Have you heard phrases to describe the Bible such as “the text book for life” or “the rule book for life” or that slightly less school orientated one, “the manual for life”? The latter makes it sound more like it should be used when your car breaks down. Are they accurate and helpful descriptions for the Bible? Maybe and maybe not. Let me explain how I see the Bible.
I’m a snap happy photographer and in this digital age it means I’ve been able to snap away to my heart’s content. My daughter has been one of my favourite photography subjects as she has also been for my wife. The seven years of her life so far are well documented in photos, so under our bed are well ordered boxes of photos of her from birth till now. She loves to climb into bed with us regularly after getting the boxes out and to spend time going through those photos and hearing from us about what’s in the photos. They tell her life story and through talking with us about the photos she has been able to construct memories that would otherwise be lost. These give her a sense of identity and place in the world and they shape her imagination. They speak to her, telling her story and they do so within the context of the community that is our family. They help to shape her and part of how she responds to life comes from the way those stories feed into her. The stories of those photos can’t be divorced from our family and her, and her sense of who she is, is intimately shaped by those photos and her interaction with us around them. It’s beautiful.
Keep that in mind as you continue reading.
In Evangelical circles we use terms like ‘authority’, ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’ to describe the Bible – all terms understandably used to try and grapple with what the Bible is in an age of reason and while I think these terms have their place in the right setting, I think for the average person they strip the Bible of its real power and turn the Bible into something that it isn’t. I’d like to see them used a lot less, not because I think they’re not accurate (depending on our definitions) but because I think they tie the Bible up and make it inaccessible for too many people.
Though I’ve used the terms at the beginning of the post often, I no longer view the Bible as a text book, rule book, or manual. I view it as something more like those photos of my daughter that sit under our bed. Just as those photos under our bed are her story, so the Bible is our story and just as those photos can’t be divorced from the community of our family, so the Bible cannot be divorced from the community whose story it tells and just as her understanding of them is enriched by her relationship with us and our telling of that story, so our understanding of the Bible and its ability to shape us as individuals and communities is enriched in the story telling and living of our community and through our proximity to God.
We don’t go to the Bible to find the rules of the Christian life; to find all the dos and don’ts for dealing with life and to find the black and white answers for all the ethical and moral dilemmas we might face – we go there to hear our story, the story of people grappling with understanding the Divine and working out our connection to Him. You see, the Bible isn’t a static book dictated from a far off place called heaven, disconnected from the reality of our world and handed to us in some arbitrary form that places it over and above the community. The Bible, inspired in some way by the Holy Spirit sits in that messy place between the Divine and the human, penned by human hands. It grapples with the depths of our humanity, trying to understand the Divine and telling the story of that ongoing relationship between God and us. It has all the ups and downs, the sublime and the visceral you’d expect in that journey.
When we go to the Bible we find our heroes and our villains; our successes and our failures; our beauty and our ugliness and we see something of the reality of God in, above, beneath, beside and through it all. We see our story and we see His story and over time we see how the two come together. We go to the Bible to let that shape our imagination and to help give us a sense of who we are, where we are and why we are. Sometimes it comforts and sometimes it jars. Sometimes it reaches out to us with sublime understandings of who we are and sometimes it leads us down rabbit trails of impossible to understand and guttural problems. It invites and it confronts and it does all of it within the faith communities that share that story and it does it as, ultimately, we endeavour to walk with the Divine and be shaped by God. From that shaping we then respond to life – not because we’ve worked out all the rules from the Bible but because the story helps give us our place within the world and because through it, God is shaping our character – the seat of our being that our lives flow from.
This sort of understanding has made the Bible more accessible to me. It allows me to grapple with thoughts and ideas that I once considered taboo. It broadens the boundaries of how I can read it and it has brought it more to life, giving it more colour and shades of grey where too often it felt like it had to be black and white. It captures my imagination and in turn I have no doubt that the Spirit of God uses it to shape me. It’s an amazing, messy, beautiful, often gut wrenching, yet sublime story. It’s His story, my story and the story of an amazing community.