So this is the “year of the bible,” or it’s supposed to be according to someone. I have no idea who decides on these things but I’m thinking that if I ever got volunteered for that committee I would subsequently be ejected with all due haste. In any event, hearing that this year had been designated as that by those in the know reminded me of one of the great “here’s how we should think about the bible” passages that I grew up with, towit:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12,13)
So yeah, that is how most “bible believers” think about the bible, and the mental image I also had of it growing up: as a sword doing those things that swords do, in this case including judging us because this is, after all, a metaphor regarding the way God wants to weaponize their word. But I find myself wondering if this is actually how the author is suggesting we really think about it? Keep in mind that the bible he’s talking about is the Old Testament, the law and the prophets and the writings. Here’s what he has to say about that as he sets the tone at the beginning for the rest of the book:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (1:1,2)
That is, if you’ll excuse the expression, a big but. That’s how God used to speak to us. We’re on to a new reality here, something characterized by things like entering God’s rest and being freed of the slavery of our fear of death. Allow me to side-step into a geek moment and say that although nobody knows who actually wrote Hebrews, I’ve always thought of them as a disciple of the apostle Paul. Death for Paul is code for living in a reality of shame and condemnation because you think you’re still subject to religious rules, which is why he can speak of the Old Testament law (specifically the 10 commandments) as the “ministry that brought death,” because it is the “ministry that brings condemnation.” (2 Cor. 3:7-9) It seems to me that the author of Hebrews agrees when he speaks of the work Christ did for us as cleansing our conscience from “acts that lead to death.” (9:14) That phrase is nekron ergon. Dead works, useless rituals: religious rites we think we have to perform to appease God.
So, I’m suggesting that perhaps we can read the passage in question differently from what we’re used to. What if the author isn’t affirming these aspects of the “word of God,” but critiquing them as the ways in which we used to think about it but should be over with in the new reality? Let’s be honest here: just how is it that we ever thought that being skewered by a sword and sliced up was a positive metaphor? That’s how people get killed. Spiritually speaking, that’s what will happen if you allow the “word of God” to make you feel judged for failing to comply.
So by all means, let’s make it the year of the bible. A time when we can finally get past thinking of it as God’s little book of rules to follow or else we’ll get spanked. After all, getting skewered and sliced in half makes it really difficult to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace. (4:16)