How I Read The Bible and Other Things

I have not written anything for a good while, perhaps a month? To me this blog is largely a tool of digestion, but in the past while I seem to have digested quite a number of thoughts without needing to write. A lot of it happened unexpectedly, by surprise. Some of it happened in class, some dancing (I am not even kidding), and some of it in deep meditation, breathing.

Most of my past struggle has been in regards to how should I relate to God. Who is he/she/it, what, why. How? Most of the answer was around the way I should look at sacred writings.

Being raised in an evangelical tradition, I was taught very strictly that the bible is the “word of God“, a volume that is, in perfect harmony and without contradiction or error, the final revelation of what God had to tell humanity. By questioning these affirmations (which you may do at your own risk) my confusion came to a critical point, but it started much before. Deep in myself I always wondered about the simple question “if the bible is so clear about so many things, why does everyone disagree about what it says?“. Each group says they have the right interpretation and they hold the right picture of things, and that other groups who disagree are either not intelligent or honest enough (even by lack of grace in their lives). It all became much easier to live with when I realized that I did not need to try and harmonize the bible; that, really, it is a collection of different books, different voices with different opinions (even different theologies), and that people today disagree about it just as much as even the authors and their respective communities disagreed back then. Think of the portrayal of king David in the literature of Samuel compared to the Chronicler’s, for example. My religion started making much more sense when I realized that like the biblical authors, we all relate and understand God differently. Even in revelation, God has always remained a mystery.

This really summarizes how I see the bible today: it is a collection of witnesses of the divine. Documents from real people who had real encounters with a God they did not understand, and they had something to say about it. A body of texts that invites us in for conversation and wrestling, for silent humble learning and for vociferous contestation.

I remember that both my history and art teachers used to tell us “you have to learn how to read the world“, echoing Paulo Freire’s “the reading of the world precedes the reading of the word“. They were right. You see, the glorious thing is that we are also witnesses of the divine. You and I, living every day life. Ancient Greek philosophers, Eastern masters like Lao Tzu and the Buddha, the authors of the Mahabharata and the Vedas, tribal leaders in the Americas, African shamans, mathematicians and astrophysicists, every artist and every child, all are witnesses of the divine. There’s as much reason to question one as there is the other. There’s as much reason to take one seriously as there is the other. We start by what is close to us.

To me this becomes obvious in the words of Jesus Christ to his disciples at the dining table: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.

Read that again: “...You do know him and have seen him.” (!)

Jesus told his disciples very clearly that in knowing him, they knew the Father. In knowing him, they knew the truth. In knowing him they knew life.

Truth: a person. As the followers of Jesus continued telling his story, they described Jesus differently, they remembered different things, they even contradicted each other, as we have the four gospels to attest. Yet, these disciples knew Jesus, and they knew God in him. They really did. Jesus affirmed it.

If what they wrote is true, then we know that person also, if only we have ears to hear.

As serious believers with our zealous fear of God, we often want to be exact about what is the correct doctrine, the correct teaching about God to which we have to assent to say we have a true knowledge of God. We want to be confirmed orthodox, to be tested, to be completely sure. We are afraid we might go to hell if we are wrong – at least I did, for most of my life. Things changed for me by realizing that Truth is a person, and that I do not know him through study, but through love. Truth: a person who stayed silent before his expert inquirers, but spoke to the poor and the fishermen, who laughed with the prostitutes and thieves, who wept, who prayed and fasted and who loved his friends more than his own life.

I realized that while we want unanimity, He wants a multitude of witnesses that don’t even speak the same language. While we say He is in the book, He says He is inside of us. We want God locked up and controlled in the past, but He makes himself present in our neighbor’s eyes. We want him to be our intellectual subject, He says He is our bread and our wine. We want to know good and evil, He wants us to work and enjoy the garden.

Think about what it means when the bible affirms God loves us, that He not only wants to make us one with himself, but affirms to have done so. Being wrong about him is not like being wrong at an exam in university, where you fail. He has called us friends! If you are his friend, if you love him, you can rest in that; be sure that you will only be able to describe and dissect him as much as you can  describe and dissect any lover.

The established epistemological method given in the bible (and other texts) is communion, not inquiry or dogma. It transcends rationalization: union through love with both God and neighbor.

Life itself is our greatest mystical experience.

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