…the Bible is a lens, and as a lens, it is not the object of belief but a means whereby we see. I do not think being a Christian is primarily about believing. It is not about believing in the lens, but about entering a deepening relationship to that which we see through the lens. It is not about believing in the Bible or the gospels or Christian teachings about Jesus, but about a relationship to the One whom we see through the lens of the Christian tradition as a whole…What matters is not believing in the lens but seeing through the lens.
…religious tradition understood as a lens or pointer to the sacred serves the very important function of mediating the sacred; it is only when it is mistaken as “the thing itself” that it becomes a snare and even idolatrous. (Marcus Borg in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, pp. 239-40, 244)
Borg here touches on a topic about which I often wonder. What should I believe about the Bible? Should I believe in the Bible, not as being the word of God, but in the sense of it almost being a holy object?
I grew up in Caronport, a town built literally around a Bible College. Missionaries would often come to the school and talk about their experiences abroad. Inevitably, as it should, persecution and martyrdom would come up. I have quite a vivid imagination, and as a (scared) young man I would imagine myself in various scenarios of persecution: in one, for example, a group of very foreign uniformed men would insist that I spit on the Bible (or something along those ‘desecration’ lines) or else they would kill me and those with me. As I wrestled with what I would do in such a situation I was torn between, on the one hand, thinking that such an act would be sacrilegious, and on the other, thinking, “Is this book, these printed words, divine? Are these sheets of paper and printed words worth more than a life?” I think it’s a worthwhile question to ask; and, setting aside for the moment the matter of what message my choice would send to my persecutors, the answer is not a given.
Perhaps looking at less volatile example will make the subject less divisive or repulsive: why do I feel hesitant to discard a worn-out Bible? Why would I feel like I might be committing an unforgivable sin if I were to use, for lack of other options, the pages of an old, out-of-use Bible as fire starter?
What is the Bible? Is it holy like the Ark of the Covenant was holy? Must this book be treated with reverence? Must its pages be handled gently? Do the words of God not exist apart from the pages of this book (in its hundred billionth printing)–did they have their beginning in these pages?
I once heard a sermon (from a man whom I respect) in which the preacher held out his Bible and said, repeatedly, “All the answers to life’s questions are in these pages; you got a problem? Go to this book” and so on. I was uncomfortable with this assertion from the start. Are all the answers in this book? Well, insofar as this book points towards Jesus, yes. But even then, does Jesus explain why children die of starvation or abusive parents? or does he answer the questions of science in anything but a roudabout way? My point is not about what the Bible tells us. I bring up the preacher’s sermon because it didn’t sit well with me, because it felt almost as if he thought the Bible was an end, rather than a means, that we should worship this book. I am confident that this was not the preacher’s intention, but I wonder if this isn’t the message that people are hearing and believing (even if only subconsciously).
As much as I disagree with Borg, I think he might be on the mark here. The Bible is not an end, it is a means to Jesus, a pointer to God. And it is in Jesus that we find “the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus may not give us all the answers, but he is the answer. The Bible isn’t.
Perhaps this is heretical, I don’t know; I’m open to correction. But something does not sit well with me with the Bible being the object of our affection.
Beliefs have very little ability to change our lives. One can believe all the right things and remain a jerk, or worse. Saints have been heretical, and people with correct beliefs have been cruel oppressors and brutal persecutors. Rather, the Christian life is about a relationship to the God to whom the tradition [and, therefore, the Bible] points. What matters is the relationship, for it can and does and will transform our lives….
The lens metaphor I have been using…needs to be modified slightly but importantly. Ultimately, I think of the Christian tradition [and also, presumably, the Bible] not simply as a lens, but as a sacrament. A sacrament is a means of grace, a mediator of the sacred. More than a lens through which we see, the tradition is also a sacrament that mediates to us that which we behold. If we let these stories shape our understanding of reality, life, and ourselves, they begin to mediate the life of which they speak and lead us into that life. Within this framework, being Chiristian is not about believing, but about a relationship wih the God who is sacramentally mediated to us through the Christian tradition in a comprehensive sense of the word: the Bible, the gospels, Jesus himself, and the worship and practices of our life together in Christian community. (Ibid., pp. 240, 250)