I was a guest at a wedding some years ago and at the reception that followed I sat beside an old retired Methodist minister. He was a widely travelled man, with many interesting life-experiences, but what fascinated me was his tendency to drift off into 17th century English when he spoke about, or to God.
Like when he was asked to say grace, he began: “We are gathered here today in thy presence …” Why not, “your presence”?
It can’t be because “thy presence” is more authentic theologically than “your presence”.
My father did that too, partly, I think, because he considered the King James version of the Bible a more accurate translation, and partly because he loved the poetic rhythm it has.
Anyway, my engagement with the old minister trundled on and it didn’t get heated, for we respected each other, but you and I both know that such debates about religion often end up generating more heat than light.
To me, that’s sad as well as silly because it’s like arguing about the shape and size and design and colour of a window, when the purpose of the window is to allow you to see the vista outside. The Bible is a window through which to view Christ, but we waste so much energy discussing the window that we miss what the window points us to.
A good example is the debate surrounding the word “Torah”, which is frequently translated as “law”. Now the word can be used to describe the first five books of the Bible, but according to my Jewish friends its full meaning is much wider than that. Picture an arrow being shot from an archer’s bow: the word Torah is interpreted most accurately, I am told, when it describes the path of the arrow as it speeds to its target.
And what do we do? We talk endlessly about the arrow and ignore the target.
The countless rows and divisions in the church over which laws apply and which don’t are futile; we’re focusing on the arrow when the target is Jesus.
Listen to the astonishing claim made by the great apostle Paul: “The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.”
Why is it that this unequivocal statement has been sidestepped or ignored by the church for generations?
Wouldn’t you think that some theologian in a seminary, somewhere, would have read that letter to the Galatians and shouted his version of “Eureka! We’ve got it wrong folks! We’re free from the law!”
Frankly, I have my suspicions, but that’s for another day.
Meanwhile, why don’t we by-pass the experts, just believe Paul’s statement and enjoy the freedom it brings?
Sadly, few do, and the law, which was designed to be our guardian until a better day arrived, has become our prison cell. And the best that can be said of a prison cell is that while there is no freedom, there is the safety of predictability.
The choice is ours.
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