From the OT lesson for Thursday in the week of Proper 6B (Pentecost 3, 2015)
1 Samuel 2
33 The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep out his eyes and grieve his heart; all the members of your household shall die by the sword.
This is part of a speech delivered to Samuel by a “man of God’ speaking on God’s behalf. I am often dismayed by the violence described in Scripture as the will of God. Even when God incarnate in Jesus Christ refused to engage in violence in self-defense and allows himself to be arrested, scourged, and crucified, we are later told by the church as it develops its theology that this, too, was the will of God, the sacrifice of the Son to satisfy (or at least with the foreknowledge and plan of) the Father. This is one reason I no longer use or encourage the use of the words, “The word of the Lord,” at the end of liturgical readings of Scripture. The Bible is not “the word of the Lord,” nor are the acts of violence it records the “will of God.” The Bible contains the words of human beings trying to make sense of their lives and history, and one way humans have done that is to distance themselves from their own savagery by blaming it on God. ~ I awoke this morning to news that a white suspect shot several people in a predominantly black Christian church in Charleston, SC, last night. According to the Charleston Post and Dispatch, a young white man joined a Bible study group at Emanuel AME Church for a short while, then stood, drew a weapon, and killed the pastor and perhaps nine others. He left one woman alive, telling her that “he was letting her live so she could tell everyone else what happened.” I couldn’t help but think of her when I read this verse. ~ The Charleston police chief is quoted by the paper as saying, “It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives.” Really? I thought as I read that. Given the blatant racism that has re-emerged in our country since the election of the current president? Given easy access to firearms and the rush to “open carry” laws in conservative states (including, I believe, South Carolina)? Given the witness of Scripture and human history to bloody violence throughout every age? Violence, racial violence and mass murder unfathomable? Frankly, I find the police chief’s comment unfathomable. ~ In any event, the last thing I hope to hear (but I’m sure I will hear) is someone referring to last night’s horrible events being somehow “the will of God.” That is the “witness of Scripture,” but it is a wrong understanding of Scripture. The will of God is never death; the tellers of ancient stories in the Bible may have thought it was, but it wasn’t. When God speaks for Godself, through the prophets and incarnate in Jesus, God makes that clear: “[God] will swallow up death forever” and “will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Is 25:8) and “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10b) ~ These deaths are not the “will of God;” they are the will of one misguided man in a misguided culture. This is not a divine tragedy; it is a human one. May the dead rest in peace and rise in glory, and may those left behind be comforted.