Jesus and the Bible
What Do We Do with the Bible?
Sunday, January 6, 2019
For all its inspiration, for all the lives it has changed, the Bible is undeniably problematic. Put in the hands of egocentric, unloving, or power-hungry people or those who have never learned how to read spiritually inspired literature, it is almost always a disaster. History has demonstrated this, century after century, so this is not an unwarranted, disrespectful, or biased conclusion. The burning of heretics, the Crusades, slavery, apartheid, homophobia, and the genocide and oppression of native peoples were all justified through the selective use of Scripture quotes.
So, what are we supposed to do with the Bible? Today’s meditation will be a bit longer than usual to begin addressing this question. And we’ll spend the rest of the week unpacking what Jesus did with the Hebrew Scriptures—the only Bible he knew.
My general approach is to change the seer and not to change the text. Only transformed people can be entrusted with inspired writings. They can operate in a symbiotic (“shared life”) relationship with words and are unlikely to use the Bible to exclude and shame others or as a rationale for their bad behavior.
The Christian’s goal is to be transformed by the renewing of our mind into the mind of Christ (see Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:16; and Philippians 2:5). That is why I try to read the Bible the way Jesus did, following Jesus’ hermeneutic (a method of interpreting sacred texts). Just as we are trying to do with this year’s Daily Meditations, Jesus was a master of winnowing the chaff from the grain (see Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17) and “bringing out of the storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52).
The Bible is an anthology of many books. It is a record of people’s experience of God’s self-revelation. It is an account of our very human experience of the divine intrusion into history. The book did not fall from heaven in a pretty package. It was written by people trying to listen to God. I believe that the Spirit was guiding the listening and writing process. We must also know that humans always see “through a glass darkly . . . and all knowledge is imperfect” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Prayer and patience surrounding such human words will keep us humble and searching for the true Living Word, the person of Jesus, which is how the Spirit best teaches (1 Corinthians 2:10,13)—through living exemplars. This is surely what it means to know “contemplatively.”
When history finally gets to the Risen Jesus, there is nothing to be afraid of in God. Jesus’ very breath is identified with forgiveness and the divine Shalom (see John 20:20-23). If the Risen Jesus is the full and trustworthy unveiling of the nature of God, then we live in a safe and love-filled universe. It is not that God has changed, or that the Hebrew God is a different God than the God of Jesus; it is that we are growing up as we move through the text and deepen our experience. Stay with the Bible and with your inner life with God and your capacity for God will increase.
Just as the Bible takes us through many stages of consciousness and history, it takes us individually a long time to move beyond our need to be dualistic, judgmental, accusatory, fearful, blaming, egocentric, and earning—and to see as Jesus sees. The Bible itself is a “text in travail,” according to René Girard’s fine insight.  It mirrors and charts our own human travail. It offers both mature and immature responses to almost everything. In time, you will almost naturally recognize the difference between the text moving forward toward the mercy, humility, and inclusivity of Jesus and when the text is regressing into arrogance, exclusion, and legalism.
 René Girard, “Generative Scapegoating: Discussion,” Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, René Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation, ed. Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly (Stanford University Press: 1987), 141.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with the Bible? (CAC Publishing: 2018), 7-8; and
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 12-13.