Category Archives: Bible

What in the World is Happening?

Thoughts On Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

This past week has been a scary time in our world. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has once again questioned the stability of our world and the lives we lead. As we read the news reports it’s full of mixed messages—is China collaborating with Russia to destabilize Europe and the U.S.? What images are from this conflict and represent what’s happening in Ukraine? How long will this go on and where is it headed? Are we at the beginning of the path leading to World War III?

These questions and more are going around at work, with friends, and around our dining table at home these days. In some ways, it feels so far away and like someone else’s problem. But it also feels like it could turn into something much scarier.

During Russia’s military build up on Ukraine’s border last week, my son Matthias and I had a chance to talk about this conflict. We’ve been reading through the Bible together this year and meeting Friday morning before he goes to school to talk about what we’re reading and what’s going on in our lives. I’ve wanted to read through the Bible with him like this for a long time and felt excited when he came to me saying he wanted to read together his senior year before he goes away to college.

At first, it might seem like a daily Bible reading and weekly meeting doesn’t have much relevance to this war that has erupted in our world. But our reading has been establishing the building blocks for the way we see the world. When we see a war in our time it’s important we know the Bible has recorded these kinds of conflicts for thousands of years. The Bible is no stranger to power hungry despots inflicting pain in an attempt to make a name for themselves.

Since the man and the woman encountered the serpent in the Garden of Eden, humanity has faced the choice about whether to seek their life in the exercise of autonomous power or to find life in submission to the loving Creator God.

The end of the Story is so helpful for framing our own day. The book of Revelation is usually seen as a mysterious book with hard to understand timelines about the end of the world. Sadly, like many things in the Church, we have managed to take a message of hope and encouragement and turn it into something to avoid.

In reality, John wrote the book of Revelation to a suffering first century Church to say, “No matter how bad it looks, no matter how bad it gets, persevere and trust the Lord. He is in control and will set everything right in the end.” It’s easy to lose sight of the Story we live in.

When we encounter worldwide pandemics, fires ravaging our lands, contentious political elections, and warring countries, it’s easy and even natural to feel scared and anxious about how it will all turn out. But the story in which we live is one that begins in a garden, endures widespread power grabs, sees a savior take the world’s pain on His shoulders on our behalf, and ends with heaven and God’s presence coming to earth.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

As we read the news about Vladamir Putin’s war on Ukraine, may we take these words to heart. May we pray for our believing brothers and sisters on both sides of the conflict. Pray for a quick end to the violence and for Ukraine’s firm resistance to the Russian forces. Whatever happens, may we live in the Story beginning in the Garden, ending with God’s presence on the earth, and may we find comfort and courage to engage our world.

What Do You Do With Strange Bible Stories?

Bible_Reading“What do you do with some of the strange things the Bible says?” Greg asked.

A bunch of us guys were together for guys night. We had just finished giving the waitress our order.

“Do you always start conversations like this?” I asked. “Like, are you serious, or are you joking?”

“I’m serious. I have a lot of friends who object to Christianity because some parts talk about loving people and then there’s a bunch of parts—especially in the Old Testament—where the Israelites kill a bunch of people, or there’s the guy who sacrifices his daughter, and weird things like that. It seems like there’s a lot of contradictions in the Bible. Bible heroes do really bad things sometimes and it’s right there in the Bible, you know? What do we do with that?” Greg answered.

Just today I was reading in Genesis 34 where Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped by a Canaanite named Shechem. (Seriously, that’s his name.) Naturally, Shechem does this horrible deed because “his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.” (Genesis 34:3) Since he loved her so much, after raping her, he asked his dad Hamor to get Jacob to agree for them to be married.

So far, so bad. Still, Jacob’s sons hear about and are furious that their sister was humiliated and treated like this. It’s wrong. They want justice for their sister “because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done.” (Genesis 34:7)

Apparently it was done in Canaan because the next thing you know, Hamor asks Jacob and his sons for Dinah’s hand in marriage to Shechem. Dinah’s brothers agree—with one tiny little caveat—every male among Hamor’s people must be circumcised. (No irony here of course.) I don’t know what you would do in Shechem’s shoes, but he “did not delay to do the thing” because, well, he was in love! (Genesis 34:19)

It doesn’t end there. “On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers” broke into the city and killed every male, plundered the city, their flocks and “All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.” (Genesis 34:30)

Simeon and Levi stand up for their sister. But, did they act any better than Shechem? Jacob tells them off them for what they did, but only because he’s afraid of Hamor’s allies. He sounds like he planned to go ahead with the marriage. Is this how Bible heroes act?

What about God—what does he do about this mess? In the next chapter God tells Jacob to leave that place and He protects Jacob as they travel. It’s easy to feel this is less than we want from God in this situation. So why is all this in the Bible? It doesn’t sound very…biblical.

This is one of those passages that’s starts with a mess and deteriorates from there.

Where’s the godly hero who we should emulate? Is the moral that we should take matters into our hands when wronged? Are we supposed to execute vigilante justice and God will look the other way? Maybe there are some lessons about dating and why courtship is the biblical way to prepare for marriage? (Obviously Shechem took Dinah on an unsupervised date and, well, you know the rest.) Maybe it’s a moral about what not to do? Don’t take your beautiful daughter and angry sons anywhere, and don’t introduce them to anyone, otherwise bad things might happen.

But the Bible is an epic story, not a series of moral tales. It’s Lord of the Rings, not Aesop’s Fables. Trying to make sense of this passage on it’s own is like asking why Frodo doesn’t just melt down the ring at the beginning of the third movie. Every scene has to be read in light of the greater story. Genesis 34 is a moment when everything the hero is attempting is put in jeopardy. And the hero of the Bible is not Jacob, or Simeon, or Levi, or Dinah.

The hero of the bible is God.

The story so far is that God created an amazing world. Humans loved the world he made, but weren’t so keen on God. Since taking matter into their own hands, lots of people have killed each other and the world has become a hostile place. But God promised to fix the world we broke and to save us from ourselves. And He promised to do it through Eve’s son. By Jacob’s time we’re many generations removed from that promise. If you were reading a novel instead of the Bible, you’d be thinking, “This family line stinks. Where’s the son that’s going to defeat the bad guy?”

It’s not until further on in Genesis 35 that we get a sense of what God is doing. After protecting Jacob by moving him out of harm’s way, God reminds Jacob of his promises,  “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. ” (Genesis 35:11) God gives a hint of what’s ahead. This is a reminder. God is still in charge. He hasn’t forgotten his promises. One day he will put a king on the throne. When the story unfolds, we learn that king is Jesus. Jesus’ kingly act is to die for our sins the way Hamor and Shechem died for theirs.

Genesis 34 is a dark chapter in the story. But it’s a true story. True because this is the kind of world we live in. It’s a world where rape, murder, genocide, theft and the worst of humanity can thrive at times. It’s a world that needs a hero. This promise of a king is a reminder that God is that hero. And he’s on an epic quest to redeem his world from sin and to restore us to the life he always intended.

How do you deal with the hard stuff of the bible?