With Jesus, we read, and the dead words rise.
Several neighbors of mine experience the Old Testament as a joke or the Apostle Paul in the New Testament as a jerk. Such friends feel deeply that they have little time for fairy tales or bigoted preachers. They feel fed up with arrogance or ignorance perpetrated in the name of God. I myself have struggled at times. May I suggest that the way for cynics, skeptics, the pained and the worn out can come to the Bible again, is Jesus? (Lk. 24:32)
Compelled by Jesus we look to him to apprentice us with this book that makes us wince.
This Can Be Emotionally and Intellectually Hard for Us
Emotionally some of us experience the Bible as mean. We try to read it but we hear only screaming or mocking or ridicule.
Intellectually, we also might tire of so many holy books. It is too fatiguing and confrontational to try to figure it out anyway.
So, we prefer the story of the blind men and the elephant (or some similar version of reality) and hold on to it.
The story tells us of several blind men who came upon an elephant (though they did not know what an elephant was). One felt the tusk, another the tail, another the hide. Because they each touched different places, they each described the nature of the elephant differently. One thought it was a sharp and smooth creature while the others thought in contrast that the creature was either hairy and thin or wide and tough. Each described part of the whole. “So it is with truths and holy books and beliefs,” the story urges us. Emotionally and intellectually this story seems to satisfy.
By why wasn’t Jesus emotionally or intellectually dissatisfied with the Bible? How is it that Jesus welcomed the emotionally and intellectually haunted with grace and hospitable presence?
The Elephant and the Blind Men
When we need such a presence when we come to the Bible does Jesus provide it? Moreso, what do we do about the problem with the elephant story (and others like it)? The storyteller is able to see the whole elephant and from that position of absolute knowledge, he or she is able to interpret what the blind men cannot. The story tells us that every perspective is relative or that every description leads to the same path, by telling us there is only one true interpretation of the elephant and the blind men.
It is true. We might struggle with the idea that Jesus points us to one way of thinking about God’s words. But if we think about it won’t we feel the same struggle with the story of the elephant? Both point us to teachings by which to rightly interpret the world in contrast to false interpretations. We cannot escape doing this! As soon as we say that both Jesus and the Elephant story are misguided or are insufficient or are distinct from one another, we too do what both of them do. We claim to know.
Therefore, for Jesus to make much of the Scriptures isn’t unique. You and I both make much of truth claims everyday (even when we say that there is no truth, we undo ourselves). What then?
Sometimes my wife Jessica invites the rest of us to watch an old movie from the eighties. She does so with great enthusiasm! The rest of us will watch sometimes, not because we want to (in a moment of doubt about the quality of 80’s movies), but because she sees something in them that she enjoys and wants to share. Sometimes we read or watch because the one we love reads or watches. In this case, maybe even the most hardened or pained among us can make an attempt to read what Jesus loved for the sake of trying to see what Jesus saw. He compels us. So we read on his account.
Jesus Turns the Light On and Shows Himself to Us
In the animated movie, The Lion King, hyenas surround a small lion cub named Simba. Simba tries to roar but the sound hardly intimidates. As the hyenas move in for the kill, Simba tries to roar again. Unbeknownst to him or the hyenas, Mufasa, the King of Lions has entered the cave. As little Simba fills his little cub lungs to roar, Mufasa fills his massive lungs and fills the cave with his terrible roar. The hyenas see Simba’s mouth move but what they hear is the roar of the King.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27; also v. 44)
Jesus takes the words and enables us to hear the king’s roar. He offers the ultimate “push back” on whatever we find in the Scriptures. For the sore and tired and cynical among us, may I suggest that we needn’t fight about Moses or the Psalms at the moment, or whether or not Paul was a jerk? Rather, we can ask Jesus to show us what he showed those disciples on that dusty road. He can apprentice us in how to view the Law or the Prophets or anything else. Jesus gently takes us to the Scriptures by making himself front and center. We come to them in the context of walking with Him. Grace upon grace takes our hand.
Our Souls Ignite
The old timers described a parent and a child walking on a beach. The love between them seems obvious. But suddenly, the parent takes the child up into his arms with laughter and delight. Then the parent lets the child down again, and on they walk.
The Scriptures that Jesus opens, tell us that God is near with us in covenant love and faithfulness. But when Jesus illumines what God has revealed, it is as if God takes us up into his arms, close and intimate. We feel his breath on the page. Our souls burn. Somehow letters on a paper light up the night. We see again and walk. We feel again and find home.
Jesus invites us to the God words. He opens them, shows us Himself in them, and there he touches bone and marrow, skin and soul, while we travel on the road we’re on.