Writing for this blog is far easier than I expected it to be. Whenever I give myself the space to write, I type faster than I can even think (which is usually too fast for me to keep up)! But as a process over time, writing helps refine my thinking, almost endlessly. The more I allow myself to type, the more my ideas are honed. The process never ends.
Unfortunately, while writing has become an effective routine for me, posting — that is, presenting my work to others — has not. If writing is a process of refinement, then it never quite feels like it should be finished. Publishing means that the process is over, and the words have become absolute. And so it is written, and so it is… horrifying.
Ironically, the fundamentalist church taught me to seek comfort in such absolutism. When handed a Bible, I was told that God’s story has ended, and everything that I could ever need to know has been perfectly captured in his Word. It is the manual of life, and though it took countless generations to write, it is now definitively finished, forever.
In a world of immense change, that conclusion can feel quite comforting. But as a writer, and a student of the Bible, I find it disconcerting. Simply ending the story and calling it absolute comes at the cost of a more patient theology… and, perhaps, distorts the Word itself.
The Day the Bible Ended
I’ve heard nearly everyone lament this generation’s demand for instant gratification, but I’ve never heard anyone call out the church for fostering it. How? Through fundamentalism: a demanding theology of institutionalized impatience, through the rejection of all possible nuance of scripture.
Fundamentalism discounts the journey in favor of the destination, desiring the end of all dialogue and demanding definitive answers, for all of humanity, forever. It claims that this is what God intended; but in light of the stories shown in the Bible itself — which reveal a long and winding history of God — the fundamentalist ideal comes across as arrogance, or even hubris.
If this depiction seems unfair to you, take a moment to consider the way that fundamentalist theology treats the beautifully complex history of the Word itself:
First, there was no written word at all. The stories that would eventually be compiled as the Old Testament evolved over a few hundred years of spoken traditions, all inspired by the breath of GOD. That sounds quite definitive — but that was not enough.
When the spoken Word wasn’t enough, God carved out written commandments for all of creation into stone, with bolts of lightning on top of a frickin’ mountain, and had a servant deliver them to his people. GOD CARVED LAW INTO STONE — but that was not enough.
So, hundreds of years after that, God decides to become flesh incarnate. He is perfectly embodied in human form, all to show us the way through the life and actions of Christ, who became the living Word — but that, still, was not enough!!!
Because after that, God comes back to life, and tells his disciples to continue his work and build a church. So they grow that church for decades and decades, and substantiate the Word through epistles, arguments, and impassioned theology — BUT EVEN THAT WAS NOT ENOUGH.
Until finally and magically, in the year 382 AD, a bunch of other dudes sorted through all of this writing and turned some of it into canon, mostly for the benefit of the Roman Empire (who, you may recall, set up that whole crucifixion thing)—
And then around 400 AD, another dude named Jerome translated the totality of the canon, the entire and complete history of God, into one finished Bible. Finally!
And that — cries the fundamentalist — that’s enough.
We did it, guys. The gospel is over. Go home.
The Living, Breathing Word
This foundational idea of fundamentalism is, perhaps, the most myopic moment in the history of theology. It takes thousands of years of a complicated, developing dialogue — generations of psalms and poems, parables and prose, commandments and beatitudes, epistles and arguments, myths and realities, revelations and inspirations — it takes all of this history and then elects to just END IT. FOREVER.
Doesn’t that seem just a bit premature? Just a little impatient, ignorant, or arrogant? If it was God’s intent to end the dialogue, then why show us the story of the Bible at all? Why waste time on revealing the process, when we could just as easily skip to the conclusion?
When you read the Bible’s content without fundamentalist preconceptions on what it is supposed to be, the entire story seems to convey the changing revelations of the divine through time. Even its first two chapters tell of the same event from two differing and conflicting perspectives. Doesn’t that speak volumes on how we should read the rest? Doesn’t that suggest a fundamentalist approach to the Word is a little wonky?
With far less effort, you could read the Bible as a process rather than a finality (neither Jerome nor the Bible itself suggest you can’t). Doing so paints a picture of an infinite and all-knowing being who, for some presumably important reason, continually changes the way he reveals his message to humanity. That doesn’t ruin the story, it empowers it!
The commandments in stone? Not the whole story. The word made flesh, made alive in Christ? Not the whole story. Have you ever read the book of Acts — you know, the one that shows what immediately follows God’s incarnate revelation to humanity? It tells the story of a church in transformation, of apostles emotionally and intellectually hashing out beliefs, trying to understand what they are even supposed to be.
God had JUST been “definitively” revealed (yet again)! And still, they go on developing and refining. Maybe the process — not the conclusion — was exactly what we were supposed to learn.
The Word is alive. And to be alive is to be growing, breathing, changing. The revelation is ongoing; the Word will never end.
Writing the Undying Word
I could have let this post become abandoned in the deep vaults of my hard drive. I know that, tomorrow, I will find an even better way to say what I am trying to say today. I could wait forever for the best and most perfect conclusion to this process, or at least the best way to explain it.
I could have chosen to believe that conclusions are the goal. Instead, I am choosing simply to write, and to continue the story.
I am choosing to become a part of the dialogue, instead of demanding that it be over. I am taking part in a tale that — as many allege of God — has no beginning and no end. I am choosing to let the story continue to change and evolve in form, even against my own preconceptions. I am content to engage on this journey without demanding a destination. I am content with the question, in lieu of the conclusion.
Perhaps this is the sort of faith that the Word was showing us, all along.
Or, perhaps not?
Perhaps we should keep writing.
For further reading, see previous post “To Speak, or not to Speak?“