3.25.2009

bible as scrapbook


Over the years, I have heard a few analogies describing the nature of the Bible and why I should read it.

The first that I can remember is a love letter. The Bible is God’s love letter to us. We get excited when somebody writes us love letters, right? Well, get excited about God’s love letter to you! That was nice, but it was very hard to get the love letter feel while I was reading the census in the book of Numbers or the smiting of Canaanites or stuff like that.

The second one I heard was that of a blueprint. The Bible is God’s blueprint for successful living. That was great, but I think of blueprints as precise step-by-steps; every detail to be followed exactly. I just do not think narratives, poems, and letters really are the stuff of blueprints. They are too messy. There are laws, but even that gets messy as the story unfolds.

The athlete version is a game plan. It is nice and sporty and appeals to jocks like me. It feels like pregame films or half-time pep talks that give us what we need for battle. Again, it really did not fit what I was reading. In a way, it is meant to prepare us, and it is something we draw upon for life, but It was not a plan—at least all of it.

That brings us to the analogy of law. The Bible is an absolute law. The problem is that it is not all law-not even mostly law, and it is not all absolute as it turns out.

What is it then that I am reading, and why should I do so? I have been turned on to the analogy of heritage. It is a family history, which works on us to shape and form our identity. For many of us living in the West, we have been led to believe the real virtue comes in divorcing ourselves from our family story and heritage. We are to make it for ourselves, to stand on our own two feet, to shed traditions and form our own identity, our own story. This seems foreign, but I know something of it as a Berger. Over the years, I have heard the story of our great, great, (maybe another great) grandpa coming over from Germany all by his lonesome at the age of 15 and the stories of my grandfather and his seven siblings living on and working the farm in Missouri; and then visiting that farm which is still in the family, walking through the cemetery of the little country church 1/3 of which is filled with Bergers, looking at pictures, and taking part in family traditions. All of these have done their work—however unconsciously—to shape my identity.

For the athletes let us put it another way. What does it mean to play baseball for the Yankees? What about playing football for the University of Notre Dame? What about being a Boston Celtic? These are all programs with great heritages. When you play for them, you step into that heritage. You will walk through the stadium and clubhouse and take in that history: all of the championships, the legendary players, the memorable moments, and the traditions. As a Fighting Irish football player you will slap the same sign as you leave the locker room that every player before you has slapped: Play like a champion today. All of this creates a way of being and doing things. It raises the bar for the kind of performance that is expected. The way you are to carry yourself.

This quote I read the other day in the introduction of C.H. Dodd’s The Founder of Christianity sums this up nicely. Speaking of the habit of Christians to read the Bible in their worship services, he says:

The preoccupation with ancient history is a characteristic, and at first sight a rather curious, feature of Christian worship. Many people have no patience with it, and ask, what have all these bygones to do with the needs of people in the twentieth century? Part of the answer is that these ancient events are moments in a living process which includes also the existence of the church at the present day; and another part is that, as Christians believe, in these events of ancient time God was at work among men, and it is from his action in history rather than from abstract arguments that we learn what God is like, and what are the principles on which he deals with men, now as always. (pp. 12-13)

Thus, the Bible is our family heritage. It tells the story of our father and his dealings with his people. We hear the stories of their victories and their defeats, their faithfulness and unfaithfulness. We read the genealogies, their prayers, their poems, and their proverbs. We learn something of our father’s will, his loves, and his purposes. As we take in this heritage, we are shaped and formed—slowly but surely.

The painting is "Searching for Home" by JEM

1 comment:

Tyler said...

i really enjoy your reflections. i like the idea of "heritage" when reading the bible. it seems to really bring me into the story and give me a role, i like that. the statement i like on the bible is that it is the "true story of the world," leslie newbigin said the reason he reads the bible every morning is because it is the true story of the world and the minute he walks out the door he will be bombarded with numerous different false stories.