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A sense of humor

Pastoral Messages | August 9, 2018

When my two grown kids surprised me with a visit home last weekend, we got in a game of tennis. It was a blast. Depending on which of the four of us you ask about the game, however, four different perspectives will emerge. Mom’s shots were awesome. Or not. Jacob jumped like a monkey to reach balls he shouldn’t have reached. Not sure about that. Rachel’s forehand was super consistent. Really? Dad almost died running for a corner shot. Wrong! Same game with four different perspectives. No one angle delivers the singular truth. Added together, however, an accurate picture starts to come into focus.

This is how I understand scripture. It’s God’s Word given to us in multi-dimensional fashion, full of internal contradictions and individual perspectives, but all pointing towards a powerful and life-giving truth. When I log onto church websites and read their page on beliefs, and see words like “without error,” “infallible,” “no contradictions” and “Bible” in the same sentence, I cringe. Actually, I feel sorry for people who hope this biblical outlook will bring them security. These are people seeking absolute clarity and certainty where it cannot be found – in literalism. They’re treating scripture as if it’s a frozen body of ancient and mummified knowledge rather than a fresh word for every new day.

Those who fixate on the literal and factual accuracy of every verse within the Bible may be able to see themselves as true Bible-based believers over against less faithful brothers and sisters in the Christian world. But such devotion to biblical fundamentalism quickly acquires a punitive character. Other interpretations of scripture that embrace mystery, ambiguity, and uncertainty are viewed as blasphemous.

When literalists or inerrantists – that would be those who can’t see the truth of God poking through scripture’s inconsistencies – get challenged for their fanaticism, they often turn humorless. Who wants to try and justify the Bible’s embrace of slavery, or the execution of anyone who works on the Sabbath, or the idea that women who give birth to girls instead of boys are more unclean?

Amos Oz, the prominent Israeli writer and author of the book, How to Cure a Fanatic, believes he has the perfect remedy for fanaticism. “A sense of humor is a great cure … Humor contains the ability to laugh at ourselves … the capacity to realize that no matter how righteous you are … there is a certain side of life that is always a bit funny.”

Only when we acquire a sense of humor for how little we know and understand God, can the real power of scripture come alive. It’s the inconsistencies and disparities of the Bible that give its authors their authenticity. Their different life experiences and outlooks lend a fuller shape to the truth.

About that Marty tennis match? I did run fast enough on that corner shot to pull a hamstring muscle and almost fall flat on my face. But don’t share that admission with the rest of my family. They might laugh at my honesty.

-Peter W. Marty, senior pastor

5 Comments on “A sense of humor”

  • Jana Baltimore

    August 13, 2018 at 6:40 am

    Love the phrase “a fresh word for every new day”! Your message really helps me to better understand what happens when I hear others push a specific translation. And the humor piece…yes, I agree, it always helps in difficult/ touchy situations.

  • Teresa Woodworth

    August 10, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    Your perspective on Christianity and Christian life is why I love St. Paul and the people who call it home. Thank you for leading us!

  • Kathie Heaps

    August 9, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    It is truly refreshing to belong to a village of believers that CAN see the forest while standing in the trees. This article puts to words what I have always believed. Thanks Peter.

  • Connie King

    August 9, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    I’ve just learned more about how to look at the Bible in this brief article than in all my years in church and all the reading I’ve done. Thank you for an honest insight.

  • David DeWit

    August 9, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    As one brought up as a “literalist,” I have come to think of the Bible as divinely-inspired only in the sense that God has seen to it, as the “canon” has been established over the centuries, that the lessons He wants us to learn have all made it in there. We need to look for the lessons rather than wasting time trying to demonstrate that the Bible is 100% historically accurate and and that every word is authoritative for faith and life.

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