I do not have a favorite Bible story. For every one that creates warm, comforting feelings in me, there is another that irritates or terrifies me. I just finished reading one of the latter -- Judges 19. If you don’t know the tale I’m referring to, go and read it -- if you dare.
Phyllis Trible calls these stories “texts of terror” and dissects a few of them in her book by the same name. When I hear people talking about these awful stories -- which never is in the context of a church service where they have been read aloud and/or studied -- there is at least one person who shudders at the story and wonders why it is included in the Bible. I guess that’s a fair question. But the answer probably depends on how one sees the Bible. If it is a collection of edifying, comforting and affirming stories of God, then what the hell is Judges 19 doing in there? But if the Bible is a collection of painfully human attempts to understand God and the divine expectations on all of us, then, of course, Judges 19 belongs between its covers. In class once, Trible said the Bible was descriptive, not prescriptive.
I guess what bothers me more are the people who skip over these terrible stories because they make no immediate sense. Or they raise such difficult questions. Or they inspire such painful introspection. I wonder if they worry that exposure to terrifying texts will somehow compromise their faith. But if we value the Bible and our relationship to God, we can’t avoid these stories. We have to wrestle with them, even if they leave us limping. Remember that in Genesis 32 Jacob wrestled with a stranger through a dark and lonely night, refusing to let him go without a blessing. The stranger renamed Jacob Israel “for you have striven with God and with humans.” And Israel walked away from the fight limping.
All this is on my mind this morning. I awoke to a news story that reads like a terrible text from the Bible: "Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria." Read it if you dare. It may leave you limping.