The Political and Social Thriller We Call God’s Word
by Jane Tawel
June 26, 2018
Recently a Facebook chum posted a message by a preacher who is well known, and who has a lovely accent. In this message, this preacher, whom I have enjoyed tuning in to occasionally on the radio, boldly proclaims that Christ did not preach a Gospel that calls people to address the political, social and economic issues of our times. This of course could not be more wrong. In fact it is frighteningly wrong, if you read the Bible with the intent of understanding it as God’s ultimate plan and message for the world and all the people who live in it. This sort of idea that Jesus doesn’t mean us to preach or live a “social” gospel could only be spoken by and clutched at by rich, privileged people – like us. There are many stories of people in the Bible who preach this “good news” and they are never on the right side of God. We must remember that Jesus was not one of those privileged, rich, majority rule people. Quite the opposite. We also must remember that Jesus preached a very political and social message and it got Him killed by the state and the religious rulers of His time. Some of us wear a cross to remind us of this agenda of Jesus’ – or rather it is one important reason as to why we should wear it, I think. We who believe, must accept that the cross is Christ’s and symbolizes not how we should die but how we should live, and in “taking it up” as we are admonished to do, we also take up His agenda. He is quite clear on our necessity to do this if we want to claim to know Him and be known by Him.
There are many people throughout the centuries who have written on how we should read the life of Christ and especially how we should read the Hebrew Bible which is what Christ based His message and life on. I encourage those who believe the Bible to be God’s inspired Holy Word to us, and who want to dig deeper into who Jehovah is and what The Christ means to us, to read them. However, I also encourage anyone who believes that the Bible is merely an interesting tome of collected essays, stories, poems and proverbs, and myths to read the Bible and perhaps some other books that illuminate what God’s and therefore Jesus’, messages from another Place and Time are to us in this place and time. But far beyond that suggestion, I encourage all of us – self included – to step away from judging and reading the Bible as something I and others can “use”, or something I need, or something that will “prove” something, and especially to not read it as something that will make me feel better about what I am not doing. Perhaps it would be helpful at this juncture on history’s timeline to read the Holy Scriptures as we would any great book.
Perhaps we should step away from what we think we want to find there and read the Bible as we might read any great work of literature. Because in all great books, you will find a deeper meaning, a truth, a light for the journey. In great tales we find people like us, people like we want to be, people like we don’t want to be, and perhaps a small inkling that when we put the book down, today could be different. When we read a Great Story, we can be changed. I might walk away from a book and think, perhaps today my small life could be lived in Epic Proportions. In fact that is exactly what The Bible says; that an act as tiny as the offer of a cup of water to a person in need, has reverberations in the world that change history. Perhaps, my life is, in reality, being played out in an alternate world, something greater with possibilities that only a hero could accomplish and for which the true meaning of will only be revealed at the end of my story. In fact, this too is what the Bible says; we can all be queens and kings with many crowns, but the crowns aren’t earned the way we think they are. It is truly a very odd story, this story between the pages of the Bible.
Suggestion: Read the Bible as you would read Tolkien’s Mythological Trilogy, Madeleine L’Engle’s Sci-Fi, or C.S. Lewis’ retelling of Greek Myth or his Space Trilogy. Step away from reading the Bible as either personal devotion, or as merely a book with some decent rules to follow, or for some, as a weapon that has been used against you; and read it as a super great collection — a hodgepodge really — and a tale, although without fairies, about what is Really Real, if only we could catch more than a little glimpse of it. Read the Bible as it was written, in mythological form, which as even the unbelieving Joseph Campbell knew is more important and true than history. And as all great saints have known, myth, metaphor and poetry are the only practical way into The Truth. True Truth must always in the end and ultimately be written as metaphor, symbol, story, poetry, and lived as model or example. We have only to look at who we love most in the world to know that.
This idea of the Bible as somehow “going beyond” what we think we know, is especially true for anyone who believes we are a fallen race; an incomplete, unfinished creation; a longing for Utopia people; a planet diminished by an original great Evil event; or at minimum, individuals who are,–depending on your Point of View –sinful, weak, broken, limited, yin and yang, good and evil. The Bible holds truth that is true for anyone who believes that there is something unique but not perfect about being Human and that there is also Something, Someone, Other Things, that are not humans – that are not Us.
The fact that I use the term, Point of View, or POV, should not be lost on us, as that is a literary term one must always grapple with when studying a book, an hypothesis, history, or human relationships. Some of us believe that Scripture has been written by men and women but somehow mystically given or “inspired” by Jehovah, one true God above gods; therefore, the Bible is from God’s POV. Others believe that the collection of writings in the Bible are all reflections of the POV’s of the authors who were all creating ways to think about, talk about, and write about their relationship and understanding of each other and an “Otherness”, they called God.
