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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Better than Shakespeare

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, 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 On top of that, there is so much symbolism and inside joking and slang and puns and historical reference...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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Blogger Buffy said...

I think you made some good points here. This is often the problem when people who don't really know the Bible just quote a one-off story as evidence that it's redundant. Really studying the Bible, and understanding the prevailing cultures of the time, which were so different to our own, is both fascinating and illuminating.

May 6, 2008 at 6:36 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

This is agreat word, Missy! Thanks for sharing it :)


May 6, 2008 at 7:07 AM  
Blogger twinklemom said...

Fantastic way of sharing that! It's so true...that if we want to know God; He is a living, breathing relationship and we don't learn everything we want to know in one sitting; We have to take the time to sit down, talk to Him, learn about Him and read His Word and d-e-v-e-l-o-p the relationship.

Our pastor had a fantastic sermon about reading God's Word and this is such a great reminder that making a quick assumption isn't really reading God's word.

May 6, 2008 at 7:42 AM  
Blogger Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

Such a great analogy, Missy. We can never fully comprehend God - He is in so many ways far too complex to be dissected into a neat, human-like package. But we can pray for a hunger for His Word and dig in deep and explore what He reveals to us through Scripture. What more worthy way to spend time than seeking His face and His words?

Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing this today.

May 6, 2008 at 7:47 AM  
Blogger Heather@Mommymonk said...

This was terrific! We are so quick to dismiss anything from Scripture that doesn't make sense or that feels wierd to us. Instead, we should see it an opportunity to seek God and to spend more time digging into His word with the help of great scholars (as you mentioned).

May 6, 2008 at 7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right. God is WAAAAAY smarter than the Bard.

Great post. Thanks for letting God speak through you.

May 6, 2008 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Mocha with Linda said...

Great words of wisdom, Missy!

May 6, 2008 at 8:26 AM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

What you say is so true...I've been studying ancient history with my kiddos and it has really opened my understanding of parts of scripture...when we don't understand something we have to dig bad Oprah didn't do that. :(

May 6, 2008 at 8:39 AM  
Blogger lori said...

This is perhaps the TIMELIEST post of the 13 year old has been "INTO" Shakespeare lately...reading MacBeth and Hamlet...Well, funny thing the language was giving her fits, so we bought "No Fear Shakespeare.." Well, what a light bulb moment!! She got it, every bit, realized that the themes of that day are much like the themes running through our lives....

SO anyway, your reference to the Old Bard made me wonder if there is a DEEPER message for ME...and as God does in my life often, He SHOUTS it out over and over, hitting me over the head...just like today...
Take time with the "tough ones..." they are likely the areas where I need the most growth...

If I do that, then like my Maddie and her Shakespeare, I will walk away with an understanding that I would never know had I not "stuck to it!"

I'm not sure where you ladies keep the hidden cameras, but darn you're good....
this IS the second time in the last week this has happened....God just makes me laugh! He gets my attention!!:)

May 6, 2008 at 8:48 AM  
Blogger Melanie said...

Several things come to mind when I read this-

Yes, we need the Holy Spirit to help us understand.

Parts of the Bible will only be understood after we have accepted Christ and received the Holy Spirit.

Some will still be "a mystery" until we get to Heaven.

We have to read the Bible "in all its parts" meaning that the pieces fit together. Some will say one passage contradicts another when, in fact, when they are read together, they will compliment each other.

Great post!!

May 6, 2008 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Jackie @ Our Moments Our Memories said...

You have a gift for making things clear, that's for sure. Well said, Missy!

May 6, 2008 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Mark & Esthermay Bentley-Goossen said...

Brilliantly written! There just are not enough posts out there with such substance and TRUTH! If only more people could read this and take it seriously to heart and apply it. Job 37:5 says: "God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding." AMEN!

May 6, 2008 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Missy @ It's Almost Naptime said...

Melanie, you are so right. Some things will remain mysteries forever. (I wish I had included that!!)

But sometimes a verse that has confused me for years will suddenly be made clear to me. This just happened recently to me, with passages in Matt 8 and Luke 9, when Jesus says "let the dead bury the dead." That verse always bothered me - it makes Jesus sound kind of mean. Then a couple of weeks ago in church, our pastor explained it, and I had a V8 moment! Aha!

