Today we keep the feast of Saints Gregory and Macrina, and pray that “we who celebrate your servants Gregory and Macrina may press onwards in faith to your boundless love and ever wonder at the miracle of your presence among us.” And goodness me we need to pray it, because each news bulletin seems to bring further reports of murderous violence committed by people who pray too. I firmly believe that a proper understanding of God is that in him we have the origin and example of the redeemed use of power, giving everything to and for us in creation, in Christ, in the life of the Spirit. And I look to the Scriptures as the place where the path to that redemption is shown us, containing, as the 39 Articles of the Church of England say, all things necessary for salvation. Here, as I was preaching last night as we put a new priest in at Houghton, Wyton and Hartford, is hope for our world gone mad.
But then – the uncomfortable reading. Alongside the beautiful prayer for Gregory and Macrina, our pattern of readings takes us to 1 Samuel 15 and another gruesome story of God’s word through the prophet Samuel demanding the wholesale slaughter of the Amelakites. It’s a question we have to face.
The best answer I can come up with is that the revelation of God’s character and will, and our reception and grasp of it, is progressive. The Scriptures are the narrative of that journey, all there for our learning, containing all we need to follow the way of salvation, but not all pointing to those truths and that way in the same manner. Samuel was both a man of his time, early on in the journey, and a flawed human being like us. That is by no means to take a “low” view of Scripture; it is just to listen to it carefully and not treat it as an oracle (which is not at all what the Articles make it). Only in Christ do we encounter the truth itself made flesh and dwelling among us.
You will have I hope your own way of wrestling with how we read Scripture (and are indeed, I hope, reading it). It may be better than mine. We need to talk about how we do it. We need to do it together. We need to work together as we face deep challenges in the life of both the world and the church today.