Anyone who thinks that they’ve understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by this understanding build up that double love of God and neighbor has not yet succeeded in understanding them. (Augustine, On Christian Teaching, 27)
Windshield Wipers and the Bible
My windshield wipers took a broad sweep over the windshield, and would clear off broad sections of water. But with every back and forth of the wiper blades, a patch of water was left untouched right in front of my sightlines. No matter how vigorously the wipers moved and no matter how broad sweeping their efforts, an obstacle was left in front of my eyes and I simply could not see clearly. For all of the swooshing back and forth, back and forth, driving was difficult. The problem I discovered was a small piece of stem from a plant of some kind. The small stem was trapped beneath the wiper blades. Until I could remove that stem, it wouldn’t matter how active or noisy my blades became. Clarity would not come without stopping the truck, stepping out, getting wet and taking care of that stem.
Oftentimes our use of the Bible is like this. For all of our effort and activity with it, we leave others and ourselves without the sight of what we need and unable to drive our lives safely. We take the Bible up but we do not recognize that we are missing something—and that something has to be dealt with in order for the Bible to work as it is meant to in our lives. The thing with which we must deal in order for the Bible to clear our sightlines is love. Like windshield wiper blades that cannot do their proper work unless small plant stems are recognized and dealt with, so our Bible reading will not do its proper work unless love is recognized and dealt with. The only difference is that for wiper blades we must remove the stems. With our Bible reading we must hold on to love. We are prone to read the Bible without love. No wonder we can hardly see and only poorly drive when it comes to how we treat God and each other with the Bible. Something other than love keeps getting in our way.
Jesus, Double Love and Our Complaint about the Old Testament God
A lawyer asked Jesus to boil the Bible down to its essence. The attorney wanted to know the one main thing that God’s law intends to teach us. According to Jesus, the answer to this question is love, both for God and for our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 23:34-40)”All the law and the prophets depend” upon this central teaching of double love. Our Lord repeats the idea. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do to them, for this is the Law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). When Jesus read the Law of Moses and the Prophets what he saw revealed in their words was love for God and love for each other.
Some of us might wonder what is the loveliness that Jesus sees in the God of Moses and the prophets? Perhaps when we read these Old Testament passages we see a mean, angry and tantruming God who in our estimation is anything but lovely. There is much to say about this and a lot of time to spend together in dialogue. On the audio message for this subject online (www.riversidestl.org, 5/19/13) I address this question in much greater detail. But for this moment, may I merely suggest the idea that Jesus sees loveliness in the God of these Old Testament pages and Jesus loves this God with all of his being. Jesus is not one to defend or to prize bigoted abusers. What is it then that Jesus sees that makes the God of Moses and the Prophets lovely to him? To begin here together with this question is to begin an apprenticeship with Jesus, learning together, little by little from our Bible reading how to love God.
Try These Questions
So, when you read the Bible, ask these double-love questions:
First, “What does this passage show me about the loveliness of God?” Or put another way, “What is it about God in this passage that calls for my love for Him?”
Second, “What does this passage show me about people and what love requires of me on their behalf?”
Third, “As a person who has been shown mercy and love from God what empowerment from Him do I need to overcome my obstacles to love?” Or put another way, “What is it about the way I handle the Bible that leads me to justify loveless ways with God or my neighbor as myself? What about the love of God in Jesus gives you hope and provision as you see your own lovelessness?
Fourth, if something that you read seems anything but lovely or loving, write it down, step back, don’t forget the lovely things that you have read about on other Bible pages, but while holding onto these lovely things ask about the unloveliness, begin a dialogue with Jesus about the loveliness he sees there, and in community conversation, trust that Jesus will show you in time, what he sees.