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There are many different ways to read the Bible. Some people choose to read it literally, which is problematic because not every part is meant to be a chronological narrative. Others read it christologically where every bit points to Jesus. Others will look for consistent patterns throughout or even as a love letter from God. I would like to posit it, in the greatest respect, as God’s Thesis.
Firstly, the Bible can be divided into sections equivalent to that of a thesis. The first 11 chapters of Genesis, from creation to the tower of Babel, is his introduction. It is difficult to argue that it is historical. It seems more mythical. It therefore succinctly states God’s overall argument: I created man, man disobeyed me, but I will save them even though no-one deserves because I love man. This is best captured in the story of Noah, who trusted God and did something which sounds ridiculous and unreasonable – build a boat miles away from water – because the boat became the source of salvation through God’s power. (Ok, so God was a researcher-participant.) Noah’s drunkenness and Tower of Babel emphasises man’s ongoing capacity to sin, even after being saved.
From Abraham through to the letter of Jude, including the gospels, God presents his evidence and analysis for his overall argument. of course, there are many things which point to Jesus but also many references to first 11 chapters, including Jesus. The conclusion of God’s thesis is the book of Revelation. It summarises the evidence and reveals God’s message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Bible has also been put together like an academic thesis. God is the lead author with a large research team whom he has selected himself. Many of his team had other jobs. Not all the material written or researched has made the final cut, indeed the value of some of the writings, such as Hebrews and 2 Peter, was not seen until quite late in the day. One could say the real writing up didn’t really begin until about 300 AD and the various church councils. In a sense, his thesis has been complete for 1,500 years and since then God has focused on teaching and the conference circuit. Obviously, one cannot draw exact parallels between God and an academic, after all knowledge is created by him in the first place.
Finally, everyone calls it God’s Word or logos. In other words, the Bible describes his underlying reasoning, i.e. his argument or thesis. Of course, no post of mine would be complete without mentioning Hegel. The Bible is arguably a dialectical text; it deals with the paradox of God’s love and wrath, of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, and of God’s as divine and as human. It includes many things which seem ridiculous, not least the idea of God dying. So, God’s Word is not just a thesis but a synthesis of a thesis and antithesis. As a dialectical text, it also a conversation between God and his creation.
As a PhD student and Christian, I have sought to ensure that everything I read is within a biblical framework (or at least I hope so) but still true to the text. One could argue that research is all about understanding God (the author) through understanding the world (his creation). This ultimate purpose of research – among all the other human reasons – is reflected in the The Bible.
I was surprised yesterday by how many people continued to tweet. I thought that like many things in the UK, Twitter might come to a standstill for the day as well. But, everyone – or at least all of my followers – was live tweeting about their own Christmas Day celebrations. I woke up this morning and Twitter and pretty much got back to normal, which was a shame. But I couldn’t help thinking that everyone, everywhere, no matter their spiritual persuasion, was celebrating and remembering (or not) the day that God’s Saviour Jesus Christ came into the world. For a day, Twitter provided a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
Then, it was back to today, Boxing Day, the day when the Christmas sales start (although with the internet and the recession, this seems to have got earlier). It is believed that Christmas Day represents the positive message of Christmas, while Boxing Day is now a manifestation of the dark side, commercialism. The truth is more complicated. On the one hand, Boxing Day was traditionally a day that involved giving to the poor and those who served us (public sector and the low-paid service sector). On the other hand, the name ‘Boxing Day’ came from a tradition of tradesmen to collect Christmas boxes as a thanks for the good service they provided. So, the commercialism of the Boxing Day sales may seem crass but actually it is about helping those companies and employees and saying thank you for giving us what we want. And one could argue, particularly in the current economic crisis, public sector workers, service workers and retailers need all the help and thanks we can give.
But, of course, there is another group of people we need to remember – people who are persecuted for the faith all over the world. Yesterday, for example, churches were bombed in Nigeria. On Christmas Day, we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. One thing that Jesus said was that it won’t be easy being a Christian, that often we will face hostility. Of course, unfortunately, Christians have also been the source of persecution. Furthermore, other faith groups have been the giver and/or receiver of persecution for their faith. Why should we particularly remember them on 26th December? It is the Day of the Feast of St Stephen (St Stephen’s Day), who has become known as the first Christian ever Christian martyr and whose stoning triggered a mass persecution of Christians by Saul before he became the Apostle Paul.
But you don’t need to be Christian or religious to feel sad or outraged that people are persecuted for their faith. That’s why I feel it is appropriate we should remember the words of Martin Niemoller famous words, which I first read at the age of 12 and it had a profound impact on my thinking:
First they came for the Communists but I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews but I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Jew
Then they came for the trade unionists but I did not speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics but I did not speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me but by that time no one was left to speak up.”
It is interesting that Martin Niemoller talks about persecution across the board, whether religious, political, racial and socioeconomic.
So today what are you doing today? If you are fortunate like me to live in the West, be thankful that we are not persecuted for our beliefs, then spare a thought for those who are, maybe do some research on the internet to see what you can do. Give some money to charity. Then go out and shop, shop, shop, giving thanks for all those people who are working today and throughout the year so that you can live and do as you want.
Oh, and if you like this blog post and you are on Twitter, please retweet using #ststephensday and #boxingday hashtags.
On Remembrance Day, we remember all those who have died for us so that we may be free and at peace in this life. But, as I said on Thursday, the best to remember them is to strive for freedom and peace – not just in the political sense, but relationally and spiritually as well.
All these people who have died for us so that we can be free are pointing to an even greater truth. Jesus Christ died for us so that we could live in spiritual freedom and at peace forever.