Arguing or nitpicking about the facts of a story be it from the scriptures or elsewhere can detract from the important essence or meaning of the story.
I think of how I have battled with passages in the Bible and with certain “facts”, nasty biblical characters, including God, and horrific stories of plunder and murder.
I think that before we throw up our arms in frustration and disbelief, it is important to clarify our image of God – or if you prefer, determine what are the most important values by which we live our lives. Once we have done that we have a more reliable measure against which we can assess the value and the truth of a story or the problems we are facing.
God’s overarching attribute for me, is his unconditional love. Unconditional as in unreserved, unrestricted, absolute, regardless of who we are, what we believe or do or don’t do. A simple example is the love we have for our children. If they make mistakes along the way and do bad things we continue to love them all the while encouraging the good in them.
This view of God made me question anything that seemed to be unloving or a conditional way of loving by God and/or those he interacted with. If there was a conflict I would ask God to clarify the matter for me so that it made more sense. Inevitably he did.
It might have been that it was not really God’s point of view but the people’s view point of how God would deal with their enemies which they interpreted as God’s enemies as well.
It might have been in a word misinterpreted, as with ‘God loved Jacob but hated Esau’. A better word for hate in this instance would be preferred – and preferred as in for the tasks ahead; tasks Jacob would better handle than Esau.
In the case of the gentile woman whom Jesus told she was not worthy to pick up the crumbs from under the table of the Jews. Undeterred she responded with a clever and humorous remark: “even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs under the table”. Here I choose to see Jesus bantering with her and sharing a joke knowing she could take it. It is inconceivable that Jesus would turn away a seeker, a person in need.
It might have been as J.S. Spong writes in his book “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic”, that not everything should be taken literally but metaphorically. Easy examples are that Jesus didn’t look like a door but that he could open up our understanding about God – or that a word wasn’t a lamp though it could help us see the way ahead more clearly.
Spong writes about the limitation of words. Even the three years of Jesus’ ministry is not able to capture or contain truth in all its extent and complexities. Finite words can never explain something that is infinite and for the most part, mysterious. If a story that contains a truth is fictional does that make that truth, false or worthless? Would this rule apply to Jesus’ parables as well? The world is full of stories some true and some fictional. But they all have the potential to teach us more about life and God.
What I have experienced as insights and blessings from scripture and elsewhere are important in what they have told me about myself, about God, others and the world I live in. The essence of the story, of the parable, of the experience is the pearl of truth waiting to be discovered. It’s not all about the shell, the facts, but the treasure of truth it contains for us personally.
One case in point was my focus on the status of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I didn’t like the way the Catholic Church venerated her and I was stuck on this for many years. There was a blessing waiting for me to experience but I could not get to it because I was constantly arguing my point of view that Mary should not be put on a par with Jesus. This debate was not really with other people but with myself.
One day at a Catholic silent retreat I became aware of what it was that was preventing me from experiencing the hidden blessing of Mary. It wasn’t Mary’s veneration that was the problem, but my jealousy of her importance to Jesus. I felt threatened by her relationship with Jesus because I didn’t believe Jesus could ever love me as he loved his mother.
Thinking about my daughter and son whom I love very much was the key to unlocking the blessing of Mary for me. Suddenly, I could identify with the love relationship Jesus and his mother must have had. My jealousy was transformed into gratitude that they had each other to love and care for. Glad for the bond they shared. Grateful for the unique love-relationship that I have with my daughter and my son, and the many other and different love-relationships I have with my parents, siblings, husband and friends.
This understanding made me realize that I did not have to compete with Jesus’ love for his mother. I could rest assured that I am deeply and uniquely loved by that same depth of God’s love as evidence in Jesus’ life. My dilemma with Mary faded away. I can now look upon her relationship with Jesus with joy and thanksgiving.
The enduring truth is that I am uniquely loved by God … and so is every other person on the planet – vibrantly, uniquely and assuredly. Stories and experiences can be the vehicles to speak to us about truth. In the long run it is not the details, the variance of interpretation or dogmatically held beliefs that are of importance but the truth they contain that are of lasting benefit and blessing to us.
I hope we can engage in sharing the blessings of the deeper truths of a story rather than argue its facts as we see it.