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Quaker by conviction, mother by default, Celticst through love, Christ follower because I once was lost but now am found...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Another can of worms.

Ok, now before we start I'm not in the business of telling anyone what they should do.  I just like to ask the questions.  Firstly because I like taking a wander in other people's head spaces & seeing how they think & secondly because in thinking an issue through out loud I can gnaw at it like a terrier at an old bone.  I've been told before that I can come across as very unloving ~ so!  I do not mean to get anyone's backs up.  Just so you know.  When I want to get your back up I'll say so.  OK?

My dear friend, Ember, left me a comment in my chat on hair.  It was a lovely, long, thoughtful comment, as Ember's so often are but I have been puzzling over something she said ~ & I am starting to wonder if my more literal minded children may not have got that particular trait from their father after all!  I shall quote her because I should hate to misrepresent what she has actually said.

I like to think of it that the Bible can be understood as a manual or as a map.

If thinking of it as a manual, the reader would think 'Hmm - headcovering? What does the Bible say on headcovering?', look it up in the index, and follow the instructions written there.

If thinking of the Bible as a map, then 'Headcovering' is a road or place on the journey, it has a bearing and relationship with the 'You Are Here' spot, and with the Peaceable Kingdom towards which we are journeying. And travelling to the Peaceable Kingdom may (or not) pass through or along Headcovering.

Now I have a problem.  I don't read maps very well.  In all honesty I usually end up headed in the completly opposite direction ...which brings us to manuals.  I don't do so well with those either.  My mother's perpetual cry during my growing up years was "Read the instructions first!"  None of us ever did. 

Over the years, 5 decades now & counting, I have watched what the church has done to the scriptures & if I look at my history I get rather goggle~eyed because no~one but priests could read Latin & they didn't want to share 'cause knowledge is power & they wanted the power.  Sorry.  Sidetracking.  I'm a bit like that.

Where was I?  Right.  So I'm used to hearing ordained clergy declare things like, "Well the bible isn't meant to be read literally you know", or "Jesus wasn't a real historical figure", or more recently, "It doesn't matter whether Jesus really existed or not"....

I have a problem with all of those statements though I know that each can be defended intellectually.  I have a problem because once you start declaring this bit or that bit isn't true/revevent/meant to be taken literally the whole thing starts to come apart in your hands.  Of course that could just be me but where do you then draw the line?

Anyway what came to my rather chaotic mind, surfacing from amongst the random flotsam & jetsam that inhabits my inner spaces, was the O.T bit where..was it Hezikiah?  The newly appointed king who found the abandonded Scriptures & having read them decided Israel was in serious trouble & turned the whole unweildly nation around & back to worshipping God the way He wanted to be worshipped. 

And in looking for the relevant scripture I got sidetracked.  I know!  It happens to me a lot.  I landed on some site, which I suspect is by no means exhaustive, & they listed 281 scriptures which all say basically the same thing: Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway.

Or by the N.T but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;

Which brings me to my problem.  See, if we only take bits as applicable, which bits?  And just so's we're clear here, even keeping the basic judaic food laws is so complicated I abandonded even looking into them ~ & I did look because there is a reason the Jews have managed to survive relatively disease free for centuries.  What gets them wiped out tends to be more along the lines of judgements [I gotta stop reading the prophets!] ~ pogroms, holocausts, racial hatred of the most vitrolic sort.  And as someone with super sensitive skin I actually wish our clothing manafacturers would obey the injunction to not mix fabrics!

Sorry.  Digressing is a bad habit of mine.  Anyway on another issue completely a very godly young woman once stated that when it came to God's word she found it was rather like travelling down a highway [or words to that effect].  The road was wide & she could choose where to travel on it but it ran along the edge of a deep precipce with no guard rails & she had determined that it was safest & wisest to travel as close to the mountain as possible.  Risk & danger lay in travelling too close to the edge.

