Literally Literal,It’s Not About You (Or Me)

In the previous post, we began thinking about what constitutes a literal reading of the Bible. One aspect of a literal reading is taking the situation and world view of the original audience into account. The various books of the Bible were written to and by people in a particular time and place.  But this raises a question. If as part of our reading we need to realize the original audience were the primary recipients of the text- the ones for whom the text was written- what does our reading accomplish?   Is there any reason, besides historical interest, to read the Bible? If the Bible was written to others, how can it be the Word of God for us?

What makes the Bible distinctive is that it is not simply a story about some interesting people. In fact the Bible is not primarily a story about interesting people.  Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, Peter, and Paul were all interesting people. But they are, all of them, secondary characters. They are part of the story, but the story is not about them. The main character of the Bible is God.

A literal reading- reading what is in the text- is to read the story of God- who God is and how this God interacts with people. A literal reading is a reading that honors and respects the text for what it is, not what we want it to be.

This is not easy to do. Most of our reading is utilitarian. We read for information that is immediately useful to us. We read to get answers, to solve problems, or to have our opinions and viewpoints confirmed. Most of our reading is about us- our wants, ours needs, our enjoyment.

Reading the Bible demands a different sort of reading.  We read from the edges, the sidelines looking into a larger story. Then we carefully find our way into the story. We look and we learn. We read and learn to recognize some of the  ways God has been at work in the world.  We read the text and learn what faithful living looked like and what it didn’t look like. We take what we have learned from our reading and then lift up our eyes and look out at this world- here and now. We take what we learned about God and step into the next chapter of the story. We step in as bit players in a story that began long before we were born. We have our role, but we are not the star of the show.

This sort of reading is difficult.  It takes practice and attentiveness to lose our self-centered way of reading. But perhaps this reading practice helps us to  lose our self- centered way of living?

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