A while back, I wrote a piece on experiencing God and noted that I had not found God in the Bible. My daughter Becky challenged me on this observation and, upon reflection, she was right. I have met God in the Bible.
I have encountered God in some of the Bible’s poetry, particularly Psalms 23, 94, and 139 the beautifully erotic Song of Songs, and Paul’s memorable reflection on love in First Corinthians. I have encountered God in the midst of Job’s rage. I have encountered God in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a sermon that also challenges me to reflect on what I really think Christianity is all about.
I have also glimpsed God through some of the people of the Bible. I meet Him/Her in such courageous figures as Esther in the Old Testament and Dismas in the New. And I definitely find God in the story of Moses, certainly the most towering figure of the Old Testament. Moses struggles with doubt. He longs for someone else to take over his position of leadership. He gets tired of being blamed for all the hardship. He has a temper. When he dies, it is as if a great light has been extinguished.
As I prepare to read the Bible a fourth time, I find that I look forward to certain parts to include those mentioned above. I look forward to being reminded of my Jewish roots. I look forward to wrestling with the meaning of Jesus’ many enigmatic statements. When do we take Him literally? When do we take what He said as metaphor or exaggeration? Is He too much for me?
I realize too that no one human can tell me what the Bible or parts of the Bible mean. For sure, I benefit from others’ insights. Thus, during this third reading of the Bible, I found Harold Kushner’s words on Job to be intriguing and Henri Nouwen’s thoughts on the Parable of the Prodigal Son to open new doors for my work with that complicated story. But I immediately become suspicious when a person claims to know what something in the Bible means. Instead I think that perhaps the Bible challenges me to make it my own not by accepting without question other people’s opinions but through my own reading with my mind and heart as well as my thoughtful study of others’ thoughts and discoveries. If what I make of the Bible differs from the mainstream, so be it. And I always return to Abraham Joshua Heschel’s wisdom.
I also remain unsure about whether or not to take the Bible literally. All that I know is that taking it literally creates many problems with behaviors otherwise acceptable in the modern world, e.g., charging interest, having a tattoo, waging war. Politicians, too, take the Bible literally and quote it selectively, which also makes me suspect that literalism. Yet if nothing in the Bible says what it means, then is the Bible nothing more than a giant Rorschach card onto which I project my own struggles and neuroses? Thus, on the one hand, I believe in evolution and not the literal Adam and Eve narrative yet, on the other, I think that when Jesus said to love my enemies, He meant exactly what He said!
What I am drawn to at this point is the thought that the Bible (and really all the world’s sacred scriptures) stands as an invitation. Heschel expresses it thus: “God’s dream is not to be alone; to have mankind as a partner in the drama of continuous creation.” Thus what the Bible means is ever evolving for me personally as well as for all creation. It is not a static work whose meaning must be uncovered. It is and always will be a work in progress.
Reflection: 1. How do you view the Bible or other sacred scripture that is perhaps more meaningful to you?
I agree that when Jesus said to forgive our enemies He meant just what He said. And when one does not forgive, one’s spirit becomes like boiling holy water. The corollary to that is that forgiveness does not magically erase the harm that transgressions have caused. There needs to be some effort to repair the harm that has been caused. Martin Luther King did say that he who cannot forgive cannot love. And that is true. And so is the need for reparations to be made.