It’s one of the age-old conundrums of our faith. How do you explain that a book written yonks ago by (allegedly) crusty bearded blokes still speaks to us today? And when we say it speaks, we don’t mean it literally ‘speaks’ out loud; and we don’t mean ‘it’ actually speaks, because there is no life-force or entity that could speak. It is a book, or rather a collection of writings and poetry and story and history, prophecy and metaphors and doodles and epic canvasses. The ‘it’ that speaks is actually God, who speaks through the Bible by his Holy Spirit. Though we call the Bible the Word of God, actually Jesus is the Word of God, revealed through the Bible. Which might seem like a pedantic distinction, but I think an important one. And he doesn’t speak just once – he spoke when he inspired the original writings, and he speaks as we read it afresh.
[That is a complicated opening paragraph. Must shorten it. -Ed]
When some people speak of the Bible, they speak as if God dictated it, as if it is the Bible we worship, that cannot be questioned, wrestled with or challenged; they use hard, command-type words like infallible or inerrant. I can understand this, though I don’t agree. I think it comes down to how hard it is to describe our relationship with this complex collection of revelation (I wrote a bit about this here). Call it a library of community history and that seems a bit weak and we could be accused of being a bit dodgy and not taking the Bible seriously; call it the Infallible Word of God and we are in danger of Bibliolatry, where the Bible becomes more important than Jesus whom it reveals and lots of Capital Letters appear everywhere, Scaring Everyone into Submission. Which sounds a lot like Islam.
[This paragraph seems a bit wordy. Again. Were you listening? -Ed]
I think the Bible is a fascinating account of the turbulent relationship that God has had with his people; it shows the wrestles and the struggles, as people want him to be their mighty king and deliverer and he wants to be their shepherd; they want him to destroy their enemies, and he wants them to love them; then they want to blend in with other nations, and he calls them to be distinct. They want their freedom, and at the same time his protection; they want free will, and at the same time to be clearly led. They want to worship God but also to know how to live with the myriads of daily issues that come with husbands or wives or children or work or sex or love or money or other people’s gods. They want to know what he says about things, when quite often he says nothing, but asks them a question.
We want a Hayne’s Manual, and he gives us a cuddle; we want a text-book, he buys us an ice-cream; we want a quick fix, he invites us to love people who murder our families.
When being translated in 2000 years time this will make no sense. Must be less oblique and briefer. Is Ezekiel your role-model? -Ed
I am making an effort to read the Bible a bit more this year. I am joining in with the Essential 100 initiative (part of Biblefresh) to help me with it. The kick up the proverbial backside (Proverbs 7.1) is the 400th anniversary of the Authorised (King James) Version of the Bible, which is not a translation I have ever particularly enjoyed reading because I do not live in 1611 but 2011, but at least it is a chance to remember to read the Bible! In our church we feel particularly connected to this anniversary because we are named after Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, one of King James’ translators. And we are trying to read it together, because the Bible was never meant to be read alone, but to be read together in community, where we can talk about it and discuss and say we don’t understand and then wait for God to speak through it.
“…in the conversation, in the story, in the current and the flow, in the predicament, in the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into the living God… loving God, betraying God, losing God and being found again by God.” (A New Kind of Christianity, p125)
Maybe you’d like to do the same. Let’s not get hung up on what the Bible is or isn’t, but let’s read it, and allow God to speak. Again.