Wednesday, May 22
Sunday, October 26, 2008|
Matthew 22: 37
Is the Bible True?
So, Mary Jane and her friends had decided that they wanted to see a movie. There was a whole bunch of new ones just out and they didn’t know which one to see. Sarah said, “I heard the new James Bond movie is really lame! Just a bunch of people blowing each other up, with no story to it!”
“How about that horror flick – Quarantine?” said Amelia. “I heard it’s really scary!”
“Yeah, and stupid” said Mary Jane. “I want to see something funny and entertaining. How about High School Musical Three – that would be fun!”
“OK” all the girls chimed in. “Let’ go to that one.”
How did Mary Jane and her friends become so knowledgeable about movies – especially the ones they haven’t seen? They read the reviews written by critics. That’s correct.
I often feel like movie and book critics intentionally find all the things wrong with a movie or a book – far more than what is right or good about it – especially a book or a movie I really like. Have you ever had that experience?
Now, let me ask you a question about these movie and book critics. Do you think they like movies? Do you think they like books?
Of course they do. People are movie critics because they love movies and want people to see good movies and understand them. People are book critics because they love books and want people to read the books that are the very best there are to offer. They want you to have the best experience and understand those books and films better. Even though critics can really pass judgment on a movie or book, they are doing it because they love books and movies and want good ones.
Can the same be said of people who criticize or ask questions about the Bible? Do people who challenge traditional readings of scripture really love the Bible, or are they just trying to tear it down? When we ask questions about the Bible, are we doing it because we want to disparage the Bible and show it to be an old and useless book, or are we asking in order to understand better and more deeply?
One of the things we have tried to do in confirmation instruction over the past years is to teach students to be comfortable with the Bible – so that they would find reason to use it. And one of the hardest things for us to teach to young, impressionable but still maturing minds is the nature of scripture and what it means for our lives and for the church.
I think that sometimes we do too good a job of asking questions and allowing youth to express their doubts. Take the example of several of the faith statements last Sunday. They asked questions that ranged from why bad things happen to good people to how we understand the story of creation. I often say that I envy the fundamentalist way of reading scripture because they are always so SURE of themselves. They read the Bible literally, and what it says is what they believe. There is, they say, no need for interpretation. Scripture is clear – all one must do is read it and live by what it says.
And we Lutherans say Yes – we agree – we live by what the Bible says……but….. what is it really saying? That becomes the question.
Recently I heard Dr. David Lose lecture on this issue and his lectures were very helpful for me in trying to sort this issue of scripture and its centrality to faith. He asked the question “Is the Bible True?”
Now – if I were answering that question from a fundamentalist point of view I would have to answer YES – the Bible is true. Every letter, every word, every pronouncement is true – just the way it is written. And that is that. But the trouble with that way of understanding scripture is that it makes the Bible only as strong as its weakest link. If every word and every letter and every pronouncement must be true, then if anything – ANYTHING in the Bible is found to be NOT true – then it may just be that EVERYTHING is untrue. So, if God created the world and us in seven days and not over millions of years – what do we do with modern science? Do we reject Genesis, or do we reject the discovery of dinosaur tracks and trail drags petrified in the Utah Desert some million years ago? If the Bible is True, then we must somehow put our brains, our reason, on hold. And that in and of itself, runs contrary to scripture “We are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds!”
But what if we say the Bible is Not True? Does that not completely undermine not only the authority of scripture, but also our faith as well? I would go on record as saying that the Bible is not true – in terms of what we modern, scientific, pragmatic, fact oriented people would describe as true. It is not meant to be true. And I will say that because I believe that truth is bigger than fact. – the biblical story is an incredible (hard to believe) story too good to be true (compared to the world). In it we find courage and hope, in the face of overwhelming adversity and hopelessness. In the world we find hopelessness and little to believe in. The power of the Bible is found in the story that the Bible tells. Not all stories are true, but great stories contain great truths that open up understanding in a far greater way that any list of facts and figures ever could.
For Lutheran Christians, the Bible is a functional book. We do not approach the Bible the way that Moslems do the Koran or Mormons do the Book of Mormon. For them, these books are immutable, untouchable. But for us, the Bible is incarnational. God is at work through the word. Scripture is the way that God tells us about Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate revelation. Christ is higher than scripture. Christ is the center of scripture. Because Christ is at work in the world, through God’s word and our understanding of it. We move from what we know to what we do not know, confident in the story of salvation. We hear God speaking most clearly through Jesus – God’s most eloquent word.
Professor Lose shared with us that there are two reasons as to why people don’t read the Bible. The first reason is embarrassment – people don’t feel they know enough about it. Spending more time with the scriptures, just becoming more familiar with the books, the authors, the themes, and the stories, easily rectifies that. Every one of us can invest ourselves more into the scriptures.
But the other reason people give for not reading the Bible is because they find the chasm between fact and faith too great. They find that they can’t read it “literally”. It is just too big a stretch for thinking people. We certainly can’t, and shouldn’t check our brains at the door. Martin Luther certainly didn’t, and it was his study and rediscovery of scripture that brought about the Reformation, which we celebrate today. We are called to use our minds as well as our hearts when we believe.
“’Scripture is more difficult than it should be,” said the brilliant critic Eric Auerback. I wonder if he meant that statement as a criticism of the Bible or as praise for it. The Bible is a complicated, often difficult to comprehend sort of literature. Odd for literature that we believe to be the supreme, authoritative revelation of God.
Yet perhaps scripture is difficult because scripture is one way that God keeps us moving, thinking, reaching out for help from our sisters and brothers, and prayerfully asking for assistance from the Holy Spirit as well. The sometimes difficult form of God’s word is lifetime training in how to read with a great deal of help from our friends.”
The truth of the Bible is that truth is bigger than fact. The truth of the Bible is the power of the story that it tells. The Bible’s story is our story – we live between Genesis and Revelation. In this story we find courage and hope through a story that is both incredible and also too good to be true. That is faith – to believe this story of redemption and live with it, to live in it, to live it, every day. Matthew 22:37 “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind – and your neighbor as yourself.” is what Jesus calls us to do. Amen