I like it when I discover that I’m wrong about things, or when I find out unexpected things about people or subjects I previously thought I was well-informed about. For instance, my degree was music and my thesis was on comparative recordings of the Elgar cello concerto. I therefore thought I knew Elgar pretty well and so had great pleasure in discovering, years later, that Elgar was a keen amateur chemist who had a lab in his basement and did experiments in between composing and was obsessed with finding new formulations for soap.
I love finding interesting new snippets like that! New angles on things you think you know often come with parenthood and the perspective of a fresh pair of young eyes. When reading traditional tales with my daughters, one asked me whether the fairy godmother had checked whether Cinderella already had a boyfriend among the servants before setting her up with the prince. I had to confess I didn’t know.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that many people outside the Church or on the periphery aren’t that familiar with scripture and the stories we know so well – or think we do. I can’t help thinking that they sometimes have the advantage over us in this respect. How about putting yourself in their shoes? Imagine for a moment that you’ve never heard a particular Bible story before. What might strike you as odd or unlikely? What questions should you be asking? Have you actually read this story recently, and is there any context either side of the passage which puts a different slant on things?
I thought I knew what the Bible had to say about marriage, until my youngest daughter pointed out some bits which were a bit awkward (she has a habit of finding those kinds of passages!) ”Why did David have lots of wives?” she asked, noticing the end of 1 Samuel 25. This is where Abigail agrees to become David’s wife, but my mini-Bible scholar noticed that Ahinoam also became David’s wife and Saul’s daughter Michal had previously been David’s wife but was taken off him by Saul to be given to Palti. As my daughter commented, “How come she could be just given to someone else if she was already married to David? This is weird!”
Isn’t it great to be made to engage with Scripture that way? This is why Bible study is important for all of us who are followers of Christ, and one reason I support the BigBible project so enthusiastically. I must admit that nobody I’ve read here has been anywhere near as tricksy as my daughter, though (so maybe I should get her to write next months, eh?). It’s also part of ‘being Church’ to use each others’ eyes and insights on Scripture and allowing ourselves to be challenged by different ways of engaging with God’s word. That is not to say we should be seeking an argument for the sake of it, but rather that by opening our ears to different voices and to reading the actual Bible itself to check it says what we think it does, we allow our faith to be moulded by what the Spirit says to us through Scripture and through each other.
I leave the last word to St. Paul who wrote in Romans 15about Scripture being a force for unity and hope rather than division. In his case, he applies it to Jews and Gentiles, learning how to be Church alongside and with each other:
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”