Unsettling stories

May 9, 2016 by

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“The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Jane Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

The Bible says some unsettling things. Multiple bloodbaths clear the way for The Chosen. Smashers of babies against rocks are called blessed. The list of jarring statements and unnerving narratives is perplexing. What does it mean to believe this eclectic collection of faith writings?

Reading and believing the Bible can be more like a dance than a cut-and-dried pronouncement. Re-reading the story of Rahab, I was reminded how puzzling Bible stories can be. Rahab looks like a superhero — or is she a trickster and a traitor brokering a clever deal? The people of Jericho appear to be immoral heathen — or are they victims of a terrorist attack? The dance changes as different voices set the contextual tone.

The music turns melancholic as we dance with the viewpoint of the Jericho residents. Tension mounts as we hear that foreign spies are visiting Rahab’s brothel. The king’s men, our respected authorities, arrive at Rahab’s inn. Rahab turns traitor and casts her lot with the Israelites, a feared coalition of terrorists. Did Rahab calculate the benefits of betrayal? Is she thinking former slaves turned aggressors will treat her and other discards of society in better ways?

The music changes. Upbeat celebration music reverberates as we dance with the story from the perspective of the Israelites. Rahab confesses, “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” She has chosen the right side.

The music switches to a 007 melody as spies enter the city, but they seem amateurish. The king soon learns of their presence. Skilled or not, the Bond music is appropriate as sexual innuendos abound. Why are our spies bargaining with a Canaanite prostitute?

The music takes a confusing turn. The Israelites are to show no mercy to the Canaanites (Deut. 7:2). Does Rahab, a worthless Canaanite prostitute, deserve mercy? Is she really the hero? Aren’t Abraham’s offspring the heroes? Does being part of God’s people have to do with bloodlines or confession and fidelity?

To Bible believers, the story of Rahab is puzzling. We see Israel as a victim, escaping slavery in Egypt, but also as a perpetrator of violent colonialism. We see Rahab as a hero but also a betrayer.

Grappling with this story, we miss some cultural and historic nuances, but we benefit from seeing the bigger picture. We benefit from knowing chosenness is not tied to Abraham. We benefit from knowing all cultures are a mix of good and bad.

Dancing with the story of Rahab requires good background music. We need Micah gently humming about justice, mercy and humbly stepping with our God. We need the rhythm of a nonviolent Jesus calling us to love enemies.

Rahab leaves us with questions. What does it means to believe the Bible? How does it look for people from different cultures to be part of the same faith communities? How does church become a space where there is no Jew or Canaanite, no occupier or occupied, and where society’s discards can become heroes and church moderators? How does it look to side with the community of God and against our dominant North American culture? How do we respond when the temptations of chosenness and American exceptionalism come knocking at our door?

We stumble along. Our cultural context and our way of seeing the Bible can trip us up. Believing the Bible and having faith is a lively interactive dance.

The Bible says it, we dance with it, and together we keep moving toward faith that harmonizes with Jesus.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.


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