One of my best friends lost a brother this week. He wasn’t even forty and had been suffering with cancer. Although I didn’t know him all that well, I was a friend of his on Facebook. Over the last few days, his friends have been adding pictures and posting their reminiscences. He was much loved, that is patently obvious from the outpouring of affection for him.
He leaves behind a wife and daughter and it got me thinking; if I was in her situation, faced with trying to put into words some thoughts about my own husband to say at a funeral service, what would I say?
There aren’t a great many photographs of my husband circulating and certainly none of him dressed up and doing something ridiculous; he’s not that sort of a man. I do have some lovely pictures of him though and some special memories of times we’ve spent together. I don’t have much in the way of video footage of him either; he’s always behind the camera; he’s the one recording and editing footage of our family holidays, or more recently people’s baptisms at church. He makes a fabulous finished product; he’s got a good eye and a nice sense of composition. But it’s sad (from my perspective), that there’s very little of him on the other side of the lens.
To go with my daily Bible reading this year, I’ve been reading David Pawson’s book Unlocking the Bible (Harper Collins, 2007) and one passage particularly struck me and made me realise that there is a degree of similarity between God and what my husband does with his amateur film-making. No, Simon isn’t God; his irritating habit of leaving the used washing-up water to fester overnight is evidence of that! But just as Simon selects the particular footage that he wants to convey the message of the film he’s making, God too selects the ‘right footage’ – the right people or the right situations – to get his message across in the Bible.
“The Bible is… unique because it’s history written from God’s point of view. A political history or a physical history of the universe has a focus determined by human interest, but in the Bible God selects what’s important to him.” Pawson, 2007 p19.
It’s frustrating to some people that we don’t get all the answers to life, the universe and everything in the pages of the Bible. But if it’s God’s story to tell then maybe that’s not the focus of the book? To some purists, it’s almost sacrilege that Peter Jackson left out giant chunks of the book in the film version of the Lord of the Rings. However, you still get the gist of what the book’s about, even without the section on Tom Bombadil. If Jackson had put everything in then there’s every chance that I’d still be sat at Cineworld Luton even now, possibly with my backside having welded itself to the seat. You can’t put in every raised eyebrow, it would slow the film down and modern film making is all about pace – engaging the audience not putting them to sleep. That Tom Bombadil bit is boring anyway.
Much is made about the science and faith tussles that have arisen from Genesis; but if this is God’s story then perhaps that’s the Tom Bombadil bit and it’s not important to the narrative. He doesn’t want to us to split hairs over when and how it happened. Besides, perhaps he knows that we’ll eventually work out how he did it for ourselves and so he gets on with the important business; outlining his plan of how he’s going to rescue us from the right old mess we’ve got ourselves into.
But if God’s a bit selective about what he puts in to keep the narrative moving, then he’s also keen on keeping the finished product as he intended it. He doesn’t have much truck with people who are inclined to add bits in to either suit their own purposes or to ‘flesh things out a bit’. Revelation 22:18 says there will be plagues on anyone caught adding to the words of the Bible; which I think is also quite a justified punishment to whoever it was that let a spider-monkey reference get into the film version of Twilight.
Anyone who has so much as a passing acquaintance with the Bible will know that God didn’t bash it out on a typewriter himself; he inspired people to write it down on his behalf. At the end of the book of John, the author concludes by saying:
‘Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.’ John 21: 25 (NIV)
That strikes fear into my heart that somewhere, there’s a big old Christian version of FanFiction.Net, where thousands of Christians – possibly teenage girls with too much time on their hands – (not generalising here at all), are posting their take on ‘what Jesus did next’. Can I just say that if there is, that I hope they’ve read to the end of the book and picked up the warning about plagues and adding bits in. Stephenie Meyer may not mind you writing Edward Cullen and Jessica Stanley into a compromising situation, but God clearly will mind if you end up pairing Jesus and Mary Magdalene off. Is that how that thing got started? Glorified FanFiction?
Whatever the specific details of the Bible, we must remember that through it God is revealing his plan to take the big old mess we made of things in Genesis Chapter 3 and turn it into the big all-guns-blazing finale of Revelation 22; where Jesus has the victory, the devil’s been seen off for all time and Bruce Willis hasn’t even needed to get his shirt off.
What God’s left out of the script isn’t important; we have enough material to know exactly what the plan is and how we apply it to our lives. Don’t get sidetracked by what’s not in there, arguing the toss over the fact that God doesn’t outline how he made the universe, or that Jesus doesn’t mention gay people. How God made the universe doesn’t get a mention, but there’s an entire section on how he crafts people in his own image which possibly gives you the clue on what, or more correctly who, is important to God. As for Jesus and gay people, he just lumped them in with everyone else when he said ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ Your neighbour’s gay? Well there’s your instruction for how to treat them.
Over the past ten years since I’ve become a Christian I’ve always struggled to read Leviticus, getting bogged down with all the minutiae of sacrifices, offerings and rituals. This year with David Pawson’s help I’ve stepped back a bit and got a hold of the over-arching picture, got a better sense of the whole book and its amazing symmetry rather than getting mired in the detail. Perhaps that’s a way to read the Bible, as a whole; look at the big story arc and get less upset by random spider-monkeys appearing where you least expect them. Edward still gets his girl regardless of the spider-monkey quip; Frodo still emerges victorious even without Tom Bombadil and Jesus will always vanquish the devil in the end.
So even though God, like my husband, is rarely the other side of the lens we can get a sense of him and what the message or the story is from the way he’s selected the right people and the right ‘footage’ to illustrate his point. We may not see the face of the director but we can see him at work crafting every scene, pulling all the story threads together in one glorious finished product.
The Bible’s not full of perfect people, to be honest some of them are downright irritating (there are a lot of Jar Jar Binks characters in the Bible), but they’re all important to God. God doesn’t make Tom Bombadil characters that can be cut out and serve no purpose; all of them are part of his plan. Step back, see the overall finished result and you get that ‘wow’ moment, which you miss out on if you’re going to get all prissy over exactly where Cain’s wife came from. She isn’t important, she’s just there, deal with it, move on!
But the most important thing about the Bible is to listen to the message and work out which team you’re on by the time the credits roll…
And in that regard you will be advised that much like Team Edward, Team Jesus is your only sensible choice.