Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Eat This Book

It is Wednesday again, and this week I am still thinking about Amos.  If you caught the post on Monday, you might guess that I am still stinging. Amos is a challenge at every level.  The biggest challenge for me in writing it though was bringing it down to the practical level.  
Melissa and I review each others posts. When I sent her the first draft of the post about Amos she winged it right back to me and asked me to bring it down to earth, make it match our real life.  She pointed out that I had caught Amos' tone (uniformly harsh) but I had let the criticism fly without grounding it in practical changes. We've talked about it a lot lately, how easy it is to read the Bible, the stories and the commandments of God, and put it into language that's easy to ignore. Language that is old fashioned and formal, stories and ideas that don't correct or encourage us.  Instead we read intellectually or with some vaguely righteous feeling as if we'd done something good for us like eating our vegetables.

One of my favorite authors is Eugene Peterson.  He is the paraphraser behind The Message.  Although I would not recommend any paraphrase to a person looking to do serious study, I love it as a daily reading.  He also wrote a book that changed the way I looked at the Bible forever - Eat This Book.

The book takes its name from the stories of John and Ezekiel both of whom as prophets are called to eat a book (Ezekiel 2-3, Revelation 10). It tended to give them a bellyache despite the fact that it tastes good going down. (Amos gave me a belly ache!) Using this and other metaphors including, "taste and see that the Lord is good" and hungering and thirsting for the word of God, Peterson writes about how we read. 

He argues persuasively that the Bible is meant to be read and lived at the same time.  He highlights a number of ways that the we "use" the Bible.  "The danger in all reading is that words be twisted into propaganda or reduced to information, mere tools and data." Peterson says, "We silence the living voice and reduce words to what we can use for convenience and profit" (page 11). He spends much of the book talking about translation and how it hinders or helps the reading of the word of God.

The two volumes really come as a pair.  Eat This Book is the philosophy and The Message is the practicum.  He points out that inspiration for The Message came from his Sunday morning Galatians class.  He struggled and struggled to get them to understand the immediacy of the message to their everyday lives and then decided that it was the words getting in the way. 

I was thinking about this as I tackled Amos.  How offensive would his words really be if a modern minister said them?  VERY!  But I did not think far enough.  I needed to go on and think of what it would look like if I were to heed Amos' warning.  That's what Peterson means.  Reading the words is easy.  A child can do that.  Intellectually understanding the words is not too difficult.  An atheist can do that.  Living out the Word of God is not possible except in the context of the Holy Spirit. 

In complementing passages, James and Paul lay out the problem through the metaphor of a mirror. James says that the Bible student who hears but does not do what the word says is like a man looking in a mirror and walking away without fixing his clothes or his hair.  We will see our reflection in the word of God, what James question is whether or not we are willing to change - to be doers instead of hearers.  Paul brings us in front of that mirror again.  This time as we look in the mirror of the new covenant we are not seeing ourselves, rather we are seeing God. When we see His reflection, His glory, it begins changing us.  His glory becomes glory in us.  We are becoming the image of God.  It's a mystery but it's a mystery that the Holy Spirit is in charge of (James 1:22-25, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Changed and changing, called and responding, hearing and doing, it's the pattern of the Scripture. 

As women we are often translators and paraphrasers of the word.  We teach ladies' Bible classes, tell our children Bible stories and speak the word into the lives of our coworkers.  We have a unique chance to leave the "language of Zion" behind and speak the language of our children and our friends.  Perhaps the first step though, is to read the Bible afresh ourselves: hearing it, living it, and remembering it is the voice of God.  Just try to ignore the belly ache!

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 

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