When I was in high school I somehow came across a cheapo Kodak camera. It was the kind that had a switch on it so you could take normal, larger, or panoramic photos. I carried it around constantly, and as a direct result I found myself the proud owner of an absurd number of photographs. Every now and then, when I’m digging through our guest room (read: in-home shed) I’ll come to my pictures and sit, transfixed and staring as I watch some of my early years play themselves out one snapshot at a time.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been talking about the Bible and whether or not it should be understood literally. The conclusion I’ve come to is, “not so much”. In the first post, I briefly mentioned my reaction
after encountering the notion that the Bible might not be absolutely true. I was… unsettled. The Bible is the basis of our entire faith! If we can’t depend on it for factual information, how do we know anything about God?
The thing is, the Bible is not the basis of our entire faith. I thought it was too, but the Christian faith is actually centered on the notion that we can have a personal relationship with God. As such, I don’t believe that the Bible is a conduit through which we know God, it is a tool that allows us to know him a little better. If that’s true, if the Bible’s sole purpose in existing is to help us know God, does it need to be entirely true? Can’t a storybook help a child understand bigger concepts? Did there really have to be a racing hare and tortoise for us to understand that “slow and steady wins the race”?
We can get to know God without the use of the Bible. We can talk to him. He can communicate with us. God wants to know us. Whether or not we can quote scripture or believe in a six day creation is entirely irrelevant. We don’t need the Bible to know God.
But it helps.
Let’s say you were interested in getting to know me. You come over, and we chat for a while. I get a phone call I have to take, ask you to excuse me, and leave you alone in my living room. You notice the box on the coffee table, and curiosity gets the better of you. Inside you find a bevy of photographs from my youth. You can see how I dressed, who I hung out with. You can see what I was doing, what my hobbies were .There’s a lot you can learn through those photos, but they’ll never tell you what I felt on 9/11, or how I drank my coffee, or what my first kiss was like. Those things you have to learn through spending time with me, talking to me, and knowing me.
The bible is a series of photographs that give us little glimpses of who God is and what He’s like. You could never know exactly who I am by looking at my photos, and I think God is the same way. All we can do is look, think, and admire. And then, when God comes back into the room we can point to Habbakuk or Ruth or Ehud and ask, “Who’s that? How did you know them? And what’s with this donkey?”
High school was also when I took my first modern literature class. One of the most vivid memories I have from that class was a discussion on a book called “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. The book is O’Brien’s memoir as he looks back on his time in the Vietnam War. Throughout the book, however, he deliberately becomes an unreliable narrator. As he tells his stories, he talks about the nature of Truth, and how sometimes, fiction can be more real and more meaningful than the actual events if it forces you to think about those events in a new light. The Bible doesn’t have to be true for me to believe it. Like a good movie, all it needs to do is point me toward the Truth and I’ll believe it, whether or not the story is actually true.
“That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the Truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the Truth.” -Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried