The Bible: A Text in Travail
Experience the Journey
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
The Bible is a record of Jewish and early Christian experience of God’s gradual self-revelation. The Great Mystery can only be absorbed in small doses. But it is always based on someone’s experience. The book did not fall from heaven in a Glad Bag. It was written by people listening to God. The Hebrew Scriptures (otherwise known as the Old Testament) were written by the people of Israel, God’s “Chosen People” over maybe as much as a thousand years. It was not so much that God loved Israel more than all the other peoples of the earth, but somehow they were a people who were slowly trained in how to listen to and to hear God speaking—through very secular and political events of their history. And although God called and used individuals, it was always the whole of Israel that God was liberating and loving. Our exclusively anthropocentric and individualized notion of salvation comes much later, and is a major loss and regression.
In the stories of the Hebrew people we see Yahweh gradually revealing the God Self to be the hope and promise of Israel. Their history became an illustration of how God works on earth, leading them forward into an ever-greater unity and maturity as a community of faith—but finally for the salvation of all the nations (Isaiah 45)!
Then why, you may well be wondering, has the Bible seemingly caused so much strife and division in the world? Indeed, the Scriptures are both the best book in the world and the worst book in the world. They are the worst when they are used for bullying and self-satisfaction. They are the best when they are used for the healing of the world and for the transformation of the self. It all depends on how we read them and how we use them. The “who” that you bring to the Bible will determine “how” you understand it and how you use it.
The Bible was written in faith and it can be understood only in faith. In other words, it cannot be read cynically (liberals) nor literally (conservatives), which are merely two different forms of rationalism to keep ourselves in control. Our faith is not in the words of the Bible. Our faith is in the Triune God who is very subtly and slowly revealing the Divine Mystery in space and time—and yes through words and stories, parables and biographies.
The Bible is not an answer book, so we can somehow “know” God as an intellectual exercise. It is only in walking the journey of faith, hope, and love itself that we come to know the real answers. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, “No hay camino, se hace camino al andar” (“There is no road, the road is made by walking.”)! Thus Biblical answers are not usually direct answers. They are hardly ever “head” answers. They are most often “heart,” “gut,” and “soul” answers. They are first of all meaning and vitality. For what we really seek and what we deeply need—and all that God finally promises us—is meaning and life, and that is not at all the same as giving answers! In fact, too-quick answers normally destroy depth, meaning, inner vitality, deep purpose, and very often, compassion and patience too.
Gateway to Silence:
Seeing with eyes of love
Adapted from The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament, pp. 1-5 (published by Franciscan Media);
and Scripture as Liberation (MP3 download)