Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Word

People sometimes look at the Bible as something that got magically placed on the kitchen table when no one was looking. They kind of see it as if God slipped in and just sort of left it there. Some look at this amazing work, the Word of God, and give it an importance that sets it above, outside of their lives; as if it is so sacred we can’t even discuss it... as if to say: “Human beings do all sorts of disgusting things and we shouldn’t taint what is holy by wrestling with it.”

Too late.

God created something holy and it didn’t stay that way long. He created us. We were set apart from all of creation as the only beings worthy of walking along side Him and discussing what we think of His creation. He gave us the job of naming His creation. He gave us the directive to husband the Earth. He has given us so many things, and we are so very good at mucking it all up, and the first thing we ruined was that relationship.

So, when it comes to The Word there are those who feel we shouldn’t look too closely at it for fear of mucking that up too.

Well folks, it can’t be done. Oh sure, we can corrupt it and warp it and market it and do all sorts of things we shouldn’t. But in the end, it is already out there and it is too late for us to really change anything about it. Done deal. (Thank you Gutenberg!)

That's not to say there aren't Bibles out there that shouldn’t exist. There are politically correct Bibles, and Bibles that always refer to God in a gender neutral fashion, and Bibles that are careful to tell us that we should never spank our children, and Bibles that replace the word for God with something that suits our particular world view. But there are a lot of good versions out there that are simple, careful translations and that bell can’t be unrung.

Personally, I feel that there are three testaments to the reality of God. The first (my favorite) is His Word. He gave us the Bible to let us know where things are with Him, and where we stand in relationship to it. The second is His creation. God created this universe and there is nothing in nature that contradicts Him. If we feel that science has discovered something that is in conflict with The Word, then we are mistaken about what The Word is saying, what creation is showing us, or both. The third and final testament is the trickiest. It is the Holy Spirit. Specifically the indwelling of God within the heart of each person who has accepted that Jesus Christ is The LORD God incarnate. This is an area that is to be most suspect because we are so very good at corrupting things and something as close to us as our own heart can be easily swayed.

But back to the main point: The Bible. I have met folks who feel that the only Bible version worthy of being read is the King James version. I would readily agree that this version is the most beautiful of the English translations, but that has more to do with the state of the English language at the time it was written than about the accuracy of its linguists.

Case in point (now keep in mind two things: 1, this is highly speculative, but it does provide an interesting place to begin a discussion, and 2, I am frequently wrong about all sorts of things.): When the King James version was underway William Shakespeare was winding down his career. He only wrote one more play. He was getting on in years (in that era reaching 46 was above the average life span). Now, in the 46th year of the bard’s life there is the project going on under the blessings of good King James. A handy connection to Shakespeare and the court already existed (Shakespeare’s troop was sponsored by the king). Take a look at the 46th psalm. The 46th word from the beginning is the word “Shake." Now if one discounts the word “selah” (which is considered a probable liturgical musical direction and not a part of the actual poetry) the 46th word from the end is “spear." Coincidence? Perhaps. But compare the placement of those words to other translations and you will begin to feel that there was a little pushing to make those words fall into those particular spots. Does this make the King James suspect? Not at all. Perhaps one reason this translation is so beautiful is because people such as Shakespeare worked on it.

This isn’t any sort of proof at all, but it is interesting. I like wrestling with ideas and I find that it makes me stronger. The Bible always wins, but I come out with firmer biblical muscles.

In modern times we like words to be very specific. The English language is HUGE compared to most other languages, particularly Hebrew. We like things very tidy, very specific, very concrete. This paradigm reflects the love affair of modern culture with science. We want everything well measured, well stated. Look at how much scrutiny a president’s speech undergoes. Every word is examined for its nuances (ad nauseum). We choose words so carefully that we are forgetting how to be poets.

I don’t feel that the Bible was intended to be placed in the context of bullet points and blueprints of a metaphysical sort. For the most part the Bible is about relationships. It is filled with stories, not mission statements.

We like things complex, but it doesn’t need to be that way. I like how Jesus put it. He pretty much said “Love God with everything you’ve got, and do that for people too.” It’s simple.

Now back to how we look at scripture. We often look at that book that appeared miraculously on the kitchen table and think that it was dropped from Heaven with a loud thud that shook the house. But it didn’t.

