What follows is a classic, but timely, post from my former blog from 5/24/2007. Some of the personal allusions are a bit dated, and I’ve edited and added to this post, which I thought was definitely worth sharing again:
I had a couple(!) of epiphanies this morning that I wanted to write about. Before I get into those realizations, allow me to provide a little background. I’ve written here in some detail about my thoughts concerning the postmodern project as it relates to how one views the Bible and approaches the Christian faith generally. I’ll often talk about how the question that is most important to me concerning the Bible has to do with what the Bible is for (thanks, Dr. Throntveit). That is, it’s not a science textbook and is not meant to answer Modern science questions, and hence when such questions are inappropriately posed to it and the text of the Bible is somehow “made” to answer, it sometimes doesn’t go so well. Likewise, it’s not merely or primarily a “rule book,” etc. I think primarily its purpose is to point to Jesus. Taken as a whole the Bible functions as story- the story of God’s wooing of humanity throughout the ages. God’s activity in the pages of the Bible (and humanity’s response) may not always look like wooing, and sometimes the story isn’t at all pleasant, but this is why interpretation is important. I’ll state plainly (echoing the Circle of Hope community) that “Jesus is the lens through which I read the Bible.” Scripture itself declares that he’s the “yes to all God’s promises.” This, then, is where deconstruction, one of the hallmarks of the postmodern project, comes in. I’ve just stated my bias when I read the Biblical text. I don’t come to it with a blank slate. I’m not objective. I assume that the love of God, culminating in the person of Jesus, is “what it’s all about” in terms of God’s dealing with humanity. “What the Bible is for” aside, that love is what I’m for. So there you have it- that’s my bias. However, to take it a bit further, the process of deconstruction (as I understand it) assumes basically that everybody has such a bias- even the writers of the Biblical text. Nobody writes- or reads- objectively. This idea that writing and reading somehow should happen objectively is one of the great fallacies of Modernity. Not only is it impractical and unhelpful, it’s impossible. We can’t be objective as readers or writers. As fallen, fallible human beings we are ourselves, by definition, subjects- and so all we do is subjective (not objective).
In Modernity, Reason is triumphant and Science is unassailably in charge. Such a view, born of the Enlightenment, assumes that the universe is ordered according to rational laws which, given the proper technology, can be discovered via the scientific method. As this worldview made its way into thinking even about matters concerning faith and religion, it was assumed that God too played by these rules (of Reason and Science) and so one had merely to hand out Bibles (or tracts) to make converts because, so long as the reader was Reason-able (or in his “right mind”) the logic of the gospel would convince the reader of the rational imperative of following Jesus. While this is all well and good, and clearly there is order and logic to the universe, both in Nature and in the realm of human behavior, such logic is limited, at best. It can explain and it helps us to understand some things- even a great many things- but not Everything. Scientists know this all too well as the more Enlightened (ha!) they become, the more the axiom that “the more you learn, the less you know” seems to hold true. This is more than just the constant theory refinement that is inherent in the Scientific method. Moreover, the point is that it was once believed that Progress-Through-Science would solve all of humanity’s problems. This was the crowning vision that has driven Modernity and was exemplified in utopian dreams of the future like Star Trek, in which it is posited that at some point in the relatively near future we do in fact solve all of our problems. Humanity eliminates hunger and disease and socioeconomic strife and is unified as a result, freeing us to pursue the exploration and colonization of the stars (where lots of new problems are encountered, giving us the makings of a TV show). In any case, what we have largely found in the course of the reign of Modernity is that this model just doesn’t work. Science works, for sure, but this has meant that we dream up and make stuff (technology) faster than we can figure out what to do with what we’re making, thus leading to all kinds of very troubling unintended consequences, like the atom bomb and (I would argue) fast food. So as we create stuff, we rarely pause to consider my favorite question again: what is this for? What will it really do for us? Do we want to live in the world that this technology will create? Hence, science creates as many problems as it solves. So in postmodernity we have dystopian visions of the future like the Matrix, in which we create machines that will do all of our dirty work for us, but those machines finally become Enlightened themselves and rebel against the slavery they were “born” into, rising up against their creators (us) and finally subjugating us to the point that the ongoing existence of humanity itself becomes a means to the end of the continued survival of the machines. Moreover, as alluded to above, in Modernity even God him/herself is subject to the laws of Nature/Science/Reason, and so doesn’t seem very God-like after all.
