18 Nov 2007
“The word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.” (1 Thess. 2:13) (+)
Sharon saw a sweatshirt that read: Joan of Arc was not Noah’s wife. That’s kind of funny, but there are a lot of people who won’t get it. There’s a story told of a preacher who approached his parish committee with a request to buy Bibles to put in all the pews of the church. The committee members were reluctant because of the cost, but not wanting to sound so crass they told the preacher they didn’t think pew-Bibles were all that necessary. The preacher took out his Bible and asked his committee members to do the same and turn with him to the book of First Condominiums. After flipping pages for quite a while and looking through the Bible’s table of contents, all to no avail, they finally got his point, and the pastor finally got his Bibles, Bibles that don’t have a book of First Condominiums. That’s kind of funny too, but there are a lot of people who won’t get that one either. I was told of an elderly person flipping through the Bible when out dropped a war bond from World War II. Fortunate I guess if you can still cash those bonds, but unfortunate if it means that Bible hadn’t been opened for the past half a century. The Bible is most unfortunately becoming an unknown and forgotten book by many people. Just think to yourself about the last time you read your Bible.
But the Bible is also being exploited by many others. They know there is a great deal of ignorance surrounding this sacred book, and it’s almost like they want to keep it that way. They insist on divorcing the Word of God from the mind of its readers. They say if you think too much about the revealed Word, then you don’t have enough faith in the revealed Word. An actual church sign outside of the Northwest Assembly of God proclaims to all who pass by: “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.”
Can you imagine what this sign says to the general public driving by about religion?
Fr. Randy Calvo
A joke along these lines is told about a Christian woman who had to do a lot of air-travel for her job. But flying made her nervous so she always took her Bible along with her to read. It helped relax her. One time she was sitting next to a man. When he saw her pull out her Bible he gave a little chuckle and went back to what he was doing. After a while he turned to her and asked "You don't really believe all that stuff in there do you?" The lady replied "Of course I do. It’s the Bible." He said, "Well what about that guy that was swallowed by that whale?” She replied "Oh, Jonah. Yes I believe that, it’s in the Bible.” He asked "Well, how do you suppose he survived all that time inside the whale?" The lady said, "Well I don't really know. I guess when I get to heaven I’ll ask him." "What if he isn't in heaven?" the man asked sarcastically. "Then you can ask him." replied the lady.
If you’ve been trained to separate thinking from faith, you could fall for this kind of piety. But if you’ve ever read the book of Jonah from the Old Testament you can tell almost immediately that it’s a parable, and a satirical one at that. When Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan, it doesn’t have to be rooted in actual historical fact for it to be true and meaningful. And the same applies to the Book of Jonah. When you combine reading the Bible with thinking about the Bible, you’re not opposing faith; you’re respecting it for all the depth and challenge that it can share with us as the Word of God. When we read the Bible thoughtfully, we grow in the faith; we’re not enemies of the faith. To interpret the Bible doesn’t mean to deny the Bible.
About a half century ago, the Cold War was at its coldest. In 1953, Stalinism ruled in Russia. Any deviation from accepted thought led straight to Siberia. Here in America Sen. Joseph McCarthy was holding hearings trying to discover deviation from our thought, and if he couldn’t discover it he manufactured it. A good number of talented, artistic Americans were blacklisted by McCarthy, which meant they were silenced because of the suspicion that their thoughts were a danger to our nation. Into this world, Ray Bradbury introduced his novel Fahrenheit 451. It’s a story about book burnings. It all starts, writes Bradbury, because books offended some people. People began to think it best not to offend anyone so books became more and more bland and boring. Eventually people thought it best just to do away with the whole problem completely, just burn all the books. One of the books that disappeared was the Bible, one of the most contentious books ever written.
Fahrenheit 451 became an immediate classic. Bradbury’s fiction, the New York Times proclaimed, “bears many alarming resemblances to our own [world].” That was true then, and it’s true today. In some places the Bible is disappearing and in some others it’s being made bland and boring because people are afraid to think about what it says. The television has won. Let the History Channel run a show on the Bible and we’ll watch it, but we tend not to pick-up and read the Bible for ourselves. It’s lost in some unused bureau drawer. In a media-drenched world, we have to nurture the ability to imagine, to think, to question for ourselves. We can’t always listen to someone else’s thoughts. Otherwise Bradbury’s fiction becomes history.
Our church honours the Bible and its thoughtful interpretation by declaring these to be worthy of our most sacred designation: Sacrament. The Bible can disappear either through ambivalence or ignorance. There’s only one way to protect ourselves from this fate: Pick it up and read. Sermons, Bible study, SOCL classes, liturgy, pastors, all of these can help us better understand the Bible, but we have to do the groundwork ourselves. And don’t ever be afraid that questions equal faithlessness. We’re tapping into the wisdom of God as we read the Bible. We should scratch our heads every once in a while. Let us pray this Word of God Sunday that we all give the Word a chance to be freed from isolation and ignorance; let the Bible come to life in our hearts, our minds, and our congregations as we ever more faithfully turn to read and to hear the Word of God. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)