The Authority of the STORY of the Bible
The Authority of the Bible, Part IX: How I Submit to the Overarching Narrative of Scripture
One way to understand the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) is by seeing Exodus as where it all begins.
What do I mean by “it?”
I mean, the story of an ancient tribe of people (aka, Israel) coming to see YHWH as not just the Most High God (bigger and better than all the other gods), but actually the One True (and only) God who created everything in whom total allegiance is due.
It is also the story of a God (YHWH) who chose to reveal himself uniquely to the Israelites for the sake of bringing justice and peace (shalom) to the whole world. God called Israel to a unique vocation, to be the light unto the world. Their light was to illuminate the heart and character of God for the sake of other’s well-being.
Or, as God told Abraham, “I will bless you... so that you will be a blessing to the world.”
Chicken or Egg?
Which came first?
God calling Israel to be his people? To be the human manifestation of divine goodness and mercy? Or,
The Hebrew people discovering the truth that there is but one God, and this God is good and holy and worthy of trust?
(And, in this scenario, who gets to be the chicken and who’s the egg?)
I’m not sure it matters, in the grand scheme of things, but back to this idea that Exodus is where the story begins. Exodus, you see, is the story of the Hebrew people’s great liberation from slavery in Egypt. It is the story of Moses receiving his calling from God (via that burning bush) to demand of Pharaoh the release of his fellow people. It is the story of God delivering Israel out of Egypt, in to the wilderness, and toward the Promised Land. And it is the story of Israel receiving (developing?) the Law that would set them apart as worshippers of YHWH.
So then, what about Genesis? The book of the Bible that comes before Exodus?
Some suggest we understand it to be the great prologue of the Torah. The Hobbit, if you will, to The Lord of the Rings. Genesis sets the table for Exodus. It imagines how the people of Israel came to eventually be the people of Israel. It captures the Jewish-flavored versions of ancient stories that many cultures had, such as: how the world came to be (Genesis 1-3); the Flood (Genesis 6); and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). The Jewish versions of these ancient myths/legends/stories were specifically told as a way to describe who YHWH is and what matters to him.
So then, if Exodus is where it all begins, then I believe the main plot line of Exodus carries significant weight.
Meaning, the fact that Exodus is the main thing, and the fact that the main story of the main thing is of liberation, of God rescuing humanity out of oppression and suffering, then I think this tells us a lot about who God is and what we can expect whilst being a part of God’s creation.
In other words, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the number one most important thing we might understand about God is that God sets the captives free.
If we call the specific story of Exodus the Ground Level, and the idea of “setting captives free” as the 5,000 foot level, then maybe we can say that the 10,000 foot level idea is that God is a God who moves continually away from evil and suffering and toward shalom and wholeness.
As true as gravity pulls things toward earth, the force of the Divine ushers us toward goodness.
The Overarching Narrative
In 1853 an abolitionist minister by the name of Theodore Parker gave a sermon in which he said,
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
Or, more popularly known from MLK’s summation, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”
This idea of the morality of the universe bending toward justice is, I believe, an extension of the earliest insights humans gained about their Creator.
Genesis sets the stage (the world was created out of love from a God who is good and trustworthy), Exodus establishes the narrative (when God sees injustice in the world, he works with humanity to set it to rights), and when people like Theodore Parker or Martin Luther King cast their sights in to the future they say, with reasonable confidence based on how the story started, that this whole project moves constantly toward shalom. Peace. Justice.
The author of Revelation had a similar revelation when he saw a vision of the heavens merging with earth to create a New World, a new reality where the lion lay with the lamb and where every tear is wiped away.
I submit to you, that if nothing else, the Bible is a compilation of centuries of insistence that God hears the cries of the oppressed and intervenes for the sake of justice, working through humanity for the purpose of liberation.
I submit to you that the overarching narrative of the Bible is that no matter how grim things get there is a God at the center of it all who is Love.
And since this is the case, we have reason to believe that things can and will (and ought) get better.
The Authority of Scripture’s Narrative in My Life
I share all this because one of the ways I submit to the authority of the Bible is by accepting this overarching narrative.
As I’ve been articulating in this series, to speak of the Authority of something is to name how we willingly submit ourselves to it (because it is good and worthy of our trust), and as such, we then permit it to have a guiding and correcting presence in our lives.
