Thursday, July 2, 2009

Is all Scripture Equal?

An Old Testament professor called attention to the pejorative use of "old," the term Christians use in referring to that part of the Hebrew Bible that is Christian Canon. His own efforts were aimed at encouraging me and my fellow divinity classmates to remove the blinders, the New Testament lenses, that prevent us from seeing the whole of Scripture as Canon, "old" or "new."

The question regarding the equality of Scripture is a good one. Do I as pastor or even participant, omit parts of a reading because of the needs of the situation? For example, there's a reading from the funeral liturgy in the Episcopal church from Lamentations 3, and verses 31 and 32 were the ones I once omitted as family member not as officiating clergy: 'For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief..."

So the idea of the Lord rejecting us (even though not forever), and God causing grief is tough to proclaim or suggest to a room filled with mourners. But this question brings others: Should we bend the reading to be pastoral and if so, when? Most of us choose from already selected texts what to read at a service based on the appropriateness of the text.

But is that the easy way out? In omitting parts of the reading for the needs of the situation, do I take away others' gift to hear the whole text, to struggle over it for themselves, and to make their own conclusions? Should discomfort with the apparent dissonances be something we expect others to handle for themselves, or should we make it easier by not dealing with that issue in a time of grief and bewilderment, a time that is already difficult enough. There are no easy, black and white answers.

With Lamentations, the cries of grief are written for us to read and hear. They represent the gut-wrenching, illogical, messy, angry, confusing process that grief is. In all our mental confusion, is it sometimes comforting, in a mysterious way, to know there is someone to blame: God? That's a cry to the One who created us to grieve. That's different than claiming God causes suffering, which many would hear mistakenly (in my opinion) as representative of an authentic Christian faith and theology.

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