Wouldn’t it be great if there was a reduced Bible company? You know, like the Reduced Shakespeare Company, but performing shortened and hilarious versions of books of the Bible? It was this thought that led me to today’s experiment (not on Psalms, that’s tomorrow; I was getting a little ahead of myself) on 1 Samuel 1-5.

After all, this is a busy world, who has time to read actual scripture? What we all need is nice little summary, someone else can put in the hours. In fact, perhaps this is where I can make my fortune: the condensed Bible! I’ll call it ‘the Bible lite’, or the electronic version; the i-ble.

Actually, I think it already exists, and it’s a rubbish idea. If you shorten it you take out the poetry and probably a lot of the prophecy, just keep the stuff in that makes ‘the story’ flow. I bet a lot of the women’s stories get axed as a consequence! So, don’t take this too seriously (as opposed to all other posts, which are gravely serious), but here’s my reduced 1 Samuel 1-5, for your enjoyment:

Chapter 1: Hannah wants a child she prays to God and gets one; enter Samuel future Nazarite.

Chapter 2: Hannah sings; Eli’s (the high priest) sons are naughty; God gets angry; Samuel grows.

Chapter 3: Samuel hears voices and it turns out it’s God; phew! But God’s going to kill Eli’s entire family; not so phew!

Chapter 4: Israel goes to war, the ark of the covenant is captured, Eli and his son’s die (big surprise) but their daughter in law gives birth; every cloud has a silver lining?

Chapter 5: The Philistines have the ark, but discover it comes with a large helping of terror and tumours. After passing it around to various unwilling cities, they soon decide it’s not worth the trouble.

So there you go, that’s it in a nutshell, no need to read it yourself now, if there? Well, okay, it doesn’t quite capture the feel of the whole text…

This was an interesting experiment. It feels a bit like a task out a textbook in school ‘read the first five chapters and then briefly summarise…’ It was amusing, and I’m all for Bible reading being fun but it felt a bit mechanical and that’s not really what reading the Bible is about is it? This exercise shows me that just knowing what it says isn’t enough. The feeling I got with this experiment in contrast to the one in my (very long) last post, where I wrote the whole thing out as a story, is markedly different. I feel sort of flippant about the first five chapters of Samuel, whereas I felt so emotionally engaged with the story of Joseph. So it’s not enough just to read, or just to regurgitate. The reading requires something of you, asks you to invest and to empathise.

Today’s experiment seems to have kept these stories distant and their protagonists imaginary. Perhaps a better way to do something like this would be to give each actor a sentence to say. Hannah’s might be “I have made a blessing into a sacrifice and so I have been more blessed” (see 2:18-21), or Samuel might say “How is it that I hear God? Who am I and what does he want with me?” Instantly I feel more engaged and I hear God speaking through these lives.

The Bible is a book about people. What an obvious thing to say, yet it seems to me like a revelation. It is a book, of course, about God, but all is expressed through the words, the lives, the experiences of people. It shows a glimpse of the Almighty, but it also shows us the breadth of humanity. And I, in my humanity, am discovering a new way to be with the Bible. There are so many voices in these texts, waiting to be heard. Perhaps this has a wider meaning.

We wait for the voice of God to speak to us like he does to Samuel; loud and clear and from the sky. But perhaps he is always speaking to us through the lives and voices of others, just as these lives written down in the Bible speak to us. Perhaps if we paid attention, we’d hear him everywhere…

Right? Wrong! (Job 15-16)

December 16, 2010

Eliphaz and Job do not see eye to eye in chapters 15-16. No change there then. What they do share, however is a need to be right. Both want the other to see their point of view, so neither is heard.

I find the defensiveness of these men’s language so striking. “Are you the firstborn of the human race?” snipes Eliphaz at his friend who he sees as turning away from God through his complaint. “miserable comforters are you all” Job tells his friends. He’s got a point too. Is it ever appropriate to tell your grieving friend that he is choosing “the tongue of the crafty” and give him a lecture on what God does to the wicked? (15:17-35). 

If there’s anything this book is teaching me about it’s empathy. Much of what Job says seems incredibly dramatic and even self-indulgent. Some of it is, I must admit, difficult to understand at all. But then there are moments when his words reveal utter desolation, such as 16:6: “If I speak, my pain is not assuaged,  and if I forbear, how much of it leaves me? ” He can find no comfort, no catharsis, he can only keep expressing, keep going over the events that have rendered him hopeless and led him to question the God to whom he was so devoted.

But what’s this? Right at the end of chapter 16 Job seems to suggest that he has hope in heaven yet:  “Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high.” Somewhere inside, through all of his ranting about what God has done to him, there is a glimmer of the promise that this same God will be his justifier, his redeemer even? It’s quite a surprise after narrative of abandonment and/or abuse that’s been running for quite a while. A pleasant surprise too.

In order to see these things, both the hopelessness and the flicker of light,  I had to give Job my attention. Although I am beginning to feel like I’m reading the same arguments over and over, I had to try to treat this chapter as a new start, where I could find something different. I ask myself what I would be like as a friend, a sister, a wife, a daughter, a worker, if I paid this same sensitive attention to those around me. If I let empathy arise in me but at the same time looked for hope.

I know that in Job there are more than just relationship dynamics going on. This book gives us great philosophical and theological debate. But sometimes we get too much into the head stuff, too much into the abstract and we neglect the practical, the compassionate, the now. So I promise I will speak about other things in my posts about Job (there’s plenty more to come) but I just keep thinking more and more about ways of relating. Perhaps it’s something that needs hammering home in me. I do looove to be right. And I also looove to share my opinions, as you may have noticed. But I hope I love to be a good friend, a good listener more. Does the world need more words? Probably not. Does the world need more empathy and hope? I’m gona say yes!

What if we all listened and watched for hope once today when we would usually jump in with our learned opinion? It would be an interesting experiment at least…

I shall leave you with a quotation that I found on my friend’s facebook page, of all things. Doesn’t say who it’s from, perhaps it her own:

“From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring. The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard. But doubts and loves dig up the world like a mole, a plough”