By Charlie Crowe
I have very fond memories of Sunday school. One of my favorite times was when the teacher would tell the Bible story with the aid of flannelgraph. The brightly printed characters and scenery made the stories come alive.
As I have grown older, I have discovered a number of Bible stories that never made it to flannelgraph. Indeed, many were never discussed in any Sunday school class or sermon. These are the stories that are inappropriate for children, stories I don’t want my young children being exposed to. As ministers and church leaders, we sometimes treat these stories like skeletons in the closet, events we would rather not discuss and wish weren’t really there.
But the Bible is God’s inspired revelation for us, useful for the maturing of our faith and ministry. We impoverish ourselves and our churches by not embracing these stories, even if they will never be featured on VeggieTales.
Beyond the shocking accounts of bloodshed and violence, the Bible contains even more disturbing stories of incest, voyeurism, mutilation, and prostitution. Why in the world does God include such lurid incidents in his revelation to us? And what can we gain from these historical records? Here are a few lessons to be gained by reading the R-rated stories of the Bible.
The first lesson is the relevance of the Bible for our lives and life today. We tend to see biblical characters as almost ethereal, living in a holy glow and apart from the real world. We have trouble relating to someone whose life is free from phobias, conflict, stress, and regrets. All Bible characters were strugglers, and these stories show how God worked in the lives of people like us, except they may have been even more dysfunctional than we are.
Consider David, for example. If literary circumstances had been different, we might use the term “peeping David” rather than “peeping Tom.” God’s Word tells us that God’s man David watched as the neighbor lady took her bath (2 Samuel 11:2). The sexually addicted find in David a fellow pilgrim. The sexually addicted find a common struggler and someone he/she can relate to in the widower Judah, who overpays for a hooker, not knowing it is his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:18).
In my walk as a disciple, I am encouraged to see that the heroes of the past were people who tried and failed, rebelled and wrestled with guilt, and who, like me, were torn between two powerful attractions. These stories help us see that the Bible deals with issues as contemporary as the latest news story.
The second lesson we learn is that God is able to take ruined lives and make them whole and use them for his purpose. Grace sounds great as a definition, but sometimes we need to see a poster child for grace. We need to see a person with a shattered life restored and made into a hero in God’s plan. The Old Testament is filled with people whose ruined lives were touched by God’s grace.
Almost as a showcase of the glory of his grace, God mentions five women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1), all of whom emerged from a cloud. Tamar became pregnant by her father-in-law while acting as a prostitute. Rahab protected the spies in her brothel where she once plied her trade. Ruth was from Moab and was an idolatress. Bathsheba was an adulteress and may have been a party to the plans for her husband’s demise. And Mary, while innocent, lived under the cloud of an unplanned pregnancy and perhaps a hurried wedding.
I need to be reminded that there is an alternative to wallowing in guilt. That alternative is God’s grace. The R-rated stories of the Bible also remind me that a ruined life can be the beginning point of God’s grace. They also teach me not to be judgmental of those still trapped in sin. You never know—today’s exotic dancer may be tomorrow’s saintly heroine.
A third lesson to be gained from the troubling Bible stories is about God’s faithfulness in spite of his people’s misuse of his provision. Our age is not the first in which people have used the holy for unscrupulous purposes. When we hear of a minister caught in moral failure or a ministry that has been dishonest, we tend to think ours is the worst of all ages. It is heartbreaking to see people use God’s kingdom for personal gain. But it strengthens the heart to see how God’s kingdom agenda is not derailed by such actions. In the midst of human infidelity, we see God remains faithful.
While on an excursion to a Canaanite city, Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by Shechem, the prince of that city. To achieve revenge Levi and Simeon, her full brothers, use the covenant seal of circumcision in an unholy way (Genesis 34:13). Levi and Simeon deceived Shechem and the men of the city, offering a very favorable wedding arrangement. All they asked was for the men to be circumcised. While the men are disabled by their fresh circumcision, Levi and Simeon slaughter every one of them. That which was intended to be a sign of a special relationship to God is reduced to a tool to inaugurate slaughter.
If God is able to remain faithful to his chosen people despite their abuse of their privileged position, then I need not despair when occasionally church leadership capitulates to selfish motives.
The fourth lesson is about the growing nature of sin. Sin is never static, it is always growing, worsening, and tightening its grip until countered by God’s grace. We know that “sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15). In the sordid stories of the Bible, that progression is painted in vivid detail.
Suppose we had asked Lot as he moved into the fertile pastures near Sodom, “Do you plan on losing everything, developing a drinking problem, and siring two children by an incestuous relationship with your daughters?” He would have certainly answered, “No!” But that is exactly what happened (Genesis 19:30-36).
Lot did not go from companion of Abraham to debased reprobate in a single step. That journey involved many small compromises. Those small compromises always lead us to unexpected conclusions.
By seeing how sin progresses, and more importantly, its ultimate consequences, we may be able to train ourselves to think through and avoid our tendency to compromise.
There are many other stories that should never be featured in junior worship. But they are in the Bible for our benefit. They can empower us to honor God with our lives and adore him for the power of his grace.
Charlie Crowe ministers with Brown Bridge Christian Church in Covington, Georgia.