The pages of the Bible are like those scenes in war movies of darkened fields wrecked by fighting and death. The mortal weaknesses of the Bible’s authors is evident. Its pages are filled with institutions which contradict its higher values: slavery, polygamy, patriarchalism, vengeance, and even genocide. Like bloodied soil, the beauty of the letters and words in the Bible is marred by such things.
What Keeps Committed Readers of the Bible Coming Back
What keeps committed readers of the Bible coming back to walk through its meadows and paddocks? It is the continual presence of sublime thoughts in the Bible that draw us. Like a morning songbird on the wrecked landscape, notes of nobility and wonder come to us and make us believe the fields can live again.
What we should marvel at in a human book — which I also believe to be divine — is not the ruin and blood. Rather, it is the vision of better things that came to prophets and sages and apostles long ago. We don’t need to be convinced that death, hunger, and injustice haunt our world. But we do need reminding that laughter, friendship, and contentment will have the last word.
The Bible seems to call us beyond ourselves, to the far side of our mortal darkness and through the darkness to light on the other side of being. Death is unclean in the Bible. The silent God is not always silent. Pedestrian prose about things like skin disease and mildew suddenly erupts into a paean about life and resurrection. Divine threats are not always carried out and compassion from heaven is the true rule of order. Barren women sing and they are filled. The bow of the mighty is, of course, broken, in the Bible. A man of sorrows takes over and sets the earth right.
The thing we look for, the voice of the songbird, has been called eschatology, which means “things pertaining to the end.” Some verses in the Bible really do seem to be about the end of human history and an era beyond it. But I don’t believe the light and song in the Bible is limited to visions of the end of normal time and the beginning of the supernatural.
When a Canaanite woman finds that her flour and oil won’t run out, we are reading eschatology. When a healed leper is sprinkled with water containing blood and a living bird flies free, we are seeing resurrection. When the very flawed King David buys a threshing floor we are encountering messianic hope.
I think all of the liberating acts of God and the inspired ascents of men and women in the Bible are messianic and eschatological. They all pertain to the end, the beginning, the Messiah and the hope he brings. We see redemption, the rectification of all things, foreshadowed within human history and not just at the end of it.
Our own lives necessarily look like those darkened pages of the Bible. We wait for the tiniest movements of redemption. All things move in a circle. Whatever comes in, goes out. Nothing is new under the sun. Whatever has been will be again. That which is to be already has been. We cannot add one thing to what God has done. There is really no gain. Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) is, mostly, right.
Sometimes though, like glimpses caught in lightning flashes, we catch the darkness interrupted. The vision of Abraham. The theophany at Sinai. The miracle of the Exodus. The brief dream that was Zion. The short years of Yeshua (Jesus) on this earth.
But not only in the Bible, we find it in life too. Beauty in the world. A little love we may find in this life. A bond between strangers. A glimpse of truth peeking out from behind many lies. A sense that goodness is a real thing. A desire we find in ourselves that won’t go away — something we’ve all seen. That desire is our true country calling to us, as C.S. Lewis said it so well. And it is calling to us from this inadequate country where we presently live.
The Bible is made in this inadequate country. Like Messiah it is human and divine. Ignoring the humanness of the Bible won’t do. But neither will closing our eyes to the glimpses caught in lightning flashes.
We live in a place of vanity with no lasting gain to be had, here under the sun. Religious songs tend not to know this, promising unrealistic happiness much too quickly. Ours is a world of holocausts and political corruption. But we have reason to believe there is more.
The more foreshadowings we see the sweeter they become. One day they will last. They will become ordinary. The best of this inadequate country will become the lowest standard of life in the true one.
How can we believe in the silent God? He is not always silent.
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