Study Guide: Cruciform Inspiration

Sunday January 12, 2020 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

This week we look at how our scars, mistakes and imperfections (and even painful tattoos) all tell a story of God breathing and interacting, and enhancing the beauty of an imperfect thing.

Extended Summary:

Greg started today’s sermon by showing us his new tattoo. It’s a big diagram of a philosophical argument for Open Theism. (In case you’re curious, he has published an essay explaining it here on his website.) Anyway it hurt a lot, and the point is that the whole nature of a tattoo is that it’s a big scar (with ink trapped inside) which creates a picture or tells a story.

Another marking on his body that tells a story was from when he was a kid, and he went sledding down a hill that he was forbidden from sledding on because there were poles for power lines going all up and down it and it was dangerous. But all of his friends went so of course he joined them, and predictably, he hit one of those poles going about 20 miles per hour on a toboggan. He was rushed to the hospital where they did emergency surgery and ended up having to remove his spleen. He was left with a big scar going down his abdomen, and for years after that, he was embarrassed by that scar.

The reason he brings all of this up is because we are in a series right now that looks at the scars of the Bible. It’s based on his new book called Inspired Imperfection: How the problems of the Bible enhance its divine authority. The book presents a way of making peace with the problems, inaccuracies and mistakes in the book (aka scars), but without letting go of the fact that it is God-breathed.

John 20:25 –
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas did not believe, so Jesus shows up and obliges him. But notice he still had his scars. Had to have been horrifically ugly. Here he is is supposed to be in his resurrected body and yet he still has these awful scars. It’s because they tell a story.

Isaiah 49:14-16 –
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
    the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are ever before me.

God here is speaking as a mother, who could not forget the baby that she nursed. She engraves its name on palms of her hands. Her scars tell a story of mothers undying love for her baby, greater than any human love. Because even if her scars are ugly, the story they tell is beautiful.

The cross itself is also a beautiful story that is told by an ugly scar. It’s the story of a God who is willing to bleed and die for his children. The entire cross bears witness to a God who reveals his beauty through our ugliness, and his strength through our weakness.

Colossians 1:19-20 –
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

God is beautifying our scars. This is how God is working in our life. He does not change our imperfections, he uses them — he brings holiness and beauty out of what was ugly. God is loving us as we are, beautifying us as we are, transforming us into what he knows we can become.

That is why these scars and imperfections are left in bible. They tell a story.

A few years ago a lady Greg knows had a precious family heirloom vase that broke. She tried to have it professionally restored, but was told the cracks would always show. She was in despair about this until she found a local artist that does Japanese Kintsugi art. The name means “gold joiner,” and it is often seen on plates, bowls and vases, where it expands and draws out the cracks with gold gilding. It does not try to restore the cracks, but it uses and enhances them and turns them into a beautiful pattern. This is the perfect metaphor for how God uses both our scars and imperfections as well as those of the Bible: Don’t try to make it perfect. Instead, embrace and enhance the scars because they tell a story, and the new picture they create is more beautiful than the original.

We are all broken. The love of God wants to get into the cracks of our life, the broken parts of our life. The love of God on Calvary is like Kintsugi, it does not just heal us, but makes us into a new, more beautiful thing.

You don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed of your scars, surrender them to Christ and let him make something beautiful out of them.

1 Corinthians 1:17 –
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

In this passage, Paul can’t honestly remember who he did or did not baptize, but he ends up saying who cares — because the power of the cross is preserved NOT through perfection but through errors and ineloquence.

Like many young adults, Greg went to college with his own precious heirloom which was his belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. In his first semester, he took a class called The Bible as Literature, which blew his belief sky high. He spent the next year despondent and depressed, having lost his faith, and with it, his sense of meaning.

Part of the reason he wrote this book was because he is tired of seeing kids like him who go out into the world believing the Bible is inerrant and then find out there are errors and inaccuracies, and never having been taught how to handle this, they just give up on the whole thing.

When you think about it, though, who ever came up with that rule that the Bible must be perfect? Since when does God ever make sense?

Colossians 2:2-3 –
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

In Christ is all of the treasure and wisdom and knowledge, but they are hidden in him. There is mystery there. The truth is, we don’t really know what a God-breathed book should look like — this is the only one we have! So maybe instead of imposing our personal biases and definitions upon it, we should sit at the foot of the cross and see how God breathes into that. And through the cross we can see that when God breathes his full revelation of himself into the events on Calvary, God acted toward us. But he also allowed us to act upon him. He enters solidarity with humanity and our sin. He allows others to act toward him. The events on Calvary were done by human beings acting upon God.

So when we say the Bible is God-breathed, we mistakenly assume it’s a unilateral act out of Gods mouth and must be perfect because God is perfect. But the cross isn’t like that! He acts on us, but at the same time allows the sin of the world and cruelty to act upon him. And he uses that and brings beauty out of it.

God is relational. He takes our personhood seriously. Time and again in the Bible we see him influencing and guiding people, but accepting them as they are with all their scars, sins and imperfections, and what they will do. He uses people in their imperfect states. That is what makes them beautiful.

Our God is a strange God! He does not conform to any of our worldly expectations. How could he reveal himself through foolishness and weakness? Well we would never need to ask this if we always started with the cross. The cross is all about God revealing his holiness through sin. Everything gets turned upside-down when you start with the cross.

The Bible is the story of a God who breathes relationally. That’s why we see Paul saying, “I don’t know who I baptized” — God knows perfectly well who Paul baptized, but he allows him to make his point without remembering, and in fact he says, “If I was eloquent and wise the power of the cross would be less displayed in me.”

The brokenness gives it particularity and uniqueness. The scars are the very thing that allow God to show his Glory. The Bible has warts and all and we don’t need to avoid or deny that. It’s exactly like the way that everyone God uses is loved and accepted and made beautiful with their warts and all. He accepts and uses imperfection. Just be who you are, give your scars to God and let him bring something wonderful out of your life.

Reflection Questions: