In the RCIA class I’m helping out with, we’ve been discussing Scripture and Tradition. One thing I didn’t get to mention, but I imagine might come up: what to do with those passages that contradict beliefs you hold near and dear, beliefs you hold to be *obviously* true? Examples that leap to mind include Old Testament passages where God orders the complete slaughter – men, women, children, livestock and, I imagine, pets – of Israel’s enemies, and Paul’s commands that women remain silent in Church and be subject to their husbands.
My advice, for what little it’s worth: fight off the temptation to explain these passages away. Instead, ask: how could this be true? What could it mean? What does it tell us about God and man? Is there a non-dismissive way it can true?
How could a loving God order His Chosen People to kill innocent children and non-combatant women? Clearly, I believe my notion of what constitutes a loving God precludes Him ordering his followers to kill innocent people. I personally would not obey such a command. I would assume such a command, if given to me in, what? a vision? a dream? could not be from God.
Still don’t exactly know what to make of this. The best explanations I’ve ever heard include the notion that this evil – the slaughter of whole villages and cities – was a result of Israel’s disobedience when they failed to promptly invade the Holy Land. Had they proceeded as ordered, the story goes, the inhabitants, faced with a huge army invading out of the desert, lead by God Himself, would have fled – and lived. But once Israel futzed about and was unfaithful, the 40 years passed, after which the inhabitants had ceased to be terrified. So God now needed to purge the Promised Land of the abominations of the worshipers of the Baals – child sacrifice and sexual perversions being central features – to give His people any chance of remaining true. The slaughter becomes like the Mosaic permission of divorce: given because the people were weak, but not intended from the foundation of the world.
Intellectually, those are kind of OK. Not sure my heart agrees. Yet.
The wives are subject to their husbands and should remain silent in church stuff used to bother me much more than it does now. If husbands are to be as Christ toward their wives, laying down their lives for them, then the whole ‘who’s in charge’ thing seems to pale to insignificance. Further, unsolicited and coming as a complete shock, many years ago my wife said that of course she was subject to me. One of the chief reasons I wanted to marry her in the first place was because, while she was sweet and accommodating in general, I’d also seen that she had real spine when people tried to push her around. My immediate thought: I’m not the boss of you!
The effect of having my wife tell me that she is subject to me – and I’m sure she means it – is that I’m aware that she is looking to me to lead, and that what a terrible and wonderful duty that is. The last thing I’d want to do is push her around (not that I haven’t failed, but I don’t want to). Talk about throwing down the gauntlet: now I have to be as Christ to her! I think obedience, even to a clown like me, might be the easier task!
Once I did my best to accept that part, the whole ‘women silent in Church stuff seemed at least less offensive. If men must be in charge, but only in the sacrificial sense in which Christ is ‘in charge’, then reserving public leadership roles to men is defensible, and in fact could be beautiful is done well. The hard part: we will, and have, screwed this up. Our mothers, wives and daughters should be the most honored and respected people among us, as Christ shows repeatedly in His life, both in how he treats – and honors – the women he encounters, and in His command to love one another as He has loved us.
This cuts both ways, of course: men will error in both being bullies and in being cowards, women in being harpies and in being shrews. We’re one big screwed up family! Adam must now work and earn his bread by the sweat of his brow; Eve’s desire shall be for her man, and he will lord it over her. These two curses are perfect poetic justice for the sins. Doesn’t make it any easier on us.
And this disfunction all gets reflected in the Church. It’s almost like Democracy, in that we tend to get the leaders we deserve.
It is tempting and easy to come up- with ways to dismiss these troubling passages, or to let them destroy what little faith we have. I don’t know which is worse. It is better to embrace them, let them trouble us, and try to discover how they can be true.
This about plumbs the depths of my Scripture knowledge, so grain of salt and all that.