as part of her world, and to seek to live according to it. We must not call on her solely to do the menial, and often demeaning, tasks of making our lives apologetically comfortable."

Having, sadly, read through many biblical narratives at a break-neck speed, I feel the weight of conviction when I read Sailhamer's words. He is spot on in his analysis, at least in my own experience. The church, of all people, should read these narratives closely, experience their complexity forcefully, and submit to the jarring reality that we find there consistently. We would do well to heed these words.

Here's to looking "our Cinderella" in the face and seeing her beauty.

All quoted material here comes from John Sailhamer, "What have they done to my Genesis?" in Christianity Today: January 6, 1997, pp. 46-47.

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