Faith Works 7-13-13
Is the Bible a narrative?
We've been discussing this summer the role of the Bible, primarily as Christians understand it.
I suggested that we should look at the structure or outline of the 66 books that make up what most people call "The Holy Bible", considering the parallels between the traditional ordering of the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament (known as the Tanakh, or "Torah, prophets, and writings" in Judaism) and the Greek scriptures of the New Testament.
In the first installment of this series, I said we'd go on to talk about the Bible's narrative, and finally its meaning – not that we can sum it all up on either of those topics in 750 words!
But "narrative": you might ask, after we have broken down the Bible as a whole into the library that it also is, 39 books in the Old and 27 volumes in the New, whether it makes any sense to claim that they have a narrative binding them all together as if the library is a single work. You read four different books on Gettysburg, and you can see the overlaps and commonalities, but do they have a shared narrative?
In a sense, don't they? At least in terms of being about shared experiences, at a time and place to which they all refer. So perhaps my shelf of Gettysburg books shares a narrative arc . . . but the Bible?
Brad Pitt is a well-known public figure, and also somehow who at least seems to try hard to be an everyman of sorts (or at least as everyman as People's "Sexiest Man in the World" can be). He has working class roots, and is interested in keeping in touch with what you might call "real life," helping rebuild homes in New Orleans, traveling in the developing world, and talking to everyday folks in the places where he films.
Not long ago he was quoted in England's "The Guardian" newspaper; two summers ago he appeared in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," a movie about family, life and death, and ultimately about faith:
Would Pitt describe his own upbringing as religious? "Are you kidding me? I grew up in the [deleted] buckle of the Bible Belt!" . . . "Terry and I, we have our areas where we meet and we have our respectful disagreements. He sees God in science and science in God, and I respect that. But this idea of an all-powerful, watching being that's controlling our moves and giving us a chance to say he's the greatest so we get into some eternal heaven – that just doesn't work for me, man. I got a real problem with it. I see the value of religion and what it offers to people as a cushion and I don't want to step on that. On the other hand, I've seen where I grew up how it becomes separatist, and I get quite aggravated and antagonistic. I see religion more as a truck stop on your way to figuring out who you are."
I suspect that Brad Pitt is every bit the everyman he claims to want to be with these sentiments. I've heard similar statements from folks sitting across from me at fast food places in Ohio, next to campfires in West Virginia, and so on . . . not an outright rejection of God, or a disbelief in a divine presence, but a rejection of the idea that such a being is in any meaningful way a "person," with interests or concerns, let alone having love for any one part of their creation.
Close on that rejection is a repudiation of religion, or more often "organized religion" as being able to represent, let alone speak for such a being. Or Being. And there's no getting around the fact that if an organization of any sort believes they are presenting a viewpoint that is connected to the Source of Being itself, they're not likely to be casually swayed by offhanded arguments around a campfire or at a lunch counter.
Organized religion, including the tradition to which I belong as a pastor, can be wrong. Wrong headed in intention, and wrongly supposing what right action is in certain circumstances. I've got no problem saying that. Just because I or a church body may be wrong doesn't mean their belief in God is. It just means that they, we, I didn't hear properly. My wife tells me I do this all the time.
But the narrative of the Bible in sum, I'd argue, is that God is a person, a divine person to be sure, but a person in the sense of knowing, caring, and acting – not just a force or a concept or a cosmic idea, but a person.
How to know this person is where we get to the question of meaning, and that's where I'd like to go next week.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about the stories that are important to your life story in the Bible at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Knapsack on Twitter.