I think the Bible is a living thing whose stories speak to us about what is true and right. It tells stories from which we learn how to live together and build positive relationships with God, the world and each other. Sure, there’s a lot of negativity, violence, death and destruction, but that’s to be expected when humanity’s involved. It’s also full of creativity, good, love and grace, and that’s to be expected when God’s involved. While we tend to look at those things as either/or situations, I think they’re and/with situations and the sooner we realize the stories are living, breathing things and not just words on a page, we’ll begin to understand that better. Just as we’ll understand how to bring those stories alive in our own lives when we realize the point of Jesus isn’t to distinguish between God and us, but to show us God in us and how we, too, are divine and earthly.
But sometimes we think it’s a book. Sometimes we treat it like it’s just words on a page, rules to follow (or not), behaviour to mimic or avoid, be entertained, even moved by, but ultimately to use to reinforce what we’ve already decided, rather than learning from it how we might grow and mature into the truest of our selves.
Sometimes, the book is an icon, held up by the powerful to justify their power. And they can because, though the Bible is available in more forms than it’s ever been before and more people are buying them, fewer people really know what’s in it. Tim Beal wrote an excellent book about this a few years ago, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book. I’m sure there’s other books about this, some with shorter titles, but essentially he contends, with evidence, that very thing: while more Bibles are being purchased, in more forms and languages than ever before, less and less people are biblically literate. In other words, while The Word has become more accessible, we’re reading it less. And worse, we’re often simply believing what someone else tells us about it. And then tells us how to behave.
The thing is, the Bible isn’t a book, really, it’s a library of books. So, in its collection, you shouldn’t be surprised to find a lot of diversity, spirituality, reality, some contradictions, some myth, some fiction, some history, some self-help and health, a little religion and maybe even some fantasy and science fiction.
At least, it appears that way if we simply take the stories at face value. And that’s not what the Bible’s about. What makes it most meaningful and valuable is finding what’s at its heart, what essential truth a story is relating, what life principle it’s speaking to us today in this time and place, however strange and unfamiliar the story may seem at first.
I think that’s true of all sacred texts, whether they’re part of “the library” or not. What makes them sacred is being about life, how we create and live together, how we steward creation and community, how we love.
We need to share the stories. We need to wonder at how they speak to us, how we see the stories in our own lives, in our own time. We’ll need help with that, from researchers and commentators, even interpreters. We’ll need to hear other people’s stories. Maybe that sounds like work, but it’s how we build relationships. Stories are living, breathing things that come alive when they’re shared, remembered and taken into our lives.