Much of it was shared around campfires for a long time before folks (Moses, et al) put pen to paper (or feather to parchment, or stylus to clay, or chisel to stone...). That is the reason there are passages that echo. Folks spoke those words together with the storyteller while the warm light of a campfire danced beneath a starry sky.

“...and God saw that the _____ was good...” everyone said together.

“...and there was evening and morning...” everyone called out.

Stories that are most clearly descended from these campfire tales have such patterns throughout them.

In the book of Job the two encounters of God and Satan are nearly identical, exhibiting another common storytelling technique.

“...One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’

Satan answered the LORD, ‘From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.’

Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’

‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’

The LORD said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.”
--Job 1:6-12

And then:

“On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’

Satan answered the LORD, ‘From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.’

Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.’

‘Skin for skin!’ Satan replied. ‘A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.’

The LORD said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.’

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD...”
--Job 2:1-7

This is not a responsive part but a simple storytelling technique that gives rhythm and is used by humans in every culture with an oral tradition (you might notice my own fondness for parallelism, which I picked up from listening carefully to J.F.K. and M.L.K. Jr.).

I think it is important to remember that scripture comes from stories. I think it is important because western culture is so wrapped up in outlines, blueprints, schematics, bullet points, mission statements, step by step instructions, and business plans that we sometimes forget something very important: Relationships.

We were created to be in a relationship with God. We survive only because of our relationships with each other. Our happiness is often measured by how well we relate to each, and most importantly with our creator.

I look at the Word of God as something that has meaning for me today. I enjoy reading it critically and wondering about how it was made, what it says and what it doesn’t say. (Who was Lamech and what is the story behind the fragment of the song we see in Genesis 4:23-24? Who inserted verses 18 & 19 in Psalm 51? Which came first, Job 7:17-19 or Psalm 8:3-4?)

The Bible can seem to be a difficult read for those who are looking for those bullet points and mission statements. But it might be better to look at it as a love story. It is about this amazing being who is the essence of pure love. He creates creatures to share that essence, to experience that relationship. And to make it all fair, and honest, and voluntary, He gives those creatures the ability to say “no.” He gives those creatures chances to sulk and gripe and whine and be selfish. In other words, to experience the incredible joy of love because we choose to love, not because we are constructed to do so.

The Bible is about this being who creates creatures who reject Him and then He goes to all sorts of lengths to guide them into a position where they can witness just how much He is willing to love, to sacrifice, to restore.

If we leave the Bible as just something that landed on the kitchen table and we bow to it and debate how it is worded, but miss the message of the relationship it shares, then we are missing the whole point.

The book of Job is about how much a man is willing to suffer when he knows, I mean really knows that there is a creator who is goodness and love and that things aren’t making sense but he is going to hang in there anyway (this chokes me up. Oh Job! Thank you for hanging in there so I could see how it is done!). The book of Job is about trusting that it is all going to work out because there is a testament in our heart that verifies what The Word says is true, that God is love and that He is turning that powerful gaze upon his creation and yearns that we simply look back and say, “Daddy, I know I’ve been pretty naughty, but I really do love you. Will you just hold me for a little while?”

The magical mystery of life, at least in my experience, is that He always does.

28 comments:

Pia said...

..."is about trusting that it is all going to work out because there is a testament in our heart that verifies what The Word says is true." i love what you said. so true. this definitely struck a cord.

Kitty Cheng said...

What you said is so important, the three testaments: the Word, the ceration, and the Holy Spirit all verify one another!

Yes I really admire Job for his willingness to trust in God, and hanging in there even though it was extremely difficult!

I can certainly identify with this prayer....“Daddy, I know I’ve been pretty naughty, but I really do love you. Will you just hold me for a little while?"

I agree with you that He always does. And I am forever thankful for that.

God I love you
God I thank you!!!

Seeker said...

Not bowing to it, or debating how it is worded.... but having a relationship with the Author of the Book of Life. That's it!

David said...

Okay I have read this three times this morning and each time I see something different. Not sure that I agree that the Bible came from stories from around camp fires. I believe it was inspired of man to write what was written. I need to read this again and come back to comments.

curious servant said...

Good comment David. If it helps, consider this. The stories told in the Bible predate the development of writing. Moses had sources. Those slaves working for the pharaoh had an oral history to share.

The patterns of speech found in these tales are easy to spot for folks who have had experience and training in the methods of storytelling. I graduated with a degree in literature and so I went through many classes which examined this sort of thing.

