Not long ago, I had a chance encounter and random conversation with a Charlottean Muslim of Pakistani descent.
He knows what I do for a living, and was more than eager to talk about the bible and Islam — all of it in a conversational and not confrontational way.
Anyway, towards the end of the talk some fascinating perspectives emerged: “We believe in the Old Testament,” he said. “But we believe it got some of the parts wrong. Like when it talks about the prophet Noah — may he rest in peace — getting drunk and naked in front of his sons or when it talks about the prophet Lot — may he rest in peace — having relations with his daughters. We think those stories are wrong. In our beliefs, the prophets are perfect.”
My mind was whirling inside my head at this. “Oh,” I answered, “At our church we’re really glad the bible includes the stories of the failures of its heroes. It makes them more approachable. And it lets us know that God can use flawed people. Like me.”
(Ironically, one of the sermons I feel the best about in all my years of ministry has the title “After The Storm” and drills down into that bizarre story of drunk, naked Noah. In fact, that sermon is the concluding chapter from the forthcoming book, The Storm Before The Calm.)
But what a difference in perspectives:
On the one hand, according to my friend in Islam the prophets and patriarchs must be perfect. Therefore any description of their imperfections is instead an imperfection in the biblical text and not in the character of the hero.
Or, for Christianity, the stories of our heroes are endlessly interesting and eminently preach-able precisely because the people described are so, well, human. Which means they are messed up. Which means they are like us. Which means they, like us, are in desperate need of redemption.
The conversation with my new friend left me glad yet again that in the ministry of Christian preaching, we get to explore characters who are rounded, flawed, and ultimately loved.