Monday, October 26, 2020

The Truth Possesses Us

In my last post, "It's Not the Answer Book", I pondered aloud what the Bible is and isn't. After posting it I thought, "Why did I feel the need to give my resume with regard to Biblical scholarship?" There are a couple of reasons. One is that I sometimes see the Bible being misappropriated in its use on social media these days by people who are pretty obviously just trying to prove their point without having given a lot of careful study and consideration to the Bible as a whole. If I'm going to talk about the Bible, I'd at least like to give people enough evidence to decide whether I'm a comparatively credible source of information. Another is that I love the Bible. I've given it a major investment of my time. So when I call into question its usefulness as an "answer book", I want you to know that it's not because I have a low view of scripture. On the contrary, I think it's extremely useful for pointing us towards God--showing us what he is like and how he extends himself to people who, though they lived in ancient history, are surprisingly like you and me. 

Here's an illustration of what might happen if you and I had different positions on an issue, and went to the Bible for answers.  

Imagine two people were each given a copy of the same photo to look at and asked to describe what they saw. One describes a lonely rock beach with a solitary figure, perhaps searching for something. 

The other describes a lively sandy beach, perhaps a vacation spot, with people in the water, others sunbathing, and a colorful wall behind. What kind of conversation ensues? Would they insult one another's ridiculousness? Would they bother to discuss what they saw in greater detail?  Would they ask each other questions? Could they possibly be talking about the same thing? 

They could if they were looking at different halves of the same picture. But they would never know it.  What they thought was an "either/or" dichotomy was a "both/and" reality. Their separate perspectives clouded the whole truth. It's not that one of them had the truth and the other didn't. It's not that they each had their own truth. It's that both of them had a limited perspective on the truth. Here, the photographer (my brother) seems to have captured the full truth. But I wish I had been behind him, because I might have incorporated him into my own version of the photograph.

If you and I appeal to the Bible for answers, we might surface some conflicting perspectives, because God works in different ways in different situations. The danger is that we each pick the answer we like, and call it "my truth".  We may or may not have a productive conversation about our conclusions.

The Bible was written over the course of hundreds of years, contains several genres of writing (historical narrative, poetry, letter, biographical narrative, and parables, to name a few), and is attributed to some 35 different authors (depending on who you ask, we are not completely sure about that). So we can't just plug in a question arising here and now and get the Bible's definitive answer, because no matter where we open it, that author was not writing to us and trying to speak to our specific situation. Rather, as we read the Bible and begin to learn about the context and purpose of each author and piece of writing, we begin to observe overarching patterns and principles of the ways that God works. Some are thoroughly consistent throughout, others more nuanced. As we meet Jesus and hear his commentary on the scriptures that were in place long before he arrived, juxtaposed against the religious realities of his day, we see him clarify God's vision for humanity, especially for those who would call him Lord. All of this takes time, patience, and a desire to live that vision.

One of the things I love about God, as I have learned through the lens of scripture to see him, is that he is not only the source of all truth, he IS the Truth. Objective truth is the reality of all that has ever been and will ever be, material and immaterial. I embrace the Bible's claim that it originates with God and is contained within the parameters of who he is. He has a complete perspective on every detail--he can see what it looks like from up close and far away, from above and below, from before, during and after. He knows every thought and intention, every atom that moves, every beginning and ending. How he embodies all of this is a mystery, far beyond the scope of human understanding. If I could understand it, he would not be worthy of my devotion and worship. The Bible is one of the ways he peels back the layers to reveal more of who he is. 

When we wield the Bible as a weapon to fight our battles of issue and intellect against others, we take on the role of possessor of truth. I believe Truth exists. I don't possess it. You don't possess it. The Truth possesses us. And that is a call to humility and curiosity. Each perspective helps inform the others. 

The Bible is meant to be read in a relationship with God, and used as a mirror to see if we are growing up to look more like him.  He's more than ready to help make that a reality.

Photo Credit: Dave Decker on Instagram @dsdecker82 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

It's Not the Answer Book

This is my Bible.  

It has a 1996 copyright, so I guess it’s a little over twenty years old.  That’s about half the total years I’ve been studying the Bible in earnest.

