I’ve always admired my father’s devotion to reading and meditating on the words he encounters in his Bible. Throughout adolescence, it was my father who instilled in me a desire to faithfully reflect and write upon the words in this sacred book. With his mentorship, the Scriptures became a safe haven for me, a place in which I found shade under the shadow of its wings, while also becoming a well of inspiration and empowerment, enabling me to daily seek, and participate in, the actualization of Heaven on Earth.
Through the countless empty seasons of my life, times in which relationship with others and with myself showed little to no potential for hope, the Scriptures provided a place of both comfort and disruption. The ancient voices have come alongside me and mourned with me in my despair and in my experiences of meaninglessness. More than anything, the Scriptures have painstakingly increased my capacity to hope, and work, for justice; they have reminded me, though we may feel lonely, we are never alone. The Bible is a profound companion to my present spiritual journey, though I have not always related to it the way I do today.
Last month, Ashley and I shared our vows to one another in the witness of our dearest friends and family, becoming wife and husband. Though we are young in our time together, one thing is evident: we will never stop journeying, learning, and growing in our love for one another. We will never exhaust our knowledge of each other. There will never come a day in which we reach the ends of the expanse that is the beauty, potential, and being of our life partnership. Because of our continual becoming as human beings, our never-ending being made new, relationships demonstrate we can always adventure deeper into mutuality, deeper into empathy, deeper into our knowing of the self and other.
Ashley and I strive not for one to lead while the other follows, but to mutually respect, value, and empower each other. We are partners. We disagree with one another. We seek wisdom for and from one another. We critique one another so we both may become more whole. While I often fail at these ideals of mutuality and empathy, this is the ideal relationship we pursue.
Yet this is not how I have always perceived my relationship with the Bible.
As a Protestant Evangelical, Scripture was certainly something to be revered, cherished, and respected, as well as a friend to fall in love with. However I did not quite know how to relate to it in a way that both challenged me and allowed me to critique the authors in their shortcomings—a task I would not learn for quite too long.
For the majority of my time with the Scriptures, I have disregarded its otherness. It has, for the most part, looked like me, sounded like me, thought like me. I only knew the Bible in that it said what I would say and believed what I believed. I had erased the difference, the plurality, within the Bible itself, and between us.
Without realizing it, I was imposing myself upon an incredibly complex, diverse library, and was unknowingly stamping my highly contextual perspective with the label “God’s Word.” In impressing myself upon it, I failed to truly love the Bible for what it was, and denied its ability to have a voice of its own. I read the Scriptures in a way that reaffirmed my life, my perspectives, and my actions, and had, ultimately, silenced all I verbally claimed to love so much.
It was not difficult to use and abuse the words I found in the book. Having reduced its profundity to a shallow simplicity, the words became my weapon. I knew the parts of scripture that could be used to reinforce my ideology, my cultural perspective, and my interpretation of experiences that were not my own. Reading the Bible became most helpful when I needed to explain to someone why I was right and they were wrong—until I realized I was not conversing with Scripture or with others; I was only conversing with myself.
This unhealthy relationship came to a halt when my pride was radically challenged. And when I began to slowly wake to the Scriptures’ mystery, grandiosity, and depth, almost immediately, I felt a sense of loss.
This was a formidable time in my faith journey. Erupting the stability of relationships with friends and family, it shook the internal core of everything I understood my life to be built upon.
I was scared, I felt betrayed, and I feared the unknown.
Over time, I distanced myself from it all together. With fresh wounds, I wondered if I would ever care to intimately engage with the ominous object sitting on my desk, now collecting dust. Truly, time away was necessary and formative, but I again journeyed into the depths of scripture, this time seeking a more faithful, mutually-dignified relationship.
The Bible has the potential to reach into your chest and grab you by the heart. Its stories of unconditional love, relentless hate, never-ending compassion, and disappointing betrayal continually speak to many because these are our stories too. Our personal and communal journeys are weighted with death, suffering, depression, and anxiety. They spill out tears of joy, grace, hope, and forgiveness. The Bible’s demand for justice, redemption, and the difficult work of reconciliation reminds us just how tangible it really is.
It’s true, there are moments where I still treat the Bible as though it contains a long list of facts human beings are supposed to simply store in their brains, and that’s how we are to “better” ourselves and the world. The historical context of particular writings, its essential diversity and plurality of perspective, the many contradictions and spaces left for a wide range of interpretation—all these may make for some fun, party trivia. But the Scriptures must become so much more than information we simply memorize and regurgitate. If they are truly to become the Word of God for you and I, then this collection of writings must transcend our post-Enlightenment need for historical and scientific truth. Biblical truth does not need to pretend to be mere historical or scientific truth. To reduce it to such is to inhibit its transformative power.
When we approach the Bible, we ought to allow it to be other, to hold unique and different voices from our own. Like two partners in a loving relationship, the reader and the writer are distinct, coming together in conversation with different experiences and perspective.
The Scriptures are meant to be meaningful and dialogical in our faith journey, as opposed to forcing us into intellectual submission. In conversation, both the Scriptures and our personal experiences ought to be valued and respected in their particularity. It is when we diminish and erase the reality of the Bible’s particularity, and our own, that we do more harm to the relationship than good.
Scripture is not something to blindly surrender or passively submit to. As divinely inspired as every human being was that penned, edited, and, later, canonized the collection of writings, they were still essentially human. And the humanity of the authors is not their downfall. It is their greatest strength when it comes to speaking of their relationship with the Divine. It is because they were human, not in spite of it, that we ought to fully engage in critical dialogue, disagreeing and critiquing when the Scriptures ought to be critiqued, as well as listening and allowing ourselves to be transformed by its command for us to seek first the Realm of God.
The divinity and humanity of the Bible is intertwined and inseparable. The writers spoke of their human experience of God’s presence and absence; of life and death; of healing and violence. Its truth is “true” because it is particularly compelling for those willing to be grasped by it. It speaks to us in a way that touches the depths of our souls. It moves us in a direction that, for Christians, only the Scriptures of our tradition can.
Though reading and reflecting on Scripture is in no way necessary for faith, I believe many Christians who have lost their love for the Bible are able to rekindle that lost love for the Scriptures, if, and only if, they are willing to meet the mysteries to which it testifies anew. Like a new found friendship, a fresh commitment to mutuality, empathy, and a genuine pursuit of understanding the Scriptures can spark a faith journey of a lifetime. The adventure that is our relationship with the Bible is not something to be conquered, nor boasted about. Rather, I wholeheartedly believe the Scriptures can provide for us a lifelong partner for this human endeavor of pursuing, and being pursued by, the Divine.