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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

does experience affect our theology?

The Bible for Normal People

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

The Yankees aren’t in the World Series. And I’m mad. And I don’t like it.

So, I got to thinking about the most depressing moment of my baseball life, the 2001 World Series–and don’t stop reading because this is going somewhere.

2001, of course, was the year of 9/11. NYC was in shock and everything was put on hold, including the MLB post-season, which ended that year in November. The Yankees wound up losing, and it’s been 14 years and I still clearly haven’t gotten over the shame and sense of divine injustice. Psalm 89 became my favorite that year.

This is the year the Yankees should have won the series. It would have been just. NY “deserved it.” A small reminder that, despite tragedy, maybe there is a glimmer of hope nonetheless.

Tha Yanks lost the first two games in Arizona–that wretched, godless, desolate, wilderness, a place only worthy of spring training games for west coast teams. But back in the Bronx–which if geography (real or ideal) serves me right, is on a hill–the Yanks took game 3, which sets up game 4, the only World Series game I ever attended.

It was October 31. The Yanks were down 3-1 until the bottom of the 9th. With 1 on and 2 out, Tino Martinez hit a centerfield home run to tie the game. In the 1oth, a young Derek Jeter hit a home run to right to win the game. The clock had just struck midnight, on cue. Jeter became Mr. November. If God is not a Yankee fan, well…then there is no God.

Game 5. Again. With 2 out, 1 on, and down 2 runs in the 9th, Scott Brosius hit a home run to tie it, and Chuck “help, I can’t throw anymore” Knoblauch won it in the 1oth with a single.

There’s no way God isn’t in this.

Back to Arizona and the Yanks get slaughtered in game 6, which only made me think that God likes drama. Game 7 is in the bag. Which it was, when Alfonzo Soriano hit a home run in the 8th off of Curt “I am a Baal worshipper” Schilling, giving the chosen team a 2-1 lead.

And then Mariano Rivera fell apart in the bottom of the 9th inning, and the Yanks lost–which I believe God promised us would never happen. But it did. And I still can’t watch the highlights.

Had the Yankees won, it would have fit my theology like a glove. God is fighting for us, the enemy has been defeated, and all is well. But they lost. That didn’t mean, however, that God is dead or weakened, only that there must be some other meaning for this defeat. It seemed to me that the Yankees’s defeat was simply a metaphor for recent events–shocking tragedy, stunning defeat.

I don’t think God actually cares at all about sports. But I am emotionally invested in my particular sport and my particular team–and those sorts of things can be pathways God uses in us to reflect a bit.

Adapting one’s theology to experience is common, dare I say normal. That sounds like bad idea at first, but I wonder…is it even avoidable? We do it all the time–if such and such works out that we prayed for, it’s a God thing; if it doesn’t work out, it’s still a God thing, just a different kind of God thing.

We read about this in biblical times, too. If the king and his army suffer defeat, it means the deity is angry for some reason. If victorious, the nation is clearly favored in God’s eyes. How you explain divine action depends on the circumstances.

We see this in the Mesha Inscription, commemorating the defeat of Israel by the Moabite king Mesha in the 9th century BCE. We get a different angle on this in 2 Kings 3:4-27, interpreting the religio-politics from an Israelite point of view. And the similarities between the Mesha Inscription and the fall of Jericho and eventually Ai in Joshua 6-8 are well known.

I’m just thinking out loud here. In antiquity, to be sure, there’s always a political dimension to religion. But maybe then and now this phenomenon can be filed under the category of “faith seeking understanding”–or determination to trust God regardless of the circumstances, even when what we are absolutely sure God is up to doesn’t happen. And so we have to be willing to rethink who this God is, this God who isn’t as predictable as we might think.

Anyway, just a thought as I’m passing this postseason rooting for…I don’t know…the Royals, I guess. The underdog. I’m just not going to precommit whether God’s favor rests on them, being ancient enemies of the Yanks and all.

 

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