This story may not be just as the Lord told it, and yet may contain in its mirror as much of the truth as we are able to receive, and as will afford us scope for a life’s discovery. The modifying influence of the human channels may be essential to God’s revealing mode.
It was one of those nights last night when I wasn’t exactly in the mood for a three hour theological debate, but it happened anyway. A good friend of mine and I had a bit of an argument that opened up some old wounds. In the midst of coming to peace with that, we got on a tangent on how our respective views of the world color our thinking. It’s no secret to my friend that I am a Christian, and in his frustration, he said, pointing to my Bible, “Doesn’t it bother you that none of it is even true. That it’s all just stories someone made up?”
Oh, boy. Now this is where my problem of reading more than conversing comes into play. I hear these words “true” and “stories,” and immediately my mind is abuzz with articles, essays, books, and podcasts that I’ve absorbed on these two words. I try valiantly to remember my reflections on those essays in which I put those articles, etc. into my spiritual context as a Christian. Merton, Bell, Norris, Aquinas, Feiler, Underhill, the conflicting doctrines of Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism, the Cloud of Unknowing- all dancing in my head as I face the increasingly annoyed and aggravated gaze of my friend.
Did I tell you that at this point it was 1 AM? It was 1 AM.
So my mind wasn’t exactly primed and prepped for this discussion, and of course I fell flat on my face. We ended up having a rather garbled interchange on the nature of truth and the need for comforting fictions to keep us in line- ah, can hardly remember, really. I do remember at one point admitting, “Look, I just don’t know. But I’m convinced it is worth it. There’s something there. I just don’t know what.” Yeah, put that in your theological pipe and smoke it.
So this quote of George MacDonald resonates with me. It probably got him into a bit of trouble- there’s always the literalists out there, and they usually have the loudest voices, ready to defend “The Book.” But he’s admitting something terribly important to our faith as Christians. “[Scripture] will afford us scope for a life’s discovery.” In other words, it’s enough for what it can impart- words that describe the nearly indescribable. We don’t bow down to it, we don’t worship it, but it is a text that tries to convey the unfathomable mystery of God.
Kathleen Norris, in her book Amazing Grace, continues this thought:
It is a mystery, a matter of faith in something that can’t be explained or understood, at least not in our conditional human speech. Silence is the best language for it- “the silence of eternity interpreted by love” (quote by Whittier). She later goes on describe how Christians can say “yes,” about what they believe: “Answered in the spirit of hope, not that other people of faith will come around and see things my way, but in the conviction that the incarnation of Jesus is powerful enough to live up to its name and will work to the good of all people despite all our groaning, quibbling, and squabbling over terminology.”
It’s not really about the Bible, ultimately, but what happens when that follower of Jesus lifts their eyes from the page and looks out at the world. Are they able to see and hear the word of God in their interactions with their neighbors and enemies, in the soft breeze that gently flows by them, in the darkness of a night lit by only one lamp, with a frustrated friend sitting on the couch? Are we ready for discovery through human channels? Are we open to the experience of word?