When I come across verses like that, I have to remind myself that I KNOW Jesus is not mean, so if he said it, I must be missing something.

I think too many folks don't have that presupposition that God is good, especially regarding the hard passages.

But I believe God delights in enlightening those who are thirsty for him. So if we find a verse that sticks in our craw, if we pray for him to illuminate it, he usually will!!

May 6, 2008 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Becoming Me said...

I so loved this post Missy. I love how truly studying God's word instead of just rejecting it brings the real answers. I use to have a really hard time with the book of Job. God just seemed so cruel to me in Job for years. But sometime last year after studying it more and hearing more sermons I really began to see God's love through that book and His amazing power.

May 6, 2008 at 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was talking to my son the other day about this very question. There are definitely some head-scratching moments. But, you're right. Good is good and cannot contradict himself. However...we are flawed and can definitely see contradiction where none exists.

I think the problem with commentaries is that we are faced with the question, "Which commentaries do I accept?" I mean, there are a lot of different commentaries by different people who will disagree on the questions that are difficult. If two commentaries on the same passage come to different conclusions they cannot both be right.

Also, I think it’s a little dangerous to assume that what we believe comes from the Holy Spirit individually. I don't think that scripture says that the Holy Spirit is going to give each individual believer 100% correct doctrine...if that were the case than all of us believers would agree about everything!

In the New Testament we see examples of the early Church that Christ built (Matt 16:18) being taught the correct faith by leaders that God raised up in the Church that were sacramentally charged with teaching the truth.

The bible calls the Church the foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15). The apostles and disciples such as Paul and Peter had real authority to answer the difficult questions of faith such as is seen in their judgment on the circumcision question in Acts 15. In the biblical narrative of the life of the early church it wasn't as if Jesus ascended into heaven and just left the individual believers to figure it out for themselves...he left his Church and his apostles (John 20).

- Annabelle

May 6, 2008 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger The SACC Write Sisters said...

So often if we can't understand or comprehend something, we can't accept it. But frankly, who wants to serve and worship a God that isn't smarter or complex than we are. I want to serve a God who is SO BIG that I have trouble comprehending his awesomeness! How about you??

May 6, 2008 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Wonderful post! I love the Sahkespeare analogy. Really insightful. That commentary link was great too. Thanks!

May 6, 2008 at 4:37 PM  
Blogger Alicia said...

I was going to say exactly what Christine said! This was great insight, and the Shakespeare analogy really puts on a level that makes total sense. Thank you! I pray that people will choose option #3 and treat it like Shakespeare!

May 6, 2008 at 5:00 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

Such a great post, bless you.

May 6, 2008 at 6:03 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

This is brilliant, and every believer would do well to commit this object lesson/analogy to memory so that she can be ready to explain in yet another way why she believes the way she does to any inquirer. Awesome, inspired post, Missy.

May 6, 2008 at 6:14 PM  
Blogger windycindy said...

Hello, I am a bit like you and Oprah!
It is very easy to misinterpret the Bible! That is why I take many Bible study classes. It makes me sad when different religions fight constantly because of their differing religious views. So much bloodshed in the name of God/Allan/?. Thanks for your wonderful words.....Cindi

May 6, 2008 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

Great job! This was a very thought provoking post. I love that! I committed this year to read the Old Testament - not something that sounded super exciting at first. I have found it amazing. I bring this up because after reading the Old Testament, I completely understand why God says he is a jealous God. The first and greatest commandment is that we should have NO OTHER GODS before Him. I think it is one of the most broken commandments today. Think about it, we all do it without thinking. Some days we put our priority list before Him, other days we put our sleep ahead. There are many many ways to put other things ahead of God.

When reading in the OT, we see the Israelites constantly put other gods first. They actually erected idols to worship again and again. Just reading it makes me want to yell out at them "Come on guys. Can't you get the big picture?" If I am frustrated, then how must God feel? He is jealous of the time we spend with other people or other things instead of time with Him. He wants to be first. period. That completely makes sense to me.

I think Oprah needs to spend a little more time reading The Word instead of mere words. I think we could all benefit from that. I know I could!

Thanks again for such a great post!
~Carol @ sheep to the right

May 7, 2008 at 9:13 AM  

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