by Amanda White
A question has been rattling around in my head for a couple weeks now: What can I actually learn from the Bible? There are obvious answers to this of course. But, let me explain where my mind is on this.
About three months ago I began to dive deeper into the Bible daily, which of course is an incredibly beautiful and difficult enterprise. It’s not like reading Jane Austen. In Austen we learn about the Regency era manners and way of life. We fall in love with Mr. Darcy and we feel affection for Emma’s dad, Mr. Woodhouse. Despite the fact that women were still extremely limited in this time in which Austen writes, I enjoy her vivacious, bold female characters. They inspire imagination and lead with fortitude.
Or, is it like reading Jane Austen? The Bible is a beautiful collection of books that tell the story of God’s people. It’s a deep well from which we can understand our history and learn lessons for our present and future. There are amazingly strong women like Ruth and Esther who demonstrate tenacity in times of desperation. They witness to God’s love and mystery. We read of love, war, and intrigue. As readers we are invited into the drama of God and God’s people.
Our staff is currently reading Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans. Normally, we spend a lot of time discussing how to think about God – so many theological discussions at the Lutheran Center. And, those are great, but lately I have been thinking about the Bible. It is more than a text we hear from on Sunday morning. What if we approached it like it was a book we were excited to read? Funny thought, huh?
In the Bible we encounter a myriad of stories that are just absolutely nuts! Some, in fact, leave me with a ton of uncomfortable questions. Like, Why did God let Satan mess with Job and then not tell Job the reason for the hot trash fire that became his life? And, then I wonder why God asks such a huge task of Mary. Why her? She’s 14. I have a kid turning 14. I get that we live in a different time, but wrestling with this question does cause all kinds of questions.
So, Held Evans writes about her love of the Bible and how, if read with respect for its many genres, there’s so much to learn about God and ourselves, including the tales of horror found in the Old Testament war stories. Held Evans goes on to explain her own stress around reading the Bible with these questions in tow. Through the process of writing the book she gathers a group of scholars from a variety of backgrounds. When speaking with Old Testament scholar, Peter Enns, he suggests to her a really cool question, “What if the Bible is just fine the way it is?…Not the well-behaved-everything-is-in-order version we create, but the messy, troubling, weird, and ancient Bible that we actually have?”
Yeah, what if? This thought is giving me permission to approach the Bible with new eyes, with a new yearning to hear the stories of the Israelites screaming out to God in their enslavement. And, as a staff we have been having absolutely wonderful conversations around this idea. The other day we shared stories of pain. Stories like Job (although I doubt anyone other than Christ has suffered like Job). We shared our sadness and our grief. We talked about the Psalms, particularly the lament poems like Psalm 88 in which the writer basically despairs of any good left in the world. In verse 8, the writer states, ”You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape..” That’s a lot to take in. But, sometimes I relate. I have certainly felt this before. Reading these laments and stories of great despair show us the entire breadth of human experience. And, I have grown in my faith by understanding that these cries are also a prayer to a God who listens.
There’s so much good to say about what I’m learning, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend this book – both Held Evans’ and God’s.
¹Evans, Rachel Held. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. Nelson Books, 2018.