a magical moment at the desert retreat house
I was watching CNN's "24-hour news coverage" of the plane crash in San Francisco a few days ago; and I thought to myself, "This is news as "reality TV." Every detail was meticulously reported including live pictures and incessant interviews of an event "as it happens." The 24-hour news shows are designed to make people feel that they are actually there at the scene observing what is really going on, nothing left to one's imagination.
I sometimes wonder if this 24-hour "reality news" phenomenon influences the way people understand biblical stories. My guess is that it does.
The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are replete with stories of various events that supposedly happened at some time in history. There are hundreds of "news-like"stories: God creates the world in 7 days; Noah builds an ark; Moses parts the waters of the Red Sea so that the Hebrews can be free from slavery; Jesus walks on water; Jesus cures the blind man, Jesus feeds 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish.
It seems to me that many people (including lots of preachers) think of these stories as a CNN news report - an account of a real event that actually happened at a particular time in history.
My guess is that most if not all the stories in the Bible didn't actually happen as they are told, and truth be told, I am glad they didn't happen that way. I want them to be something more than documentary reports of actual historical events.
When you read the Bible with a "CNN mentality," you think, "Wow, God really acted powerfully back then; but not so much anymore." After all, who among us has ever seen a sea parted or an ark sailing over the flooded earth? Who among us has ever seen someone walk on water or feed a multitude of people with a paltry little handful of food?
If you think about it, it seems like it would be rather easy to have faith if you lived in biblical times with all those magical, mystical, and wondrous acts taking place; but a lot harder today when none of that stuff seems to be happening.
As I see it, the biblical stories are always metaphorical to some degree and should never be viewed from a CNN mentality.
In understanding the biblical stories as "metaphor," they become our stories. God abides today as God abided in the past. The Red Sea parts as people continue to be freed from slavery. Trusting in God and relying on one another allows us to live in extraordinary ways - we can walk on water. When people share what they have, even the paltry becomes abundant.
In her book, Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass recounts an interesting anecdote about a retired Episcopal bishop who was questioned as to whether or not he believed that Christ "really" was resurrected from the dead. The questioner was obviously attempting to grill the bishop on his orthodoxy (did he believe that the "once-dead" Jesus walked out of a tomb on that Easter Sunday morning?).
Having been asked the question, the bishop didn't miss a beat in offering a reply: "Of course I believe in the resurrection, I have seen it too many times not to believe it."
This is a man who truly understands what the stories in the Bible are really all about.