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Reading the Bible “by Faith”

The cruciform approach to reading the Bible—and specifically the culturally-conditioned and sin-stained portraits of God—requires faith on the part of the reader, which I argue in Crucifixion of the Warrior God. On one level we can discern by faith that often times God broke through the limitations and sin of the ancient authors, for we find divine portraits that, to one degree or another, reflect the character of God revealed in Christ. On another level we must discern by faith that God appropriated the limitations and sin of the authors God “breathed” through, for we find divine portraits that, to one degree or another, anticipate the ugliness of the sin-bearing, God-forsaken criminal on the cross. Of course, I am painting with broad brush strokes. In reality, most portraits in the Old Testament are Christ-like to a certain extent and reflect the culturally conditioned and sin-stained humanity of their authors to a certain extent.

To the extent that a divine portrait reflects the character of Christ, it may be regarded as a direct revelation of God’s character. For as with the teachings and actions of Christ, the content of this type of divine portrait directly reflects God’s true, Christ-like character. Conversely, to the extent that a divine portrait conflicts with the character of Christ, it must be regarded as an indirect revelation of God. This calls for a different kind of faith. For as with Christ when he bore our sins and took on the semblance of a guilty, God-forsaken criminal, the content of this type of divine portrait reflects the limitations and sin of God’s covenantal people more than it does his true character.

Along the same lines, as with the sin-bearing Christ on the cross, the indirect revelatory content of this type of divine portrait must be located not at the level of appearances, but in what happened behind these appearances, in what could be called the “meta-dimension” of these appearances. To put the matter in slightly different terms, we only discern the character of God on Calvary when, by faith, we look through the grotesque appearance of this guilty criminal and discern in the depth of this event the unfathomably merciful God stooping to this unthinkable level. We can discern the true character of God in OT divine portraits that look like standard ANE portraits of warrior deities when we, by faith, look through the barbaric appearances to discern the unfathomably merciful God stooping to this unthinkable level.

As such, to the extent that any OT portraits reflects the limited and sinful humanity of God’s people, and insofar as we discern the limited and sinful humanity of God’s people in any other aspect of Scripture, we may discern a harbinger and type of the cross. The same faith that enables us to discern the self-sacrificial God in the depth dimension of the limited and fallen “criminal” who hung on the cross is the faith that enables us to discern the self-sacrificial God in the depth dimension of Scripture’s violent portraits of Yahweh, as well as every other aspect of Scripture that reflects the limited and sinful humanity of its authors. And all of this, I submit, bears witness to the unfailing covenantal love of God.

Image: Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Ms-5211 réserve, fol. 69v.

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