As Spring flourishes and different programs and activities begin to approach summer hiatus, it’s good for us to start thinking about what we’re going to do with this quiet time. Perhaps some time with family and good friends? Maybe a vacation to a long-anticipated location?
Among these considerations, we should include a healthy consideration of our spiritual lives. What are some things we can do to grow closer to God?
Of the many options available, let’s not forget a good reading and study of the Bible. While oftentimes avoided by believers, or read piecemeal, the Bible offers us the revelation of God. This revelation could also be called an unveiling, a disclosure, or – in more contemporary language – a sharing, of God’s own unique knowledge of himself to the human family.
With this intimacy, however, there comes some confusion. Oftentimes, when we try to read the Bible, we can approach it with an empirical, post-Enlightenment sense of history, “facts,” and materialism. We can forget that the scientific method is not the only means of knowledge. And so, the Bible’s first lesson is a challenge, namely, that the heart knows truth in ways that the mind knows not.
Or, in other words, there are ways in which the human family can know things beyond experimentation, repetition, and manipulation. There are symbols, figurative language and expressions of truth above mere facts.
Let’s apply this lesson. In the Bible, Genesis, Chapters 1-11, are pre-history. This means that these stories were passed along by oral tradition long before things were written down. They were literally before history. This clarification is important because it should shape how we read this part of the Bible. Namely, these eleven chapters should be approached with a certain flexibility and appreciation of figurative language.
The use of figurative literature is essential to human narratives since it emphasizes a pivotal lesson by using symbolic or exaggerated figures or events in order to stress the importance of a lesson. While such an approach can distress our Western empirical minds, figurative language is born from the human heart and has been with the human family since before history.
An example can help. According to Genesis 6, the nephilim were the giants born from sexual union between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of man.” It’s possible that in the light of the figurative worldview of the ancient world, the human author of this story actually meant giants, angels, and human women.
If this was the case, the author was most likely describing in a language known to him a very human series of events. We suspect that the sons of Seth, who were the children of God as the grandchildren of Adam and Eve, were attracted to the daughters of Cain, who had been removed from the fellowship of the blessed and were considered “of the earth” since he and his descendants no longer shared God’s blessing.
It appears that from such a forbidden union, the children were of incredibly large size, to the point that they were considered a new breed of human beings, namely, the nephilim, or giants.
In approaching this story and the Bible overall, we are invited to understand human events, such as staying true to the blessing of God and being cautious of whom one marries, in a symbolic way and with a morally-inspired language. By calling the offspring of the descendants of Seth and Cain “giants,” the author is showing the consequences of both a compromised faith and a blurred approach to divine ordinances.
In this way, a good reading of the Bible breaks us out of an enclosed mind. It liberates our reason and elevates our faith. It guides us beyond a materialistic understanding of knowledge and helps us to encounter and experience reality in a creative and enriched way.
The Bible, therefore, offers to show us a depth and breadth we would otherwise miss. It’s a horizon we need and one which helps us to flourish as believers and as a Church.