Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Tale of the Faithless Bride

The story of Hosea is one of the most difficult in the Old Testament. God told him to pick a woman of ... poor reputation and marry her. He gives her a good life. She cheats on him. A lot. She leaves him. She gets into trouble and gets sold into slavery. And God tells Hosea to buy her back and take her home with him again. How would you like to be that guy? Instructed to marry a woman who's going to cheat on you. But there was a reason for it:

All of this is a living allegory to show Israel how God feels about Israel.

Moses told them, "The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples" (Deut 7:7). In fact, God chose them before they even were a people. He took a barren old couple with no prospects and not only made them prosperous but gave them descendants. These descendants were slaves in Egypt with nothing to offer him; he freed them and gave everything they could ask for. They immediately start worshiping idols. He corrects them again and again, but each time they go back to whoring after other gods. Finally they get taken off into slavery. But there is a remnant that God brings back to him.

And all of this is a living allegory to show us how God feels about humanity.

God made special, unique creatures and put them in a literal paradise. They were charged with ruling the planet in his place. From dust to regents for no good reason. And they rebelled. God pursued them, and they rebelled again. Again and again. Though they were to be kings, they sold themselves into slavery to sin and the devil. So God bought them back at the cost of his own blood. Again there is a remnant, those he has kept for himself, who God brings to himself, making them now not regents but princes, children of God and the bride of Christ.

It's been asked why God put so much work, so much energy into caring about what happens in a tiny strip of land in a corner of the Middle East. But that tiny strip of land shows the whole world what God is like.

And somewhere, someone — perhaps angels, perhaps someone else* — may be wondering why God puts so much work into caring about what happens to a tiny pale blue dot orbiting an insignificant yellow dwarf on the edge of boring galaxy. But that pale blue dot shows the universe what God is like. He chooses to place his affection on the unworthy and pursues them until he has perfected them "in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace" (Eph 2:7).

*If you haven't, I highly recommend reading CS Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The New Testament Out of Order

After I put together a reading plan to introduce my kids to reading the Bible for themselves, our pastor asked the congregation to join together and read the New Testament in 90 days. [sigh] OK.

It's really doable. The plan (pdf) involves reading 3-4 chapters most days, and some days you only read one or two. We're talking 10 minutes a day or less for an average reader. I'm encouraging my kids to do this because the whole church will (hopefully) be participating.

Unfortunately, I hate reading the synoptic gospels back to back to back. It feels too repetitive (which is funny considering I read 2 Timothy straight through every day for the last week).

But there's nothing divine about the order in which the books of the Bible are arranged. In fact, we know that our order of OT books is different than the one used in Jesus' time. The traditional NT arrangement gives primacy of place to the gospels, but the remaining books are arranged more or less on size.

So I decided to work out a thematic arrangement of the NT books, groupings built around one of the gospels.

Group 1: Matthew, Hebrews, James, Romans, Ephesians
The first three are the most "Jewish" books in the NT, so it seems fitting to put them together. But they have a heavy emphasis on obedience, so the faith/grace emphasis of Romans (also written to a Jewish audience) and Ephesians provides a counterweight.

Group 2: Mark, 1-2 Peter, Jude, Galatians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy
Mark is traditionally seen as Peter's gospel, so I group it with Peter's letters. Then forming a group around persecution, false teachers, and the end times seems natural.

Group 3: Luke, Acts, 1-2 Corinthians
Luke and Acts go together like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. But they're huge, so this short list actually has the most chapters. The letters to the church at Corinth fit the "gentileness" of this section.

Group 4: John, Philippians, Colossians, 1 John, Titus, Philemon, 2-3 John, Revelation
Grouping John's gospel and letters is natural. And while all the gospels reveal that Jesus claimed to be divine, John's gospel puts it on giant billboards with flashing lights just like Philippians and Colossians (and Revelation, for that matter). Titus, also, calls Jesus God in the plainest of terms. I put Philemon here because it traditionally goes with Colossians. (Reading Philemon and 2-3 John on the same day helps keep this within the 90 days.)

So to anyone who's ever gotten to Mark or Luke and thought, "Ugh, this story again?", I offer this reading order as an alternative. And if you have never been bothered by it, reading them "out of order" still may make the familiar feel new again.