Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Living Exegesis

The other day, in my regular rota of Bible reading, the Old Testament passage happened to be Proverbs 3, which includes the verses

5Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

A couple days later, the Psalm selection was No. 37, which in part says

3Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4Delight yourself in the Lord
and he will give you the desires of your heart.


25I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.

I've pursued my current plan of Bible reading since the year 2000 or so. So I've read these passages repeatedly the past nine and a half years. I've read them with openness, with edification, with acceptance.

But this past week when these verses came up, they evoked feelings of resentment, rejection, and fear.

For why?

Because given my situation in these economically-parlous times, they swept me back to the financially-strapped late '70s when I was subsisting as a newly-minted Bachelor of Architecture in the beautiful but heedless city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In that town and that economy I was unemployed more often than not. Frequently I had no idea where money for groceries was coming from, let alone the rent for my studio apartment. And acquaintances from the church I was attending, people who knew the paucity of my resources, would bombard me with these verses. It was their way of "ministering" to me. These verses were supposed to make everything All Better.

But they didn't. They made me feel alienated, excluded, and condemned.

Why should they? I was a Christian, after all. They should have filled me with hope and confidence in the Lord. Was I just hard of heart? Maybe a little, yes. But there was more to my desolation than than that.

These verses fell flat because they came alone. They weren't accompanied by the exegesis of my acquaintances' lives. How these people related to me did nothing to show me the true meaning of these texts or to discover to me the goodness and grace of Almighty God. They were too busy to be my friends, to just sit around and talk about everyday stuff as we got to know one another. No, I'd have chapter and verse references given to me at the last minute at the end of a Bible study. Or I'd find the text scotch-taped to my apartment door with no sign that the visit was about anything else.

These people had not yet earned the right to drop random exhortatory verses on me. I wanted friends and conversation and relationships, and what I got was Proverbs and Psalms used like robot arms to keep me at a distance. I needed information and referrals and connections on possible jobs, and they gave me Biblical magic formulas about how if I was righteous and godly enough, the positions and pay would simply come.

It felt like what it says in the Letter from James,

2:15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

James could have added "emotional needs" as well. There is a time and a place to feed a Christian brother or sister from the Word, but it must never come alone. It's possible that a non-believer can also gain comfort from a quotation from the Scriptures, but there it's even more crucial that it be accompanied by the exegesis of our lives.

I've been thinking since last week on how that living exegesis would "read," about the overall love and grace of a Christian friend's conduct that would guarantee that Scripture snippets were received as the comfort they were meant to be. I need to contemplate further before I could venture to say anything about it, but I know that sort of "love with skin on" is vitally essential.

By today, I can again read the Proverbs 3 and Psalm 37 passages and see and feel their assurance and hope. My upset last week wasn't really about the verses per se, it was frustration and anger at myself that here it is thirty years later and I'm again in the same stinky financial position. But that's a different subject, and going and doing something useful now might have go some ways towards maybe getting myself out of it . . .

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