Friday, March 25, 2011

the book God wrote

Much has been said about 66 books (more if you're Catholic or Orthodox) that sound like they came from the pen - or keyboard - of the same writer. I had a Jewish drama teacher whose wife told me that very thing when I was a divinity student at Acadia University in eastern Canada, not far from Maine and the New England states. She didn't know such an observation, that she came to on her own without any coaching, was already a cliche within evangelical and small "o" orthodox circles.

Just as much has been said about the collage of villains and heroes in the Bible, the high amount of poetry (so much of it powerful and beautiful and even romantic), history dipped in warfare and blood, stories like a show from CSI:Miami, Law and Order, or Criminal Minds, overflowing with murder and cruelty and deadly rage.

Much more has been said about how God shows up in all the stories - even in Esther where he's never mentioned once yet looms large in the background and foreground - ever-present in the tales of villainy and savagery and deceit where he yet molds lives and shapes events, just as he is evident in the tales of goodness and gentleness and honesty, bringing his Kingdom to earth.

If any people should be the people of poetry, history, biography, story (even the hard stories which yet have a moral intent) it should be the Christians, because that's the book God gave us, that's the script we learn from, that's the screenplay we act out of every day of our lives until the end of the age. And sometimes we act like people who have the book God wrote and sometimes we don't.

Sometimes we memorize it, but never live it, as if having the content stored in our head and never using it is enough.

Sometimes we venerate it, place it on an altar or podium in our churches, opening it to a certain page for display purposes, kissing it, genuflecting before it, honoring it, yet only reading certain parts of it we like over and over again, ignoring the rest.

Sometimes we treat it like a Wikipedia article, going to it for information, going to it for instruction, going to it like we go to a manual for our car or our TV/DVD combo or our software program. James 4:12 fixes this, Genesis 40:35 fixes that, John 12:11 straightens out that glitch in the system.

And that's where we go wrong. We think knowing the chapter and verse is enough, we think knowing which passages speak to what issues is enough, we think having the knowledge and content is enough. Just like any other book or textbook or troubleshooting manual.

It might be enough if the book of God were just a book like any other, just a combination of paper and ink or a mix of digital words on a cell phone screen or iPad or laptop.

But it's a spirit thing, not simply a knowledge and memory thing. It's a living thing, a God thing, a holy thing. It is a dynamic that occurs every time we read it, a dynamic that challenges and changes us when conditions are right, and those conditions include being open to and listening to and pondering and obeying the very words of the very real God. Even when conditions aren't right, and our hearts are hard to the voice and syllables of God, stuff still happens. Because it's not a fix-it manual or a recipe or a formula we can learn, master, manipulate to our own ends, or control. It's the living word of the Living Word and ultimately it masters us and turns us inside-out. It's a force in our lives, not a static or placid thing. It's Christ the Lion of Judah, it's Christ the Tiger, it's the Wind of the Spirit, it's the very Fire of God.

Be wary of it. Be in awe of it. Delight yourself in it. Run from it, if you choose to run. But don't ever think it's ink on a page or digital info on a screen. It's alive.

And it's relationship. You come to it to hear God, hear yourself echoed in other characters, to respond with your own words and prayers and hopes and fears. You are in communion with God - not reading a book like any other. You are relating to the living God and he is relating to you. It is an interaction, a communication, a person-to-person dialog. The Bible is a conversation with God that never ends. Never. For even on the other side, you will converse with and enjoy being in relationship to the Living Word who is Christ.

So much dysfunction in our churches comes because people think using it as a tool, a weapon, or a reservoir of knowledge is enough. They think spouting off the verses like a fighter jet's machine guns is enough. They think knowing the words and knowing the doctrines and pumping the book for information is enough. Imagine saying you knew your closest friend because you knew their birth date and favorite foods and where they'd lived and what they thought about certain movies or political parties. If you talked like that about them or in front of them it would say nothing about their heart and soul or if you had an intimate and meaningful relationship with them, understood some of their deepest feelings and deepest hopes.

The same is true of God. Do we meet him in his book and learn to value him as Lord and Friend in great intimacy and openness - or is it a book of facts and data we can use to prop up our own viewpoints or doctrines or arguments or beliefs? Is it a device or the living words of a living Person? Is it a mechanism? A instrument to be used regardless of the disposition or spiritual depth of the person using it? Or is the book about spirit and living in the spirit and can it only be fully understood if the person interacting with it is doing so not simply in a head moment, but a heart and head and spirit moment?

God is spirit. How can his words be anything less?

God is spirit. Those that approach him, those that honor and worship him, must do so in spirit and in truth.

God is spirit. Those that listen to his words and respond to them must also do so in spirit and in truth.

Seizing his words in fleshly fists and hurling them like earthly stones is not it and in doing so they cease to become his words, they lose their holy spirit.

Using his words like a bandaid to try and repair one spiritual or mental or even physical problem is not it. For God's words always treat the whole man or the whole woman or they are not his words. "Your faith has saved you. Go to the priests and show them your healing from leprosy." "Your sins are forgiven you. Rise up and walk." "She has been forgiven much because she has loved much."

Taking bits and pieces of his words to fix life's glitches, and doing so without prayer or faith or attempts at faith, doing so without any spirit or Holy Spirit whatsoever, is not it. This approach has caused horrendous damage in families and faith communities.

Every time you open the book of God you open a mystery.

Every time you open the book of God you enter into a spiritual reality which cannot be understood without acting out of your own spiritual reality.

Every time you open the book of God you open up eternity.

Every time you open the book of God you open up a conversation with the living God of heaven and earth, Alpha and Omega, holder of the keys of death and hell, the Creator and Sustainer of all Reality, the Redeemer of all life. Do not take it lightly, as many do, simply flipping through the pages to find the verse they want to prove the point they wish to make - without involving faith or love or commitment or humility - or even God.

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."

"I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free."

If you wish to say, as Jesus did, "It is written," be sure that the words on the screen you quote or on the piece of white paper you have memorized, are first of all written on your heart.

On my heart.

On the hearts of all who believe.

This creates a different person, a different church, a different Christianity.

It gives the world a far better chance of hearing the real words of the real God in spirit and in truth and finding themselves touched by the Spirit of God and transformed.

As you once were when the words entered your ears and fell upon your heart.

And spirit gave birth to spirit.


EMP said...

"Be wary of it. Be in awe of it. Delight yourself in it. Run from it, if you choose to run. But don't ever think it's ink on a page or digital info on a screen. It's alive."

Ah. A timely reminder, MP. Thanks. I'll be preaching ("pulpit supply") on Palm Sunday, and your words came as a warning, a fresh wind and a gentle shock.

May I post this on my blog, along with your link? (Have you considered linking your blog to FB?) I would love to share this post with many.


murray said...

YAY! You're preaching. Wonderful, Priscilla. Sure, post this, it came out of a lot of angst, really, at seeing the Bible used as formula, cookbook, and resource to prop up arguments.

I'm not sure what FB is . . .?

Do you have any idea what you're preaching on yet?

William said...

Do you, sometimes, catch yourself sensing fallenness, "normal" life on this earth, metaphorically, reaching toward you and fear being engulfed and swallowed whole? And, at the same time, have you sensed an inward considering of the things of the Word of God... not in crystal clarity, but rather as a slightly out of focus film playing in the near background of you consciousness? That happens to me at times. When it does I sometimes find the next breath catching in my throat, my lungs feel a heaviness pressing in, encompassing me, and awareness that this life truly is a real battle, on a real battlefield. The blood, sweat, and tears are real blood and sweat and tears... the consequences are real consequences. And in the midst of this frenzied, helter-skelter of expression, the Lord God of all the Universe(s) is calling my name and holding me in His heart and hand, and whispering "You can trust Me. I am more than you, than all of you, and you truly can trust and let Me hold all that is precious to you. I truly AM."
Suddenly I can breathe, I can cry or laugh or love... I can live and I can offer hope of life to those around me! Oh wonderful, the One we are loved by!

murray said...

William, your words are rich and resound with divine mystery and a truth beyond the standard sense perception science uses to verify what is so and what is not so. Please keep writing.