The central metaphor of Walter Brueggemann’s wonderful book, Theology of the Old Testament (1997 Fortress Press) is a court room drama. Testimonies from the scriptures of Israel are heard in support of God, but voice is also given to opposing viewpoints. He makes clear the theological tensions that existed in Israel over issues like the meaning of suffering, the causes of evil, and the mystery and ambiguity of God. Similar differing viewpoints exist today. There was a striking BBC/WGBH television drama called God On Trial, which portrayed a courtroom case in which a group of concentration camp prisoners put God on trial for the terrible suffering of the Holocaust. Many of the arguments for and against God from the Book of Job and others in the Bible were presented passionately. There was nothing intellectually detached about that debate.
The Bible speaks with different voices on many contemporary questions. The central task for Christians is to discern which are the human voices in the Bible and which Is God’s voice. Which are the voices bound by the customs and limits of their time, and which is God’s enduring voice? Just because the Bible says it is God’s voice does not make it necessarily so (remember Jesus: “You have heard it said … but I say to you”). We have faced similar questions before over slavery and the equality of women, and now we face the issue of the equality of gays and lesbians and transgendered people. There are Biblical texts against freedom for slaves, against women, and against homosexuals, but set against these is the clear voice of Jesus calling us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love even our enemies. Obedience to the word of God is not a matter of selecting texts which reinforce our prejudices, but rather is obedience to the living Word, the compassionate presence of the Spirit of Christ who dwells within us and calls us to the high road of love.
(Thanks to Mark Burrows for inspiring these thoughts at a presentation he recently made at Second Congregational Church, Attleboro.)