why i still read the bible

As with any good book, though I’ve read it before, the hermeneutic circle of life learning and interpretation assures that I will learn something new each time I read it. Literature, because of the human condition does not remain static. The letters on the page do, the books themselves, whether paper or pixels do, but the meaning unfolds in perpetuity with every rereading.

I am not simply saying with the reader response crowd that the meaning resides only in me the reader. Rather, the symbiotic relationship between the static book, myself and the world, assures the persistence of change and development, even improvement and growth. I am not also simply saying with the propositional crowd that the text forces a single meaning on the words, or that we can understand the intent of the writer purely by arranging the words in a logical matrix. Neither myself nor the world are static. There are subtleties that cannot be detected in the interpretative matrices of these extremes. They force damage on the real world, sending us farther away from that reality, mystifying their adherents, preventing contact with reality.

So, the same drama between Heraclitus and Parmenides plays out in the modern world of hermeneutics. Because most of the people I associate with are of the logical sort with respect to the Bible, I am forced to play to the reader response side of the equation to balance out the debate. But I have every reason to believe that both extremes are faulty.

I am having some fun in my classes with the logical crowd, because they seem so certain and trot out their arguments to once-and-for-all fix the problem. But I am also assured that though they trust their reason in such a fashion, they are wrong to do so. There are a few who get the debate without another word, but most are not up to speed. A few are knowledgeably on the Heraclitean side of things, but seem harried, and not up to the argument. It is a much harder argument to grasp, of course, but I am inclined to side with them against the facile certainty of the Parmenideans.

I have more books than I will finish reading in my lifetime. I have purchased them because I believed they might hold some helpful remarks. I have read the introductions to most of them, but the majority have not kept my attention. I have found most useful the fictions I read at nighttime. They are unpretentious narratives that are not weighed down with the necessity of teaching some lesson, or wrestling the reader into a certain form of belief. In that sense they have gained my trust. And, as it turns out, the best of them actually do have a moral lesson. Their best heroes, though they can be faulted for ordinary human frailties, are both capable of learning and taking hits from their enemies. They falter, they fail and often, but not always rise to a better temper. But as with the best of literature, they are affected by their experiences and affect those around them. In a word, they are believable.

The Bible is like that. Like a good narrative, nothing of the foibles of its characters is hidden. They act happily or unhappily as we do. None seem superhuman, even Jesus, but they are all capable of learning and either get up after a fall or not. Peter gets up, Judas Iscariot does not. David gets up, and while learning some things, never learns others. As an example, David is great for some things but poor for others. Nevertheless, reading the narrative, you get which part of the man is to be valued, and which to be avoided. But not all of us avoid the undesirable elements of the biblical characters, and in this lies a secret. We can be confident that though we are weak and misguided, even damaged, that God is both aware of all of it and capable of managing whatever in our lives is redeemable. That’s a pretty good deal. At least that’s the promise of the Scriptures, and one that is not hidden too deeply under the skin of the cultures it is wrapped in.

So I keep reading, hoping that the features of my own life that puzzle me so deeply will find redemptive value in the narrative. That doesn’t mean that I have squared away the narrative, as if I could grasp the entirety by means of a propositional logic, or that life is so chaotic that I couldn’t recognize myself in the confluence of these words and my life, but somewhere in contact with the real world and the real world of others, the layers of my culture and the mystifications of the contemporary narratives would not prevent the redemption of my best parts in contact with the ineffable reality that lies beyond the world.

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