Sunday, 9 September 2012

Framing Scripture II - The Big Picture

It seems to me that one of the reasons for the lack of meaningful communication between ("Christian") religious left and religious right is that the two groups are viewing scripture from within two very different frameworks. I would argue that these frameworks correspond to the two framing narratives around the whole of the Bible.

If you look at the first two chapters of the Bible they describe God's creation of the earth (in either literal or metaphorical terms, it doesn't really matter), and describe that creation as 'very good'. Mankind's relationships are wholesome and as they should be: with God, with one another and with the natural world. Peace and justice reign.

If you then jump to the end of the Bible, the last two chapters, they describe a world in which peace and justice once more reign: heaven and earth have been restored, relationships between God, mankind, and the natural world are as they should be. At the end of the story, as at the beginning, the world is very good.

To many on the left, or progressive, wings of Christian practice, this narrative of restoring the world by restoring relationships, by promoting justice and peace, is their guiding principle. Following the prophets, they proclaim the need for justice and compassion for the poor; they promote equal and just standing before God, and within human society, for men and women, black and white, straight and gay; and they emphasise proper and responsible stewardship of the natural world. This is all good, but incomplete.

If you move on to the third chapter in Genesis, you come to another, very different, framing narrative for the Bible. In this story sin and death come into the world, for God had warned them, "You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die." Yet eat they did (again, whether this story is to be taken literally or metaphorically is irrelevant - not least because creation before chapter three is so different from today that language is inadequate to properly describe whatever it was that happened in it).

Again, jump to the third chapter from the end of the Bible and this frame completes. The Fall is undone, but in the process the warning is fulfilled: "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire."

This second frame informs the worldview of the religious right, with their emphasis on sin and death and hell, but also their emphasis on the need for Jesus to provide an escape from that 'second death' through his death on the cross.

If you look at the world around you, and at the people around you, there is beauty and ugliness, good and evil, constructive and destructive behaviours all intertwined. Our world is in the grip of these two different framing narratives, of life and hope versus death and despair. And it is Jesus, through his death and resurrection, who provides the way from the inner narrative of death to the outer narrative of life and peace.

Also, the Holy Spirit provides the way for us to be a part of that process, a part of the transformation of creation from the death of Genesis 3 and Revelation 20, to the new life (here on earth, incidentally) of Revelation 21/22.
To be continued ...

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