Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A lovely theory of bias, beaten up by an ugly gang of facts...

When I was a junior in high school, back in the last century, my English teacher used to say about the Bible, "Remember who's telling the story." Every reporter has a point of view (not to say "bias"!), history is written by the victors, etc., and the Bible is no exception. As a naive 11th grader, I ate this stuff up; I believed that the Bible portrayed its writers in a favorable light (which is what I would do in print -- it's what I do in my mind all the time... just like you).

But then I ran into passages like this one from today's Old Testament reading:
4After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, "The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness." No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. 5It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
Deuteronomy 9:4-6
So here is an ugly gang of facts beating up on my English teacher's lovely theory:
  • Three times in as many verses, the text says the people of Israel are not getting "this good land" based on their own merit.
  • Four times in the same passage, the Lord is identified as the one giving them the land; their own strength or power is never credited.
  • The people of Israel are characterized as "a stiff-necked people," hardly a flattering description.
  • Finally, this is not a unique passage; the Bible has lots of passages that talk about how the people of Israel were weak and few in number (rather than strong, more numerous than the other peoples, virtuous, etc.)
So all that is very interesting, but what does it mean for you or me today? Well, if you believe, as I do, that these accounts of Israel aren't just history but also paint a picture of the church, then the short list above have points that you and I should remember when we are tempted to feel proud or self-satisfied. In particular,
  • Any blessing that we receive from the Lord is not because of our merit (righteousness or integrity)
  • It is not my own strength and power that brings blessings to me, but the Lord is the source of every good thing
  • In fact, we all have many flaws (whether or not the phrase "stiff-necked" applies to you or to me individually)
At the same time, when a blessing comes our way, when we receive a compliment, when someone recognizes some accomplishment the Lord has enabled us to do, or some area that the Lord has enabled us to grow in, it's fine to rejoice in that, so long as we don't forget to, in the words of the song,
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

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