Now the other thing that changes the reading of the Bible, is my own individual Point of View. I have a rather large collection of books that my husband kindly reminds me I have already read. I sweetly remind him right back, that I may some day want to re-read them. I wake up each day with a slightly altered POV, and therefore, rereading a book, especially the great ones – is always a delightfully new learning experience — a stepping in a new part of the flowing stream, so to speak. I highly recommend a little experiment in reading the Bible, or for many of us, in re-reading it; an experiment in what we would learn and discover if we re-read the Bible from a different Point of View.
So here is a suggestion. Read the Bible as if it has been written to show us what is really going on among the powers that we can see and those we cannot see; between the mystical, spiritual powers both within us and without, but also the very real powers both politically and socially that the Bible simply calls This World. Read the Bible stories about both the powers that fight for others (Good), and those that conversely, fight for selfish gain (Evil). Read the Bible as if it is written to show us what was created as a perfect planet, and what we might have again in a perfect world if only we fight for it as Jesus did. Read it like I do all books that reveal the dystopian leanings of all of us and with the desire to not remain at peace with the increasingly dystopian world that is indeed very political and social. Read Scripture as if there really is an ultimately knowable and clear and constant line between what is Good and what is Evil, what is Truth and what is a Lie, what is on the side of Justice and what is Greed, what is Demon-like and what is God-like. Read the Bible as if there are heroes who have hubris and who fail, but who in the final judgement, end up on the side of Good, and on the side of the very social and political King of the Humans, Jesus. Read the collection of writings in the Bible, as if there are seemingly beautiful, lovely, nice and successful people who are actually when revealed by The Author, not as they appear and can even be completely corrupt and horrifying; or those characters who make the famous and powerful their idols and live lives sycophantic and servile to what will one day be revealed as Evil. Look at the Bible characters as you would those from the great myths we like to read – Gollum, Boromir, Elwin Ransom, Meg Murray, Sam Gamgee, Arwen, and on and on. And then cast yourself in your own story. Who do I want to be? For those of us who say we want to be “little Christs”, i.e. “Christ-ians” or have the “character” of Jesus, well that means we will be very involved in the stories of our times. Because Jesus was. That is what makes Him the most unique and perfect King and His Story the greatest among all the stories ever told
I have respect for the Christian speaker, who is trending now with this message on what we are to do about the current political and social problems of our time, but he could not be more misguided in his point of view, if he is talking about Jesus’ “Good News” or Yahweh’s “Good News” to His people. The messages of The Others in Great Stories and the messages of Jehovah and Jesus in The Story of course always have to do with “social issues”.
As an “uber-individual-as-that-which-matters” and information as cure-all culture, we have difficulty seeing what is in one great story, behind the curtain, and in The Bible Stories, seen only as through a cloudy glass; but we will of course — frighteningly– still be held accountable for living in our particular part of the story, even though we can not clearly see or completely understand.
At the end of all stories, comes the final reckoning, or as we say in literature, the Climax followed by the Dénouement. We can look at Christ’s teachings and actions to understand that ours is a very social and political journey, as well as a personal, familial, and communal one; but we need look no further than what the Bible says will be the Denouement for the Earth. There is a story that is written in the last book of those collected in the Bible – a dreamlike, symbolic, mythologically proportioned book simply called “Revelation”. In this vision given to a follower of Jesus, Christ’s criteria for judgment is indeed very “social”. We are called to read the words in the Bible and to figure out our relationship to The Christ and The Creator/ Father and to know that the “Gospel” is all about what we do and who we really are in our deepest selves – our souls. Revelation of course means To Reveal The Really Real and this book of John’s is about finding some keys, some clues so we can know a little bit more surely, that there is a real and true Kingdom on Planet Earth that we must as human beings strive to live in as other beings do in God’s Heavenly realms. We are to live with others as imperfect fallen created beings, who are still trusting that if we practice holding things lightly in our hands as Mother Teresa encourages; practice radical generosity and love as the Hebrew idea of Jubilee; practice faith that there are many things unseen being lived out among us; practice radical love of enemies and trust that Someone radically loves us; if we go into the day’s battle to die to self but live to Christ as that great Hero Paul did; if we live out His Story in our history; then and only then are we really real in a really real alternate Reality.
We are not created nor excused to live an individual “salvation”. There are no truly great stories written about a hero who lives only for his own individual gain. Do you really want to be cast as Gollum in your story? We find self-obsessed nihilistic stories incredibly depressing for a good reason. We may live our lives quixotically; we may end up bruised and battered and momentarily defeated, but we must not think that we are meant to stay in a corner reading good stories that help us as individuals. We are meant to Be The Story.
We are called to live socially, politically, spiritually, emotionally, physically and relation-ally, moment by moment just as we were “once upon a Time”, in The Beginning intended to live. We are meant to journey with companions together in upside down commitment to the world – the whole world – the oceans, the Syrians, the Guatemalans, the honey bees, the soybeans, the birds of the air and the puppy dogs, the people who look like us and the people who don’t, the people who talk like us and the people who don’t, the people who believe like us and the people who don’t.