For me, one of the ways that manifests is by accepting the cosmic story that God is and will always be at work bending the universe toward Justice.
This week our country once again had to mourn the loss of another black body taken by the hands of cops who’s fingers are far too quick to the trigger. This shit is way past the point of “getting old.” It’s rotten, foul, and desperately needs to be something we start referencing in the past tense, mourning as days gone by, a period in our history that we have thankfully learned and grown from.
The fact that these things just keep happening challenge the notion of the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
With each Daunte Wright, George Floyd, and Lt Caron Nazario, I’m tempted to think the bend has broken, and we’re charting a new course toward a future with no shalom.
And while I certainly would not begrudge a person for ultimately landing in such a place, for me I can’t quite go there. For me, I’m still acquiescing to the Authority of the Bible insofar as it pertains to the Overarching Narrative I believe we all exist within. A narrative that has--at its center--a Loving, Merciful, Good Creator, and that has--in its sites for the future--a world that moves away from suffering and toward wholeness.
I lament, yes.
I fight against injustice, obviously.
I prophetically name the ways in which we’ve gotten off course.
I rail against the powers that harm the vulnerable.
I mourn the loss of life at the hands of senseless violence and unprocessed prejudice.
I do not bury my head in the sand with a pollyanna-ish demeanor of, “Oh well, c'est la vie, it’ll all work out somehow, some way, some day.”
No, because the story of the Bible is a God who liberates (yes!), but that liberation is done through people. In other words, to the extent that I enjoy any sort of peace, any sort of freedom, any sort of wholeness, it is only so that I might turn around and ensure that others have it, too.
That is the Biblical vision of a God who blesses people so that they might in turn bless others. That is the story of a God who hears the cries of the oppressed, then turns to those with ability, power, and strength, and says, “Yo, whatcha gonna do about that?”
So yeah, I believe in the Authority of the Bible because I believe that the Big Story it tells is both capital T, Truth and it is Invitational. Therefore, even if I wanted to believe differently--e.g., that the world is going to hell in a hand basket--I don’t get to. Its Truth sets me straight, and its Invitation extends to me.
In summary, I am guided and corrected by the Bible which insists, over and over again, that God is love, and that death, sin, shame, and injustice do not get the last word.
What do you Think?
I’ve tried to articulate a way in which the Story of the Bible functions authoritatively in my life. I wonder how it landed with you. Not so much, do you agree with me or not (feel free to share that, too), but more along the lines of the premise… does it make sense? Do you see how a story, a narrative, might somehow be “authoritative” in our lives?
I think we have to wrestle with that, because so much of the Bible IS story.
Wanna Talk About it?
Join me LIVE later today (Wednesday, April 14th) at 2pm Pacific where I’ll be reading from this article and interacting with you, the awesome cats who hang out with me!
Thanks for this, Colby. I have struggled lately to figure out what if anything I want to take with me from the Bible, and in a week like this one where it feels so hard to believe things can get better, this is a beautiful invitation to continue to hope and believe, in the midst of lament, that freedom is possible. And more than that, that I (and everyone else) do have a role to play in bringing it about even when it all feels too big. The Exodus narrative of freedom from captivity, of God intervening, used to be really meaningful for me and this return to it was lovely, thank you
As a postevangelical, I appreciate what Colby is trying to say here. However, the biblical narrative has so many cross-currents, that it's hard to boil it down to any kind of "unified field theory" of biblical interpretation. For example, what about the Kenite hypothesis, which posits that YHWH's history prior to Israel was as a Midianite war deity who was "imported" to Israel via trade routes from south of the Dead Sea to the hill country of Israel, just at that time in history when Israel was breaking away from their Canaanite brethren and needed a new national deity. We have to acknowledge that YHWH often acts like a pissed-off war deity. And what about Jesus' treatment of the Syrophoenecean woman, calling her a dog and telling her that he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel when prior to this in Matthew he almost tripped over himself to heal the servant of a gentile centurion? Sure doesn't sound like the Jesus we like to talk about who pays no attention to hierarchy. It also sounds like a big fat lie to me (Mark's narrative with the woman says Jesus was trying to get a little R&R so maybe he just needed a convenient excuse for her). My point is not to criticize because I don't know better than anyone else, but we have to leave fundamentalism in the wake entirely by being "painfully" honest with the text and not resorting to "see no evil" like fundamentalists do.