Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to Really, Really Study the Bible!

A Day of Foolishness at the Oak Street Bible Shop

As far as I know, there has only been one such day at the shop, so I thought I should tell you about. There have been times of piety, learning, sorrow, and laughter, the usual give and take which were later remembered with great fondness by these four friends, but never before or since any like what happened on this Wednesday.

I remember that it was a Wednesday, because before Glen showed up the talk was about days of the week. Sue led off, “I see them as different colors, Sunday is yellow, like daffodils, Monday is a steel gray, Tuesday is blue, Wednesday kind of rust-colored, Thursday is a neutral gray, and Friday is reddish, like autumn leaves.”

Joy rolled her eyes, as she often did upon hearing Sue’s arty takeoffs, as she called them. “Okay, I’ll go along, you left out Saturday, what color is Saturday?”

“Sue returned to her visionary state, “Oh, I like Saturday’s color, it is kind of a grayish pink.”

Gary was in the mood to join in, but before he could speak, the door swung upon wide and Glen swept into the room, with a dramatic flourish. He lifted one hand in a dismissive hello and strode to the table with the coffee urn. He slammed down a yellow pad and plopped into the folding chair. His face bore a troubled frown as he pulled a pen from his jacket pocket and poised it above the blank page.

This behavior was highly unusual for Glen and the pleasant mood of imaginative exchange was replaced by one of anxious curiosity over what had brought about this strange mood in their usually genial friend. Sue, always the diplomat, inquired, “Would you care for some coffee, I just made a fresh pot.”

Glen dismissed her gruffly, “No, I don’t want any coffee, thanks.” She tried again, “We were just discussing how we see the different days of the week and how we..” Glen cut her off, “I don’t have time for coffee and I don’t have time for foolish talk about days of the week!” He spoke in a melodramatic tone, “I have something on my mind which is very, very, important, vital, in fact...” His friends studied his face, seeking a clue to what this uncharacteristic bluster was all about. He continued, “What I am working on could change the whole direction of organized religion, it could save the world!”

This last was too much for them. They gaped at this man they thought they knew. Glen began again, but as he spoke it was obvious he could no longer continue his charade. He broke into a smile as he turned towards them. “I just couldn’t go on any longer.”

“What a relief!” Joy said, “I thought we were going to hear a replay of Nixon’s Checkers speech.” This went over the heads of Sue and Gary. Glen became serious. “Poor man, I wonder if anyone ever understood him?” There was a lull, then Glen resumed. “But I do have something I want you to help me with.”

No one spoke, so he continued. “I am trying to write a little piece on how to study the Bible, but..I wonder if people don’t get weary of being scolded and told how they must improve themselves?”

The question hung in the air as they all thought of the harangues they had endured over their sins and shortcomings. Joy spoke “Our preacher used to do it all the time. We had to call him on it. ‘If you had a fight with your wife, settle it with her’ one of the deacons told him.”

Gary added, “R.C. Sproul had some good advice, ‘Never use the pulpit to air your personal anger’ he said. ‘The pulpit is the realm of God’s words, not yours.’ Glen smiled in appreciation. “I do want to talk about how to study the Bible, not that there is just one way, but to avoid some problems. But I don’t want to do it directly. I sense that since you were discussing days of the week..” “What colors are they?” Sue interjected. “Well, since you are in a creative mood you can help me with my project, but with a different slant.”

“How to preach without preaching?” Joy reflected.
Gary squared his shoulders, “Say it in reverse! That will take them by surprize.” Sue brightened, “Through the looking glass, left is right and right is left!”
Glen wrote on his tablet before he spoke. “Rule number one, and this is so important, before you even open your Bible make up your mind what it says and what it means!”

Gary, with enthusiasm “First make up your mind, then read the Bible. Hey, this is going to be easy!” Sue frowned, “But what if you can’t make up your mind? What do you do then, huh?”

“No problem! said Joy with an air of authority, “Ask your friends what the Bible means.”

Sue added “Ask your parents. They can tell you what their parents told them.”

Glen began to write, “Keep it up, this is all good stuff!”

Sue clasped her hands beneath her chin and sighed, “Look deep into your heart, that is where you will find the truth of what the Bible means.”

Gary, not to be outdone, “Ask a priest, they wear special robes, they must be very wise. And how about a rabbi, get the old stuff, direct from the source.”

“These are all good” Glen said with enthusiasm, “But, what about seeing what the Bible says?”

Joy, with a severe look, “Glen are you quite certain you want to go there?”

“Yes, Glen”, Gary said, “Looking into the Bible would be like asking God what the Bible means.”

“You can prove anything from the Bible, it all depends on where you look”, spoke Sue with her Granny voice.

Gary was enjoying this departure from his usual sincerity, “I don’t know about you, but I would much rather argue about who the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 is, than look it up in Acts of the Apostles.”

“That’s right!” Joy spoke in a strong voice, “What did Phillip the evangelist know, it was just his opinion anyway.”

Glen stopped writing. “As good as all this is, and I think it represents some of the finest thinking of human nature, religion, and, of course tradition, But I still would like to include the idea of comparing scripture with scripture, and as Gary said, asking God what His books means.” And, Sue added, “Just to be fair, you could even allow people to pray about things they don’t understand. “

Joy concluded, “But praying and comparing scriptures flies in the face of a lot of religion. It could leave you open to charges of narrow mindedness and intolerance. You should consider that. Do you want to be a trouble maker, someone who upsets the church, or even someone who follows his own conscience?”

“Never thought of that”, said Glen. “I was starting to think for myself there for a minute. But I’d still like to leave it in. Let the weirdos have their Bibles.”

“And their prayers” said Sue. “There aren’t many of these people anyway, what harm can they do?

Glen drew a line beneath his notes with an air of satisfaction. Thank you, my friends, you gave me a lot of help. Now, Sue, what color did you say Wednesday was?”

"Brown” she answered, “kind of a nut brown.”

Joy’s face assumed a far away expression as she looked out at the street. “I wonder what the sane people are doing today?”

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