Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Bible and Me

I don't know exactly when it began, but it might have happened sometime while I was reading "A Year of Living Biblically" by AJ Jacobs. I think it dates to about that time. The book was a critique of fundamentalism and also a humorous tale in which the author decides to follow every single command in Bible. It was an interesting read for sure. Anyway it was around this time that a shift happened in the way I looked at the Bible. I had always seen the Bible as God's Word, almost in a mystical sense. I knew human authors had written it, but they were inspired to write by the Holy Spirit and what they wrote was God's message. He had guided the process whereby the books were selected to become the Bible.

I began to look at the Bible less as a divine message and more as a human creation. Not that I wholly ceased viewing it as God's word, but I began to think more about the human authors and their motivations. I started looking at the Bible through the lens of scepticism. After awhile it became harder to view it through the eyes of faith, and as God's word for me now.

I am reading through the Bible in one year. The plan has the Epistles on Sundays, the Pentateuch on Mondays, history from Joshua to Esther on Tuesdays, Psalms on Wednesdays, Poetry on Thursdays, Prophesy on Fridays, and the Gospels and Acts on Saturdays. Getting through Jeremiah and Ezekiel seemed a little like a chore. I found many days I read to get through the reading and not to hear from God. Then I wondered why I was reading it. Was it just to check off the box Bible reading on the list of what I thought a good Christian did or was it to learn and grow, listen and apply? Was I like the foolish builder who fails to put Jesus' words into practice? Was I deceiving myself by listening to the word and then not doing what it says?

I want to regain my love for the Scriptures and see them through the eyes of expectant faith. I want to be truly wise and walk in the way I should go by the light of God's word.


Ryan said...

Think for a minute about the nature of Jesus. Fully human, yet fully divine. How's that work? We've been struggling to wrap our heads around that for a long time. Often times we probably emphasise the divine side of the equation too much and forget that Jesus was God, yes, but God *incarnate*, and thus also human. So we may not always get that balance right - but give us credit: at least we try, right? We recognise that there are two natures to Jesus and we at least try to balance the two, right?

Not so much when it comes to the bible though. A book inspired by God, and yet still fully written by humans. It too, therefore, has two natures. And yet most of the time we don't even bother trying to remember that, trying to balance that. We just default to the divine side of things and spout off about how the bible is inspired, God's Word, and so on, and we use words like "inerrant" or "infallible" and lots of capital letters, because if the Bible is God's Word than small letters will not suffice when referring to It, even in pronoun!

So good for you, to see the need to start to balance that out. I think God intended us to have that balance, so the good news is that by doing this, you are moving closer to God, not father as you might have worried.

Second, I would encourage you that this is a natural process.

When we are children, we are given all kinds of over-simplified explanations for complex things. This is not because adults like to lie to us (although some do!) but because we're just not yet ready to work through the complicated answer, so we're given the simplified version as a placeholder. But like any placeholder, it's meant to - at the right time - be replaced by the true, more complex answer.

That is also true of many theological questions. And as children in the faith, we are given many over-simplified answers to tide us over until we are ready for the solid food. I think that biblical inspiration - in it's simple "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" version - is one of those simple answers.

But you stopped being a child a long time ago, so now you are working through what it will mean to believe in an adult version of revelation. What does it mean that God sent us a word through humans? How do we build a doctrine of inspiration that both reflects God's truth and accords with what we can see with our own two eyes? That's the constructive quest. You can and should enjoy it.

Suzanne said...

Once again you have written a comment more insightful than the original post. What you say makes a lot of sense. I know I can't return to that child-like naivety I once had, but I would struggle to articulate an "adult version of revelation" and to "build a doctrine of inspiration" that takes into account the Bible's two natures and reflects God's truth while also incorporating what we know and see from our senses and reason. Maybe I have been away from university too long :) Thanks for your comment Ryan.

Ryan said...

naivety, yes, that's the word I was trying to think of last night but couldn't, good job! But yes, the comparison I heard once which was helpful to me was called "a second naivety", and gave the example of how a child views their parents. When you're a wee child, you are full of nothing but naivety, we think they can do anything, we think they know everything, we think they make no mistakes. Then comes the dawning of the critical era - also known as teenagerhood. That's when you lose your naivety and come close - ever so close - to all their faults and mistakes. You even start to disagree with them on some things. Often this pendulum swing is extreme and you shout things like "I hate you" and run away from home, forgetting your parents and concluding that they have no value. And don't we all go through this in regards to the faith in general, and the bible in particular?
But eventually, if we continue to grow and mature, we build a new, balanced view of our parents. An adult view. We realise, yes, that their only human, and that they have their faults, but that doesn't stop us from recognising their strengths and loving them as the people they are. We begin to relate to them as adults, but not just any adults, their faults notwithstanding, we still see them as special in some way. However you put it, this is called the second naivety. As with parents, so also, I think, with the bible and our faith.

Suzanne said...

That's a helpful analogy. It would be nice to arrive at a second naivety in regards to the Bible and my faith, but I fear I have some struggling to do to get there. I guess it is all part of the process. On a related note, I definitely want to make better use of my reason and critical thinking and stop being so intellectually stagnant. Perhaps a reading program would help with that.

Ryan said...

On the bible in particular, I really was helped by kenton sparks "God's Word in Human Words." On the very idea of being constructive in the rebuilding - re-imagining, really - of your faith, I loved Addie Zierman's "When We Were On Fire."

The former is a more academic work, the latter is more popular.

Suzanne said...

Thanks Ryan. I have ordered "When We Were On Fire" from the library. It sounds really good. I have also found Kenton Sparks book on and will include it with my next order.