When I was in college I was introduced to a book that depicted a side of United States history I had never heard before. There were things in this book that were never taught in my history classes. I had a hard time believing it, but the friend that introduced me to it was quite intelligent, and definitely not a fool.
In recent months, I’ve journeyed back into American history and have been listening to a similar book. However, this particular book’s goal is two-fold: not only to share an accurate account but to also challenge the reader (or in my case listener as I’ve been listening to the audiobook) to think critically about what this history means for us now. It’s been an interesting journey to revisit many of the lessons I was taught (or in some cases not taught) in high school, and consider what would have been my reaction as a 17-year-old young woman verses the 40-year-old I am now.
Let’s just say I have many thoughts about it and hope to give my children the benefit of an accurate historical understanding; while challenging them to think critically about what it means for them and their lives.
Beyond our collective American history, as I’ve become more familiar with the great and not so great—even horrific at times—elements of our past, this journey got me thinking a lot about the most important book in my life—the Word of God.
What if …
What if the Word was different? What if David’s transgressions were never documented? What if the scandalous part of Rahab’s past was forgotten from the pages? And what if Mary’s story omitted the outright ostracizing act of birthing a child before marriage? If Peter’s story of denial wasn’t documented, do you think his request to be crucified upside down would have been as profound?
Will you continue to go here with me a second?
I wonder if I would be as enthralled with the stories of these Bible heroes if they were tweaked to only show the good and beautiful moments.
For example, when we read David’s story in 1 Samuel we come across the time he is hiding in a cave and his enemy, King Saul, comes in, not knowing David is there. He relieves himself and leaves. Saul has absolutely no idea that David was in the shadows with his men, the perfect opportunity to take his life. But instead, David cuts a small piece off of Saul’s cloak to prove he got just that close and yet, he didn’t take Saul’s life. Why didn’t David take out Saul while he could? Because David knew, it was not his right to strike a hand upon God’s anointed.
Let’s pretend for a moment that that part of David’s story remained in the Word, but the rest was sanitized to the point that none of his shortcomings or transgressions were documented.
What if the man after God’s own heart didn’t kill Uriah? And remember, that murder for hire was to cover his previous sin of sleeping with (some think raping) Uriah’s wife, which could not go unnoticed because she was then pregnant with his child?
Isn’t the wonder and mystery of his story partly that David could be so sinfully human at times—commit unthinkable acts—and yet still, he could turn, repent, beseech God, and still be called a man after God’s own heart.
And how about Rahab? Not only was she a prostitute, but she was a cultural outsider—what if God had delivered Jericho into the hands of the Israelites without her?
What if Mary wasn’t a part of the story? What if God had decided His Son would arrive as the people thought their Savior would—a warrior, ready to fight like David and to free them from the oppression of the Roman empire in a seemingly earthly way of war and not a scandalous cross?
Peter is said to have been crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die in the same way as Christ. Would his story be as powerful as it is without his three-time denial the night of Christ’s mock trial?
Without the full picture of each of these characters—their failures and their triumphs, their sins and their virtues—we’d not only have one of the most sanitized and possibly boring books in history, but how would we know that God, despite all our shortcomings will, can, and does still use us for His kingdom purposes?
We wouldn’t know redemption. We wouldn’t see ourselves in their stories. We wouldn’t be able to believe we too can be redeemed. We too can be used in ways that only God can design. We too can be the foolish thing of this world that confounds the wise making way for the supernatural evidence of the triune God.
It’s More than Black and White
Over the years I’ve explored my personality type in an effort to understand how I’m wired and to pursue pathways to growth in Christ. One thing I learned early on is that my personality’s default mode is to want to neatly put everything in a box perfectly categorized—right or wrong, good or evil. Black and white thinking is easier than navigating the grey.
But it’s in the grey that humanity exists in all it’s different shades.
Without the noble, honorable acts juxtaposed against the sinful downright evil acts how could we see the work of God redeeming His Kingdom?
If we had a sanitized Gospel, I am certain my view of self would go one of two ways: I will never be good enough for God’s love as I couldn’t live up to those standards; Or, I would lack total humility and actually think I could live a perfect life to be loved by God; and then, would I really believe I needed my Savior? Goodness, can you imagine the kind of children my husband and I would be raising if those were the foundations of our beliefs?
If we are real with ourselves (and others) we can relate to these characters. In all these stories we can see ourselves in one way or another. And that’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us. When we see their faults or shortcomings or utter ordinariness, we see ourselves in the eternal story God is writing.
So, what’s this mean for us?
I guess where I’m trying to go with this, is let’s not be afraid of the ugly and downright difficult, both in our country’s history and the history of our own lives.
David was a murderer and a man after God’s own heart.
Rahab was a prostitute and in the lineage of Christ.
Mary was a nobody and the mother of Emmanuel.
Peter denied God three times and is the rock God built His church on.
When we sanitize the story we remove the opportunity to understand God’s glory on display.
Nothing is impossible for God to overcome. No one is too far gone for God to use. And no story is beyond the reach of redemption.