I recently received my Bachelors of Science Degree in Biblical Studies from IWU, and this is part one of two blogs about the experience. This one will be on Spiritual reflections of my degree, and the next one will be a reflection on the academic side.
I was challenged to consider going back to school by my former bosses/pastors of mine (more on this in my next blog). I’ve entertained the idea of a Master’s of Divinity or Theology on and off for some time. I thought a good place to start would be to have a solid understanding and way of studying of The Bible. Below are some concepts and ideas that I have learned over the last two years that have changed the way I read Scripture.
+ Genesis 1-2
There were several creation stories told in various religions of Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamian, etc.. as well as Israel. These creation stories were intended to introduce the reader to their gods/goddesses, to teach how the deity/deities came to being, how humanity came to being, their purpose on earth, and how the gods/goddesses interacted with humanity within their respective religions.
I used to read this story thinking it was about the beginning of time, but now I read it as though Moses is introducing me to God by saying, “Hey Deb, let me tell you all about Yahweh. First, Yahweh is One, there is no other deity. Yahweh is all-powerful. Yahweh can take something that is empty and void and turn it into something which is functional, useful, and beautiful. Yahweh puts perfect order and organization to things. Yahweh interacts with His people by means of relationship. Yahweh entrusts His creation to humanity. Yahweh rules over His creation.” I will never read the creation story the same again.
+Old Testament and Parables
One of the things we discussed in one of my classes was how some Old Testament stories can be seen as parables (i.e. Job and Jonah and possibly Esther). We also talked about how some stories may be elaborations and exaggerations added to the overarching story. For example, Moses led the Israelites to freedom, but there may not have been a parting of the Red Sea. The purpose of doing this was not to lie, but rather, to emphasize to the reader of Yahweh’s power.
This became a very serious crisis of belief for me.
All the arguments I had heard of trying to prove every story in The Bible to be 100% true had been pulled like a rug from under my feet and I felt lost. I became conflicted on the understanding that the moral of the story was what was important versus pondering “if these stories are false, what else is false? Where do we draw the line?”
After about four months of wrestling, I realized the purpose of The Bible was not to be a historical book or a science book, but rather, it’s a theological book. Ironically, what I thought was tearing me apart from God, was the exact thing that was drawing me closer to Him. As I started reading the stories differently, instead of seeing a 1-Dimensional God who was set in black and white stories, I started seeing God’s character come through as very dynamic and complex as He works through humanity’s complicated lives. I’ve come to believe it’s more important I know WHO God is, than to know exactly what He did or didn’t do based on research or science. A parable doesn’t disprove God any more than a true story proves God.
For my final class, we could pick any passage out of The Bible to study and show we knew how to use the skills we had been taught through the rest of schooling. For some odd reason, Ecclesiastes caught my eye.
In Ecclesiastes, we see the phrase, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless. A chase after the wind” repeated. I came to the conclusion that I think the better translation is “Mysterious, mysterious, everything is mysterious, and trying to understand it all is like trying to control the wind.” I like the concept of God and His works being mysterious. I suppose it’s because it places Him back in a place of being bigger than me, where I have to trust God more, and seek after Him more fervently.
+Jesus Died for MY sins
In one of my textbooks (Kenneth Schenck’s “Jesus Is Lord” in my New Testament’s class). The author talked about how we often say things like, “If I was the only person alive, Jesus would still die for my sins.” Now this isn’t entirely theologically unsound, but I was challenged in the fact that often when we think of it this way, we can get lost in my sin vs. your sin controversy. The author spoke that a better illustration is to think of sin as a grenade that has come into our camp and Jesus jumped on it before it went off, which resulted in His death, but saved everyone else. That was a very powerful illustration to me. It made me rethink how we communicate “Jesus defeated sin and death”, as inclusive to all people.
I have become aware of the paradoxes we find in Scripture. I’m absolutely fascinated on statements like “the weak are strong” (II Corinthians 12:9-11), “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), and “foolish things shame the wise” (I Corinthians 1:27). I had never examined these phrases before because… well… It was just church lingo I grew up with. However, now I am fascinated as I realize these are really important thoughts that show us that God’s Kingdom is not of this world.
We can easily read God’s Word today and go from passage to passage without even realizing there are centuries and cultural changes between the two. As a result, we may forget that God’s revelation takes place over time. God was first revealed as Yahweh, but it wasn’t until centuries later when God was revealed as Jesus, and a few decades after that when Yahweh and Jesus are revealed as the Holy Spirit. And even more time passes before the concept of the Trinity is brought together as a concept.
The disciples thought Jesus was sent to earth to overthrow the Roman Empire, sit on an earthly throne, and free them from oppression. Instead, Jesus dies at the hand of the Roman Empire. The disciples were left with a decision to either: go with what they were always taught and find a new messiah to follow, OR they had to rearrange their faith to include a Messiah that died, resurrected, and was part of a Kingdom that had no physical evidence.
In Acts 10, Peter strays from what he’s always been taught in The Law by the testimony of Cornelius and accepts that the Gentiles can be saved as well.
The bottom line is that God is continually revealing Himself throughout history. There are times in my life when I must rearrange what I’ve always been taught, and that doesn’t mean I lose my faith, that I believe that God changes, or that I am shaping Him into what I want Him to be. Instead, it is God revealing Himself to us in a new way and calling us to be more like Him.
The more I learn about God, the less I know about Him. And the less I know about God, the more I learn about Him.
+Wessy vs. Calvy
I started my education argumentative towards Calvinism. Now, I see it as a waste of time and really not an important theological fight at all (possibly worth a discussion but not an argument that divides people). Although, I am still a solid Wesleyan, I’ve come to peace with the fact that there is Scripture that supports Calvinism as well. It is what it is… let’s move on with life.
Here are some other blogs where I wrote about things I had learned in my classes:
Now that I’m done with my degree, I am released from Friday night Discussion Board assignments due dates, Monday night due dates, a ton of reading, the writing of papers, hours of trying to organize my thoughts, and staying up late to get it all done. You would think I’d be excited about this, but honestly, I’m kind of disappointed by it. For the last two years I’ve had a safe theological/Biblical discussion group that was not connected to my denomination, and there was a lot of freedom in searching and conversing openly there. It was a place where healthy, honest, and mature debate took place, and it was a place where we could agree with one another too. My faith has grown astronomically while in school, and now I feel like I’m coming off of a mountaintop into the valley where growth is stagnate and dull. It was a good source of community for me, even if it solely took place over the internet. I miss the environment of school, and I wasn’t expecting this feeling at all, upon my graduation. Don’t get me wrong, graduation was definitely a celebration of accomplishing goals that I never thought I could obtain, and I’m so glad I was able to do what I never thought I could do! I’m just surprised by the sadness that has accompanied it as well.
The truth is: I. miss. school.
I never thought I would ever say that, but I suppose I’ll talk more about that in my next blog.