Last week, Paul noted that our family was spiritually starving. Most people would disagree. Paul and I read scripture together. I pray regularly. Paul does too. I say a prayer over each child as I cover their cheeks, chin, and neck in kisses.
But we shouldn’t grade our spiritual growth on a curve.
A spiritual famine sweeps our culture and produces spiritually starved children with distended spiritual stomachs and weakened spiritual frames. Should we pat ourselves on the back because our children starve slowly or experience milder forms of spiritual malnutrition?
We want our children to thrive.
Paul pointing out the evidence of spiritual hunger caused me to pause. I reminded the girls of their responsibility to work out their own salvation. The path required a personal interaction with the scriptures.
“You girls are old enough,” I said, “to read the scriptures and discover the truths inherent in them.”
Sometimes with hilarious results.
Dagne decided to take my words to heart and opened her Bible to a random place. She began reading. After awhile, she shut the Bible. Her lip curled in disgust.
Ingrid asked, “What’s wrong?”
“It says that Jehos-a-fat slept with his father and died! And,” she added significantly, “Jehoshaphat‘s father slept with his father and died too!”
All of us dissolved into giggles.
Greta corrected her, “Jehoshaphat didn’t sleep with his father, he rested with his fathers. That means he was buried with them.”
(Here, I thought, is a wonderful instance of building vocabulary. When Dagne reads epic poetry, she will be ready to comprehend the funeral rites of kings, chiefs, and heroes.)
Dagne looked unconvinced. “Oh,” she said. She decided to read aloud after that.
“All of these things can be read in the cherry-nickels of the kings.”
Again, peals of laughter.
“Chronicles!” Greta corrected.
Dagne shut the Bible with a crack! I guess that was the end of the reading. We can’t wait for tomorrow’s.
A child can misinterpret the Bible, obviously, but can’t we all? I still prefer my child interacting directly with scripture than through a mediator. To give a watered-down version has its pitfalls. To skip over difficult parts and either avoid its apparent contradictions or force them into boxes of their own making might prove too tempting to an interpreter. Less commentary is better. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to my acceptance of Christianity was the weak and insufficient explanations to questions.
Rather than saying “God wanted us to learn such-and-such from this story,” I would have respected this answer more: “You’re arguing with a narrative. It’s not necessarily all good or all bad or all right or all wrong. It’s above all that. It transcends. We should swallow it whole. The story is the answer. The teaching is in the story. As is. Someday, a flash of insight might arrive. Seek and you will find. But I dare not say with bluffing confidence what God’s motive is.”
The second answer would have said, “Don’t mold scripture into your own image.” We modern-day protestants have a disturbing tendency to worship our own interpretation of scripture. I do not deny that scripture is absolutely God-breathed, that is to say, inspired. But we are not. Sometimes. Not always. We have the Holy Spirit, but we do not always listen or follow or obey or understand fully.
The Bible is sometimes narrative, sometimes history, sometimes poetry, sometimes a combination, and sometimes an entirely other. I trust that with enough readings, some of it can carefully be assigned to patterns, and some of it will stay shrouded in mystery. Some of that mystery may, with careful searching, be revealed. And some of that mystery will remain mystery, which is lovely too. It is okay to not understand it all. It should just be read again and again and again.
Whether my religious upbringing forged my love for literature or fostered it is hard to tell. But it was invaluable. Bible stories constructed a colorful, layered background for every poem, character, and theme I read. Literature analysis was a breeze for such a rich upbringing as I was given. Biblical allusions abound. Just titles alone require a grasp of these ancient stories: East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath, Paradise Lost … or consider understanding Harriet Tubman and the hope she brought to her people without knowing the story of Moses? Try to read Tale of Two Cities immersed in the bound themes of death and resurrection without knowing the story of Christ? The public school system shot itself in the foot when it banished all these stories for no one can consider himself truly literate without them.
One thing I would like to do if I had the money — and perhaps it has already been done. I would love to publish scripture in booklets without chapter and verse numbers. Though the numbering has its reasons, it tends to interrupt the flow of the language. Wouldn’t it be lovely to read a letter of Paul’s to a church in the same form as they read it? As a letter? Or to read Job as poetry? The Bible would remain the Bible, of course, useful as is for discussion. But the personal reading would be enhanced if the books could be read as books or letters or poems or songs. I’d love to have Job especially in a tiny bound volume with a little ribbon marker like a poetry book. I’d welcome that.
Meanwhile, I’ll encourage my girls to love the words God gave us. I’ll encourage them to memorize and meditate upon them. I’ll answer questions as honestly as I can and allow questions to linger if I can’t. God is capable of answering for Himself. I’ll encourage them to seek for their own answers, directly.
I’ll say, “Do not be afraid if everything written in the Bible doesn’t fit nicely into your head. That confirms its big-ness. In fact, don’t try too hard to make things fit nicely. The Pharisees serve as an excellent, bad example of people who held too tightly to their own notions. They tried to trump God’s plan with their own interpretation of it. Always a bad idea. We should hold to our own notions carefully and be prepared to be surprised.”