Most Americans no longer have a close familiarity with the Bible and the stories of the Bible. Even many Christians only have a very cursory knowledge of it, basically what they get at Church every Sunday, or whenever they go. My knowledge of The Book is more than cursory, but it had been decades since I read it from cover to cover, and after all that time I’m sure I needed a refreshing on the narrative of God’s progressive revelation.
Since we talk a lot around here about movies, TVs, books and other story telling entertainment mediums, I couldn’t help thinking as I’ve been reading the Bible what an amazing story it is, made up of many multitudes of smaller stories. I think most people who have never read the Old Testament would be shocked at what they would find in its pages, and as I was reading many of these shocking stories I thought about popular entertainment. What we find there may not often be shocking, but there is plenty of blood and violence and sex and conflict, and much as well that is noble and good and uplifting and enlightening, a lot like we find in the Bible.
When it comes to popular entertainment my wife and I don’t always agree on what we can or should watch, and a lot of Christians and other religious folk feel that watching or reading stories about bad things happening simply needs to be avoided. But why is it ok for the great story teller in the sky to put gory blood drenched, sex filled stories in his holy book, while it is not ok for human story tellers to do the same?
I’m sure many, most or maybe all of those who decide not to partake of popular culture because they think it too coarse and unedifying, if not positively harmful, would not agree with my characterization. They would likely say these are not the same, apples and oranges; but stories are stories, and human beings are fallen sinful creatures capable of great evil as well as of great goodness. Whether the authors of those stories are God, or Spielberg, or King, or Shakespeare, or Dickens, shouldn’t stories encompass the whole panoply of human experience; the good, the bad and the ugly?
Of course stories told badly with gratuitous violence or nudity or sex or swearing are rightly rejected. Of course gratuitous can be in the eye of the beholder, but I wish some of my more sensitive Christian brothers and sisters would take a stroll through the Old Testament to see what God had no problem revealing about his people.
For example, I’m currently reading about the life of King David in 2 Samuel. David, this king whose lineage leads directly to Jesus Christ, for we Christians the savior of the world, was not exactly, to use a New Testament term, a saint. Most who have any familiarity with Judaism or Christianity, know of the story of Bathsheba.
David already had numerous wives and concubines (certainly shocking to modern sensibilities), but one day when he should have been out on the battle field with his men, he spied this beautiful, married, woman from his roof top. He ordered her to his palace, had sex with her, and impregnated her. To try to hide it, he ordered her husband home from the battle field and tried to lure him into spending a night at home with his wife. When he wouldn’t do it, David ordered that he be put at the front lines of the battle field so he would be killed, which in short order he was. This was the man of whom God said he was a man after his own heart! Amazing.
If this isn’t bad enough, the consequences of David’s actions followed him the rest of his life. One of his sons, Amnon, had a serious lust issue with what I assume was one of his half-sisters, Tamar (the text says sister, but David had numerous wives). The word used in the story is “love,” but clearly lust it was. He tricks her into getting close to him, and he rapes her. Then as soon as the dirty deed is done it says, “He hated her with intense hatred.” Is this deplorable and disgusting or what? One of David’s other sons, Absalom, ends up killing Amnon to avenge his sister’s defilement.
For some unfathomable reason to modern sensibilities, to my sensibilities, David mourned his son’s death and Absalom feared his safety and fled from his father. After a number of years he returns, but David keeps him at arm’s length. Absalom then conspires against his father and seeks to overthrow him and David is forced to flee. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here. I know the ending!
Religious skeptics will wonder why this has any place in God’s story of his redemption of the human race, and I wonder as well, but it kind of makes sense to me. The whole purpose of saving the world from sin is to save them from such horrid realities. Why would not the savior of this world come through such sinners who so badly need his salvation? I find it fascinating that God doesn’t sugar coat the problem, that the stories he tells tell it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. That is why I tend not to shy away from stories told in our day through mediums of popular entertainment that do the same.