I’ve been reading the book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, by Brian Zahnd. Mr. Zahnd made an impression on me a few years ago with his book, A Farewell to Mars. That book helped me tremendously along my journey of being a struggling pacifist.
I’m about half-way through, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. It’s a play on words to Jonathan Edward’s classic sermon, preached in the 1700s, titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It’s required reading for every pastor who has ever taken a homiletics course.
In his book, Mr. Zahnd discusses how to deal with the Old Testament view of God being a God of incredible, intolerable, and unimaginable violence. What do we do with the image of God in the Old Testament as a warrior god? Like many others, I have struggled with that question. Zahn’s argument is based on the following truth: Jesus is the Word of God! Thus, the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, must be interpreted through Jesus. Now, Mr. Zahnd’s argument is more complicated and nuanced then that one statement, but that is the beginning point.
At the end of chapter three, there is a poem. I assume it was written by Mr. Zahnd. It’s a wonderful poem. It’s worth the price of the entire book. The title of the poem is “Reading the Bible Right.” I have reprinted it here, without his permission, but I am giving in full credit.
It’s a STORY
We’re telling news here
Keeping alive an ancient epic
The grand narrative of paradise lost and paradise regained
The greatest “Once upon a time” tale ever told
The beautiful story which moves relentlessly toward—“They lived happily ever after’
Never, never, NEVER forget that before it’s anything else, it’s a story
So let the story live and breathe, enthrall and enchant
Don’t rip its guts out and leave it lifeless on the dissecting table
Don’t make it something it’s really not—
A catalog of wished-for promises
An encyclopedia of God-facts
A law journal of divine edicts
A how-to manual for do-it-yourselfers
Find the promises, learn the facts, heed the laws, live the lessons
But don’t forget the Story
Learn to read the Book for what it is—
God’s great big wild and wonderful surprise ending love story
Let there be wonder
Let there be mystery
Let there be tragedy
Let there be heartbreak
Let there be suspense
Let there be surprise
Let it be earthy and human
Let it be celestial and divine
Let it be what it is, and don’t try to make it perfect where it’s not
This fantastic story of—
With its cast of thousands
More like a Tolstoy novel than a thousand-page sermon
It’s a Story because we are not saved by ideas but by events!
Here’s a plot line for you: Death, Burial, and Resurrection
Yes, it’s a story—not a plan, not an ology or ism, but a story
And it’s an amalgamated patchwork story told in mixed medium
Narration, history, genealogy
Prophecy, poetry, parable
Psalm, song, sermon
Dream and vision
Memoir and letter
So understand the medium, and don’t try so hard to miss the point
Try to learn what matters and what doesn’t
It’s not where and when Job lived
But what Job learned
In his painful odyssey and poetic theodicy
It’s not how many cubits of water you need to put Everest under a flood
But why the world was so dirty that it needed such a big bath
Trying to find Noah’s ark
Instead of trying to rid the world of violence
Really is an exercise in missing the point
Speaking of missing the point—
It’s not did a snake talk?
But what the damn thing said!
Because even though I’ve never met a talking snake
I’ve sure had serpentine thoughts crawl through my head
Literalism is a kind of escapism
By which you move out the crosshairs of the probing question
But parable and metaphor have a way of knocking us to the floor
Prose-flattened literalism makes the story small, time-confined, and irrelevant
But poetry and allegory travel through time and space to get in our face
Inert facts are easy enough to set on the shelf
But the Story well told will haunt you
Ah, the Story well told
That’s what is needed
It’s time for the Story to burst out of the cage and take the stage
And demand a hearing once again
It’s a STORY, I tell you!
And you allow the Story to seep into your life
So that THE STORY begins to weave into your story
That’s when, at last, you’re reading the Bible right.