The around the fire bit is my imagining how the stories were told, but they were probably told in all sorts of circumstances (holy days, celebrations, sabbaths...).

The responsive audience is again my interpretation, but it fits the pattern of other cultures’ methods. When parts of a story that are repeated like that it is to tie the audience to the experience. It happens in every oral tradition culture.

I am sorry if it was clumsily written. I hate to do anything that forces folks to read three times or more just to understand my meaning. My apologies. Perhaps I need to rework it.

God bless.

Me said...

"The Bible can seem to be a difficult read for those who are looking for those bullet points and mission statements. But it might be better to look at it as a love story." This really struck a chord with me. Your post gave me the desire to give reading the bible another try. I have always felt more comfortable having someone else read it to me. Thanks!

bjk said...

The Bible is about this being who creates creatures who reject Him and then He goes to all sorts of lengths to guide them into a position where they can witness just how much He is willing to love, to sacrifice, to restore.
A love letter.....there it is....going to share this. Thanks becky

FTS said...

I've often read where ol' King James took some [ahem] liberties in his translations. From what I've gathered. the most accurate in terms of thought-for-thought and word-for-word is the New American Standard.

My own personal favorite is a huge comparative Bible. It has four translations side by side: King James, Amplified, New American Standard, and New International. I've found it extremely helpful in reading and interpretation.

4evergapeach said...

CS, I loved this post! As I'm sure you read on my post I am going to begin next month facilitating a bible study group. Not teaching, mind you. We have material we will be following. I hope you don't mind that I share some of this with them. Especially the part about the bible being about relationships, and a love story. I think that is how I've always looked at it but never put it into those words. Beautiful. Job is a wonderful book, I also enjoy. We will be going over the book of Acts.

I am going to go back and read it again. Thank you for another inspiring post!

BHGA said...

It's all I know is the more I read, the more I love Him...and the more I am drawn into His perfect will....and hold me, He does...

I loved this post CS....thank you and God Bless.

Lorna said...

I often read your stuff more than once. It doesn't mean it's clumsily written, just there's a lot to take in :)

The oral tradition was huge, it is nowadays too, even in an era of so many books and on line material too.

Our own story - what jesus has done for us - is the most important story we have, we should be telling it from the top of the mountain and in the valleys too. Our testimony will set other people free.

Shakespear is pretty hard to understand - without notes - and that's how KJV - beautiful though it is -remains for so many people. It's why I welcome new translations even the Message because people can understand it, relate to it, and take it on board. As they slip into a relationship with God, then they can start to look more closely as the different translations and get more of the depth of scripture but the important thing is that the written Word of God pulls us closer to the Living God.

JeffGeorgia said...

Also, most of the writing in the Torah were oral and some were written, but never forgotten. This is one of the best blogs yet.

curious servant said...

Good points, Lorna. (Though I seem to have a knack for Shakespeare.)

I think your point regarding Jesus is well-taken. Aside from some of the wisdom books and Chronicals, the Bible is primarily narrative.

This past Sunday our good pastor preached on this idea, that WE are in the middle of this narrative, this story. (You can read his sermon by clicking the "CAC Sermons" link on my blog.)

Donald Miller's latest book "Searching for God Knows What" further explores the idea that the Bible is more about man & God finding each other than a step by step self help manual.

Thank you for your prayers.

Some folks have contacted me asking how I am doing personally. I want all of you to know that I am digesting recent events (issues regarding my son, spiritual warfare and the death of Bob) and I will write something about those things soon. Bottom line: I am good, He is faithful, and it all works out for His glory.

God bless!

Gayla said...

CS, this is BEAUTIFULLY written post, full of grace and truth. I share your thoughts, totally!

Kc said...

CS I can't speak for everyone but I do believe we would all agree your articles are always very well written. The ones I read several times are the ones that challenge my understanding and this article is another of those. ;-)

curious servant said...

Thank you. That is very nice of you to say that.

Lucy Stern said...

Everything we need to know is found in the pages of the Bible. Any problem we have can be found there and a solution is given..We will never know if we don't read the book and study it. Job was a good example of a faithful serveant. Hopefully we can all follow his example.

Kitty Cheng said...

I like re-reading posts that are great as well, as they are thought-provoking and challenge me to change to be more like Christ as a result. Your blog is certainly one of those that have the ability to be used by God to transform people. Good on you and keep it up.

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