Recently I watched a seminar on “Reading the Bible Through Other Eyes”. In this conference each of the presenters was asked what the Bible meant to them or how they read it. I found their answers very revealing as to who these people were and how they viewed life. This moved me to want to formulate my own answer to this question. In doing this I have also found that I am formulating my understanding of my art or my calling.
Before summarizing my answer I want to list a number of ways in which I have heard or known people to read the bible or for that matter other literature. This list is in no way meant to be exhaustive, only what I could think of at this time.
Historical - The stories of what has happened in the past are always engaging and educational. I love to be taken back into another time to learn what went on and how people managed in various times. The Bible has much history and is a great source for our understanding of antiquity.
Literature - There are great stories which are told with sheer brilliance of language. These stories become so well known and told that to change them would cause outrage. There are a number of great stories in the Bible which fit into this category.
Self Help Manuel - Answering the questions we have on how to do something is a very basic form of writing. When they are poorly done we languish, when they are written well we can get on with our lives enriched. How to drive, to cook, to stay healthy, to improve ourselves and how to live better are all such works. The Bible is sometimes referred to as a manuel for life, a book that tells us how to live better.
Law Book - These I find to be the most tedious books of all, yet crucial to a well run and civil society. The Bible is no exception, its rules and laws are sometimes the least read chapters, and only quoted when one wants others to do what they want. It is important to have people who know not just the letter of the law but the meaning and overall intent.
Poetic - Poetry is so often lost in our modern society. It is, though, so wonderful. To express clearly and in ways yet spoken the heart and vision of our being is a great gift. The various Psalms and poetry within the Scriptures has carried millions through their darkest hours.
Inspirational - Perhaps this type of a reading or writing is simply a combination of any of the before mentioned writing, but it is what opens us up to different ways of thinking and to move beyond the oftentimes limited views that seem to encumber our everyday living. Much of the Bible has such writing and I have often found great inspiration from her text.
Mythic - There are archtypes and heros, villians and evil on a level that transcends any one time or place. There are characters that define an action or a story that is retold in thousands of different ways and whose name carries the story. The suffering of Job is a clear example. The Bible has many such stories and these and the stories of myth and archtypes are very helpful in our understanding of our souls and psychologies.
Now to the harder part of this exercise; listing the other ways is an easy distraction. I do read the Bible in all of the previously mentioned ways, as I read other poetry, literature, history, etc. Sometimes the Bible is my beacon and then other times another writer or poet will be my hearts delight and star.
What sets out the Bible for me as more than simply a work of literature or an anthology of great writings is something more unique. There is an invitation in Scripture; a stage has been set with great writers, sinners, leaders, everyday folk, and I am called to join them upon the stage. So many great books end and I want more, the Bible brings me onto the stage with these people who are my companions, not in fiction but in a real and mysterious way, and I need to carry the story on. I am not just the reader but part of the authorship. I am not just an observer but a member of the family, clan, and story itself. It is not just a fantasy of mine to imagine myself in the stories but what I do is in fact part of the stories, it is my story and as it is others my life is made one or understood as part of a larger whole of the experience of life here on this small planet. It is not just a book, but the world in which I live, the love I have come to know; the words put into books with varying translations are simply a reflection or image of this reality I have come to know. Just as we are an image of God.