I love the Bible.
I’m a Christian and a person of faith, so that’s (supposedly) a given. However, I really do love what I consider to be this set of inspired texts that has influenced and shaped the development of our species to such an extreme level that it’s simply unimaginable to think what our current world would look like without what we’ve come to think of as the Christian Bible in our presence.
Perhaps if Paul hadn’t come along and literally opened up Christianity to those outside of 1st century Jewish faith while battling those who realized that Jesus and his immediate followers were not looking to establish a new religion outside of what was then considered Judaism, we’d still be worshipping the Roman gods. In some alternate universe perhaps that’s the case.
Regardless, history happened.
Which brings up the notion of history versus the past. I love history. I also love the past. Those are two different statements about two different experiences.
I have no idea what my grandfather had for lunch on April 9, 1964. However, I’m 90% sure that Grandpa Frank had lunch fifty years ago. I believe he had lunch. Did he have lunch? We’ve no idea. There’s no remaining receipts, my grandmother has no evidence, and there’s no way to prove that Grandpa Frank went to Central Drugs for a burger. But I’m pretty sure he did. The facts have not been lost to history, but they have been lost to the past.
History includes documentations. We can point to a certain date and event and show that something happened with certainty. The past are the things that came before us but that doesn’t necessitate them being a part of “history.” No one will really know that I had Bojangles this morning once my Bank of America receipt goes away (hopefully) and my own debit card’s record fades into digital abyss. I had Bojangles but that will be lost to the past in 2064 when my grandson wonders what I had for lunch on this day of April 9.
In the same way, my faith is true. As Kierkegaard pointed out, all faith is irrational and absent of historical veracity. If faith can be rationalized, it’s not faith but historically verifiable. Faith is weird. It’s absent of human constructs. It tugs at hearstrings and wrestles with us until dawn over the river Jabbok. Ultimately, faith renames us and changes us into something we weren’t before. It’s undefinable. That makes it scary and that makes it challenging for the types of preachers, ministers, churches and ideologies that seek to have concrete answers for everything that is questionable. Uncle Walt was right.
Perhaps that’s why I also enjoy reading Bart Ehrman’s writings and listening to his lectures on the Great Courses series via Audible. It’s also why I don’t understand why so many people feel threatened by his writings such as his latest book on the personhood of Jesus (as a character in the New Testament).
Here’s the foil…
I’m politically conservative. I should say, I have always vacillated between the pragmatism of Bill Clinton and the ideology of Ross Perot. I was going into high school during the fascinating election of 1992 and read everything I could including the two books that Perot “wrote” as well as books about Clinton and his famous campaign. In the aftermath of the Clinton administration and the subsequent Bush years, I’ve become more and more convinced that both political parties in our country serve the same master (money for the players of the game) and have little regard for citizens.
As a former member of AmeriCorps who is a self described libertarian who can’t stand the religious right of politics but is anti-abortion yet anti-death penalty while being a small government pragmatist but wants to provide for all children who need healthcare and 3 meals a day… I don’t know where to go.
I’m not blue or red or progressive or … labels fade away. As they should.
I find solace in the person of Jesus. In my mind, that person wasn’t some sort of gnostic demi-god that didn’t struggle on the cross. My Jesus was a person that asked for the cup to be passed, that sweated blood, that cried real tears, that cursed, swore, got angry, spit, and felt abandoned when he looked down from the cross while realizing everything he had worked for was lost. My Jesus is the Jesus that ends with the original version of Mark where there is no nice and clean commissioning and we are challenged to spread the message and participate in the paranoia of the women who found the empty tomb.
Ultimately, my Jesus is the Jesus who was not raised because there was a historically verifiable empty tomb (something no Gospel claims) but claims a risen Jesus based on the experiences that followers have on roads and beaches days, months, and years after his death.
I will not read the Bible as literature like a piece from Shakespeare, nor will I submit to the yoke of biblical reader response (despite my Masters Degree from Yale being in “Religion and Literature). Similarly, I will not read the Bible as a piece of historical documentation of any part of the past as it is something entirely different. Our culture is too monochromatic and doesn’t allow for the multivalency of the Bible, let alone the creation accounts or the stories about the flood (go read your Bible… there are more than one of each).
So let’s actually read our Bibles and not just listen to preachers. Let’s “hear the words that Jesus said” (Johnny Cash) and let’s be troubled by them. We as humans, however great we are, were meant to struggle.