The Bible


The Bible is a difficult book.  Or so at least most modern people seem to think.  I am always interested to see what people make of being given a Bible to accompany them to their mythical desert island.  Mostly it is completely ignored, sometimes people reject the offer. Kirsty Wark never feels very comfortable with it.

Personally I do not find the Bible difficult.  Certainly there are parts that make me scratch my head, or make me feel uncomfortable, or lure me into long and rambling meditations.  But I enjoy this uncomfortableness.  I enjoy my engagement with this ancient and strange book.  It is so different from my day-to-day life and yet so often seems to engage, stimulate and force me to think again.  It constantly challenges me to reassess my modern world view and look at things from the point of view of people who lived entirely different lives.  It helps of course that I know it so well, that it has resonated throughout my whole life from when my mother read it with me in bed as a little boy, to this very day when I read in Leviticus of the ancient Israelite's practice of sacrifice.  And it is a sacred text; it has a certain authority and a vast history of interpretation which echoes through our whole culture.  When I read it I feel myself engaged not only with God but also with a vast, rich seam of human life.  I think the problem people have with the Bible is that they feel it is bullying them and telling them how to live their lives.  But once you begin to understand the history of its interpretation it becomes less like a bully and more like a rumbustious and warm-hearted family arguing amongst themselves, exasperating the neighbours but full of life and fun.  The only way to deal with such families is to enter into relationship with them and then the music will cheerfully be turned down, the obstructing van moved without a murmur and good turns done with happy grace.

This seems to me the way to approach the Bible.  It appears intimidating but at heart it is a story: a story which turns many different ways and has many different voices.  Surely the fact that its key story (the Gospels) has four different versions, three similar and one highly eccentric, should give us the key for how to approach it.  And it is rich not only because it is a fascinating story in its own right but also because of many centuries of reading and interpretation.  These both give it a certain coherence, as in the doctrine of the Trinity, which gives us a key to understanding what the Bible is saying about God and at the same time a vast array of different readings -- allegorical, literal, demythologized, canonical, Catholic, Protestant etc etc.  Finally the fact that it is authoritative gives it added zest and life, for how we read it is important -- it makes a difference to how we live our lives.  Small wonder that the powers that be have often tried to restrict access to it.  And of course I do not have to accept it as authoritative, it is a personal choice.  But if I do not at least engage with it I cannot hope to understand the culture and history of Britain whose empire once ruled the world and whose language still does.  Certainly the Bible is less important in Britain than it once was.  Our culture increasingly considers it to be a bully which needs to be shown the door but I, at least, still find there is much to be gained from befriending this voluble and engaging personality. 

Throughout my life I have constantly reflected on the Bible, here is a selection of these meditations and thoughts, mainly from more recent years

Judges. I like the judges and have found it helpful to reflect on them as paradigms of how leadership develops in chaotic situations. I find this really brings them alive in urban contexts. Included here are reflections on Ehud the original trickster and Gideon the man who didn't want to be king. Also here is a more expansive attempt to develop a biblical urban theology which includes some of this previous material. It needs some reworking but builds on these themes from Judges and seeks to describe how stable urban communities might emerge.

The Gospels, especially Luke, have been a constant source of inspiration. Here is a reading of Luke as the way of resistance and hope. And also reflections on the Wise Men and the Beatitudes.

Sometimes I notice things in the Gospel and find that others have also noticed this but this piece on joy in Mark's Gospel is as far as I'm aware unique. No one else seems to have noticed how suspicious Mark is of joy.

The Bible has also been a constant source of more poetic meditation. Here is included a meditation on one of Jesus's last words 'It is finished'.