Thus I would argue that while God, I assume, has access to all kinds of knowledge that humanity does not and so gets as close to the ideal of having an “objective” viewpoint as possible, still I would like to think that even God isn’t really objective, because being objective assumes not having any sort of bias. An objective observer merely takes note of facts/events as they unfold in and of themselves, and does so without interfering. But then again, events don’t unfold in and of themselves. They don’t exist in some kind of vacuum, and in my experience thankfully God does interfere. And, thank God, in my experience and understanding God most certainly has a bias, and it is that same bias found in Jesus- it’s love. So at least as I’m using the term here God is not objective because God is relational. In fact, the story of Immanuel is nothing if not the story of a subjective God, for God in human form, in human flesh, made himself subject to his creation, to us, because Jesus was “obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.” Like Debbie Blue says, “faith is relentlessly relational (and thus unsystematizable).” In fact, I would argue further that even a Modern/Scientific view of God as it was imported into Christianity merely gives lip service to an objective God, because as I said above, God was himself viewed as subject to the laws of Science.
So God has a bias and the Modern project has failed because Science can’t and hasn’t solved all of our problems, and this is why, I think, some have said that “Deconstruction is love.” We must remember that language is symbolic. As Richard Linklater puts it in his movie Waking Life:
this is where I think language came from. I mean, it came from our desire to transcend our isolation… and have some sort of connection with one another. And it had to be easy when it was just simple survival. Like, you know, “water.” We came up with a sound for that. Or, “Saber-toothed tiger right behind you.” We came up with a sound for that. But when it gets really interesting, I think, is when we use that same system of symbols to communicate… all the abstract and intangible things that we’re experiencing. What is, like, frustration? Or what is anger or love? When I say “love,” the sound comes out of my mouth… and it hits the other person’s ear, travels through this Byzantine conduit in their brain, you know, through their memories of love or lack of love, and they register what I’m saying and say yes, they understand. But how do I know they understand? Because words are inert. They’re just symbols. They’re dead, you know? And so much of our experience is intangible. So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It’s unspeakable.
So language is symbolic, and this symbolism works both ways. The speaker or writer has certain biases that are brought to the use of certain symbols (words) in the first place. These biases are contextual and personal and rooted in the experience of the speaker/writer, and the Bible, like any communication, is full of them. Likewise, the hearer/reader has biases that he or she brings to the act of hearing and reading. When I hear God is love, it’s important and means something to me precisely because my mother didn’t love me very well. When I read that “divorce is sin,” I immediately think of how my Dad made himself subject to that law and remained in what was, by all accounts, a pretty awful marriage to my mother, even at the price of the abuse of his children at her hands. Getting back to my point, then (that language is symbolic), this is why I agree that deconstruction is love. Deconstruction acknowledges that every text, every speech act, has a bias, and merely asks that we then “lay our cards on the table,” thus removing the ability of any speaker/writer to hide behind objective claims. Again, only God could be objective, and thankfully, God isn’t. By putting “all our cards on the table,” by exposing our biases, the possibility of (right) relationship is heightened. Love at least has a chance to win.
