I find it interesting that, as the Psalmist begins to recount the events of the Hebrew Scriptures telling the history of God’s people found among Israel and Judah that the Psalmist begins by saying “Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2I will open my mouth in a parable; I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.”
Calling the story of Scripture “a parable” is suggestive. This translation draws a parallel between the stories of the holy Scriptures often recorded as “sacred” history and the stories, extended metaphors, and imagery Jesus uses in his teaching ministry. Though I am certain the Hebrew translated “parable” could be rendered in other ways, the fact the translators do so gives us some light on how our relationship with the stories of Scripture ought to be.
Growing up in a very conservative, almost fundamentalist faith, first in an Adventist group in the Adventist “Church of God” movement and then among the theologically conservative charismatics in which my own faith woke up personally, I was exposed to an approach to Scripture which treated these stories – even Adam & Eve with their snake, Jonah with his whale, and Moses with the Red Sea – as literally historically true. I was told that the Bible contained all truth I needed to know to make sense of human history, of nature, and of my life. In those churches very extreme, rigid applications of Scripture were justified based on this idea. If what the Bible says is literally true, we need to follow it as literally as possible.
Yet if Jesus’ parables are our model for how to read Scripture, such an approach does not work. Jesus’ parables are almost to a one not historical accounts but clearly Jesus using stories, rich imagery, and extended metaphor to imagine a world working by a different set of rules, with compassion, mercy, and justice at the center. He constantly tells stories that everyone loves to hear because they are so different from the real world we live, yet they imagine a world as it could be and people as they ought to be. These stories, images, and metaphors are not actually literally true but they awaken us up to the ways in which our lives, our communities, our values both individually and as a society in the literal historical world we live in are out of joint with the rhythm at the center of life which causes life, people, nature, and communities to thrive. Jesus calls this pattern of life “the kingdom of God”, saying it is already with us, within us, around us, and his parables are aimed at helping us begin to see it not with the eyes of flesh but eyes “born” (another metaphor) of spirit.
Read as parables, holy Scripture would not necessarily need to recount literal historical events or be interested in the laws of nature. Instead like Jesus’ stories, the ways in which the story of God’s people found among Israel and Judah and found among the early Christian church are told aren’t focused on getting all the details of history, life, events lined up historically. But, just like parables, they are aimed at being told in a way that shake up our status quo, uncomfortably push us outside of our expectations of how life ought to work, so we can see our lives and world with new eyes. Read as parables, holy Scripture would not necessarily need to recount literal historical events or be interested in the laws of nature. Instead like Jesus’ stories, the ways in which the story of God’s people found among Israel and Judah and found among the early Christian church are told aren’t focused on getting all the details of history, life, events lined up historically. But, just like parables, they are aimed at being told in a way that shake up our status quo, uncomfortably push us outside of our expectations of how life ought to work, so we can see our lives and world with new eyes. Reading Scripture in this way is mystical reading, reading Scripture to help us confront the truths of our own lives, our world, and how meaning exists in them we often fail to see. As we let these stories call into question our assumptions about life, we are forced to change our relationship to how we have always lived. Like Jesus’ parables, if we read Scripture mystically we let it challenge us, shock us, transform us.
That is the role of Scripture.
We are challenged by this Psalm not to cast aside the old, old story as irrelevant but to read it for what it is – an invitation to consider what life looks like when we see its relationship to the rhythm at the heart of existence, a rhythm which believers feel is a heartbeat that echoes due to the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit who is with, in, through, and under all things as the One who breathes life into every creature. We are invited to see ourselves in these stories, and enter a living conversation in which the Sacred One can open our hearts, our eyes, our ears, our mind to a new awareness.
Read in this way, the stories of Scripture are like a floodlight upon our world, helping reveal things hidden in our hearts, our relationships, and communities.
I for one have grown as a person by reading Scripture in this way. I invite you to find yourself in these Sacred stories and let them speak to your life, challenging you to a deeper level of humanity, one centered on compassion, lovingkindness, justice, and deep connection with the One at the center of all things, through whom you can discover a deeper harmony with all living things, all people, and all of creation.
And I ain’t whistling Dixie here,
Your progressive redneck preacher,