Week 8, Day 3: Sixty-Six Books, One God
Were you ever asked to do a group project at school? Perhaps you ended up working on one part each and then tried to cobble it all together right before the deadline. Did you ever read through the final product and wonder why it didn’t flow very well? Well, that was my experience on at least a couple of occasions in grad school!
Some would apply this analogy to the Bible. It is, after all, a library of sixty-six books (thirty-nine in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament), including several different genres, written by dozens of authors over the course of hundreds of years! You may wonder how we can say the Bible is the word of God, when so many fallible humans were involved in the process; or you may have questioned the reliability of Scripture, or heard about all of the errors or contradictions. But just as Jews have understood their scriptures (which is our Old Testament) as being a unified witness of God’s interaction with his creation, so too Christians have understood the Bible as doing the same. Father Richard Rohr uses the analogy of connecting the dots; he reminds us, “One dot is not wisdom: You can prove anything from a single Scripture quote.”
LOOK & LISTEN: Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra,
“Beethoven’s 5th Symphony”
To use an (admittedly inadequate) analogy, perhaps we can think about it like an orchestra playing a symphony: there are unique instruments — horns, tubas, and trombones; violins, violas, and cellos; flutes, piccolos, and oboes; cymbals and timpani — which form larger sections — brass, strings, woodwind, and percussion — which each play different melodic and harmonic and rhythmic parts in order to together communicate what the composer wrote in the manner intended. (I sometimes take nerdy joy in pinpointing and following instrumental lines in music I hear.)
Similarly, there are unique authors — Moses, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, David, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and Jude — who write in different ways and forms — poetry, prose, song, letter, gospel — which form different sections in the Bible — the Law, the Prophets, the Writings, the Gospels, the Epistles — all of which together communicate the story of God’s interactions with his people in history and the good news of Jesus Christ. And the goal of all of it, as we’ve already seen, is to come alive to a new way of seeing and a new way of being. Rohr writes, “The trouble is that we have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas — about which we can be right or wrong — rather than an invitation to a new set of eyes.”
Dallas Willard offers this helpful — but challenging — advice as we consider how we approach the Bible:
We will be spiritually safe in our use of the Bible if we follow a simple rule: Read with a submissive attitude. Read with a readiness to surrender all you are — all your plans, opinions, possessions, positions. Study as intelligently as possible, with all available means, but never study merely to find the truth and especially not just to prove something. Subordinate your desire to find the truth to your desire to do it, to act it out!
In our day and age, it is normal to approach everything with a heavy dose of cynicism; and yet this is sometimes the very thing that keeps us from experiencing the fullness of life God desires for us, that plugs our ears and prevents us from hearing the voice of God, that puts filters in front of eyes and stops us from seeing certain colors on the spectrum. Comedian Stephen Colbert, delivering a commencement address at Knox University in Illinois in 2006, said:
Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.
Instead of cynicism, perhaps we might take on an attitude of wonder and awe — as we look into the words of the Bible and as we look around us at the world. After all, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it in her poem:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Billions of lives over hundreds of years have already been not only inspired, encouraged, and convicted, but transformed by the word of God and the power of God. To read the Bible with humility, with anticipation, and with awe, with the expectation that God can and does still speak to us through it and challenges us not just to discover God’s words but to live them out — perhaps, when it comes to the words of Scripture, this is the greatest test for our generation … and for you.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: What themes do you see in the Bible, dots that are connected throughout the narrative? How do you see Jesus embody those themes?
Heart: Do you really want to hear God through the Bible? Why or why not?
Hands: Is there a verse or passage or story in the Bible that has particularly inspired, encouraged, or convicted you? Is there one that changed your life? Reflect on it and think about sharing it at group.
Spend a few moments in silence, reflecting on what it would look like for you to hear God through the Bible. Ask God to speak to you through the words of Scripture.
"One dot is not wisdom:
You can prove anything
from a single Scripture quote."
- Fr. Richard Rohr