Friday, March 9, 2007

Understanding Difficult Scriptures

Understanding Difficult Scriptures in a Healing Way is a deceptively insightful little book.  I say deceptively because the old adage "You can't judge a book by its cover." definitely applies here.  The book was written by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Dennis Linn.  Dennis and Sheila are a married couple and Matt lives in a Jesuit community.  I first bought Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God by the same authors because I was looking for a book on Universal Reconciliation that I could share with Kayla (my 10 year old).  Both books are excellent and I would highly recommend them. They are not written at the level of a child, as you might guess from the illustrations on the cover and throughout the book.  But, they are written in easy to understand language and use a common sense approach to scripture that doesn't require an extensive background in theology to understand. 

The authors point out that to cover all the difficult passages of scripture would take a much larger volume. And, everyone is going to have difficulty with different parts of scripture.  So, while the book does give some excellent examples of scriptures that are often misinterpreted and presents alternatives that make good sense, the real value of the book is in the approach it gives us to interpret scripture.

The authors give some excellent examples of commonly misunderstood (and abused) passages.  Passages like "Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  And the word used to describe Eve's role in relation to Adam. Did you know the word translated as Adam's helper that we frequently think means Eve was Adam's go-fer actually is used more often to describe G-d and HIs relation to man than it is to describe an earthly person?  The word "ezer" clearly does not mean subordinate.  Scripture has often been interpreted to be anything but good news.  The authors remind us that scripture is meant to be good news and to bring life.  Whenever our interpretation of scripture does not bring good news or bring us life, it's time to re-examine.

The second chapter reminds us that love is the criterion by which we should measure all scripture and chapter 3 show how Jesus Himself re-interpreted scripture to the most loving understanding possible- giving some concrete examples (and explaining some passages that have troubled me).  If the passage doesn't seem loving, we need to check a few things.  First, check the translation.  I'm sorry if this offends anyone. But, many translations promote an agenda other than love. The King James Version leaps to mind.  Many words are so poorly translated as to completely obliterate the meaning of certain passages and people have been oppressed and even died because of such errors.

Chapter 4 shows that Jesus was a conscientious objector by explaining some of His parables and what they would have meant to His listeners.  The teaching He gives of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and giving up your clothes to debtors is explained in detail that I have recently seen in other places but that most people don't know.  Jesus was not teaching being a doormat nor resisting with violence, but a third way that is really beautiful and transforming, when explained properly.

Chapter 5 echoes the sentiment expressed by the slogan of the United Christian Church (UCC).   "God is still speaking."  Scripture is a living, breathing, growing thing.  G-d is still revealing Godself to us.  We can see man's understanding of G-d growing through the Old Testament and throughout the relatively brief period of time in which the New Testament was written.  Even within the book of Matthew, many scholars say they can see a progression of the understanding of Jesus' mission.  Why do so many of us think there should be no more growth, when Paul himself said that he saw through a glass darkly.  If Paul's understanding of G-d wasn't perfect (complete), how could his letters have been perfect?

I don't want the review to be longer than the book. So, I'll wrap up by saying there are more chapters on Fundamentalism and how life itself is a revelation of G-d.  For some (many) this book probably won't be a great leap forward. But, for someone raised a Bible-worshippping, fundamentalist, literalist, I find it wonderful to continue to discover this way of understanding scripture.  If you haven't begun that process or are just getting started, this book is an excellent.  I plan to put it in my collection of books to hand down to Kayla at the right time.

1 comment:

Richard Rossi said...

Thanks Brian for letting us know about this book, I just ordered it and look forward to reading it.
Richard Rossi
Author of "Stick Man" and "Create Your Life"