Today is ‘Bible Sunday‘- a celebration co-ordinated by the Bible Society, with the title ‘Living in the certainty of God’s Word’.
We are pointed in the direction of that wonderful passage in Isaiah 55- which begins ‘Come all who are thirsty…‘
I very much agree that the Bible is something to celebrate, so I have been reading some of the information about Bible Sunday. However, I find myself in a familiar uncomfortable place. I have posted before about some of these issues- here and here for example.
Some of it might relate to the language used in this celebration- the assumptions and presumptions inherent. The very title- ‘Living in the certainty of God’s word’- what this means for many is a closing down of debate, a final understanding of Truth- the Bible says it, I believe it, end of story. We are encouraged to approach the Bible as we would a mathematical formula- to engage with the different elements, order them correctly and so arrive at the only logical reasonable outcome.
But I have become increasingly aware that in doing this, we diminish the words. Indeed, we are in danger of recreating God in our own image.
Another image I have used before is this one
The Bible is full of truth, wisdom, poetry, history, prophecy and mystery. We humans are logical orderly creatures, who are made to look for patterns. However, we look through at things through a perspective formed by presumptions- it is much easier that way, and it is very hard (if not impossible) to approach any issue afresh without the influence of time and place and heritage. Most of the time this stands us in very good stead. It allows us to be what we are. It allows us to build logical portable and replicatable blocks of truth. It allows us to find commonality and build Church.
But then there are those elusive dots.
We can try to ignore them, but they keep popping up- like those passages in the Bible that just do not fit very well… Or others who have understood a passage in a different way, and God seems to be blessing them. Or the realisation that what we have regarded as fixed and absolute, is suddenly- shifting…
We can regard them as irrelevant and but then they still irritate. Or we can outlaw them, suggest that they are heretical distractions- but then we find that they are increasingly difficult to ignore.
But my humble experience of the Bible suggests that they will always be there. Because the Word of God can not be contained in a book. Neither can God be reduced to a formula. God will simply not be contained.
Does this diminish the Bible for Christians? Perhaps for some, it does. For these folk, the theological blocks hewn from the huge quarry of Scripture are so rigid, that to suggest a different perspective is to bring the whole edifice crashing down. In this, we are in danger of worshiping an idol of our own construction.
But for many others, the Bible is a cherished gift- one that shines light, but also contains many shadows cast by our lack of understanding, and the assumptions made by previous generations.
So I am going to celebrate Bible Sunday by reading the passage from Isaiah 55, and reminding myself that this wonderful poetry points us not at the words, but at the word giver.
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed.”