I won’t claim to be a daily Bible reader.  I’m a regular Bible reader and studier.  I like to have an hour or two if I’m going to dig in.  I do that once or twice a week on my own, sometimes more.  Then I let it percolate.  I think about it a lot while I’m in the midst of whatever else I’m doing, and talk to God about it.  I make sure that I have conversations about it with other believers—plus every chance I get with people who don’t believe. 

I’ve studied it under real scholars, and I’ve stepped out with trepidation to facilitate groups that study and discuss.  I read other books and commentaries and resources by a variety of experts (including those who challenge my theological biases) who help me understand what it meant in its original historical/cultural context and languages.  The Bible constantly amazes me as it speaks to the soul of every person of every time and place.  And I am always aware that I’m in danger of trying to make it say what I want it to say.

Lately I’ve observed that a lot of people want to talk about what the Bible says and what Jesus teaches, especially pertaining to issues that are hot political topics.  The thing is, it’s perplexing the way that apparently Jesus and the Bible validate so many conflicting views.  

If you go to the Bible looking for something to validate your position in opposition to someone else, you will probably manage to pick and choose verses out of context to bolster your own defense.  But if you go to the Bible looking for God, you are likely to find that He validates your worth (and the worth of the person who disagrees with you) as opposed to your opinion. He will send you back into the world transformed and freed to embrace and engage, rather than armed to attack.  

My husband says, “The Bible isn’t the answer book.  It’s the ‘You need God’ book.”  I love that.  It’s a book that doesn’t offer itself as ammunition to shoot down other political stances, nor as bricks and mortar to fortify my own.  It doesn’t offer itself as a scientific journal, a comprehensive history, nor even a socio-political commentary.  It offers itself as a mirror, to show me my need for the God who made me, who knows me thoroughly and loves me deeply and unconditionally.  It shows me that nothing surprises God and that what’s old is always new again.  It shows me that if I really dare to look into it with an open heart looking to know what Jesus has to say to me, I can’t go away unaffected by his compassionate heart.  It shows me that only and always in partnership with him can I become all that he created me to be, and fulfill his purposes for me.  Ultimately, the Bible is the book that points to a God who alone knows and is the Truth that leaves any “truth” of mine undone.  It reminds me He's the one worthy of my worship and trust, the one who, if I choose to follow him, will not lead me astray.

So go ahead.  If you actually want to know what the Bible says, read it.  Read it with an open heart instead of an agenda.  Ask God to teach you about himself through it.  But be prepared to have your mind renewed and your life transformed.

Friday, October 16, 2020

It always snows in October

Dismal foreboding.

I popped onto my Facebook feed this morning, and it was everywhere.

Well not everywhere, it was from my local friends, the metro-area Minnesotans, announcing the arrival of snow that would soon reach my neighborhood.

Two years ago on October 14, a photo session had me driving through the countryside, where I witnessed the most magical snow-on-colored leaves scene, knowing it would be melted by the time I met my client.  I recorded the video in my mind, knowing there would be other October snows.  Last year?  First flakes, October 13.  Same story.

Today?  Clear schedule.  When I heard the communal moan, I had a few minutes to get my stuff together, choose a location, and dash out the door feeling like one who dances on graves.  But not sorry.

People seem surprised and appalled every year when October snow comes.  Why?  Because it's melted by noon, and they forget it's even a thing, so by the next year it seems impossibly early and ominous.

We seem a little more testy yet this year, like if one more thing happens we didn't foresee, that will be the one that puts us over the edge.

We have had life this summer.  Gatherings outside, dinner on patios, "safely distanced" time with friends.  If ever we were not ready for winter, this is the year.  We feel like it might leave us undone and alone.

When I heard the Facebook outcry, I also heard the voice of God (well not audibly, but experientially) saying, "I'm about to do some serious showing off if you'd care to join me for it."

It's a voice I've heard in the Bible--
"Do not be afraid."
"I am with you always."
"Be still and know that I am God."

A voice I've experienced as reliably as snow in October.

These are times of foreboding around us.  I wonder if maybe God has some ideas up his sleeve that we haven't thought of.  

Honestly, I'm counting on it.  Remind us, Lord, that you have always delighted to show up between rocks and hard places.  Though it's something we never seek, when October snow comes, it's breathtaking.

We believe, Lord.  Help our unbelief.