Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Better than Shakespeare

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There is an email circling around, perhaps you have gotten it. It includes a youtube link to Oprah's new book study, where she discusses why she rejected the Church. You can watch the video here. This is her quote:

"Then (the pastor) said, 'The Lord thy God is a jealous God, and I was...caught up in the rapture of that moment, until he said 'jealous'. And, something struck me. I was...about 27 or 28...and I was thinking, God is all, God is omnipresent and God's also jealous? God is jealous of me? And something about that didn't feel right in my spirit, because I believe that God is love and that God is in all things and so that's when the search for something more than doctrine started to stir within me."

Oprah and I (believe it or not) have a little something in common.

Sometimes I read a verse in the bible, and I, too, am "struck". Sometimes something doesn't sit right with me. Sometimes it seems to contradict what I believe I know about the nature of God.

Does that ever happen to you?

So, what do we do when this happens? Well, we have some choices.

  • We can decide that God must be bad, and reject him.
  • We can decide that the Bible must be flawed, and reject it.
  • Or, we can treat it like Shakespeare.
Let me explain. I was an English major in college, so I studied a bit of Shakespeare. You have probably also read a play or two, even if it was eons ago. What do you remember about it?

Most of us would say, "I remember it was hard." I liked the Bard, and I still thought it was hard. The more I studied it, the more complex I found it to be. For starters, his plays reflect a culture that is virtually nothing like our own. (A professor once told me that the political satire A Comedy of Errors was as difficult to comprehend as a Saturday Night Live script would be, if found 2,000 years from now.) And then, there is the language barrier. Because it's in English, but...you know. Not our English. On top of that, there is so much symbolism and inside joking and slang and puns and historical reference...

Shakespeare's hard. And if you want to really appreciate his words, you have to study them. If you just pick up Hamlet and read it, you will get something out of it, no doubt. However, I wager there will be quite a few head-scratching moments. You might just skim over those hard parts. Or, like many a high school student, you might throw the book against the wall and, petulantly, declare it stupid.

Maybe you would then choose a simpler book, one where you weren't so challenged, one that closer matched your world view.

But, if you take a class on Shakespeare, you will discover what a genius he was. Learn a little about his culture, and you might laugh out loud at some of those jokes. Intently study his words, by consulting the minds of those who are experts on him, and you might be moved to tears by the beauty of his poetry.

Shakespeare was a smart guy, and his writings deserve a little brainpower to be truly appreciated.

God is much, much smarter than Shakespeare...and his writings deserve a little brainpower too.

The bible was written in a different language, in a culture opposite from our own, amidst a historical and political climate way beyond our experience. And the author is a Being so much different from us, whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and whose ways are not our ways.

When we read it, there are guaranteed to be some head-scratching moments.

If we really want to understand what God meant with a hard saying like, "I am a jealous God", we can study it. We can find commentaries written by brilliant women and men who have devoted their lives to figuring this stuff out, like this one, for instance.

We could humble ourselves to confess that, ahem. We don't know everything. Not about Shakespeare, and certainly not about God. We are limited creatures, with limited intellect and perspective, who frequently can and will be flat out stumped by the Creator of the universe.

We can remind ourselves that God is good, and if something we read in his Word seems to contradict that, then we need to study it and study it until it does, as Oprah said, 'feel right in our spirit.'

And most of all, we can appeal to the Holy Spirit to clear our minds of the lies and confusion from the world and reveal the beauty and clarity of the Word to us. And here's the best part - we are assured that he will answer this prayer! For that is his job:

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 14:26

What's your choice?

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