The Bible is weird. I mean, seriously weird. I think that’s one of the reasons I find it so fascinating. On the one hand, there’s some great stuff in there about loving your neighbour and the hope of the age to come and the beauty of creation. And on the other hand there’s genocide and the ritual killing of animals and rules and regulations about not mixing fabrics, avoiding bacon and chopping off body parts that just shouldn’t be touched.
So I thought it might be fun to take a deeper look at some of the weird, to see if it actually makes any sense at all.
Starting, of course, with Leviticus.
We all baulk at the American televangelists that we pop up on our news feeds from time to time with their message of blessing. You know the drill – give God money and he will bless you. Not getting blessed? give more. Getting blessed? give more to show your thanks.
Or maybe you’ve been a part of a church that tells you about how you need to take up your cross, to sacrifice everything, to give your all – those kinds of phrases – the ones that evoke that familiar feeling.
Because that’s what the money alleviates. That’s what singing “be my everything” helps us to feel. We’re giving all that we possibly can.
We don’t believe in grace.
Sure, we say we believe in grace but to borrow from Donald Miller, what we say isn’t what we believe – what we do is what we believe. And we behave as though we are still trying to appease God.
Leviticus 1 starts with some pretty gruesome instructions on making sacrifices to God to alleviate guilt. Or, possibly, those feelings of guilt.
Because that’s what the opening chapters of Leviticus are about.
Your’e an ancient near eastern person, and you’re used to the system. The system says: need blessing? give some crops to that god. Been blessed? you’d better show your thanks by giving more. Not being blessed? you need to up your giving!
Sounds awkwardly familiar, doesn’t it?
So whilst it might seem gruesome and barbaric, the Levitical system of sacrifice sets out a very precise and particular list of things which aren’t good. And it sets out a very specific, particular way of becoming guilt-free.
Instead of your entire crop, just a representative portion of grain.
Instead of all of your livestock, just a dove.
That looks and sounds a lot like compassion to me. Compassion for a worldview which is broken. And a determination to fix it. So much so that eventually God decides enough is enough and renders even his own sacrifice system useless by making the biggest sacrifice of all.
And yet we still have the guts to accuse that God of barbarism.