Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Bible: An Awkward Family History

Why do we like awkward family photos displaying people who appear as if they just arrived from Transylvania, or the overly celebratory posse who thought it would be cute to wear pink bunny ears? Images tell us a story and sometimes we are telling more about ourselves then we realize. When we look old photos we see the strangeness and the oddity of our fellow family members, and perhaps our own dysfunction hiding beneath the surface.

Teenagers tend to have the meter for awkward genes turned on to full, so being embarrassed by your parents is the way of things. I like to jokingly tell my kids “it’s true you were adopted and your real family, the cool one who is rich and well adjusted, just called and would like you to come home.” All of us have at one time struggled with the awkwardness that is a part of family life. Growing to maturity is not possible without some weirdness.

One way to look at the Old Testament is
as a series of family stories and historical snapshots of how God started with a single dysfunctional family, Abraham and Sarah (an elderly couple) who had faith that God would give them a son through whom He would bless the whole world. Yet instead of a modern shiny production, the bible begins with the cultural warts and real failings of people, and in the middle of the mess God begins revealing Himself.

When most people decide to start reading the bible they often jump into the deep end with the Old Testament (the part of he bible before Jesus and the gospels) and before long they run straight into difficult stories about animal sacrifice, weird regulations on handling dead bodies, a law on honoring your deceased brother by marrying his widow so as to have a son, and truly awkward family stories including Abraham repeatedly trying to pass off his wife Sarah as his sister to avoid confrontation, leading to some major compromises. But here’s the thing: let’s not judge another culture by our standards today.

Not unlike your high school calculus teacher, who mercifully does not pile unknowable equations on you the first day of class, God did not unload the whole plan for humanity at the start of his dealing with people. Instead, like any good teacher, He began where people were at. We might think God should show up and say, “now everybody let’s get a democracy happening, forget the patriarchy, wiping out your neighbors, and multiple wives thing, it’s time for a few barista lessons and a lot more equality,” but perhaps that’s our ethnocentric view filtered through our present culture.

The fulfillment of the rescue plan is found in Christ, so that if “you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God's promise to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3:29). So faith is an opportunity to switch to a different family, one with guaranteed blessings, riches, healing and the promise of dwelling in the Father’s household for ever. Plaid pant suits and bunny ears optional.

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