Reading Stories Well – an Excerpt from This Strange and Sacred Scripture

The following is an excerpt from This Strange and Sacred Scripture, by Matthew Schlimm.

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Cover ArtThere are important differences between what the Bible is up to and what people commonly assume is involved in ethical reflection.

We assume that moral reasoning is as simple as focusing on the good. As a result, we look for saints, models, or principles. However, the Bible presupposes that the good all too often is inextricably intertwined with the bad. We all bear the image of God, but we are all sinners. A good God created a good world, but that creation “waits with eager longing” for a brighter day (Rom. 8:19 NRSV). We’re not in Eden anymore, and we shall not return any time soon. As Jesus puts it, the world is a field filled with both life-giving wheat and life-sucking weeds. Good and evil won’t be sorted out until the harvest at the end of time (Matt. 13:24–30).

Therefore, when interpreting the Bible, we dare not confine ourselves to a narrow question like, What’s ideal in this text, and how can I uphold it in my life? We do much better to ask, How is this text realistic, and in what ways does it reflect the struggles of upright living?

In other words, we miss the big picture by searching for only what is positive. If we were already leading wonderfully good lives and just needed help continuing on that perfect trajectory, then we would need nothing but saintly examples, ethical paradigms, and good principles. As things stand, however, none of us is perfect. Our lives are frequently more complicated than we realize. We struggle to do what is right, though we deeply desire it. For these reasons, we need stories that are just as complex and fraught with difficulty as life itself.

©2015 by Matthew Richard Schlimm. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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For more information on This Strange and Sacred Scripture, click here.