A Poem by Mike Garner followed by the Essay
Approach with fear and trembling
Tremble before possibility
Who are you to know?
I grow weak
I am overcome
My heart melts
Holding to faith,
as though God were visible
My soul is ripped apart
Yet it soars the heavens
I am overcome
He teaches me
I hear his voice
Who will believe?
Now I know I must write
The Struggle of Reading Scripture and Writing Theology
People claim with deep conviction their belief in the scripture as God’s word, and for them it is, inasmuch as they are allowed to pick and choose pieces that serve their purposes. However, to face the scripture in all of its antiquity, in all of its foreignness, in all of its crude record of murder, war, and genocide, often accomplished in the name of God, then these confessors of scripture practice ignoring, prefer ignorance, rather than face themselves or wrestle with how this strange book is to be read.
Answers to complex pieces of scripture do not come easy and attempting to defend some passages to preserve the book's integrity at the cost of letting its claims about God or human behavior off easy is religious chicanery. This book, this word of God to us, is mere ink on pages, but to ascribe meaning to the collected works lifts the ink from the pages to dwell in the minds of human beings. Are we to pick and choose, to cut and dice? Are we to reduce this magnum opus of literary genius from ages past to aphorisms?
How am I, how are you, to read legislation that is deemed to be Torah, holy, instructive, when that legislation appears to sanction genocidal acts of war in the name of God? If I claim we are to have the intelligence to read certain parts or specific genres of it as a record of failure, to claim portions of it to be a record of errant religious faith, would I not be ostracized from the faith? Who am I to question God’s word? Or, perhaps I use my imagination and with great effort and dialectical skill expose the meaning of these passages to be other than what they appear on the surface; will I be a man of wisdom? Why must I wrestle with these inconceivably dark passages of scripture? Is it because only in the wrestling, only in the questioning, the refusal to accept them at face value that I meet God?
Is not my care, my drive, expressive of my belief that this book is to be read as scripture, as God’s word? Not in a literal way, but in a way that draws me closer to God, closer to unveiling the darkness with light. Does knowing God expose that which is not descriptive of or in accordance with God? So, I must take God with me to read this word of God, this holy book, for when I take him with me we meet to critique its claims and expose the writers as mere humans. I, the reader, judge their words, give meaning to their words, meaning that perhaps they never expected. I arrive at the text in all my weakness, with faith, with God in tow and ahead of me, I arrive at the text; I bring my revelation of God with me, and attempt to reconcile God and text. He teases me with thoughts and enlightens my mind to read, aw but to put it on paper I know not how. To speak it, to teach it, to live in the moment and enjoy God flowing through my mind and words releasing from my lips with speed and preciseness, such delight.
Writing lacks the living voice, the encounter, the moment, the totality of the communicator in flesh. Writing is an impossible task, an art, a challenge. I will always be more than the words I write and God is always more than the word we read. Of all the skills I’ve learned and tasks I’ve accomplished, this one - writing theology - requires more, as though I bleed each time and leave part of myself upon the pages.