One such conversation addressed angels: how culture perceives them (adorable, winged human babies) is very different from what the Bible tells us about them (depending on the choir, either adult human or formless, multiple faces/heads, long legs, 6 wings, dazzling light, etc.) The bible tells us that humans react to these messengers (which is what the Greek ἄγγελος means) not by reaching out to tickle the baby, but in shock, amazement, fear.
So, obviously, our cultural knowledge here is winning over our biblical knowledge. There are many such examples; yet often we are faced with honest ignorance of what the bible and theologians say about our encounters with God.
This got me thinking about where we get our biblical ‘knowledge’ from, how culture has shaped our perceptions of scripture, and how a simple reading of the scriptures themselves can be shocking in it’s clarity.
So why, then, do we have such different understanding of these things than what the scriptures tell us? Could it be that we would rather read a cultural reference to church/God/biblical experiences than to read the scriptures themselves?
I took some time this week to reflect on how my own reading was divided between the secular and the divine.
Admittedly, as a priest, I tend to spend a decent amount of time reading the scriptures; in praying the daily office and in sermon prep, at the very least. I also try to read something theological every week, check out the blogs offered by my colleagues, etc.
I’m also an avid reader of fiction; in the novels I’ve been reading this week there were a few references to church that didn’t quite match what my experience of church is like. If, however, I didn’t have that experience, I may think the fictitious portrayal to be accurate – and that might lead to that cultural/scriptural divide.
I also realised just how much I read that has no explicit connection to the church/bible/theology. Every day I read the news, I read my emails, I read my social media feeds, I read some of the clickbait to weird and time-wasting stories (the internet really can be this generation’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” story!). I read my novels, I read history, I get sucked into political commentary, I delve environmental reports. When something flashy hits, I want to read more and more details about it – be it a news story, a favourite author’s new book, whatever.
(Yes, I read a lot.)
Yet with all that reading, the forum which received the least attention was the Bible.
This reality shocked me, it saddens me. And it inspires me to change: as a preacher, I should be spending more time with the text of the day/week. As a child of God, I should be doing everything I can to soak up the words of wisdom my Holy Parent has to offer. As a Christian, I should be learning as best I can the lessons of discipleship that Jesus shared.
And so I challenge myself – and you, dear reader – to re-focus our reading this summer (and beyond!) Let’s pick up a commentary or theological text as easily as we pick up a novel; let’s consider a religious blog as easily as an entertainment feed; let’s read and discuss the Good News as easily as we do the news of the day. Let’s read God’s word, listening, learning, inwardly digesting all the goodness that’s waiting for us.