Once upon a time, you couldn’t breathe out of your mother’s womb. Once born, you couldn’t roll over, eat solid food, walk or talk. Once upon a time, you couldn’t read or write; you couldn’t cross the road by yourself; you didn’t know how to ride a bike or drive a car; or do complex mathematical formulas. And if you’re like me, you still can’t – do mathematical formulas that is.
Everything that we are able to do today, we were taught to do. Someone taught us how to speak English, Ukrainian, French, Italian, or Spanish. Someone taught doctors how to be doctors, lawyers to be lawyers (God help us). Even after we could read, we needed someone to provide meaning behind the words, like when we studied Shakespeare for instance. We needed to study in order to derive a more comprehensive understanding This was usually provided by our teacher, along with a little help from Coles Notes.
By now you get my drift, everything we do has been learned. So, what makes us think we can pick up a complex work like The Bible, and understand it of our own accord? Sure, we can read it as some fundamentalists do and accept it as the literal word of God, but most biblical scholars would laugh at the thought.
Along with most of you, I grew up churched, that is to say, I went on Sundays. I listened (sometimes) and then promptly forgot anything I’d heard until the next Sunday. Were some of the messages inspiring? Perhaps, but I’m sure most of us can count on one hand a sermon we’ve heard that held any interest for us at all, or made us really think about how we were living our lives throughout the rest of the week. Mostly, this is because the same stories have been and still are simply regurgitated from year to year.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We needed those lessons, when we were five, or ten, but as adults I think we need a whole lot more. My priests either couldn’t or wouldn’t give me the answers I was seeking. Why is the Bible so contradictory? Or is it really? What about all those mistranslations from Arabic to English?
The problem with understanding the Bible, is we have no one to really teach us about it. I mean really teach us, help us to comprehend not just what the stories look like on the surface, but reach deep down and put those stories into perspective. While the message that applied to Isaiah, Moses and Abraham, is still relevant and applicable for us today, I believe we can only be enlightened by understanding the culture and history of the times it was written in.
For instance, the phrase “eye for an eye,” is completely misunderstood. Back in the day, if someone stole your goat, you might kill him, his wife, his children, and part of a village – that would have been overkill (excuse the pun!) In order to curtail this overreaction, the Rabbis got together and said, okay, from now on, if you steal someone’s goat, you may take his goat – that’s it! If someone pokes your eye out, you may poke his eye out, not cut his head off. They did this as a means of curtailing the violence, not adding to it.
“Turn the other cheek,” is another phrase which has been misunderstood. I hear people say, hell, I’m not doing that! Others may do completely the opposite and allow others to stomp all over them. Turning the other cheek when you are slapped would have been an act of dignity and defiance in Jesus’ day. The people who could be slapped with impunity were women, servants, slaves and children. Turning the other cheek was not resigned acceptance, rather it was an assertion of one’s humanity and will and freedom.
I believe the main problem in our churches today, is that we have priests, ministers and lay people who are not teachers. In order to truly understand the holy book, we need to be taught by someone who has a deep understanding of it and years of biblical study behind them.
I’m not a Jew, but I can tell you, that a Rabbi has a thorough understanding of his history, and his Torah, and perhaps that’s because Rabbi means “teacher.” He has studied the scriptures inside and out. Rabbi Jesus taught us through parables. Granted, he was a spiritual genius and was frustrated by his own disciple’s lack of understanding, calling them “thick and slow.” If they couldn’t understand him, where does that leave us? A lifetime of learning!
I have been fortunate, and greatly blessed to have run across a few good biblical scholars, and one in particular Rev. Hugh Reid from Kingsway Lambton United Church. He has helped answer so many of the questions that have been on my heart and mind for years. Attending his Wed. morning Bible class has been educational, fun, and inspiring. It has made me pick up The Bible as if it were an old friend, not just some book passed down to us from our families, or something we got at our First Communion, or Confirmation, never to be looked at again. Unfortunately, the Reverend Reid’s of this world are few and far between.
Your Bible not speaking to you? Get one that has a historical commentary. Don’t have room for another book? Have a look at www.biblegateway.com. Try different versions. Not all bibles speak to us in the same way.
The Bible is not something that should be left to collect dust or buried at the back of some bookcase. It shouldn’t be intimidating. It shouldn’t be looked at as an antiquated rule book either. The Bible is filled with people just like you and me. They weren’t special. They were thieves, adulterers, doubters, converts, all just like us.
Can and does it speak to us by simply reading it? Yes, with practice. It is called the “living” word, because it can speak to us today, next month, next year, next decade and meet us right where we are.
If you simply aren’t interested, that’s fine, but before you say “I don’t believe what the Bible says, or “it doesn’t apply to me today, or “those stories are just for kids,” find out if these statements are really true. You don’t have to go to church to do this. The library, bookstore, and even reliable sources on the Internet can help.
There are many people today who are disillusioned with church. I have one thing to say about that. Church is NOT God. Church is about community and being with like-minded people, and while churches have the potential for strong outreach because they are a community, they are full of the same people that don’t go to church. And while you may be disillusioned with the formality, don’t be disillusioned with God.
If you have had burning questions about the Bible and haven’t been satisfied with the answers, find someone who can discuss them with you. Look for someone who is open to talking about your doubts. Look for someone who can teach you without judgement or condemnation. Maybe you can find that at your own church. Maybe you have to go to another church. God wants you to have the answers. More than anything, he wants to have a relationship with you, and one of the ways he does that is through the “living word.” Learn more about it ~
May it be so . . .