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Last Tuesday evening there was a documentary on BBC 3 entitled: ‘Deborah 13 – Servant of God’

Deborah is a 13 year old girl living in the depths of Dorset, on a remote farm, educated at home by her parents, with 8 other brothers and sisters (two others were living away from home) – and is a very fundamentalist evangelical Christian.


She has no tv or mobile phone (indeed if we are to believe the documentary, she has never ever watched tv!).  She has no idea who Victoria Beckham or Britany Spears are (lucky girl!), and she has never shopped in Top Shop (nor, I have to confess, have I!).  More significantly, perhaps, she has no friends of her own age in the locality.


Early in the interview she turned the tables on the interviewer, looked her in the eye, and said ‘Would you consider yourself to be a good person?’  To which the interviewer replied, ‘yes’.  Deborah continued,

‘Have you ever told a lie?’  


‘Have you ever stolen anything?’


‘Have you every used God’s name in vain?’


‘Have you ever coveted anything?’


‘So you’re a lying, thieving, coveting, blasphemous person!  Do you still think you are a good person?’


She goes on, later in the programme, to make it quite clear that anyone who breaks any of the Ten Commandments, even a well-meant ‘white’ lie, is destined to hell!  This sets the tone for the whole of the documentary.


I found the whole programme to be deeply disturbing.  Disturbing to see someone so constrained by such rigorous religious views.  Disturbing to see someone so out of touch with the rest of the world.  But disturbing most of all because I felt there was something deeper within me that was disturbed, something I couldn’t quite properly pin down.  I think it was something to do with her attitude to the Bible.


She says, in the course of the programme, that “the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, inspired word of the living God”.  Inspired’ I would agree with (although probably not interpreted in the same way as Deborah would have done so), but ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’ I could not accept.  We won’t find either of those descriptions in Scripture itself – they are rather products of 16 century Reformation theology.


It is something about that ‘absolutist’, extreme ‘black & white’ attitude to Scripture that I find so difficult, and so disturbing – and so at odds with Jesus’ own attitude!


Compare, for instance, Deborah’s insistence that every single lie, no matter how small, no matter how well-meant, is a ticket to hell.  This is law ‘out of context’, law applied without reference to circumstance or situation.  Compare this to Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in adultery in John’s gospel – a judgement tempered with compassion and love.


The teaching in the New Testament leads us, in the main, to seek the deeper source of the Law of God, rather than being almost sidetracked by its individual precepts.  St Paul even goes as far as to say that Christ “has abolished the law with its commands and ordinances…”  (Eph.2.15a nrsv).  He’s not advocating no law – just a deeper, less definable, law.


We can see this in today’s gospel reading, where Jesus drives out the moneychangers and the animal dealers from the Temple.  They were there because the Law required sacrifice and taxes, and that needed sheep and shekels: sacrificial victims and Hebrew money (rather than the Greek and Roman stuff.).  But all that trapping had seemingly become a distraction that deflected the participants in temple worship from its truer, deeper, more spiritual aspects.  Hence Jesus’ ‘zeal’!


All this, of course, means that we have to enter unchartered territory, that we have to leave behind the comfortable constraints of certainty – as expressed in the written law – and enter the, sometimes less sure, realms of the spirit.


Adherence to the law can never make us good – it just makes us compliant.  And God wants more from us than that!  In Jesus he expands and deepens our understanding of what it is that he requires of us,  but doesn’t, thereby, make it any easier.


St Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrestles with the implications of all this – it’s one of his major preoccupations (see Romans chapters 5-8, for example).  He writes there (7.6)                                                                                      

“…the Law no longer rules over us.

Now we can serve God in a new way by obeying his Spirit,

and not in the old way by obeying the written Law.


…and again in 2 Corinthians (3.6)…


“[God] makes us worthy to be the servants of his new agreement

that comes from the Spirit and not from a written Law.

After all, the Law brings death, but the Spirit bring life.”


We are called to reach beyond and beneath the letter of the law, to discover the Spirit, to discover life in all its richness.


Deborah is clearly a bright, faithful, committed young girl, and, despite her own protestations to the contrary, a good person.  But somehow I just can’t shake off the feeling that something is not quite right…

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