Friday, May 6, 2011

Do I Really Need To Know About The Musicians?

"Why do I need to know that Heman son of Joel was assigned to be a musician in the temple?"  Questions similar to this one seem to crop up frequently in Chronicles.  Although this is a fair question, I think the way we handle these questions can say quite a bit about why we're reading the Bible to begin with.  So, let me give you a few reasons people might read their Bibles.

1) The Authoritarian
Obviously I'm making these titles up, so don't put too much weight on them.  That having been said, some people read their Bible because it is authoritative, meaning it has authority over us.  There is a very positive side to reading the Bible with this understanding.  Primarily, for Christians, scripture is our main source for knowing how to live.  It teaches us our boundaries.  It defines what is good and what is not, but the nature of authority can be misunderstood.  Governments have authority.  Police have authority.  Our employers have authority, and so we better take the time to learn all their rules so we don't break them.  Otherwise, punishment might be right around the corner.  When we take that definition of authority and carry it with us to the Bible, we end up reading the Bible as a rule book.  There is an obvious problem with this, however, and the problem is that the vast majority of the Bible is not legal code.  If the Bible is authoritative, rather then just specific parts of the Bible, we can't ignore or write off passages that tell us who was in charge of singing at an ancient, now gone temple just because it doesn't provide us with a rule.


2) Ms. Application
Ms. Application is always asking, "How does this influence how I live?"  This is slightly different than the Authoritarian because Ms. Application isn't necessarily looking for a rule by which to live.  Ms. Application is more concerned about how the Bible will help her make better decisions in difficult situations.  Sometimes the application is easy to see.  If Ms. Application forgot her purse but needs wet wipes for her daughter, she knows theft is not an option because, well, the Bible says not to steal.  But what about fixing Social Security?  There is no rule for that, but because Ms. Application rightly understands that being a person of the Bible should shape how she lives, what does the Bible say about such huge, complex issues?  How does it apply?  The problem here is the same as with the overly "rule" oriented person.  If a passage doesn't apply, it tends to get thrown out.  The reader is effectively saying, "Yes, the Bible is applicable...just not that part."  We're left with a dissected and disregarded Bible.

3) Mr. Moral Of The Story
I have to be honest in saying that this is me a large part of the time, so my view here will be biased.  Mr. Moral Of The Story is looking for the bigger picture.  What are the themes involved?  What is the plot?  Are rules involved?  Yes.  Is the moral applicable?  I sure hope so.  Where this approach can be helpful is in seeing how knit-picky details fit in with the story.  And there are no limitations with this approach at all!....  Like I said, I'm pretty biased toward this approach.  One the contrary, one limitation with this approach to the Bible is that it can become all about the reader.  In other words, the reader's response can become the authority rather than the Bible.  If I don't like the moral I'm seeing, I'm going to be tempted to tweak it in my favor.  Or, to put it another way, the Bible is a pretty complex book.  When God says that the greatest command is to love God and love your neighbor but then says to kill all the Canaanites, I'm going to be tempted to ignore or downplay one of those themes.  What I choose to overlook might be different than the rule or application person, but the temptation is still going to be there.

Obviously there are many other ways we can read the Bible.  We can look at it through a historical, literary, or allegorical lens, and all of them have their pluses and minuses.  But that having been said, when I come to a part of the Bible I'm not sure what to do with, I'm always reminded of what one of my professors used to say, "Learn to ask the questions the Bible is asking."  In other words, stop demanding that the Bible work according to your understanding and try to humble yourself to learn from the Bible.  Rather than asking, "Who cares who Heman is?" begin wondering, "Why does Chronicles put so much emphasis on everything related to the temple?"  If we learn to ask the questions the Bible is asking, we might discover it has quite a few answers to offer also.

Stopping point: I Chronicles 17

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