Saturday, September 26, 2009

Discerning Light

Three readings seem to be mingling in my frontal lobe today.

The first was in an obit. It included a description of the testimony of Susan Atkins. Ms. Atkins died of brain cancer this week after spending a lifetime in prison for several particularly gruesome and pointless murders back in the 1960s. She was one of the followers of Charles Manson, who spurred his disciples into drug-fueled madness. Though Ms. Atkins appears to have truly reformed in prison, her quotes from the trial about murdering an eight-month pregnant actress were striking. She showed absolutely no remorse whatsoever. At trial, she indicated she "...felt no guilt for what I've done. It was right then and I still believe it was right." When pressed how killing another human being...two, really...could possibly be "right," she said: "How can it not be right when it's done with love?"

Clearly, this was the statement of someone utterly disconnected from the reality of love. The statement is completely incoherent. It is insane.

In reading through a portion of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion last night, I found his assertions about the truth and goodness of the Bible. To the rhetorical question posed about the truth of the Bible's teachings, Calvin responds:
Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of it's own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.
It does, of course. What is good in Scripture is radiantly good, self-evidently good. The central truths that the great narrative of the Bible...the Torah, prophets, and writings, the gospels and epistles..convey can be clearly discerned. That doesn't mean that we always read it correctly. We like to read in our own biases, to see our prejudices and presuppositions instead of what is intended, or to assume a text says one thing when it clearly says another. But using the Bible correctly yields good fruit.

That means not saying evil is good, and not saying good is evil. We have, in the core teaching of the Christian tradition, pretty solid idea of what is good. When we encounter things that clearly violate the intent of Christ's teachings, we are obligated to resist them. Embracing that which is in opposition to the ethic of love for God and neighbor that defines the Way is simply not acceptable.

That includes where that darkness is found in Scripture. Yesterday I read again the story of the "divinely appointed" massacre of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:2-3. I've had many a conversation with Bible-believing folk in which they've insisted...with complete earnestness...that there is no tension at all between Christ's insistence that we love our enemies and the butchery of unarmed women and children. It's all God's Word! It must be a manifestation of God's love!

But that, like the delusions of Ms. Atkins, is not real. It is not coherent. It is not sane.

It is also, rather notably, not Christian faith.