Friday, February 26, 2010

Context? We don't need no stinking context!

Hunh. According to iTunes, I have over 19 hours worth of music from Over the Rhine stored. Just goes to show that, no, in some instances, you CAN'T have too much of a good thing.

Today's post is partially inspired by the book Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin. If you claim to be a Christ follower, read this book and get offended by it, I would suggest you take a good hard look at yourself and see what that offense says about your own state of heart. If you claim to be a Christ follower, read the book, and suddenly think to yourself that you're not so alone...welcome to my perception. It's always refreshing to read something and discover you're not the lone voice crying out in the wilderness that you thought you were...

MY PARTIAL WISH LIST FOR CHRISTIANITY: (1) stop calling the Bible a manual/instruction book; (2) stop saying you have a “life verse” and/or posting a single verse on Facebook as a status update; (3) more to come…

Okay – sometimes, I’m as guilty of #2 as anyone. Anyone, that is, who’s ever pulled a verse out of the Bible and quoted it, without perhaps putting it in its correct historical, societal, and contextual framework. In simpler language, looking at the verse outside of the context of the chapter it’s in, the audience it’s addressing at the time, or the deeper meaning behind the words.

Case in point: the other day, the Internet told me at Biblegateway that the Verse of the Day (…grr…) was Proverbs 17:9. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong per se with starting with a VOTD and going from there, but after I read this day’s verse, I was struck with a powerful, insightful response that could only be brought on by a stirring of the Spirit within me: “Hunh? What the crap does this mean?”

Proverbs 17:9 (NIV) – He who covers a offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

After reading this, I was struck by two thoughts: (1) the first part of this verse is probably on the business card of many a politician; and (2) it’s kinda ironically funny this was selected as the VOTD the day after Tiger Woods’ press conference.

All joking aside, I was kind of taken aback by this verse; specifically, the translation of this verse in the NIV. Not that I have a bone to pick with the NIV translation itself, but just reading this – or, more dangerously, someone just quoting it/throwing it at someone as Christians tend to do with verses – it reminded me of the danger in just looking at a verse and letting my own interpretation of it guide me. Anyone who reads this could easily interpret it/place it in a pigeonhole of their own to go with whatever situation they find themselves in. Kind of like how many people don’t accurately understand (or, sadly, more often than not, have been led to misunderstand by a minister) that when Jesus says “Ask and it shall be given to you” that He’s not positioning Himself as a genie or Santa, and that it’s not to be taken as an open invitation to get a new car, healing from a disease, or hot date. …and yes, I’m sure that some people have prayed for one if not all three at one point.

My funky little translation (Key Word Study Bible, NAS translation) of the Bible that I do all my reading/research in has a lexical aid in the back (thank you, 706) that provides the Hebrew or Greek words for certain words. Proverbs 17:9 has the following words (herein highlighted in bold) as underscored with an appropriate Hebrew translation in the back of my Bible:

He who covers a transgression seeks love. But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

Now, when looking up in Hebrew the meaning of these underlined words, the verse takes on a totally different context and interpretation:

Whoever who forgives an intentional offense or sin seeks ahava. But whoever who repeats this offense repeats history and separates intimate friends.

Instead of looking at this as a verse that addresses (in the first part of it) “Hey, if you really love me, you’ll forgive me” as a conditional command, this is a passage about reconciliation. About shalom. About the intentional and direct desire to not be separated.

The first part of this verse could easily say the following:

Whoever who walks a mile in the shoes of another to wrap themselves in the actions of this person seeks to be beloved of that person, and have a deep and intimate relationship with them.

This verse isn’t just about forgiveness, but also about understanding. About not just seeking love but acting in love. About understanding the context of what you’re forgiving, not just (as the cliché goes) loving the sinner but not the sin.

And I gotta say: for me, that means a lot more to me than just forgiving because I’m commanded to. It means being forgiveness, not just acting in it.


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