Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Bible, truth, literature

All these years later, I'm learning that understanding the literal meaning of the Bible is a more nuanced adventure than my college friends and I imagined. We'd been blithely unaware that there is more than one genre in the Bible, or that literary context profoundly matters to meaning. We didn't understand that when we read ancient Hebrew prose poems (like Genesis 1), wisdom literature (like Proverbs), or apocalyptic literature (like Revelation) as if they were science textbooks, we were actually obscuring their meaning.

For me, the most negative consequence of all that well-intentioned literalism was the conviction that Yahweh, having given us his straightforward Word, was completely comprehensible. This paradigm both diminished my perception of God and set up my faith for crisis when I discovered aspects of God that remain stubbornly shrouded in mystery.

If you'd told me back then that the language we have for God—even (especially) much of our biblical language—must be understood analogically, I would have prayed for you and backed away slowly. I wouldn't have understood that there are no words that can be applied to God exactly the same way they are applied to creaturely things, no language that can be used "univocally."

- Carolyn Arends
Yeah, this whole article is kind of amazing.  Please go check it out now.  Then let me know what you think.

Have you ever had a very "literal" mindset toward the Bible?  If so, are you still there, or are you in a different place now?  How did you arrive at your present understanding of the Bible?

3 comments:

  1. I was especially intrigued by this bit:
    Understanding this sooner would have helped me with biblical descriptions of God's "wrath." I can only get a glimmer of what God's wrath looks like when I divest the word of the human implications of self-centered, reactionary anger, and condition it with the unchanging goodness that must clarify all of God's attributes. Or take the word "Father." The claim that God is our heavenly "Father" can ultimately mean something wonderful, even to my friends who had terrible human dads, because the word is not used univocally when it's applied to God.

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  2. Yeah, it's kind of interesting. This idea of "anagogical" is so antithetical to everything I was taught growing up. When I encountered it in Oxford, it kind of blew my mind.

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  3. Dreaming, did you find that you already made that separation between God-the-Father and earthly fathers, or is this new territory?

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