I was in a retail store this afternoon doing my part to keep the economy strong and was met with a scenario which caught me off-guard. It is a delicate topic and therefore I withhold the details, but nevertheless, it had to do with identity formation, the existential quest for Who am I? and Who do I see myself to be?
What puzzled me is not something new, but the reality today that a person determines not only who they are but also regulates others’ perceptions of their self–this caught me off-guard in a new way because I haven’t reflected on it in a while. What was interesting, also, is that although I was caught off-guard, I wasn’t surprised or startled. Two weeks ago I preached a sermon in which I reflected on the danger of living in America–for people of color, Natives, women, sexual minorities, etc.–today I was reminded of the strangeness of America. America, my home, is a strange world.
Karl Barth once wrote an essay on the “strange world of the Bible.” That is, the Bible, though dictated, recorded, and assembled through human language, is nevertheless a “strange world” which interrupts, interrogates, and (sometimes) dislocates us when we read it/encounter it. It is so because it is God’s word, and because it is the word of God (logos theou) it cannot truly be contained. Further, because it is the word of God, it is a divine word, and as such, it is a word that confronts the person who seeks after it. And also because it is a divine word, it is a word–and a world(view)–human beings have difficulty understanding. That is why it is strange because it does not go “according to plan.”
The incomprehensible God of the universe, eternal, all in all, has created a world and creatures within that world whom he wants to enter into a relationship with, and when it turns south, he chooses not to destroy and start over but rather becomes one of the creatures he created to make a way for us to be saved. Retribution is a logical, rational narrative; yet condescension and reconciliation comprise the refrain! Who would’ve thought?
The strangeness of the Bible is one in which we are invited to enter into from our world in order that we can return to our world with a divine word for our times. Escapism is born of a contempt for the world as it is and seeks to confine the divine word for itself. It is a greedy philosophy which selfishly gorges itself on (what it thinks is) revelation for its own sake, while the world around it is “left to its own devices.” But Jesus himself prayed that we would return to the world in the power of the Spirit, armed with the sword of truth to “bring the good news.”
And there is a divine word for the strange world of America today. This strangeness is one which coaxes us in, rather than invites us. It is deceptive, for it doesn’t truly or fully understand itself. This strangeness does not bring with it a divine word, but a human word of pride, sovereignty, death-disguised-as-life. It is to this world, though, that the church (the body of Christ) utters through the power of the Spirit, “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” “[Christ] is our peace…who has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility.” “Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you.” “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.”
The strange word of the Bible says that it is inside the deception of the world that the good news shines forth; it is within the confusion and mayhem that comfort, peace, and rest are found; it is in a broken world that the kingdom of God shines, “and the darkness has not overcome it.”