IF we choose the right way to read The Stories, and the right characters to emulate, then in God’s Point of View, we will have earned the right to enter into His Eternal Story, The Story that Will Never End. And this is the story that our characters were created to be a part of from The Beginning. Any of us who want to speak as emissaries of the Good News and who venture to speak for the Son of God must do so by servitude and love and this must be the Plot lines of our lives; because a story without action is not any kind of great story at all. To be like the radical characters of God’s Story, we must also live out these great actions without a thought for our own gain, without our own glory just like The King and Lord who wants the best for the world– in every dimension, lived His life. Jesus came to speak and live and rule for the least of the least, for the most undeserving, most home-less, poorest, most powerless. He came to live among us as That Character in our story. Christ is the God of the Epic disguised as the beggar at the door. We decide daily if we open the door to the beggar or not; we will not be told whether this time the knock at the door is just another beggar or in the Real Story is The God. This not knowing how my story ends must influence how I respond to the powers of this world and to the powerless of this world. My answer to the knock at the door must always illuminate who I really am in today’s tale, because it did Jesus.
One of the Great Books is Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. In the novel, Juster explores the many facets of influence that one’s Point of View has on oneself and on others and on the Truth. Juster says as Christ did, that it is best if we stay as child-like as possible for as long as possible. Jesus, says, “Come and snuggle in, and listen to My stories like a little child listens to stories. If you don’t become childlike, you can have no part in My Kingdom’s Story. If you do, you just might learn something and fight great battles; and then when you grow up, you just might do something of mythical proportions in My Kingdom which has no end.” In The Phantom Tollbooth, the protagonist, Milo is on a trip. Much like all heroes, the trip is a metaphor for Life’s Journey and Norton Juster uses an alternative world to show Milo, and the readers, what is truly True in our own world– if only we get childishly humbled enough to see it. At one time, Milo meets a boy who grows from his head in the sky, down towards the earth and so this character, Alex is waiting to grow up enough for his feet to touch the ground. As Alex floats along in the sky, and Milo walk, they talk about their disparate Point of Views.
Would it be possible for me to see something from up there?” asked Milo politely.
“You could,” said Alex, “but only if you try very hard to look at things as an adult does.”
Milo tried as hard as he could, and, as he did, his feet floated slowly off the ground until he was standing in the air next to Alex Bings. He looked around very quickly and, an instant later, crashed back down to the earth again.
“Interesting, wasn’t it?” asked Alex.
“Yes, it was,” agreed Milo, rubbing his head and dusting himself off, “but I think I’ll continue to see things as a child. It’s not so far to fall.
As we get older, we may or may not realize that we do indeed have a constantly long, long way to fall. But little children realize that it is always much farther to fall if there is no one around to help. Jesus says, as the real – the true—the perfect – the future and present Ultimate Human Being and the King of Heaven and of Earth – that this world’s story must be read and then must be entered into like a child. And all children love to hear stories.
Just as Lucy finds her way into Reality and to Aslan, by walking through the Wardrobe Door, so can we. Pick up a Bible today and find a good corner to curl up in and read a great story of Good versus Evil, of heroes and gods, of battles and miracles, of queens and poets and serpents and giants and little boys who slay monsters and of the One True Present and Future King. Read the stories of saints and prophets, the poetry of artists, and the inklings of a world that is more porous and entered into by God and Other Beings, than we could imagine. Read God’s Word like a child who wants to learn how to live, not just for herself, but for a world in need of heroines in both great and small ways.
If you are like I, you would prefer to never have to “socialize” again and think it would be a wonderful day to just stay curled up and introverted-ly imagine a different and better world told in stories in a good book, like maybe the ones in The Bible. Some times we want to believe that we can be close to Jesus all alone in an imagined individual story. But as with any good story, if it remains just an idea between pages, then it isn’t really real at all.
We are not called to live a personal tall tale, but a radical, revolutionary, World-changing, Truth revealing, Mythologically proportioned social, political, communal, other-oriented, God-fearing, Good versus Evil battling, and miracle believing Epic Story. We are not meant to live as the protagonist of a story but as the image bearers of The Protagonist of All Stories.
If we want to claim the God of the Bible as the Author of our Point of View, and The Son of God, The Christ as our Leader, Hero and Lord, then we, in our own chosen place and time, must live out His Story.
Otherwise, our stories will not be worth reading. They will definitely not be worth “saving”. They will not make any one want to re-read our stories. They for sure will not be worth preaching about. And they definitely will not be The Good News of the Messiah King, Jesus. The Good News of Jesus is a great political and social thriller — the ending is to die for; the sequel — well, He left that up to us.
Read any Good Books, lately? If not, have I got a great story for you.