Posts Tagged With: Bible

Holy Scriptures and Authority

Holy Scriptures II, by George Herbert

OH that I knew how all thy lights combine,
            And the configurations of their glorie!
             Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the storie.
This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
             Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:
             Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christians destinie:
Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
             And comments on thee: for in ev’ry thing
             Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.
              Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:
             This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.

 

In this poem Herbert implicitly compares the authority of stars – and their associated study – with that of scripture; and the stars don’t fare well.  For him there is no doubt that holy scripture is the touchstone of life that ‘lights to eternall blisse’.  Yet, this implicit trust in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible is not a given today even among Christians.

Where does the authority of any text come from?  One response is likely to be the author (from Latin – auctor(author, founder, originator), auctoritat (power, decision)).  If the author is an expert in the subject, uses reliable sources, writes truthfully, and has reputable colleagues, then people are likely to view the book as authoritative or at least willing to test it out.  When George Herbert penned this poem his authority came from his life as a parish priest in Bemerton, his knowledge of the English language, and a degree from Cambridge – a combination of external and internal sources.

Questions about authority don’t often arise in relation to a poem – unless it has to do with whether or not the state author actually composed the poem.  Yet, when we encounter something that is historical, scientific, or that may ask us take a position, there is a greater desire to understand the authority behind the text.  Who should we trust?  Political writings that skew statistics in order to denigrate the other side, memoirs that fictionalize a story presented as actually occurring, or historical writings and assumptions that are being constantly revised make us more wary of the trustworthiness of other writings.

The Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, Modern, and Post-Modern eras with the growth of scientific inquiry, industrial progress, historical research, and reliance on human reason has prompted many questions about the authority of once revered texts.  Nothing is to be assumed or taken for granted.  Does the essential meaning of a text come from the one who writes it or from the reader who is interpreting it?  Does the one who puts pen to paper or fingers to keys really define the author of the text?  Can a text claim to have authority any more as post-modern critical methods rip away the foundations of trust?  What does it mean for something to be true?

The discipline of literary criticism has have been discussing the idea of textual authority for decades whether it’s Michel Foucault’s asking what is an author, Harold Bloom exploring the anxiety of influence, Stanley Fish wondering what makes a text, or Elaine Showalter looking at the authority of male versus female writings.  These methods have bled into other disciplines.  With its historical and cultural importance, the Bible has not been exempted from, and has often been at the center of this questioning.

In 1633 when Herbert penned this poem, questioning of the Bible’s authority had already started and has continued such that the introduction to his poems in one anthology asserts that people continue to study his poems even though the common belief in biblical authority is now gone. It can be easy to be swept up into the view of scripture as yet another text to question like all the others.  That is, we must prove its authority through human reason.  However, C. S. Lewis’ relationship with this book prompted him to write that “the Bible is fundamentally a sacred book, and demands incessantly to be taken on its own terms . . . Stripped . . . of its divine authority, stripped of its allegorical senses, denied a romantic welcome it cannot achieve its function.”

So, on what do we base the authority of scripture in this age and take it on its own terms as God’s Word – seeing in it all the “constellations of the storie”?  This will be one of my explorations in the coming months.

Categories: God's Story | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Does Prayer Count If it’s on Your To-do List?

Yesterday I was driving down the highway to work thinking about the things on my to-do list.  It didn’t seem that everything would fit into the hours before me, so I turned on the classical music station and started praying.  Not for God’s guidance in prioritizing my time, but because this was one of the items I needed to finish.

Maybe it would have been better to wait until I got to campus, shut my office door, and quietly prayed.  But I was already running late for a weekly Bible study with students and the rest of my day was scheduled.  So there I was praying on I-75.

But does this really count?  I wasn’t in the quiet of a church or felt particularly drawn by God’s spirit. I didn’t feel especially holy.  But I was praying.  Remembering students I’ve talked with over the past week, reflecting on the Bible passage I read in the morning, and being honest about my own failings – like praying at that moment in order to cross out an item on my task list.  And then when it’s crossed off, is that it for the day?

Some days that is the extent of my intentional praying as I get so wrapped up in other activities.  But many times, because it is on my task list, I will make a point to pray between student meetings.  Every so often I even shut my door and pray the hours or just take time to be silent.

As I read the biblical admonitions to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17) and to ‘seek God’s face’ (Psalm 105) – images of a calm and focused prayer life enter my mind.  A life in which I make time to engage with God throughout the day without having to be prodded to remember.  However, that’s not reality for me at this time.  Thus, prayer remains on the list so it can remain on my mind.

 

Categories: Campus Ministry | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Writing Life – Solitary or Communal?

What a solitary journey the writing life can be.  We create alone.  Only we as individuals can put pen to paper or fingers to keys to share the ideas that are in our minds.  We need time away from everything and everyone to reach the deep waters of creativity within.  Consider the image of a writer with well-worn clothes and crumpled paper at his feet, furiously working in an empty garret.  Or, within the walls of a beach house on an island looking out at the sea, typing away on the novel that has been welling up within her for years.

But do we have to be alone?  When working on individual projects it is necessary to spend time apart from others – sometimes many hours.  However, that does not mean that we are by ourselves.  We are surrounded by many who have gone before us – authors, teachers, family, or friends.  They are part of the community that has shaped and continues to shape us.  I can’t sit down to write without feeling a sense of the joy of reading.  That little girl who loved to hear her mother read books before bed is grown, but the comfort of those stories and of the people who shared them with me continues.

Walden Pond

In addition, as I write I am in the worlds of Jane Eyre and Heidi, Walden Pond and the Bible.  Books have and continue to be an essential part of my being.  I am drawn to the words and to the characters.  Sometimes I remember the plots and settings as if I had lived them.  I can return to them intentionally.  Along with their works, authors’ lives influence me as I learn about their inspirations, practices, and trials.  They are all part of this creative community.

