1 Samuel 16:1-13
We receive about five copies of The Light Magazine at the church. It is the successor publication to BC Christian News. I know the editor, Steve Almond, and have in the past written a piece or two for it. By and large it’s a good publication that seeks to serve the churches of the Lower Mainland. That being said, it is a publication that comes out of the Evangelical spectrum and so I try to have a look at it before we put it out – not that you could not judge for yourself.
I think it was the December issue that was dedicated to creationism and that issue we did not put out, it’s simply not a debate we need to have, simply because it isn’t a debate.
Do I believe that God created the world? Absolutely. Does it matter? Yes, most definitely, because if God created the world it exists in relationship to God, it is good (thus nothing to seek to get away from), and it is God’s and we are to till it and to keep it, which means that we are not to exploit it.
If we believe that God made the world, we must look at it differently than if we believed it came about purely by chance and we were merely an evolutionary accident.
But believing that God is the creator of all that is does not mean that the Bible is a science book that tells us how God created the world. When the Bible talks about creation it talks not about science but about relationship: God’s relationship with the world, and in turn, our relationship with God and with one another.
From the early church we learn that God created out of love. Gregory of Nazianzus says that it is the nature of love to seek objects to love. For the uncreated God, this means it is natural to create. Gregory says that ‘God must be poured out and go forth to multiply the objects of His beneficence….’ This also suggests that creation is not yet done. In the scriptures we see that creation and redemption are not only both activities of the same God but they are the same activity. We can see this in our reading from John where Jesus, in allusion to humanity being formed out of clay (Genesis 2), makes mud to put on the blind man’s eyes.
I know that the creation stories aren’t part of our readings but this is important to say because it highlights the importance of asking the right question. If you think the Bible is a science book, you will experience theories of evolution as threatening. If you understand the creation stories as witnesses to God’s nature which in turn impacts all relationships, then you will find that the biblical understanding can actually interpret theories of evolution. So, it’s about asking the right questions.
To some extent we have in the readings from 1 Samuel and from the Gospel of John people who look ask the wrong question or for the wrong things. Samuel is looking for the strongest man, the one he deems to be most fit to be king of Israel, yet God applies other criteria and calls the one who was not even among the candidates.
In John we meet the man born blind, his family, and the religious authorities.
The wrong question that is asked in this story is asked at the beginning. The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They do not focus on the person, nor on the person’s needs but on the question of laying blame. There has to be a reason, so it must be someone’s fault. This is very much in line with declaring AIDS God’s punishment.
The disciples are not the only ones who look at the world through the lens of sin. The pharisees are not excited that the man is able to see but they are excited that by curing the man Jesus violated the law.
When they question the man they cannot figure it out. Jesus cured the man, which makes him appear righteous, because only someone who is close to God could do such thing. On the other hand he appears like a sinner because he breaks God’s law by working on the Sabbath. They experience cognitive dissonance, which is why they do not appear to be able to agree.
But they experience cognitive dissonance because they ask the same question the disciples asked: Is he a sinner?, only that the pharisees ask the question about Jesus. But the question is the same.
They do not begin with the premise that whoever they encounter is created in God’s own image, Instead they ask whether someone is a sinner.
And because they are so fascinated by sin, they cannot see the work of God, they cannot see the light, and they are the ones who remain blind.
There are other ways to make the mistake the pharisees made. Shortly after we moved to Abbotsford City Council voted against Fraser Health’ harm reduction strategy. This meant no needle exchanges and no sharps boxes and a bunch of other things. The idea was that drugs were bad and that harm reduction was nothing but the supporting of addictions. They forgot that harm reduction protected the community by having addicts return needles rather than leave them in play grounds, that giving out clean needles not only reduced the cost to the health care system, but it also had the potential to keep people alive long enough to come to the place where they want to enter a treatment centre (if a spot was available). We had the same debate about safe injection sites. The question was, but it’s a sin, is it not?
The trouble with this approach is that it sees God primarily as law giver. But when God is reduced to the one whose rules are to be obeyed, we leave no room for grace which is at the heart of God’s being.
Perhaps we have experienced this in relation to things in our own lives we are ashamed of. Here too it is true that if we focus on sin alone, we grow our sin into something bigger than God, yet the opposite is true. There is no sin too great for God to forgive.
Jesus does not enter the debate of the pharisees. He is subject to the debate but he does not enter it. His question is not whether something is a sin but how he can bring about healing and sight. That is the irony of the story. The man born blind receives sight and not only his sight is restored but he is restored, while the pharisees are preoccupied not with healing but with sin.
The story tells us what God is like. God creates out of love and continues to create through God’s redemptive work. It shows us that while sin is relevant, it is not the perspective from which God approaches us. Thus it cannot be our perspective to approach life, the world, or each other. May we be a community of grace consistent with God’s redemptive work in Jesus.