In the weeks leading up to Easter, the History Channel has been broadcasting a new min-series called “The Bible” which offers a dramatic recounting of some of the major stories and characters of the Bible. So far, this mini-series has received a lot of publicity and has done very well in attracting viewers. Last week, Nielsen Research reported “The Bible” drew a larger viewing audience than “American Idol,” and, in fact, drew a larger audience share than any of the major television networks. Apparently, a lot of people are watching “The Bible.
I’ve been watching too, and I have a couple of thoughts and observations. For starters, watching some of these Old Testament stories is a much different experience than reading them. As a theologically trained pastor, I understand the Bible (especially the Old Testament) reflects cultural norms and ancient traditions that are much different from our 21st century American reality. But still, seeing some of this on my television screen as opposed to reading it in my study, I became more aware of just how “earthy” some parts of the Bible can be. To watch Abraham slip into the tent of his wife’s servant, Hagar, so that he might get her pregnant (while his wife sits outside by the campfire) was just creepy. I found myself turning away when Abraham bound his own son and placed him on a stone altar in order to offer the boy as a sacrifice to God (even though I knew an Angel would stop him from carrying out the act). The fall of Jericho was quite violent and bloody, and it seemed odd to see the Hebrew warriors cheering God’s name while covered in the blood of all the people they had just slaughtered. And even though I knew young David cut off the head of the giant warrior, Goliath, there was something about seeing David holding that cut-off head in the air like a quarterback holding up a Super Bowl trophy that I found distasteful.
This mini-series is reminding me that the world is sometimes a violent place, and in ancient times, even more so. Atheists often criticize the God of Jews and Christians, claiming that if this God is real, He is not worthy of our love, worship or obedience because He is such a violent, blood-thirsty God. If all we knew of God is what we discover in portions of the Old Testament, the atheists might have a good point. But while parts of the Bible are worthy of an “R” rating, there is a bigger story taking place here. Those who study literature call this the metanarrative. It is the over-arching story found in the midst of all the smaller stories. A metanarrative helps us to find meaning in those smaller stories that seem to confuse (and sometimes even offend) us. The metanarrative of the Bible is that God is working through the normal customs and traditions of the ancient world to bring humanity to a place where we can receive the Savior. God is preparing the soil for the seed of salvation. In the midst of violence, injustice, death, and suffering, God is “working all things together for good” (Romans 8:28).
I am looking forward to watching the New Testament portion of the mini-series. I am sure the images on my television screen will remind me that Jesus was born into a violent world that was often unjust and full of suffering. But I know the story, and I know what is going to happen. Somehow love will be evident and new life will arise in the midst of (and in spite of) the cruelty and suffering. A bloody cross and a rocky tomb give way to a resurrected Savior and a new community of people committed to love God, love one another, and bring good news of great joy to the broken world.
I often summarize the Bible by saying that in the Old Testament, God is saying, “Do you believe me when I say you need a Savior?” And in the New Testament, God is saying, “Do you believe me when I tell you I’ve sent you a Savior?” Watching parts of this mini-series, I am very much aware of our need for a Savior, and very thankful for the Savior who came and died and rose again. The metanarrative of the Bible tells us that someday the Savior will return, and all the wrong in our world will be made right. Peace and justice will rule completely, and love will be made perfect. Until that day, we live in tension, between the world that is and the world that is yet to come.
While “The Bible” mini-series is a great way to bring the Bible into our modern world, I am glad we don’t live in the same time and place as Abraham and David. And yet God is still at work through the current realities of our modern lives, in the midst of the good and the not-so-good, working to make His love known and working to bring good news of great joy to our broken world. As a pastor, I am glad I get to be part of the new community Jesus Christ has made possible. Yes, there are parts of the Bible I find difficult to watch, but the over-arching story is still beautiful, powerful, and life-changing. I realize that until the over-arching story reaches its magnificent conclusion, my own small narrative is just part of the bigger story. I must be content to do the best I can to live a life that honors God, dealing with the broken world that is, while anticipating the perfect world that is yet to come. Some might argue that my anticipation of that world is simply a foolish, false hope, but when you see God at work in the midst of nomads, shepherds, warriors, and kings, it’s not so difficult to see God at work in our modern world as well. And when you can see the big story that guides all of our little stories, then you can be sure that for those who trust in the Savior, the best is yet to come.
Have you been watching this show? What are your thoughts?