At the age of eleven, starting at High School, we “First Years” (that’s Year 7 in ‘new money’) used to have one of the daily assemblies once a week on our own, in the school gym, for which we always had to remember our plimsolls, or go down barefoot. Needless to say, more often than not I was barefoot (not out of any act of penitence but through forgetfulness). On one such occasion we had visitors in the school from the Gideons, who gave us each a small copy of the New Testament, and we were asked to read from it every day. Being quite a religious child, and having the examples of my Grandfather and Great Uncle to follow, I did read from it every day, and have done for the last 39 years.
Now I have to say that I have never been one to read it from Genesis chapter one all the way through to Revelation chapter 22, not least because bits of it are actually quite turgid and boring.
Recalling the sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore:
“I was readin’ the Bible the other day” “It’s very good, i’n’t . Beautifully done; beautifully bound, I was readin’ that chapter where Isbar begat Rumar and Rumar begat Isibar, and Isibar begat this other bloke. “It’s about begetting - you know who gave birth to who...”
However, every so often it’s rather good to take a journey through the whole book, starting at the beginning. Like every journey, it has its boring bits and also the parts when you seem to be stuck in a traffic jam of endless lists. Moreover, every so often you will see things you would rather not, and be left asking the question Is God really like that?
One of the things that strikes me reading my way through the Bible is not the oft quoted and false dichotomy between the Old and the New Testaments, the division between the jealous God of the Old Testament and the Gentle Jesus of the New; a closer inspection reveals this to be a rather false picture. What strikes me is the contrast between the various different books. It seems to me that there is a contrast between the rather high minded and sceptical religious thought of the book of Ecclesiastes and the tribal religion of the books of Kings or the moral religious thoughts of the prophets.
The Bible's books are not the problem, not when they are allowed to speak for themselves, the problem comes from shoehoming the Bible into a pre determined dogmatic version of itself. In other words, if one is taught “This is what the Bible says...x, y & z...before even reading it, it will colour ones views of what one sees. I find it better just to read and then look at the commentaries if I need to.
There is a unity to it, but I think that unity comes from outside the Bible itself. This is the book, or rather set of books, to which members of the Christian community go to provoke their thinking, praying and acting. Because we are all different we go to the text with different concerns and different questions, there’s the diversity. But we go to the same set of books as members of the same community of faith; there is the unity.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a liberal thinker or a conservative one, you can still go to the same set of books for sustenance - and we do.
One final point: Not only does this set of books provoke thinking, praying and acting, it also provokes questions. And some of those questions are not answered by what we read. I say great, fine; questions make life interesting. Happy reading everybody.
Vicar’s thoughts for July 2017