Events which receive more than their share of news coverage are not my favorite topics for blog posts. However, this past week’s revelations of yet another politician’s infidelity offered one aspect worthy of comment (or so it seems to me). That is the use of the Bible as a means for reflecting on one’s personal situation in life.
There is a long history of just such usage. The pilgrim fathers who came to America read their situation into the Bible (or the Bible into their situation) with the result that white pilgrims were seen as fulfilling the role of the Israelites in this, the Promised Land, while native Americans were cast in the role of Canaanites. Thus generations of Joshuas arose feeling Biblically justified in the genocide of America’s native population. Some of that Biblical reading continues to echo in the popular imagination to this day. It was Bad theology in the 17th century and it is bad theology today. Stated in a fundamental way: you are not a Bible character.
This past week saw a sitting governor confessing his infidelity, choosing to stay in office, and reflecting out loud to his cabinet members about the story of King David. King David was, of course, guilty of adultery (and in the Biblical account it cost him the life of his child). It is a story of great repentance and internal suffering as well as the mercy of God.
But it is not a pattern story to which individuals are invited for their own comparisons.
The Old Testament is authoritative Scripture for Christians and has a history of interpretation by the Church. Largely, that interpretation is typological in character – its stories are seen as types and foreshadowings of the truth to be revealed in Christ Jesus. Thus Christ is the “second Adam,” and the opening chapters of Genesis are best read with that interpretive fact in mind. Had the pilgrims read the Old Testament correctly (in the light of the new) they might very well have applied the story of the Promised Land, but only as the Kingdom of God to which they might have gently offered as servants of those to whom they preached. The story does not bless a Christian to violate the commandment: thou shalt not kill. Holy war is foreign to Christianity and is heresy plain and simple where it is preached.
Some years ago I recall the story of an Episcopal priest who abandoned his vocation with a great flourish during the course of a Sunday service. The confusing detail for many was his explanation: he saw himself as Jonah – his Church as the sinking ship. The only way to save the sinking ship was to throw Jonah overboard. It seems not unlikely that whatever was the case, he needed to resign his position. But the story of Jonah is not about throwing priests overboard to save “sinking” congregations. It has a different meaning. It is better for a priest with a problem to seek help and repentance and not Biblical drama. The drama is delusion.
The problem with such use of Biblical imagination is that it simply has no controlling story. Nothing tells us which story to use other than our own imagination (which is generally a deluded part of our mind). A governor gets to play King David, and, surprise, he should be forgiven and not resign his office. A group of white settlers get to play conquering Israelites and feel no compunction about murdering men, women and children. A priest, likely in need of therapy, plays the role of Jonah before a crowd who has no idea they are in a play. The gospel is not preached – souls are not saved – the Bible is simply brought into ridicule.
For all of us – Scripture is relevant. However, its relevance should not come as a personal revelation that tells us which character we are within its pages. Such games seem frightfully like the games on Facebook: “Which ancient civilization are you?” or some such nonsense.
You are not a Bible character – other than the one indicated in the New Testament – those who have put their faith in Christ and trusted him for their salvation. Our conversion experiences are whatever they may have been – but the Damascus Road conversion of St. Paul is not required of any but St. Paul.
The behavior of pilgrims, priests and governors should be guided by the same moral teaching that applies to all Christians. There are no special circumstances that, as Bible characters, exempt us from the repentance and responsibility required of all. The words of Christ addressed to each and everyone are the same: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” If such repentance should cost us a political office or even a continent – so be it. This is the character we were meant to be.