I’ve spent today being “elsewhere”. And by that I mean not at church, and that included deliberately rummaging in the spirituality sections of local book stores. In a secondhand bookstore (the only one I know of in The Shire) I found an interesting looking book about the history of humans around The Mediterranean. And in another book store, I bought a set of Tarot cards – something I’ve been thinking about doing for years and years.
But I also decided to do the next five readings in the E100 series, and perhaps the next five, as well. There is time. Church is nearly two hours away.
I’ve up to E31. That block starts in 1 Samuel. I’ve also pulled out my dead-tree version of The Message to read rather than use my tablet. It’s just easier to read. But it also has decent forewards for each of the books of the Bible. So I read the one for 1 and 2 Samuel.
This is a transition point in Israel’s history. They have their land (more or less) and are mostly at peace with the neighbours. They are still struggling to follow God, though. However, the Israelites also start agitating for a King, rather than a mere God.
The narrative in these two books are some of the most well-known stories of the Bible. Samual, David, Saul; powerful stuff. The foreward in The Message to 1/2 Samuel makes the point that these books are about humans living as humans. Nothing more, nothing less. In general, they have trouble following God, just like all of us do. But I was arrested by Eugene Peterson’s description that the scripture does not show us how we ought to live, but shows us that we do live. Put another way (which he does), it is a reminder that God accepts us and loves us just as we are. There is no sign at the entrance to Christianity saying “you must be this good to enter”.
This is at once liberating, confronting and frustrating. So much of what passes for Christian teaching today says “you should do this and not that; you should be like this and not like that”. Authors have gotten better over the years at being less proscriptive and more persuasive, but still: it flies in the face of what a truly experienced evangelist such as Eugene Peterson reads from The Bible.
It also meshes neatly with my recent spiritual quest. I was kind of looking for a book that might be “Paganism For Disillusioned Christians”. Or “You’re Been A Christian: Now Here’s The Basics Of Wicca”. Or “The Tarot For The Bible Schooled”. Unsurprisingly, these things are not easy to find.
Perusing possible bookshelves and leafing through likely looking books this afternoon trying to divine their audience, I realized a few more things about this kind of quest. The first is that I’m not looking for Angelic Guidance or suchlike. The second is that there is a lot of reverence for the tools of Wiccan (and other) rituals that needs to be developed first. The third thing is that I’m looking for A Different God.
The Bible isn’t a history book. Not really. It never really was. It is true that The New Testament is strongly historical, and the evidence that a Jewish carpenter’s son called Yeshua lived roughy 2000 years ago and was crucified by the Romans is actually fairly strong. As is the existence of the Apostles and the effect they had on the world of their day.
But go back further and things get murky. Christians forget that all of the Bible scriptures were largely the product of editing. If you know it is there to look for it, it is not hard to discover editing in the Pentateuch – descriptions and narrative disagree with each other at many points. There is also evidence that the later “history” books were edited, though somewhat imperfectly, in an attempt to hide the fact that the Jews were very far from being strictly monotheistic until after The Return. There is also, in fact, some doubt for the historical existence of The Passover. And of Moses.
Knowing this, it makes it hard for me to accept the potted history in the early Old Testament. I want to explore what Might Really Be. I want my church to look at other work around but outside Scripture. I am really tired of the narrow view of staying “in The Bible”. Really tired.
So I’m looking for Another God. Or at least, A More Correct God. This meshes really interestingly with Peterson’s introduction to Samuel. It gives me hope that God – whoever or whatever he is – would be encouraging me to go look and moreover to look with a genuine sense of searching.
So I shall.