Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Is the Bible an icon?

I would describe the last few years of my faith journey as more of a deconstruction than anything else. I've tapped on the bricks of long-held beliefs and watched them crumble before my eyes. Sometimes I feel exhilarated  sometimes devastated, but each time I know there is no going back, no way to reform the same brick. The only way forward is to make a new one.

When you're a child you see things very much black or white. Parents play a huge role in making sure the child is secure in what is true and what is not. Growing up in a Christian home, I was inbred with the knowledge that I was loved by my mom, dad and especially Jesus. I was told that Jesus loves everyone. That the Bible is the Word of God, that it is absolutely perfect in every way, and that it has always been in the form we have it today.  I'm thankful that my parents gave me such solid footing for my childhood. But as my brain matured with age, questions about the Bible started to form that seemed to make my footing less secure. I knew what the Bible was supposed to be. It was supposed to be a book of answers, authored by God Himself, through inspiration of course. But my reading of it began to fall short of that bar almost every time I opened its pages. Timothy Beal describes my experience quite well in The Rise and Fall of the Bible:
When it comes to the Bible, many feel that there is a single right meaning- the one  its divine author intended. "Well, what does the Bible say?" "The Bible is very clear about that." This is part of the inconicity of the Bible in contemporary society, the idea of it as the one and only divinely authored and guaranteed book of answers, with one answer per question. No more, no less. 
For many potential Bible readers, this expectation that Bible is univocal is paralyzing. You notice what seem to be contradictions or tensions between different voices in the text. You can't find an obvious way to reconcile them. You figure that it must be your problem. You don't know how to read it correctly, or you're missing something...If the Bible is God's perfect, infallible Word, then any misunderstanding or ambiguity must be a result of our own depravity...So you either give up or let someone holier than thou tell you "what it really says."
Realizing that the Bible may not be the rock you once thought it was is admittedly terrifying. But for me, reading about the history of such a miraculous book, this cacophony of voices, the story of our collective heritage has made me fall more in love with it. Timothy Beal suggests thinking about the Bible as a river rather than a rock. In my life, the rock has been a stumbling block, a "millstone around my neck".  But seeing it as a river seems a lot more in line with something that's "living and active."

What are the implications of viewing the Bible as a river instead of a rock? I'm not sure. I'm still very much in the process of fleshing this out, and suspect I will be until the day I die. But as I sit here trying to wrap this up and worrying about the can of worms I just opened without much explanation, a few things come to mind:

1. I am finite. I will screw up as I attempt to decipher what God is saying, whether that's through the library of His Word or the Holy Spirit within me. But what else is new? Even if the Scriptures are supposed to be a rock, they require our interpretation, they require us working out (sometimes with fear and trembling) what they mean. And I trust God to help us.
2. Along those lines- The Bible as we know it, in canonized form, bound together in one book, is a relatively new concept within the span of Christian history. The very earliest believers wouldn't have been able to conceive of such a thing and they still served God faithfully. Much of the underground church in China and other closed countries live their entire lives never having seen but a few pages of Scripture and they still serve God faithfully. *
3. I realize that I'm leaving out a LOT of information and research that lead me to view the Bible in this new way. I hope to include some of it in future posts, but for right now that would take a lot of notes and summaries that I don't have time for before the babies I watch wake up.

Here's a final question for you to ponder today:
If you found out the Bible was not the infallible Word of God (doesn't mean it's not inspired), what would that do to your faith? What would it change for you? **

*This is not an excuse to stop reading Scriptures. I believe they are meant to be a huge blessing and encouragement to the Believer, and it would be foolish to ignore such an obvious gift, but as evidenced by so many who have gone before us, they are not a requirement for survival.
**I'm not saying that the Bible is unequivocally not infallible, only wondering what it would change for you if it was

1 comment:

  1. If the Bible was not infallible (i.e. contains error in the original transcripts, and therefore in the current version) I would be pretty puzzled as to what in the Bible I am supposed to believe and what I am supposed to consider being in error. I think it would open up a huge slippery slope to picking and choosing things to believe/not believe (more than we already do...). I think, and I think you would agree, that the Bible is infallible, when read appropriately, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with attention to genre, context, audience, author, etc. Which is a lot of stuff to know and pay attention to, so refer to your point number one.

    I always think about the early disciples (Paul was writing the books... so he clearly didn't have them, and people didn't really own books until after the printing press,and then the Bible wasn't in vernacular for a long time...) and the places where there is no access to the Bible and how people still passionately walk(ed) in the Way of Christ.

    Lots to ponder. Good post :)