Un-Sanitizing the Story

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In Genesis 20 Abraham finds himself in a bind and decides to deal with the problem in an interesting. He lies. And this isn’t the first time he does this, either. In fact, it’s not even a new lie.

In Genesis 12 (when he still went by Abram), afraid that the Egyptians will kill him in order to take his beautiful wife, he tells them that Sarah is his sister. The funny thing is, Abram doesn’t suffer for this moral lapse. Instead he gets lots of livestock and servants from Pharaoh until the truth comes out and he is forced to leave with all his new possessions.

So when he faces a similar situation, this time with King Abimelek, he goes back to the old lie. And when the truth comes out again, guess what happens? He gains more livestock, more servants and some cash.

Lying seems to be a good business decision for Abraham. 

What are we to do with stories like this? They don’t fit into our tidy categories or narratives. Lying isn’t supposed to be a key to financial success. What principles are we to gain from stores like this?

Dr. Beck mentions this story in his interesting teaching recently given at the Pepperdine Lectures. Stories like this create a tension for us. Stories like Tamar or Esther and Mordecai or Jacob — “biblical tricksters” who don’t always fit our simple moral categories yet are part of the advancement of God’s cause in the world.

What Dr. Beck points out is our tendency to moralize the biblical narrative — to try and distill these stories down to digestible tales that we can teach our kids in Sunday School.

Moral fables are easier to handle and understand.

But these are stories of real people in real situations that don’t always fit into tidy boxes. They act in ways that aren’t predictable and are often confusing. Fairness does not always win the day.

Or take the teachings of Jesus. Some of his words are easy to swallow. Encouragement about loving God and our neighbor. Stories about fathers who forgive their sons or farmers  sowing seeds.

What we sometimes lose is the startling nature of his words. Many of his teachings and stories were shocking in their context and culture. Jesus is doing so much than giving simple moral direction.

Jesus confronts us with the stark otherness of the Kingdom of God.

So he describes this Kingdom as an expensive pearl or a hidden treasure that someone sells all that he has to acquire. This Kingdom requires decisive moment. It is different. It is other. It goes against the existing power structures of the world.
Sometimes in our efforts to make the stories and teachings of the Bible easy to understand or digest we take away their edge and power. We lose the fact that inserting love into the world is always an act of insurgency. We sanitize what should be shocking.

Love is subversive resistance to the ways the world often works.

Loving in the face of hate is always radical.
Fighting strength with weakness is always revolutionary.
Serving others in humility is always rebellious.


Let’s not sanitize ourselves to the power of love in a harsh world. And let’s join in the great campaign of sabotage that is the Kingdom of God.

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