Although most Christians have regarded the Bible as authoritative in defining the Faith, there have always been differences of interpretation, evidenced by the wars of religion, persecution of heretics and the 18th Century criticism of "the dissidence of Dissent", But as I survey my own pilgrimage over the last eight decades there are particular passages which I have come to cherish, and which have, as the modern expression goes, "resonated" with me. I should like to share them with you.

 


First is the magnificent picture in Isaiah (chapter 6) of the Lord of Hosts sitting upon his throne in the Temple (probably the Ark of the Covenant containing the tables of the Law). Isaiah is purged of guilt, and responds to the Lord's challenge: "Whom shall I send?" "Here I am. Send me." How many generations have been inspired by this passage to volunteer for the service of the Lord.

Yet Isaiah is given a downbeat view of his mission. Ironically the Lord predicts that the people will not listen "lest they understand with their hearts and turn and be healed". Which leads me to the parable told in Luke 16, of Dives and Lazarus. The poor man goes to Abraham's bosom, but the rich man to Hades, from whose torments he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers of their danger. Abraham replies, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them". When pressed he adds, "Neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead". The sting of this is, of course, that we know who rose from the dead, and whose followers met disbelief and persecution.

These two scriptures face the problem of God, the Almighty, permitting rejection of his servants. Worse, he allows evil men to persecute and Mil the innocent. How can a good, almighty deity permit innocent suffering? Isaiah's wonderful Hebrew poem in chapter 53 reflects the bitterness of that situation, but offers release. He pictures the servant of God suffering: he was despised and rejected by men - surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows - he was wounded for our transgression, he was bruised for our iniquities. I believe the prophet had a real person in mind, but saw in him something of the nature of God and his work of salvation, to be ultimately and supremely realised in the

Messiah. God himself in the person of his son chooses to suffer, having identified himself with sinful man in his incarnation, and his suffering redeems those who identity with him. Vicarious suffering - with his stripes we are healed. This is the heart of the Gospel.

From the emotion and poignancy of Isaiah 53 I turn to the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. Here is the social gospel in a nutshell. Feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and treat prisoners as people. I cannot help thinking of Gaza when I read this. And the blessing that the King pronounces on those who have earned the right to be placed at the King's right hand. These are some of the scriptures that I have found inspiring, challenging, and ultimately reassuring.

John Ovey