There you have it. Hope you enjoyed our wee stories about our Only Connect experience.
Three very different reactions to the same experience. Three different stories all with the same plot. Three perspectives from three different folk.
I found it interesting not only what each of us included, but how Perspective influenced both our style and focus. Paul R’s account was very much in the style of reportage – efficient, pacey, direct. If we were Gospel writers, our Captain would almost certainly be Mark.
Paul J’s perspective was one of encouragement, one of silver linings, one of the signs of the Kingdom.
As for me, my desire not just to tell a story, but to reveal as much about myself as about what happened . Being Empathic and intuiting so much about others often leads me to feel like I need to reveal just as much about myself as I know about others. It’s also one of the main reasons for having the blog in the first place. I want people to know and understand the world about them and to know God through Story, but also to know me. I guess I would probably be the John of our Gospel writers.
And when it comes to “The Gospel”, Perspective truly matters. What we see from where we stand; How we interact with the world because of who we are; How we adapt to the world because of how we don’t fit in; How the world treats us because of our status and level of privilege. All these influence how we interact with the Good News of Jesus. All these influence how we pass on the Good News of Jesus. It influenced the four men who wrote the accounts we call The Gospels today.
When I was preparing this piece I came across a post by the Very Conservative ™ Blogger Doctor Ian Paul. Doctor Paul’s post, titled “Can we resolve the gospel accounts of Holy Week?” positions the differences in the gospel accounts as a problem, a problem that “Enlightenment Thinking ™” (aka His “Apologetic task”) can resolve. (In case you need a reminder, I am NOT a fan of some elements of Enlightenment Thinking ™! 😉 ) He positions the differences as a “gotcha” from skeptics that somehow “prove” the gospel accounts as false and reveals his own Enlightenment Perspective in his insistence that for the “Gospel to be True” we must know and all agree on “exactly what happened and when”. (Long Story Short – we really really don’t.) He then goes on in perfect Evangelical Apologetics™ manner in summing up how perhaps some sort of resolution is possible. My frustration with Doctor Paul’s approach and the general “need” to align the differences and apparent contradictions is that it lies in the misunderstanding of Story and Perspective and most importantly the purpose of the gospel accounts themselves.
Because the misalignment is the whole point! The writers are different people, coming from different places, writing for different reasons. Of course they are different! People see things differently ; people remember things differently ; people want to show the same truth while revealing something new. And they inadvertantly reveal truth about themselves. We don’t actually need or want the four accounts to be perfectly aligned…what would be the point in having four if they were??
The accounts hit all the big tent poles of Holy Week and its sequel. An entry into Jerusalem, debates with scholars, a Holy shared meal, a betrayal, a trial a scouring and a lynching. Then a dark silent (possibly indeterminate number of) day(s). And the first day of the week women are first to the tomb, first to hear of and then tell about a miraculous and glorious Resurrection. Followed by conversations on a road, in a room and on a beach.
The truth of a non-violent man being lynched by political and religious authorities and being resurrected to demonstrate a victory over death and hell is only diminished by petty seeking after all the dots and iotas to be lined up. In fact I take heart in the fact that they can’t agree on how many or which women got to the tomb; on when in the timing of the passover celebrations it all happened; on how long the trial was and where it all occurred. I take heart because it means that there hasn’t been interference after the fact. There hasn’t been any tinkering by editors to make the accounts align which testifies (for me) to a greater authenticity. When people tell exactly the same story in the same way without variation, that always implies they got together and agreed a story intended to deceive and distract from the truth. I am heartened by the fact that this hasn’t happened with the gospel accounts. (In the same way that their less than stellar portrayal of the disciples’ behaviour reveals a level of honesty and authenticity.)
Something else about this “misalignment” shows me something I find encouraging about the nature of how the inspiration of the library of books we call the bible actually works. It shows to me that God honours our personhood, our individuality and importantly our consent. That Their inspiration isn’t a dictation, that it isn’t a possession or some kind of weird automatic writing; that it isn’t slabs of stone dropped from heaven written by the literal finger of God. It is a whisper, a feeling, a dream. A long obedience in the same direction, a familiarity with God’s heart after spending time with Them, a silence filled with only the Faith that dwells on the edge of fingertips. It allows for the biases and personality of the one writing. It allows for a culture to influence. It allows room for nuance and mystery and wonder and “sometimes we just don’t know, but let’s Praise anyway!”
It is, literally, the intake of a breath. The breath is the Spirit of God which we draw in. To speak or sing we must draw in a breath (INspire) but we must still engage Diaphragm, lungs, ribs, tongue and lips – and of course our mind in order to EXpire that breath and turn it into words that others can understand. God’s Spirit inspires like the intake of a breath, but because They are not a controlling abuser, they allow the individual to work the words. The writers, chroniclers and editors were all inspired and they were all individuals who wrote from different perspectives in different times for different reasons having interpreted the message themselves before recording. And some of them might have got it wrong (Does a God of love really order a man to sacrifice his child? Or Genocide?) But enough of the breath of God remains that we are able to see the Truth of the Kingdom of God – albeit through a glass darkly.
The breath gives life to the words. It also rests on us as we read and hear the words from our perspective. Then retell them from that perspective.
The gospels do not perfectly align because the men who wrote them aren’t perfectly aligned and it’s right that they weren’t. There are common themes throughout the bible, there is a direction of travel and yes that’s the inspiration showing, the breath that filled each writer. But there’s also the messiness of perspective, the wonderful messiness of variety, the embrace by the Divine of difference. This messiness encourages me because it underlines to me how despite being called to unity we are not called to uniformity. I love nuance, mystery and conflicting viewpoints and it turns out that God is fine with them too and Their Graciousness builds a tent big enough for all. So my frustration with this odd need to “align” the gospel accounts is born from it being unnecessary. The messiness is the point. There is no need to flatten it all out into false binaries and presenting it as a problem to solve is a problem in itself. It’s not a problem to solve, it’s diversity to be enjoyed. It forces us to live in the messiness that our community is made up of people with different perspectives and to be okay with it. Everyone’s story is valuable. Your experience has meaning. And remembering then retelling events differently to others does not negate the truth of your story, it means that you have something new and different and of value to offer.
Perspective is everything.