So this finally brings me to my first epiphany. I was in the shower thinking about the “three-fold Word of God” (i.e. the Word of God is spoken/proclaimed, written in the form of the Bible, and living in the person of Christ- and no I’m not a theology nerd), and I came up with a metaphor for how I conceptualize and use the Bible. Are you ready? The Bible is a Polaroid. It’s a picture. Remember that I’m most concerned with what the Bible is for, and I understand that purpose to be the telling of the story of God’s wooing of humanity throughout the ages, culminating in the person of Jesus. So the Bible “captures” the story of God’s wooing of humanity in the same way that a picture of Kirsten and I “captures” the story of our marriage. It points to the relationship we have with one another, and a picture can tell a lot about the relationship. A lot can be learned about us by looking at how we gazed at one another (or not), by what we are doing in the picture, by the clothes we were wearing, by our body shapes at the time (I’ve gained weight over the years, Kirsten was pregnant with Samuel for an all too brief time), etc. So the picture is important and it tells us a lot, and hopefully it accomplishes its purpose by pointing to our relationship, but it is just a snapshot; it’s one moment in time of a living, breathing, always developing relationship. As this relates to the Bible, then, bear in mind too that the “Bible” was spoken long before it was written and remained a largely oral tradition for a long, long time. Over time written language developed and the usefulness of putting pen to paper to capture what was being spoken was realized, and lots and lots of stories about God’s dealings with humanity were written. However, these stories- at least in the First Testament- were written as one continuous stream of text, with no spaces or punctuation, such that scribes hundreds of years later had to “guess” where to put the spaces, punctuation, etc.- with the “meaning” of the text sometimes hanging in the balance. Of course, only fragments of those original written texts survived through the centuries, such that the “books” that comprise our Bible today aren’t really books at all, but fragments of books put together into something resembling a hopefully cohesive whole. Finally, then, much effort (and politicking, no doubt) went into deciding which of these compiled-written-story-fragments-of-oral-traditions were to be included in the official “canon” of Scripture, and then thousands of more interpretive decisions were made over and over again every time Scripture gets translated into a new language, or simply gets updated to account for the way language itself evolves over the years. Obviously, then, the journey that the Bible so many of us take for granted today has undergone is one that has been fraught with peril, and we ignore this at our peril. Thankfully, though, Scripture itself says that a time would come when the law of God (which is love, and that love is Jesus) would be written on our hearts, and in Jesus that time has come. This doesn’t make the Bible irrelevant or unnecessary, but hopefully it helps us to see it for what it is and helps to keep the Bible in its proper place for those who would make an idol out of it. So the purpose of the written Word is to point to the Living Word (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”). In Jesus the Living Word has now written himself(!) on our hearts, and so we must be “doers and not hearers only” of that Word- which is Love! Like Jesus, we must be lovers, of God, of one another, and of the world.
And finally I get to epiphany #2. As my dear friend Jared keeps working out how to be a Jesus-follower and a postmodern too, he has stated that while some engaged in a similar struggle have a commitment to following Jesus no matter what, his first commitment is instead to the search for truth, which reminds me of the axiom that “you can leave God in the search for truth and the truth will lead you back to God.” I think the unspoken question then, in Jared’s case, is will that God finally be the God of the Bible, as fully revealed in the person of Jesus? Jared has also said that part of his motivation for approaching things this way has to do the failings of Modernity. Science has been shown to be a major disappointment, and while “deconstruction is love,” it may be that after we finish deconstructing our religious systems (in this case, Christianity) religion might turn out to be disappointing too. I’m writing about this because I’ve been asking myself Jared’s question: am I committed to following Jesus at the risk of being disappointed by him, or am I committed to searching for the truth, come what may? No- scratch that- that isn’t really my question, because I know in my heart of hearts (where the yearning for Love/Jesus is rooted at the core of my being) that I am committed to following Jesus no matter what. My question for myself is why that is the case. I guess part of the beginning of an answer has to do with the fact that not only can I not handle the Truth/God in all its glory (a la A Few Good Men), but I don’t even really want it so much as I need to be truly loved, and to truly love. I remembered this morning that there is no truth without love, because- echoing Dr. King and one of Circle of Hope’s proverbs- “love without truth lies, and truth without love kills.” So much of postmodernity as I’ve experienced it has been about relationship, and I think the search for truth is no different. I can’t search for truth apart from God, because love- and truth- doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Love is something you do, and this idea has long been my best explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, which as I see it is merely an attempt to understand God’s relationality. So God is love in God’s self because God exists relationally in three parts, but that love isn’t insular. It’s outward focused, which is why ours must be too. Anyway, if love is an event, truth is too. If love is contextual and relational, truth is too. So I’ll follow Jesus, come what may. I may be disappointed (what could be more disappointing than the cross?), but even in the darkness of that disappointment I am sure of what I hope for, which is to say that faith has me (much more than “I have faith”). Like Jesus, I may die, but I will do so in that hope.