“Me, I’m on the road again heading for another joint/We always thought the same way/We just started from a different point of view/Tangled up in blue” Bob Dylan
When I have had the temerity, some would say folly, of raising and tackling a controversial subject by way of discussion with anyone who is up for it, It has been an interesting exercise and a helpful exposure to how other people think and how they formulate their opinions, where it starts, how it progresses and when the divergence occurs. Inevitably we reach an impasse, a place where we can go no further. On the subject, there seems to be no possibility of a meeting of minds and we have simply to agree to disagree and get on with things as best we can. If it is a side issue or its importance does not touch our lives, it is easy, but if it impacts directly on our situation it can be seriously problematic.
When the issue relates to the bible, the sticking point is usually over interpretation. The perceived wisdom is that we read through different lens and interpret scripture in different ways. So it is inevitable, from a reading of scripture we see things differently and can end up with different, sometimes opposing conclusions. That makes such a lot of sense and is quite understandable. It happens all the time and provides the colour and variety as well as the exciting tension of living. It allows us to be inclusive and yet recognise divergence. It is an acceptance of complimentary perspectives.
There is however, one assumption, one given in this position that shows it to be not quite accommodating as it seems. It presupposes, it prejudges that the bible, valuable, insightful, full of great things and a treasure trove of wisdom as it is, is in a way no different from any other writings. It was written by men and while it has been the single most significant influence in the development of western civilisation it is still a book (or library of books) with contradictions errors and most importantly subject like any other book to criticism. It can be a source of great joy and inspiration and an object of our love. It can contain within its pages what we can believe to be the word of God but of itself it is not the word of God. It is not the words from the mouth of God, complete, authoritative and without error, the voice of God transmitted to us. Instead it is fallible, inconclusive and contradictory . That, I believe is the brick wall we meet in our discussions. That is where the roads part. The issue is not over the interpretation of the Bible, the issue is over what the Bible actually is.
I remember a group discussion many years ago led by a well-respected minister, highly regarded in “evangelical” circles. He was getting us round to thinking about how we interpret the bible and how our view can change and how we look at scripture differently. He described it as looking through different lenses, the lens we wear when we look at the bible. So we could read the prophet Amos, for example, in a traditional way and see certain truths then we could look at it from a more critical way and find quite different truths. I was rattled, but managed to stammer out “but surely we need to clean our glasses open our ears and let scripture speak to us so that we can find the truth” he replied with one of those kindly sounding but patronising put downs “ Yes I know, I used to think like that too”.
This reached a new level of clarity for me quite recently. It was during Sunday worship and strangely through what they call “The children’s address”. It was quite profound. It was about glasses, how people with poor eyesight need them to see and are lost without them. And it was about the bible. The point was not that you needed good glasses or glasses with different kinds of lenses to read and understand scripture. The point was that the books of the bible are themselves the glasses that we need to look through and see who God is, who we are, why this world is the way it is and how we can begin to make sense of it.