I love literature.
And I don’t mean the latest John Grisham novel. And I don’t mean that crap you see people reading in airports. No offense intended if you read that crap, but it’s not literature – it’s mass-produced sub-par content whose sole purpose is to make some bucks. I mean, good literature. The kind you can read for college courses or book groups. The kind you probably should read more than once. The kind that you don’t take to Half Price Books after you’ve finished reading.
So anyways, some people approach the scriptures with a literary eye. This can be good. These types are prone to ask probing questions about the meaning of certain passages. For example, the literary-minded scripture reader seriously considers the audience to whom a certain book of the Bible was written: they might inquire what the book of Revelation sounded like to those readers for whom it was written, and what images such as “the beast” might convey. They are less prone to look at a passage with strict literalism first; they might instead tend to inquire about what the events in the passage might be saying.
The literary mind can be helpful. But it is also a ready and willing residence for academic and intellectual arrogance. It also lends itself toward a dangerous dualism.
Take Genesis 1-3. The traditional conservative reader interprets the events therein to have happened literally, strictly as they are depicted. The literary-minded reader, however, is less interested in whether or not such a passage actually occurred, but what the passage is saying to its original audience.
The message to the original audience is invaluable. For example, one teacher has described a certain practice of the Pharaohs, in which this man (who was thought to be a god) would conquer a city, then erect a statue of himself in that city, followed by a ceremony in which he symbolically breathed into the statue’s mouth and declared that the statue was in his “image and likeness.” The purpose of the statue was to show that, even in his physical absence, “Pharaoh is king here.” Well, Genesis 1-3 was written by Moses, for those Israelites who had just escaped from Egypt. Such a context would provide a powerful message to these readers: “You are God’s people, and your existence is meant to show the world that He is king over all.” Very cool.
The literary-minded reader will probably stop there. He is not interested in whether or not God actually did form man from dust and breathe breath into his nostrils. The literal occurrence of such an event holds no importance for him.
But that’s no good.
Because, while the message (“God is king and you are meant to show that to the world”) is crucial, so is the event. The physical event, imbued with such spiritual significance reminds us of the marriage of flesh and spirit. It tells, without telling, that God, being spirit, became flesh. It rebukes those who would embrace the spiritual and discard the physical, and vice versa.
Every single event depicted in the scriptures, then, tells of the incarnation of Christ.
And Christ is only significant if He is both physical and spiritual.
And Christ has remained an embodied spirit since the incarnation. He rose, He ate, and He ascended.
If the physical was unimportant, Christ would have floated to heaven without his corporeal shell. But He didn’t. He never left His body behind.
Let us, then, as we read the scriptures, read with a mind to hear the message of Christ’s salvation being spoken in the midst of the letters, stories, poems, histories, parables, and prophecies. But let us not leave His body behind.