Reading While Black: A God Beyond the Pages

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Why would slaves who were read 1 Timothy 6:1,2 to make them docile and obedience in the midst of their suffering bow before the throne of a God who authorized the bruising of their bodies, molesting of their children and breaking of their families by the hand of the Reader? It doesn’t matter the race of either the Reader or the Listener. Why would I want spiritual food from the hand that bites me?

Unless … God is not a god who lives on the pages of a book. Suppose He can talk for Himself, correct misinformation in the hearts of those who desire to worship Him in spirit and in truth? What did God speak to the hearts of slaves that assured them that He was not the totality of the verses that seem to sanction slavery?

God’s character saturates the pages of the Bible. So, while Readers might use incomplete information to describe God, unbeknownst to them, other permitted Scripture filled in the missing pieces. Like water seeping through rocks in a glass jar, God’s character leaked into the hearts of the Listener when the Reader shared how God gave His only begotten Son for their sin, for instance.

Esau McCaulley in Reading while Black uses three arguments to negate that the Bible sanctions slavery. The first is that Jesus deflects a question about marriage and divorce by appealing to God’s original design (Mark 10:3-5). Jesus intimates that there are laws that God gives because our relationship with Him is broken, thus humanity is broken. Consequently, there are laws to limit the damage to those affected by our brokenness. McCaulley projects this argument to the plight of slavery. In addition, he uses Old Testament laws that if followed would eradicate sin in Israel, and thus in the world, as Israel gloried God. The transformation of the surrounding nations would be born out of an attraction to the goodness of Israel’s God.

Finally, McCaulley uses writings from Paul, the very person with whom we started this adventure quoting, to negate that the Bible’s blesses slavery. In the book of Philemon, Paul appeals to a “reader” to free his slave (Philemon 16, 21).

In addition to McCaulley’s examples that display God’s character beyond the testimony of the reader, perhaps a letter written straight from the heart of a Listener can explain it best. In 1774, a slave wrote a letter to the Massachusetts house of representatives to decry slavery. The slave appeals to the basic desire to obey God in the responsibilities of spouse and parent. How could that be possible if the slave economy ripped families apart? The reader, at the least, recognized the conflict. How could a God who called for obedience sanction an institution that inherently prevented that obedience? The slave, even if others denied her humanity, as a 100% human made in the image of God who professed Jesus Christ as Lord, understood her responsibility to obey God.

With the evidence of God’s true character weighing heavy in her heart, the noise of a corrupt portrayal of God’s character became a distant sound hushed by God’s stealthy corrections.

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