There is a story in the Bible about a giant fish that swallows a man whole then spits him out after 3 days. Then there is the one about a talking ass (the donkey not ones derriere). And how about the book of Leviticus. A book that is full of instructions that seemingly make as much sense for us today as the side of instructions on our new toy where it has all the different languages we don’t speak.
It’s fair to say that reading the Bible is not always a straight forward activity. It can be confusing, annoying and downright frustrating. This is maybe the reason why the early church would read it together. There was no such idea as a ‘quiet time’. It was intended to be read in community because that was one way in which you could get a full reading of a text. (Stay tuned for that part soon).
In a culture where we are warned to not read something into scripture that is not there, we have become afraid to even attempt to read it. We’re afraid to use our imaginations when it comes to reading scripture because we don’t want to be labelled a heretic or a false teacher. We’re afraid that if we read something that someone hasn’t read before we are heading down a dangerous path. You know one where people might actually see God as actually much larger and loving than they had imagined before.
I’m not talking here about imagining things that are not there but using our minds that God created, to imagine ourselves into the story of God and his plan of redemption of the world.
Not reading stories in the Bible as about someone else, even though they are, but as stories that we are invited to place ourselves into. So here’s the first way we can read the Bible imaginatively.
For example take this reading of the classic sacrificing your son for God story we all know and love.
This story takes this placing ourselves in the story method of reading the Bible while considering the context for when it was written and puts it all there on a plate for us.
It takes something that seems like one thing but actually ends up being something else.
It has tension. It has a twist. It takes our view of God and turns it upside down, which when usually shows us that our view was already upside down. Now it’s the right way up.
We can read it straightforwardly and miss the point of it.
We can read it about someone else and miss the point.
But only when we dig a little deeper to understand the culture the story was set and only when we put ourselves into the story can we truly get what is going on.
Sure we could read it about a God who puts a man through a horrible ordeal then changes his mind and come away with a view of God that is just mean and horrible and completely miss the point.
But that would be a bad idea. That could even cause people to not want anything to do with such a God or Christianity. We wouldn’t want to teach people to read the Bible like that would we? Of course not.
Now to the point of the title for this blog. You see if you are a Radiohead fan then you will know they have a song on their first album, Pablo Honey called Anyone can Play Guitar. If you aren’t then you were probably completely puzzled. The title is a play (albeit a pretty crap one) on that song. But this is why knowing the context of what we’re reading in the Bible is kind of a critical thing. Unless we stop and think what certain phrases or words or actions or culture really meant back in Jesus’ day then we will never be able to read the Bible for all it’s beauty.
Jesus always used examples that his audience would completely get but for us as 21st Century people living in a digital world just won’t. So we miss things. We miss what is really being said. Parables are just confusing stories rather than pointers to a new way of thinking. And like I pointed out before we may just miss out who God really is.
So there’s one. Context and putting ourselves in the story. One way of reading the Bible. In the next couple of posts we’ll explore another two.