“Scripture is like a cracked jar”–the glory of an imperfect Bible (Michael Hardin part 4)

Today we come to the final post of a 4-part series by Michael Hardin, “How Jesus Read His Bible.” Hardin (see full bio at part 1) is the co-founder and Executive Director of Preaching Peace a non-profit based in Lancaster, PA whose motto is “Educating the Church in Jesus’ Vision of Peace.” Hardin has published over a dozen articles on the mimetic theory of René Girard in addition to essays on theology, spirituality, and practical theology. He is also the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Jesus Driven Life from which these posts are adapted.

In today’s post, Hardin talks about how he sees God speaking through Scripture: through the cross.

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If God speaks through Scripture, and I believe God does indeed speak, how shall we understand God speaking? I begin with several criteria.

The first is that in Jesus the “fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily” (Col 2:9). Jesus is the figure who reveals the character of the Father (so Heb 1:1-3, John 1:1- 18, etc).

The second is this: God speaks through broken vessels. The greatest speech/act of God can be found in the cross. God did God’s best work on the cross reconciling a stubborn, blind and rebellious humanity by forgiving them their sins.

The cross is the ultimate place of God’s brokenness. It is in this brokenness that we see most clearly the affection of God for humanity, an affection or love that takes even misjudgment, torture, humiliation and shame and still announces forgiveness.

Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 says we have “this treasure in clay jars.” This treasure is the gospel (vs. 3). If a jar could contain light, say, the light of the gospel, and it was perfect, then that light would not be seen, for it would have nowhere to shine through. If it is cracked, then there are places for that light to leak out and shine forth.

For me, Scripture is liked a cracked jar, it is because it is cracked that light is able to shine forth. If in our brokenness God shines God’s light in and through us, can we not also assert the same of the prophets and the apostles? Can we not say that we are most like God, not when we are whole, but when we are broken? Does not the Fourth Gospel (John) suggest as much in its view of the relationship between ‘glory’ (doxa) and the cross?

In other words, we do not need to have a theory of Scripture where the Bible must be perfect in order for God to reveal God’s self.

Some may object and say but if that is the case how do we distinguish between what is “man’s [sic] word” and what is “God’s Word?” This has already been answered by suggesting that revelation comes through the voice of the forgiving victim.

It is the Crucified that speaks the eternal word: shalom. The forgiveness announced by Jesus on the cross is no different than the ‘shalom’ announced by the Risen Jesus. They are flip sides of a coin. God is at peace with humanity.

For this reason, I see the cross as the evacuation of all concepts of divine wrath, existential and eschatological. There was no wrath of God poured out on Jesus on the cross; the wrath is strictly ours. Nor is there an eschatological wrath, as though God was only partly ameliorated at the cross but will make sure to vent holy anger come The End.

The cross is the death of all our god concepts, and we humans are the ones who, through the justification of scapegoating, believe that God is one with us when we victimize. After all, ‘God’ victimized plenty of people and people groups in the Old Testament.

This sacrificial way of thinking is terminated by the anti-sacrifice Jesus. Jesus’ blood covers our sin, not through some divine forensic transaction but as we lift our blood stained hands we hear the divine voice, “You are forgiven, each and every one of you, all of you.”

The New Testament writers say this was all done “for us” (hyper humon), for our sakes, for our benefit. This is what the Nicene Creed affirms when it says Jesus “who for us humans and our salvation came down from heaven.” Just as Hebrews 10:5-8 says, this coming was not to be a sacrifice but was the opposite, it was anti-sacrificial.

Jesus did not come to fulfill the logic of the sacrificial system (either Jewish or pagan) but to expose it and put an end to its reign in our lives.

The cross of Christ is the place of revelation, the resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of that revelation, and the ascension, where Jesus is given the Unpronounceable Name (Phil 2:5-11) is the place where that revelation is confirmed for all time.

This is the good news, this is the gospel, and this is why we trust God to use our brokenness to shine his light from our lives into the lives of others, just as God uses the broken prophetic and apostolic witness to continue to shine light to us and for us today.

How can we break through to this new reading of the Bible? What is it that hinders us from really seeing and hearing and experiencing the good news? What keeps us in bondage to our old sacrificial ways of thinking?

It is time to name the interpretive prison system in which Christianity finds herself. We must discern how the ‘satanic’ sacrificial interpretation manifests itself in our theology. Just as a prison has guards or warders so also sacrificial Christianity has warders that keep it bound to the false logic of sacrifice.

It is the revelation of the resurrected victim that creates the possibility, hitherto an impossibility, for reading texts outside the box of our anthropological mythmaking and justification of reciprocal vengeance. Christopher Marshall also points to this way of understanding our changed relationship to God:

God’s perceived involvement in the infliction of violence is over. God no longer fights fire with fire. God has changed – or, perhaps more accurately, the human experience of God’s association with violence has changed. God no longer permits his identity to be defined by violence; God actively repudiates the violent behavior which has hitherto clouded his character so that the duplicity of violence itself may be exposed and defeated. (“The Violence of God and the Hermeneutics of Paul” in The Work of Jesus Christ in Anabaptist Perspective [Telford: Cascadia Publishing, 2008], 89.)

I suggest a correlation of hermeneutics with resurrection and discipleship as the three legs of a new paradigm of biblical authority.

This anthropological reading of the text is a formative new paradigm for framing the specifics of how the Bible is to be read, understood and lived within the Christian communion.

It is a liberating paradigm for it moves beyond the contentious debates regarding the relation of truth to language and brings to the fore the key problem that has bogged down the church since Marcion on the relation of violence to divinity.

The lens of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus reveals our total sin and God’s total grace. It is a paradigm that calls for more than just intellectual assent; indeed it requires the risk of obedience to Jesus so that, just as he is the Light of the World, so we too, in listening to him and following him, may be light to our world.


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