Of Food, Education, and the Bible

April 14, 2010

My daughter shared with me today this article, which makes some insightful observations about our tendency to get so analytical about a topic that we miss the real point.    The author talks about how we’ve done that with food, reducing it to a vehicle for delivering nutrients… and with literature, reducing it to a “mere delivery systems for varying quantities and qualities of  the dissected dry matter now called education- things like vocabulary, critical thinking skills…

Food is so much more than a collection of nutrients.  Eating is an experience to be enjoyed.  Similarly, literature is not primarily for the purpose of  education, but for communicating experiences and emotions, for sharing beauty and joy and irony and tragedy.

As I read the article my daughter sent me, I couldn’t help but think that Christians often make exactly the same mistake with the  Bible.   Like the nutritionists, we’ve tried to distil from the Bible the core pieces of information that we “really need” and place all our emphasis on those.  Like the literary critic, we’ve reduced the Bible to a source of material to fuel debates about whose interpretiation is best.  In doing so, we miss the point of the story;  we miss the beauty, the joy, and the tragedy; we miss the heart of the Bible.  We’re too much like the Pharisees to whom Jesus said:

John 5:39-40  You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me,  yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

We miss the point because we “diligently study” the Scriptures with the wrong core assumptions.  We’ve been embroiled in doctrinal debates for so long that the only thing we really know how to do with the scriptures is to argue.  When we approach scripture as though it’s all about logic and hermeneutics and defending “our” doctrines, we miss the heart completely.

Trying to analyze matters of the heart  just makes us look silly.  Robin Williams made the same point in the film Dead Poets’ Society:

But when I read the article my daughter sent me, the first movie that came to mind was Rain Man.  Specifically, I remembered the scene where Raymond is riding in the car, watching random things pass by — obsessed with the irrelevant and missing the meaning of everything that was really going on around him.

Our Bible study is too much like Rain Man.  We easily become obsessed with the irrelevant, and end up straining out gnats and swallowing camels.  Are we diligently studying the scriptures, and missing the compelling story of Jesus?

One comment

  1. Interesting thoughts. That’s probably why so few people read the Bible for enjoyment apart from daily Bible study, school, church, etc.

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