Volume 4, Issue 6, April 1996


One of the most dangerous pitfalls for readers of the Bible and for those wishing to live Christian lives, is to believe that there can be only one interpretation to each verse or passage of Scripture. This assumption is not only erroneous, but it is also one of the basic causes for the lack of unity that has plagued the church through the centuries, and is the direct source for so much denominational fragmentation today.

Recognition of scholarship and the fact of different levels or types of interpretation allows us to see broader horizons and more profound truths in the Bible, and keeps us from placing our minds in a hermeneutical strait jacket.

The presupposition that Bible passages can have more than one valid interpretation is useful in appreciating the Bible and in applying many of its truths to our own lives.

Let's look at the first two verses in the Bible. In Genesis we read: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters."

Join me in my progressive discoveries about these words.

First of all, I imagined myself as existing at that time, in fact, before the beginning of time. There was no history of humankind from which to learn. There was no tradition. It was impossible to say:
"It has always been done that way." Everything was new. I must confess this to be an entertaining fantasy.

My second ideation was that we can't go back in time to what has happened. However, history is what the dead say to the living. If we can't go back to Genesis, maybe we can bring Genesis forward to 1996. We can imagine what might happen.

A word that comes to my mind now is rebirth. The days in which we live are in convulsion. A new kind of world is struggling to be born. Familiar patterns of living are breaking up. New patterns aren't clear. There is a lot of fear and despair around. But, to some the times are exciting as we think of the possibilities for the future. We are "in the midst of unfolding", as the poet exclaimed.

Rebirth, in this case, has nothing to do with optimism; it has to do with hope - a profoundly religious hope. There are dimensions of the world that cannot be measured by statistics. The creative wind that swept over the waters of Genesis may be symbolized in our time in a period of resurrection. The human psyche for resurrection is great: for aliveness, wakefulness, awareness, and rebirth.

Are not Christians in a period of resurrection? The church as we have known it is dead. The divine reality of creation is moving not only upon the face of the waters, but in the hearts of humankind. There are those who are discovering the new creation, who are more experimental about life, and less rigid, less political, less partisan, less afraid.

The new beginning has to be apolitical, more mature and creative. We are learning that moralism kills the church. It quenches the spirit. This a time for "doing" the truth. Our actions must conform to our Christian standards. Christian life is a matter of character, but of character moved by concern. Christians, "doing the truth", is conduct motivated by compassion. The church, if it is to be resurrected, cannot be reborn without experiencing concern for the world. Christians are called to be socially responsible.

Such responsibility for the world in all its social, economic, and political problems belongs to the very heartbeat of the Christian gospel. Today the church that has nothing to offer civilizations in peril of death has no gospel. The church that does not care about God's creatures and creation is not Christian. The church without a gospel for society is simply sham.

The test of our Christian religion is not whether it is credible, but liveable; not do people believe in it, but do they live it? Christianity is a way of life.

Our difficulty is not so much a lack of knowledge of what is right and wrong to do and to be, but lack of courage to live what we know to be right and best. We are afraid to live love.

When I was a boy, during the summer holidays, some of us would pedal our bicycles over to the swimming hole in the Thames River at the 16th Line. Someone had tied a length of hay fork rope to a high limb of a large tree that hung out over the water. The bravest of us would swing out on this rope over the water, let go, and drop into the swimming hole. We'd come out cool, refreshed, exhilarated, and eager to repeat the adventure.

Not everyone is willing to be daring and take the adventurous swing out over the water hole. They prefer to wade around in the mud of the shallows.

Today we are being challenged to live experimentally, to catch the spirit of discovery and exploration and rebirth. It is a time to test the meaning of the words of T.S. Eliot in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: "And, indeed, there will be time/ To wonder, `Do I dare?' and `Do I dare?'.../ Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?"

There is a great discovery awaiting those who choose to live and enact their moral values in the day-by-day life of the community and world. They will not be in opposition to the rest, only conscious of what is right and needed. Nobody wants children going hungry, people living in poverty, inadequate housing and medical care. Nobody wants violence. So why not explore the immense possibilities in living love, sharing generously with one another in our needs, exercise our values without selfishness, affirm life, and spread hope for the new world.

St. John in his Book of Revelation, chapter 21, states: "See! The home of God is with men, and he will live among them. They shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death shall be no more, and never again shall there be sorrow or crying or pain. For all these things are past and gone. . . . See, I am making all things new!"

Let the wind from God sweep over the face of the waters.

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"Religion NOW" is published in limited edition by the Rev. Ross E. Readhead, B.A., B.D., Certificate of Corrections, McMaster University, in the interest of furthering knowledge and participation in religion. Dialogue is invited and welcomed.