I think I have come to that conclusion as well.  I am probably wrong but I think I will err on the side of caution.  I've tried travelling the edge & in the end I was left feeling there were no absolutes.  Everything was open for interpretation.  Nothing could be trusted.  One can not travel in freedom if one feels insecure.

So, how do you read your bible, people?  Literally?  Interpretatively?  And what do you do with the bits you don't like?  We've all got those, haven't we?!  Do share.


Ruby said...

Straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life....and few there be that find it.
I read the bible literally as an historical account and as the very word of God. There are places which are too high and too deep for me, sometimes I read what other Godly folk have gleaned in the past. While I do beleieve that many of the OT rites and ceremonies which were shadows and types are now fulfilled I do not think that being under grace means ignoring God's law and becoming lawless, which is sadly the case in the world/ church around us.
Our "journeys" differ. I wear a covering for worship, some like yourself, all the time, some not at all. Are some more Godly than others? perhaps. God knows. That is the heart of the matter. A penitent heart desiring to serve God, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Have I missed your point?

Ganeida said...

I don't think you've missed my point Ruby. You've actually nailed something that has been bothering me terribly because everyone from liberal to conservative is convinced they've got it right but we can't all be right, can we? While I allow there is room for differences~ that much? Catholic or Protestant? Orthodox? A good part of those differences seem to come down to how the bible is read,

This sums it up nicely for me:

Are some more godly than others? Perhaps. God knows. That is the heart of the matter. A penitent heart desiring to serve God, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us.

I want to be counted among the godly, to get it right. I find it worrying when so very few seem to be on the same sort of journey ~ & not in the least concerned.

THank you for replying.

Ember said...

:0) Me again . . .
There are problems with reading the Bible literally. To give an example: the story of Christ's temptation by Satan in the wilderness occurs in all three synoptic gospels; Mark's version is in brief summary, but Luke and Matthew detail the three temptations - but in a different order.
This is not of itself a problem, provided one understands the particular thematic preoccupation of each gospel writer and *why* he chose to order them in that way - in fact it is very helpful in reaching a deeper understanding of the Gospel message and the mission of Christ.
It becomes a problem only if one insists on a reading of the text that demands a literal interpretation implying an accurate historical account chronologically.
The Bible itself says 'For the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life.'
I am interested in what St Paul calls 'rightly dividing the word'. The phrase ('rightly dividing') refers to an action kinda like cutting through a tangle of brambles to achieve the most direct and unimpeded route to where you want to be - which is truth as truth is in Jesus.
A literalistic reading of the Bible causes many problems. For example, the Brethren who live in our town will not shake my hand in greeting because it would violate the biblical teaching to 'come ye apart'. They will not allow their members to live in apartments or terraced houses like most of the people in our town, because such accommodation includes party walls which would render them 'unequally yoked with unbelievers. And their children can't accept invitations to go to tea with classmates because that would be consorting with unrighteousness. Does the Bible teach them to do all this stuff? Well, yes, *literally* speaking, it does - but I think the writers of the Scriptures would be horrified to see what had been made of their words.
This is of relevance to the teaching on hair. The first person put in the wrong by St Paul's position on hair (taken literally) would be John the Baptist (who had uncut hair). Paul says that 'nature teaches us' that men are meant to have short and women long hair. Taken *literally* that is nonsense - nature teaches us no such thing. One has to interpret what he means - which is about *Roman custom* (for women to have long, and men short, hair); he is asking us to use our common sense here in following custom to avoid scandal and present a socially modest, chaste and respectable style of presentation.
I truly believe that is what St Paul meant for us to understand by what he writes. I am not looking for a cop-out (I like long hair and head-coverings), I have come to this conclusion through long and careful study of, and thinking about, the letters of St Paul which I love and revere.
I hear and embrace the teaching of the epistle that 'all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work', but I believe taking that seriously is in every case an interpretative exercise.

Ganeida said...

