God’s Word

A journal entry from April 11, 2008:

Why the bitter and stubborn conflict between science and Christianity? I’m in the company of a great many Christians who believe the two should be complementary, not conflictual. Science, philosophy, religion, history, and experience are all ‘books’ to be read to discover the true nature of reality. They are all (the latter once interpreted) discourse-mediated, metaphor-scaffolded, perspectival paths to knowing truth. Those who stick exclusively to a biblical worldview will gain answers to some important questions; for them, the questions and answers Biblical Christianity supplies are simply enough. They aren’t so concerned with further inquiries. They have enough who’s, what’s, when’s, and why’s to get them through life.

For me, the questions the Bible poses simply aren’t enough to get at the sheer complexity of the universe we inhabit. The Bible addresses some huge metaphysical issues, and numerous issues down the line, but it represents only a thin cross-section of a holistic pursuit of knowledge. So not only does the Bible ask only a tiny (and fixed) percentage of interesting and important questions but the answers it provides are cast mostly in mytho-religious and quasi-historical language. In and of itself, this is not a problem! The poor Bible has been expected to do so much more than it can possibly do. It is an anthology of books and booklets written by diverse peoples with diverse experiences of the divine giving diverse interpretations of those experiences for diverse reasons over many centuries in diverse cultures and locations.

The problem, as I see it, is that once the Bible is believed to be ‘God’s direct communication to humanity’, it must be relevant, must be comprehensible, must answer every crucial question, must be coherent, must be timeless, etc.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Bible is none of those things. What would result from people reading it as if it were? Tensions. Paradoxes. Mysteries – none of which are bad per se. But are they necessary? Often I hear about the need to preserve the biblical ‘tension’ around this or that issue – as if the tension is virtuous. (I remember our pastor wistfully describing the struggle it is to conform our lives to some passages of Scripture.) Of course there are going to be ‘tensions’ when a book is expected to do things it could never justifiably do. Of course it’s a ‘struggle’ to make an irrelevant passage relevant. There is nothing noble about trying to do so.

You might ask: what are some of the questions the Bible doesn’t ask or answer? Many of them are issues already long raised by so-called liberals, for the reason that they have nuanced their beliefs regarding the Bible. First, ecology & environment in the New Testament: where in the NT is there anything about loving the earth, caring for it, studying it so as to love and care for it better? Second, why aren’t there more narratives in the NT of what the story of a Christian life is actually supposed to look like? Third, why doesn’t the NT offer a script for gender egalitarianism? The main concern of Paul seems to be mostly about managing belief and behavior  in an ethereal yet reincarnated (through the church) Christ and surviving persecution long enough to make it to heaven. The mind-blowing implications a man’s resurrection from the dead has for a cross-section of an average human being’s life – birth, childhood, puberty, adulthood, sex, work, war, aging, art, sports, politics, etc. – are barely touched on at all in the New Testament.

I believe the Bible is a hodgepodge literary expression of ‘God’s Word’ active in the human and other-than-human domains in those distant times and places. It is the best [or one of the best] ancient textual resource granting access to the states of minds and hearts surrounding another instance of God’s ‘wording’: Jesus Christ. What God’s Word is, what Jesus embodied in a personal, human way, infinitely surpasses the Bible. And thank goodness for that! Otherwise we’d have a God whose ‘final word’ was riddled with linguistic and cultural obscurities, historical inaccuracies, scientific approximations, moral relativities, philosophical biases, prejudices, ignorances, and contradictions (just what we’d expect from human authors).

No, God’s Word must be the end of all great avenues of living and learning: religion, science, mythology, philosophy, art, sport, relationships, experience, politics, etc. The transformational power often associated with the Bible is, I believe, the articulation of ‘God’s Word’ in the present rather than the past [writing comes to us from the past]. Interpreting the Bible in this way – as a lifeless sign of a Living Word – attunes our hermeneutic senses to the present reverberations of that Word in its manifold extra-biblical expressions.

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