I continue to read the Bible on a regular basis. Some ask me “Why?” Hard question. I don’t feel obliged. Some parts of the Bible are crushingly boring (Do I really want to know about the dimensions of the Temple?) Other parts are disturbing with stories of violence, even genocide. Yet I keep reading it.
Do I take the Bible literally. No. Do I find value in historical analyses of the Bible? Absolutely. Do I believe the Bible is the Word of God? Yes, but not in the way many may think about it. For me, the Bible has become an invitation to interact with God, even to wrestle with the angel.
Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote that the Bible was not a book about God but a book about Man and men’s and women’s search for God. Thus we read many different images of God in the Bible — a warrior, a comforter, a judge, a parent among many others. No one image is offered as definitive. After all, God said “I am Who am.” That leaves a fair amount of room for interpretation, doesn’t it?
Invitation to what? The Bible first of all invites me to find myself amidst various stories of the Bible. I can see myself in Cain’s jealousy, in the frustrations of the wandering Jews, in Job’s anger. I can relate to the prodigal son but also to his brother. I can relate to the Good Samaritan but also to those who walked on from the wounded man. I can relate to Peter’s fear and to Dismas’ hope.
I can also enjoy a good story. The Bible, after all, is replete with marvelous stories. Joseph’s reunion with his brothers. Ester saving her people with creative guile. The talking mule.
Some of those stories become anchor points on the journey. Jacob wrestling with the angel has been a key image for the spiritual journey. We have to be persistent in seeking answers yet also be aware that the journey is painful and not without a price.
The story of Dismas has been a focal point of hope for me, as it is for many in recovery. To be at rock bottom and to be told “Today you will be with my in paradise”. I know of no better definition of hope.
The Bible also challenges me to question my own Church. Women are far more central to Jewish and Christian faiths than I was led to believe. From Ester to the women beneath the cross, women have played a central role. Paul’s epistles make it clear that women held positions of leadership in the early church. Somehow that clarity got lost along the way.
The Bible also makes it clear how evil anti-semitism is! We Christians share Jewish heritage and Jewish history. Most obviously, Jesus was a Jew and never stopped being a Jew. And it wasn’t the Jews who crucified Jesus. Crucifixion, after all, was Roman form of torture and execution.
I am not a Biblical scholar or even a theologian. And so I can be open to what others might teach me about the Bible. But, for me, the Bible is fluid. Rachel Held Evans says it best: “..the Bible by its very nature invites us to wrestle, doubt, imagine, and debate.” It is an invitation.
Reflection: 1. Do you have any favorite stories from the Bible? Which parts of the Bible do you struggle with? What in the Bible do you question?