Thanks Ember. Everyone's contribution better helps my own understanding. I thought John had taken a *Nazarene vow* ~ hence the uncut hair. The rightly discerning is difficult because by nature I want to take the least difficult route that dicombublates me least & leaves me feeling most comfortable. lol Unfortunately for me the Holy Spirit does not agree with me on that! There is, I think, a middle ground wherein one can do as one is asked without being unkind, ungracious or rejecting of others. It just seems to shift all the time! ☺

Ember said...

:0) I think one of the important spiritual functions of your headcovering and long hair is as a reminder - it helps mindfulness by being quietly there all the time, reminding you of the One you belong to and who you are called to be. x

Ganeida said...

Yes, that is true Ember. It certainly helps me reign myself in we I want to ride my own hobby~horse ~ & as another friend so happily puts it, it reminds others & invites the questions. ☺

Julie said...

This doesn't address the subject at hand, but I read my Bible reverently, hopefully, carefully, prayerfully, believing it is alive and active as Hebrews 4 says. I expect it to cheer me, to comfort me, to correct me, to loosen my hands from the things of this earth, to give me a clearer picture of Jesus. I read it to hear my Father's voice speaking to me. Even a stern correction from Him is better than 1000 words of flattery from someone else. I read to hear Him tell me He loves me and is with me and will give me what I need each day. I read it to be directed. I read it to renew my mind. I read it because it reminds me of who I am and who He is. I read it because it is truth, and I have been a liar in my life. I know I have a lot to learn about the Bible, but I am trusting that the One who spoke it and preserved it can help me to understand the things I need for this day, this hour, this moment.

God bless you Ganeida!

Sylvia said...

I am very wary about reading the Bible literally. The part about slavery for instance. What does it mean ? God gives rules about treating slaves, but does He actually condone owning another human being ? I just cannot wrap my head around that. I come from a country that was colonized and people looked upon us as inferior though we are an ancient civilization so you can say I am a bit sensitive about that.

I have also seen people interpret Bible verses to suit culture. My native country has something called caste system which is an abhorrent system where the worse form of it is something called untouchability. I come from a family that converted 4 or 5 generations ago. They think nothing of bringing the same abhorrent traditions into christianity. The verse they use to justify is Genesis 24:4 saying God does not want people of different castes to mix. Which is completely baffling because Christianity came to my native country after Christ and caste system existed centuries before that. My own parents do not follow this nor my inlaws, but many members of my extended family who are compassionate, educated and who may be considered strong christians will not bat an eyelid as they say this.

The third is the head covering verse. I come from a country where all major religions cover their heads, often both sexes. Women always covered in church, no questions. Until I came to America, I took it as a fact that women covered in church by wearing a hat or a scarf. I was kind of shocked to see otherwise.

I could say a lot too about the submission verses being interpreted in America and my native country :).

What I have seen in my limited experience is that culture plays a very important role in interpreting the Bible. Different translations have different meanings especially when they convey emotion. Also, the denomination of the person translating, their familiarity with the native language and so on plays a part in how the verses are depicted in the Bible particularly in a native language. So I use the Bible as a map because of the reasons mentioned above.

joyfulmum said...

You certainly opened up a can of worms lol! hmmmm....nothing more to add actually (well nothing you haven't already heard) but just wanted you to know I read your post along with all the comments:)

Ganeida said...

Julie:Amen! Love you, girl! ♥

Sylvia: I always find your comments so fascinating because you never have the usual western take on things. I do like to go back to the original language where possible & wrestle with my issues from there ~ & I am finding more & more if I start where the bible starts [with a middle eastern viepoint] & work from there as well, things are often much clearer ~ or not! lol

Rosemary: I do not mind cans of worms so long as everyone remains respectful. I can handle being wrong; wouldn't be the first time either. ☺ It is all grist for the mill. lol

Thank you everyone for your comments.

Sylvia said...

I think people like me who have grown up in a different culture and have moved to the West look at the world through the culture of our childhood. When we are confronted with things we took for granted and there is an alternative of someone interpreting verses very differently it can be especially jarring. So I also read the Bible in both my native tongue and English. I grew up with English so it is especially fascinating when two people from two different cultures read the same verses and come to very different conclusions. We try to be flexible, but use discernment which is a very hard thing to do.
If I may be so bold as to ask, has your daughter's perspective on things she has taken for granted been changed or shaken biblically because of living in a different culture ?
You ask the most fascinating Biblical questions and make me think. Thank you for that.

Ganeida said...

Sylvia: Now that is an interesting question! I will ask next time I am speaking to her. Mind you, Lib is one of my more literal thinkers.....

You are wise to read in both your languages. Language makes such a difference & I think when Liddy's Spanish improves there will be a shift in her thinking. It is almost inevitable given how languages work. ☺

MamaOlive said...

We have a video series by R.C. Sproul on reading Scripture, and he insists that reading the Bible "literally" means reading it "as it was written." But anyway...
I tend to believe the Bible means what it says at its most basic surface reading. And I half-believe the hidden codes and numerology and stuff, too, but I haven't allowed myself to explore that side because I know I am too easily distracted.

I understand that not everything is a command. There are historical narratives, poems, etc. But those parts that ARE given as instruction should be taken as such. Again, some instructions were specific to a time or people group, and some are for all people everywhere.

I'm with you on Kosher laws - we don't "have to" follow them, but they are given for good reason.

I understand that not every Christian knows all of the ways of God. I sure don't! But as we love God we ought to seek His ways in order to be pleasing to Him. A new bride wouldn't be expected to know all her husband's preferences, but a matron of 30 years should have a bit of a clue. You know?

MamaOlive said...

In response to Ember's comment:
I couldn't find a scripture to indicate John had long hair. Can you help me out there? I browsed quickly.
Also, the "come ye apart"? What does that reference?
Paul specifically said that when he wrote to the church about avoiding sinners, he did NOT mean the world, but those who claim to be BROTHERS who happily go on sinning. Obviously your local "brethren" church has not considered the full council of God, and should not be confused with a church that takes the Bible at face value.
It is this type of personal mistakes/misunderstandings/adding to scripture that makes the Bible so important! If the Bible is merely a guideline, people are free to make up crazy stuff like you can't share a wall with a nonbeliever. But if we can honestly look at what God actually said, then we can do what's right, so that even unbelievers won't have anything bad to say about us.

seekingmyLord said...

I wish I had read this when the subject was fresh to all. In answer to the question how I read my Bible, I simply read, not so simply. We are at a serious disadvantage because we are not reading the Bible, the OT in particular, in the original language and at future disadvantage because we have no experience of the culture. Even then, as it is now, Gentiles converting to Judaism were not expected to understand or follow all the laws.

With that said, Ganeida, I read it and then ask my Lord that which I question. There was a time that I pondered the question of head covering, but I have not yet felt convicted to cover. If I were an Israelite in the day, I would take it quite literally. If I were a Jew today...?

I think that the Lord leads each of us on the path that we need to accomplish His purpose in us. The Bible never said not to wear mini-skirts, tank tops, or bikinis, but the question is are they modest? Not to me, but Christians in other countries understandably would disagree very on this issue. There was a time when I lived in Florida that the two-piece bathing suit I wore was far more modest than what others were wearing on the beach, but that same suit in another place could be seen as too revealing.

I am not saying that all truth is relative or that truth ceases to be truth for any reason, but some things written in the Bible may have been for the culture of that time. Jesus allowed a woman of ill-repute to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair, most likely uncovered hair. She was considered unclean so this was in violation of the law, yet Jesus allowed it. He even worked on the Sabbath by healing. Why? Was He going against the law? Yes and no. The problem with the law is that people obeyed or disobeyed the law, but they did not seek beyond the law. They lost the whole point for the law. Jesus lived in the Spirit of the Law, but not to the letter of the Law.

So, I read my Bible seeking the beyond what is written to the Spirit of it. The Bible, to me, used to be a Book of Law, but now I see it as a seeker's book, one that has few answers yet provokes many questions and encourages me to ask my Lord directly for the answers I seek.