Then there are those who are actively part of my writing today: teachers, writing groups, readers of blogs.  We sharpen each other’s art as we see how ideas play among a group.  To be honest, I’ve been reluctant to engage with such a community.  It’s safe to keep writing for myself and only dream about sending it into the world.  However, I’m more and more aware that writing is not only about putting words on a page in solitude.  It is also about engaging others with those words – and engaging with the words of others. The small writing group I’m involved with keeps me honest, provides thoughtful encouragement, and keeps me writing.  Through this blog I’m learning that there may be even more who are part of this community and who can hone this work.

Ultimately, that lone artist image isn’t so ideal or even true.  Writing and other creative endeavors do not need to be solitary practices. Why should they be?  The ultimate creator – God – created the earth in community as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and continues to even involve his ultimate creation, humanity, in this project.

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Study Bibles

“Study Bibles are ruining community.”  I recently heard this statement at a conference on narrative and the gospel.   I may not like a lot of the study Bibles out there, but ruining community?  Really?

It used to be that people would read the Bible and seek to understand how it related to their lives through their interactions within a Christian community.  Pastors and other teachers would lay the foundations of how to understand God’s Word and friends and family would share stories of God working in their lives.  This was an interactive, living approach to God’s Word.  However, with study Bibles available for everyone from women to firefighters to environmentalists, an individual can select one that will speak just to her, get the answers, and then be on her way.  There is no need to engage with others in our faith walk.  The answers are neatly laid out for us.

This seems like an efficient way to learn.  It is also a lot safer for my ego.  If I’m not living up to the expectations I read in God’s Word, only I need to know about it.  It’s also much easier to twist the Bible to mean what I want if I’m not reading it with other people who are aware of my weaknesses.  But as we rely primarily on distant experts and stop sharing our stories with one another there is a loss of real community in our churches.  We become a group of individuals finding our own way to live out the faith and trying to convince others that we are doing well.

So what might be a response to this focus on individual faith – whether prompted by study Bibles or a multitude of other reasons?

  • Where do we find places to dig more deeply into our lives and connect with others?
  • Places where we can learn from one another as we see how God is working?
  • Places where it’s okay to tell about the mess in our lives, as well as the joys?
  • Places where questions and failings are welcome, and forgiveness is ready?
  • Places where we can be affirmed that we are living in God’s grace and encouraged to go out and live more fully into the story where we are called?

I find that such moments occur not within programmed structures or alone in study, but in the throes of life.  Sometimes it’s around meals or over coffee.  It can also happen in a writing group,  at a ball park, or among whispered voices in a chapel  These are places where we can open God’s Word as we are with others, connecting our stories with God’s.  Such building and living in community is definitely not efficient nor focused on knowing the right answer, but it is biblical.  It’s also quite freeing.

Maybe it’s time to promote a new type of study Bible.  The added “helps” in this Bible would change depending on the group involved because they would be developed out of Christians living in the midst of one another’s stories as they center their lives on God’s Living Word – Jesus Christ.

Categories: God's Story, Journey Living | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Opening Up God’s Story

My earliest memories include hearing by mother reading me Bible stories before bed and learning the same stories in a Sunday school class.  However, I have to be honest.  Even though I remember stories from that beloved nighttime ritual and those hour-long classes on Sunday mornings, I can’t say they really left me with any life-changing ideas.  The stories were nice – Noah surviving, Samson winning, God caring, Jesus dying and rising.  I knew the stories, and believed they were true, but they did not really change me.  They were a bit too neatly wrapped with cute pictures and closed-answer responses.

Another thing too neatly packed for me is church doctrine.  Like Sunday school lessons, doctrine can flatten out God.  Yes, it may make it simple and easy for people to know exactly what they must believe.  It helps to weed out errors and can put a person at ease.  But what kind of ease is it?  Underneath I feel something is missing when someone says don’t worry, all you have to do is simply believe in the Gospel – Jesus came, died, and rose.  This may be true, along with much well-thought out doctrine. But to me, it also leaves out something – the soul of the Bible

When I look at the Bible I see more than a list of facts, a set of dogma which leaves me cold.  Or, a nicely formed children’s story.  I see a truth – not a tidy creed – but a narrative of people living in the midst of relationships, God’s interactions, and questions.  Yes, God is there in the midst, but not in a flat, uni-dimensional way – a cardboard form that can easily be torn and manipulated.  It is a dynamic, multi-dimensional truth of God that we can’t understand, but we can trust even without knowing everything about it.

Mystery exists in this narrative.  It’s easy to see God in the victories of the Bible – Daniel  being saved from the lions and Peter escaping from jail.  However, sometimes God is hidden behind questions – when we wonder why he hardened Pharoah’s heart or question why he wanted Israel to completely decimate some of their enemies.  God’s description cannot be neatly stated once you piece together the truths throughout the Bible.  It seems contradictory at times.  Yet, in these enigmas we see God at work in the midst of unexplained suffering – the kind we regularly encounter even today. This is a story I can hold onto.

Running the race, leaving the land, wrestling, following the cloud – the images used in the Bible to describe people’s interactions with God are active.  Even those related to the law – share them with your children, write them on your hears – don’t refer to only a mental affirmation.  In the Bible we don’t have so much an end point to reach, but a story to live.  Because God can not be contained in a cleaned-up children’s story or a neatly formed doctrine, we are not alone on this journey.  God does not remain safely on our shelves.  He ventures out with us – and eventually we may even turn and venture with him.

Categories: God's Story | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: