Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Attempt At Trying To Figure Out The Bible, Part 1

I've struggled with my faith for years, unsure of what I believe.  It seems there are so many different views of God and spirituality, so many different religions, and even more differences within the same religion.  People interpret the bible in so many different ways.  How can someone like me ever possibly get a grasp on God?  How can I know truth?  Is knowing all the answers important?  If not, what is? 

I am a jumble of confusion, honestly.  But I have come back to the Christian tradition and find that it does provide answers to the most important questions.    Someday I will have to visit my former pastor and tell him he was right.  I did come back to Christianity.  When I left, I didn't think I would.

Through this past year, I've listened to many sermons, had many conversations, and read some books that have started to give me a little more insight into the Bible.  The Bible is a difficult text to interpret.  Much of the confusion and misinterpretation comes when we look at the Bible with our worldview and assume passages mean certain things that the writers of the Bible would never have even thought of.  Our worldview is so different, and we don't even realize that it is shaping our understanding of the text as we read it.  The huge difference in time, geographic location, culture, and language means the writers of the texts which eventually formed what we call the Bible had a radically different worldview.

It seems the important thing is not what we think a text means, but what the writers were trying to convey.

Perhaps you are wondering how a worldview could be so different that a written text would convey almost the opposite of what it looks like it is conveying.  But think about how language evolves over time, even within the same culture.  For example, when I was a kid, the phrase "Oh, that is sick!" meant that something was really disgusting.  Now, it seems to mean something is really awesome.  I've also started hearing people just a few years younger than me use the word epic to mean awesome, which is not a definition that I am used to.  Obviously, the words disgusting and awesome mean quite different things.  And this is only a change from a few years ago, and from within the same culture. Multiply that by 2000 years. 

Another example, from Marcus Borg's book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, is the term golden arches.  Now, everyone living in the US probably knows that term is referring to McDonald's, but who would know that 2000 years ago?  Or 2000 years in the future?  No one.  So could there possibly be terms like that in the Bible, references to places, or perhaps people or events, that we don't have a clue about?

And think of all the cultural differences today.  You could do something that seems completely normal to you and totally insult someone else.  Did you know it's insulting to tip the waitstaff in some European countries?  In that country, tipping someone would convey a completely different message than it would here in the US.

While I've learned a lot over the past year, I also feel like I've just scratched the very tip of a huge iceberg.  The task of studying and understanding the Bible seems pretty overwhelming.  Is it even worth it?  For now, I'm saying yes.  For some reason, I have a huge desire to learn more, so I'm jumping in.  I know almost nothing, but I'm going to share the few bits and pieces that I've learned anyway, and hope that perhaps it will be of interest to someone somewhere.  Please let me know if it is to you, and feel free to comment on my posts.  

Some of the topics I would like to cover are:

*Heaven and Hell references in the Bible - What were they really talking about?

*Turn the other cheek - Was Jesus a pacifist?

*Paul's views on women

*The function of ancient myths in the Old Testament

*Jewish perspective on slavery

*Apocalyptic literature in the Bible

*Importance of the virgin birth story - What does it really mean?

*Differences between the Hebrew and English languages and how they impact translation and interpretation

Many thanks to my pastor who has read a gazillion theology books and knows just about everything (ok, just kidding, I'm sure there's one or two things he doesn't know) and has helped me so much this past year.  Hopefully, I won't totally botch these topics.

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