My first year of Bible Quizzing we did the Epistles. I was about seven or eight, I think. And I had to learn the term “lustful concupiscence”. To be completely honest, I’m not really sure what that is without Googling….okay, Wikipedia-ing it (don’t judge me). The inclusion of such verses bewildered parents of quizzers everywhere as they struggled to a.)help said quizzers pronounce the words and b.)explain this atrocity in terms that wouldn’t completely destroy their child’s fragile mind and innocence.
By the time I was in my last year of Juniors, the people in charge of quizzing material had wised up and opted to take out the back half of Romans 1, for obvious reasons that I won’t detail here, as they would probably turn up in some pretty risqué Google search results.
I love the Word. My favorites are the Pauline Epistles and the Major Prophets, loves that were fostered during my time at Gateway with some awesome related classes. The Epistles, I’ve learned, are a universal favorite across denominational lines, and with good reason. It’s the Gospel. Love and mercy and God’s grace. All the good stuff that God really wants us to know about Him and revel in. Even the Major Prophets, on occasion, can be found as a crowd-pleaser. I’ll admit that I’ve sought solace in Jeremiah 29:11 over and over again in times of trouble or confusion and it’s great for uplifting. We use it to outline Messianic prophecy and show how Jesus’ arrival really was the fulfillment thereof. But a lot of times, not always, that’s it.
I’m not into fire and brimstone. Understand that now. I understand that on occasion, reproof is necessary, and that’s fine, but I’m totally not for beating someone upside the head with judgment by any means. And this is true for many, many people. Modern Christianity has focused on the good things in the Bible and for this I am incredibly thankful. These are things that people need to hear. However…
When I was in late middle school to early high school, I got a book about Cassie Bernall. Just to fill you in, in case you’re unaware, this is the girl who allegedly was asked during the Columbine shootings if she believed in God before being fatally shot. The book was interesting, inspiring, and absolutely chilling, to say the least. But because of its incredibly inspirational book, I read that book probably at least three or four times within a short period of time after purchasing it. On one occasion, I was sitting in my living room, and an older family member came upon my reading and asked me about it. As I went to summarize the book’s contents, I watched as the person’s face dropped. “I don’t feel like you should be reading that,” they matter-of-factly informed me. I was perplexed. What followed was an explanation of what exactly was wrong with my reading, backed up with a scriptural reference to prove the point.
“ Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” –Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
In summary, my problem was this. The book was sad; devastatingly so. And hence, it was not of a good report. And therefore, I, as a good Christian teen, should not be partaking of things not of a good report, including, more specifically, my book.
Granted, this story is slightly ridiculous and (hopefully) not a typical scenario per se. But the mindset is one that is, in fact, very present. A lot of times, in a search to highlight the good in the Bible, we’ll candy-coat it. We’ll paint the Bible as this pretty, perfect thing, filled with rainbows and sunshine. And the Word IS perfect. But the rainbows and sunshine are NOT ever present. The Word is graphic. The Word includes faults and flaws and tales of real people doing some dirty, dirty things in pretty much any sense that you can think of. Loads of lustful concupiscence are scattered about! Because even though they’re in the Bible, those people were…well…people. They screwed up, just like people today. The Bible is violent. It’s overshadowed with a constant message of mercy and grace, but before frequently this grace is preceded by a ridiculous amount of gore and blood and guts and slaughter and judgment, particularly in the cases of the Major Prophets, or almost any Old Testament book for that matter. And that nasty stuff is just as important.
First of all, there’s that whole thing that we, as Christians, perpetually profess about God’s Word being fully, completely true; every word of it. Yes. Even the bad stuff.
Then there’s the whole thing about life not being perfect. Even for Christians. If you sell the Gospel solely with pretty words, what happens to the people who have loads of junk in their lives? What do they relate to?
And finally, there’s the accent factor. If you put a pretty thing in a pristine environment, the thing is still pretty. But your eye might not necessarily be drawn to the pretty thing in that environment so much as it would be in a less than perfect setting. When you have something perfect and clean in the midst of things that are messy and imperfect, it makes you more apt to look at the perfect thing and say, “Oh. That’s different.” God’s mercy and grace is accented by the fact that it comes out of things that aren’t pretty.
It’s the whole beauty from ashes thing.