Sunday, June 22, 2014

Gutenberg and Aaron: The Bible and the Cow- Worshipping the tangible

My personal and professional history groomed me to read, love and use the Bible. I teethed on the King James Version and was taught to be oh so careful when it came to using other versions. They might be liberal in their interpretations and textual inclusions/exclusions.

I memorized verses and each year attempted to read the entire Bible. I became familiar with Genesis but lost interest in February.

When I felt called to go into professional ministry, it seemed appropriate to be academically trained in the Bible so I majored in Biblical Literature, New Testament. I would be introduced to biblical criticisms and did my best to ward off any hint at evaluating the Bible from any position other than a literal/spiritual point of view.

I was raised to be a good Pharisee and didn't know it.

As I entered the profession, I based all I taught and did on my understanding and interpretation of the Bible. I taught that the Bible had quasi-magical therapeutic value and that simply allowing words to pass over our eyes had super spiritual benefit. This was the trick to making people read Leviticus.

During the last 10 years of my professional ministry life, I read the New Testament every month along with Psalms and Proverbs. I read the Old Testament annually. Not only did this greatly expand my awareness of the Biblical texts it allowed me to draw upon passages without much effort. People were impressed and I was proud.

I don't know when it happened, but at some point in the last 5-7 years I realized that what so many of us super biblicists were doing was committing bibliolotry. We worshipped the Bible. It had assumed a position within the Godhead so that instead of a trinity, we now had established a quadrinity with the Bible being its newest member.

I wonder if the position the Bible has taken in the minds of believers isn't similar to what the idolatrous cow had become to the Israelites in the Wilderness. After all, they asked Aaron to provide them with something tangible to remind them of the God who delivered them and to inspire them to stay true to this God. They couldn't handle uncertainty and rather than struggling to accept that which confused and tested them (the absence of their leader and a mountain that smoked), they asked the vice-leader to create something that could provide them tangible comfort.

Perhaps Gutenberg was the "Aaron" of the middle ages. Unwittingly and undoubtedly for the good of humanity, Gutenberg took from his time in history what was available and like the cow in the wilderness that seemed to be the random result of Aaron's kiln, out came the printing press and more importantly, a Bible that was tangibly available to the masses.

And like the cow, the Bible was celebrated as a great addition to helping people connect with a God that seemed distant and unreachable. Five hundred years later, the Bible has been elevated to a place of worship so that its greatest value to us has been lost in the glitter of its superior status.

I believe- and it seems to me that the Bible teaches- that it is the Spirit of God that breathes life into our beings. The Spirit not only connects is with God, but is that which filters our human existence with God's likeness. Could we still be Christian's if there was no Bible? Somehow, people were in Christ for hundreds of years before Gutenberg.

The Bible is under the microscope these days and I think its a good thing. Instead of "Bible Studies", I think it would be healthy to have "non-Bible Studies" where Bibles were not permitted. People who attend a non-Bible study would be required to discuss life without biblical clich├ęs and proof texts. They would be challenged to discuss life from a more purely spiritual point of view. This point of view may be biblical, but the Bible can't be used to support it.

Christian living is bigger than the Bible. God's Word may be experienced as one reads Scripture but it is not the Bible itself that is the "Word". God needs to be allowed to be God and the Bible at best, should be allowed to direct us to God as it presents God's activity in the lives of humans in their space and time. I am amazed at how when I read the Bible now- no longer tethered to the pressure of professional ministry- that I connect with greater levels of truth and application. I believe that this happens because behind its words and stories, the Bible is a vehicle by which the Spirit is allowed to work. And this can and should be said of other things as well. Conversations, experiences, thoughts, books, people all can be vehicles of God's Spirit to plant the life-giving Word in our souls.

I no longer worship the Bible. I now read it occasionally. And my life is Spirit-filled, like Jesus said it should be. He wasn't recorded as saying our lives should be Bible-filled.