This morning, like so many other mornings, I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. I started perusing the interwebs at something like 3:30am, and here we are at 6:30 with only one cup of coffee down. In my scrollings, I saw a post about deconstructing one’s religious beliefs, and there was the old evangelical response of “There is no deconstruction. You can take the Bible or leave it.”
Which is a flaming pile of bullshit, but you knew I was going to say that.
Quite a number of months ago, Akilah asked, in response to my post about finding a great deal of comfort in writing the New Testament and studying the Bible, “I would love to hear a little bit about what you think helped the most with renewing your faith or providing you comfort/peace at this point, if you want to share.”
I guess one of the biggest comforts over this time period is realizing that there’s not one way to read the Bible. I’ve always known that intellectually, but that wasn’t part of the teachings of the Evangelical church I attended when I was growing up. No one ever said, “You should read this book all your life and you’ll change your mind about it hundreds of times.” When I started listening to The Bible Project, I was introduced to the idea of the Bible as Jewish meditation literature, and a lightbulb went on.
I’ve really only been reading the Bible seriously (compulsively?) for a few years now, and I learn something new every time. Today, in the early morning hours in an effort to get back to sleep, I went back to the opening pages of Matthew. It’s one of those books I return to over and over again, and I’ve learned heaps from it. Each time through, even if it’s only a bit or a piece, I pick up on something I missed before. While I have a tendency to camp out in the Sermon on the Mount for comfort, today’s reading reminded me that so many of the prophecies in the Bible were fulfilled by choice. Joseph did abc so that the prophets would be fulfilled. John did xyz so the prophecy would be fulfilled.
“I do not think that Jesus ‘knew he was divine’ in the same way that we know we are cold or hot, happy or sad, male or female. It was more like the kind of ‘knowledge’ we associate with vocation, where people know, in the very depths of their being, that they are called to be an artist, a mechanic, a philosopher. For Jesus, this seems to have been a deep ‘knowledge’ of that kind, a powerful and all-consuming belief that Israel’s God was more mysterious than most people had supposed; that within the very being of this God there was a give-and-take, a to-and-fro, a love given and received. Jesus seems to have believed that he, the fully human prophet from Nazareth, was one of those partners in love. He was called, in obedience to the Father, to follow through the project to which that love would give itself freely and fully.”
This passage is from N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. When I really embraced that question of Jesus’s calling, it changed everything I feel about Jesus. It humanized him in a way I didn’t really feel before. If Jesus chose to fulfill prophecy because he felt a soul-deep call to it, that makes his sacrifice even more stunning, relatable, and quite frankly, amazing. I guess I tended to think of a God-shaped figure perched on Jesus’s shoulder telling him what to do along the way. Though, again, if we really focus on the Scripture we see that this is not the case. Jesus saw and heard God in prayer and through the movement of the Spirit.
Can you imagine? I couldn’t, but now I can, and that’s the magic, for me, of the Bible as Jewish meditation literature. Read and learn, endlessly.