What do we do when the bible doesn’t fit our expectations? When people are praised for killing their enemies? When God turns His back on His people even when they cry out for help? Or when God acts against His chosen people let alone against anyone?
What about when someone is healed by the faith of their friends? Or Jesus sets the example of eating with the very people we tell our kids to avoid? What do we do when the bible doesn’t fit our expectations?
I wrestle with this a lot in my field of study. The bible isn’t always consistent, it doesn’t always makes sense, and sometimes it makes us wonder. But usually, the problem we have with it is not a problem with God but with our own expectations.
The book I’m reading right now traces the difference between individualist and collective societies. Given three images – a baboon, a porcupine, and a banana – someone from an individualist society will pair the animals, a functional pairing, while someone from a collective society will pair the baboon and the banana, a relational pairing. It is hard for we individualists to think like a first century Jew, a collectivist. So the idea that someone else’s faith might strengthen the community (versus every person’s faith helps themselves) makes for a strange thought for Americans, the ultimate individualists. Yet it does. This fits with the difficulty we have reading the bible as a communal document rather than an individualistic letter or instruction manual. Yet this was not how Jesus, nor His audience, thought and processed the world. A man being healed by the faith of his friends makes perfect sense to them, as seen by the Pharisees’ reaction against not an anti-individualist worldview but by Jesus claiming to forgive sins.
“The bible was meant to be read, discussed, and even debated in community,” Klyne Snodgrass says. And that community must be global or we can’t understand the worldview of the scriptures.