Chapter Thirteen: The Great Conversation
“Faith that Survives the End of the World”
The Great ConversationAbout 587 BC the 400-year kingdom(s) of the Jewish people were utterly destroyed. This also meant that the presence of God (which was seen literally within the Temple in Jerusalem) was in question. The nation, the religion, and in many ways the world itself had come to an end. In response, the people of God began to record the stories that would become our scriptures. The focus of faith become the Book rather than the Temple. And the world? Well, the world (or at least the way we make meaning in our world) must be renegotiated. Thus, the poets, musicians, artists, historians, priests, preachers, and prophets begin a Great Conversation which we, today, call “The Old Testament.”
The Great Conversation
The Christian Bible, as the “Word of God,” is our sacred, inspired, and multi-voiced conversation “inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Even if we recognize only the Old Testament as so inspired (as did the writer of 2 Timothy) we recognize that the voice of God in the Word of God is made up of a great variety of accents and contexts. We can also see that over the course of centuries represented in the Old Testament, the peoples’ concepts of God changed. It matured. And as a confession of faith we understand that the Bible does not just contain words of God, the library-of-a-book itself, complete with the messy thumbprints of transition, translation, and interpretation, is just as powerfully speaking the Word of creation even now.
Rather than requiring complete conformity and theological consistency, the Bible serves as a collection of sometimes differing opinions. Where Ezra/Nehemiah reports the need for ethnic purity and setting aside foreign wives, the book of Ruth tells the story of King David’s great-great grandmother … a foreign woman brought into the people of God.
One of the door-opening insights of serious biblical study and academic scholarship is that much of the Old Testament was collected, edited, and cataloged at a certain time in history and with an eye (and voice) toward a historical event. That even was the cataclysmic end of the Jewish world as seen in the exile.
By understanding this context of the collection and editing of the Old Testament we soon realize that God is up to something here. Not only is God up to something in the stories that are finally written down in one place –stories of creation, or cultural and language differences, or the creation of 12 tribes, or the exodus from slavery — God is also at work in the editing, collecting, and transmitting of these stories within in a world that continues to change.
The Great Conversation continues. Even today, as the world of Christendom begins to devolve and the post-modern, post-truth, post-everything world emerges, the conversation of meaning-making amid existential threat gains speed.
This is what it means to Make the Road by Walking.
It is not that God is changing. We are.
Or, more to the point, the fact that we are people who continually mature and change in our understanding and meaning-making in the world, has not changed.
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