NOTE: this is an assingment submission for my Foundational Theology course. I am not sure I will get a good grade but I must admit it is one of my favorite I have written this semester. Enjoy:
Our first entry point into scripture is the completely literal sense of the story being told. From our earliest days we wade into Scripture as we hear the stories of Adam (Gen 2) and Noah (Gen 6-9) and Miriam (Num. 12), and Esther (Es). We begin to “see” the bible come alive, as if we are looking into a window on the world “back then. We can see how these people lived, and were governed, and we can grow in our understanding of how God worked in their world.
But something else happens as we learn these stories; the messages meant for the protagonists in the stories can also be related to our own lives. From Noah we learn that doing God’s will doesn’t always make sense in the eyes of other people (Gen 6). From Esther we learn that we can control our destiny even when we have no political power (Es 5). From Joshua we learn that obedience to God can bring great triumph (Jos 6). We begin to see the scripture stories as a mirror, reflecting the light of truth on our own lives.
As we grow in faith and knowledge, we begin to realize that this window/mirror debate isn’t an either/or proposition, but a both/and banquet. Without understanding the dynamics of the jealousy among Jacob’s sons, we cannot begin to understand how they could have sold off their brother and told their father he had died (Gen 37:33). When we see how Joseph’s being steadfast in faith during great suffering brought him through to better times (Gen 41:41), we can relate that to our own lives. When we see that God can use the jealous rage of the brothers, to His purpose: sending Joseph where he could best serve, we can see how God can write straight with crooked lines in our own circumstances.
We learn that simply to read the story, without trying to understand the “window message” of what the author intended for the people of that time and place we lose meaning, because times and words change. If we only see the story as some historical record of a time gone by we lose the “mirror message” insight into our present day world that may be revealed through deeper reflection.
As our faith matures we yearn for the fuller meaning (sensus plenior) of scripture. We are no longer content with only the surface story, or the inner truth, but we want it all. We want to understand exactly why the human author chose that structure to the story. We want to understand how some parable might relate to contemporary social justice issues that hadn’t even been imagined at the time it was written. This fuels our journey into bible study and from there to hermeneutics, exegesis, theology, philosophy, semantics, and even Hebrew Latin and Greek.
All of these tools are God’s way of drawing the intrepid deeper into the revealed truth contained in the sacred scripture. As we gain insight and experience using the diverse methods of biblical exegesis in our study of scripture we begin to see that there are so many layers of meaning to the stories in scripture. And we can imagine scripture as the place where children can wade and elephants can swim. And we are glad that we have been chosen to be like the elephants, happily swimming, and learning, and growing, and falling in love with the God of truth, light and love.