Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Sweet Scroll

Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. (Ezekiel 3.3)

Nothing Like It Looks
Blogger informs me this is Straight-Friendly’s 500th post. While that includes reposts and updates, the lion’s share is comprised of original reflections that, until the recent pullback to three per week, appeared daily. Had I known what a new post each day would ultimately demand, I’d have dismissed the idea out-of-hand. Yet this milestone reminds me how much I would have lost by not setting such an ambitious pace. The daily obligation to deliver something hopefully worth reading and useful necessitated digging ever deeper and wider into God’s Word. Since my youth, I’ve tried to devote time each day to reading and/or meditating on Scripture. This experience, which I admit was driven by stubbornness to keep up as much as anything, turned into something else entirely. For the past 18 months, I’ve feasted on God’s Word, finding flavors and textures I’ve never tasted. With more conviction than ever I can testify: God’s Word is sweet.

Ezekiel also learns this, albeit in a less rigorous, time-consuming manner that, well frankly, makes me a little envious. He’s swept into a trance, where he surveys the vast beauty of God’s creatures and beholds the Creator’s glory. He falls facedown as a voice calls him to speak to Israel—which at the moment appears to be in a sorry state. “Do not be afraid of them or their words,” the voice says in Ezekiel 2.6. “Do not be afraid though briers and thorns are all around you, and you live among scorpions.” The calling ends with the voice offering Ezekiel a scroll, commanding him to eat it. “On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe,” he reports in verse 9. Ezekiel stands up, opens his mouth, and discovers the parchment tastes nothing like it looks. “It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth,” he writes.

Trapped Between the Lines
As Ezekiel finds out—and something I’ve come to recognize—the sweetness of God’s Word is often trapped between the lines. The riches and rareness of its flavor aren’t always evident at a cursory glance. To experience its full taste, we go beyond looking at it and look into it, searching for pockets of honey, where God’s love and grace hide beneath harsh judgments and reactions to our weakness and disobedience. It’s entirely possible to read the Bible, observing how God deals with us—from the Garden eviction in Genesis to the bloody vengeance described in The Revelation—and come away with a bitter taste in our mouths. That’s because we’ve only skimmed the surface. When we open it up, however, and open our minds to what it’s actually depicting, its amazing sweetness springs to the surface.

The undiscriminating eye sees exactly what Ezekiel does at first glance: pages spread thick with lament, mourning, and woe. But reading the Bible has a completely opposite effect when we discipline ourselves to look beyond what happens to see why God speaks and behaves as He does. Even in the most brutal, seemingly merciless instances—e.g., the Flood, or the savage torture and execution of Christ—we detect the sweetness of God’s undying love and determination to restore our relationship with Him. The extraordinary lengths He goes to and the enormous risks He takes to return our attention to Him fill us with awe.

The Good Parts
It’s a good guess the majority of Bible readers fall somewhere between the skimmers and the searchers. Like people who stick with what they liked as kids and avoid unfamiliar or challenging flavors, they spend their lives ignoring much of God’s Word to get to “the good parts.” And it’s likely “the good parts” are indeed the best parts—passages where God’s love and grace are easily found and absorbed. But there are liabilities to confining our exposure to what suits our tastes. First, we stunt our growth by not gaining insights and strength only found in tougher portions that bury their sweetness. Second, we’re left to rely on others’ opinions regarding unfamiliar passages. This is especially true for gay believers who continue to trust people who rip scriptures out of context to condemn and discourage them. If they explored the texts for themselves, they could be following Christ in full confidence. Finally, a limited diet—no matter how sweet it is—will eventually turn bland. Believers who restrict their tastes to what they already like return less frequently the table. Their hunger to know more of God withers under the misconception all His Word offers is more of the same.

When Ezekiel is given the scroll, he’s told, “Eat this scroll and fill your stomach with it.” In other words, he’s instructed to eat everything—much like parents tell finicky children to stop picking at their food and clean their plates. Had he combed through the scroll for its most tasty or digestible nibbles, he never would have known its full sweetness. Nor would he have been strengthened for the opposition he was due to face as he obeyed God’s call. We need God’s Word, all of it, to know God in His fullness and sweetness. Only by delving beneath its sometimes harsh, off-putting surface can we discover the sweet scroll it truly is.

Skimming the surface or skipping to "the good parts" hides the sweetness trapped between the lines of God's Word.

(Next: Making the Most)


Mariah and Byron Edgington said...

Congrats on your milestone Tim! We hosted Tom Goss for a House Concert last night. We had an opportunity to talk with Tom about why many of us feel the pressing need to push ourselves so. Tom told us, though it's an incredible amount of work, and exhausting at times, he feels he's able to touch people and make a difference in their lives.
Connection to others. And so we all persist without exception.
Thanks for your blog & continued insights.

Tim said...

Mariah/Byron, thank you! It's true, the push comes from knowing the work is worth it. How many times I've been dragging and, just in time, an email or comment would surface to help me spring back to life. It's all part of the goodness, isn't it?

Blessings to you both, and keep pressing on!

genevieve said...

Tim, when people throw verses at us to condemn us it's important to be armed with the truth of the word. I pay that LGBT people will go on the offensive rather than us shrinking under the weight of unworthiness or guilt.

I think of the verse 'study to show ourselves approved'. This verse I take seriously because of all the error fomented out there.

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

I always find myself a little envious of the time Pastors and teachers spend gleaning insight from God's Word to share with others. I think we often forget that not every sermon (or post, in your case) rolls right off the tip of the tongue or fingers, and that those who are called to lead us have lives outside of the time we spend with them, and the time they spend preparing their messages.

Thanks for being willing to heed God's call to use your gift of teaching and insight to make God's Will and Word for myself and others more clear and joyful, Tim!

Tim said...

Genevieve and Jake, I sincerely apologize for my delayed response. I've been whammied with computer issues that have me rushing to catch up.

Genevieve, your reference to Paul's advice to study to show ourselves approved to God is spot-on. It's essential for all believers, especially GLBT Christians, to know the Word. Paul says it's how we become "workmen who don't need to be ashamed." I honestly believe if more GLBT believers knew the Word better, they'd not be shaken in the least when others try to misuse it against them. What did Jesus say? "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."

Jake, such kindness! It's so true--those of us who endeavor to share God's Word with others invest a great deal of time and effort. Like anything else in life, it's never as easy as it looks. But its rewards are unlike anything else in life. Regardless how hard it may be at times, telling God's love and goodness always brings unforeseen blessings--like the privilege it's been to get to know you and Genevieve, Mariah and Byron, and everyone else who graces these pages. On that level, laboring in the Word is not hard at all! It's a true pleasure.

Joy and peace to you both--and thanks as always for your words.