As one who has led Bible studies over several years and taught Sunday School, my goal has always been to provide searching, thoughtful reflection on the way to practical applications of faith and divine inspiration.
And I had always assumed that other teachers would at least aspire to do the same.
But apparently not.
I was recently part of a Bible study where the tone – and apparently intention – was quite different.
As the leader asked a series of programmed and predictable questions (literally from the back of the book), I noticed that almost everyone seemed to be looking at each other warily as if they were searching for the ‘right’ answer. And they seemed to share the assumption that there was – and should be – only one ‘right’ answer.
And, above all, that the ‘right’ answer should be comfortable and familiar and should certainly not challenge any of us in our thinking, and definitely not our values, lifestyle or behavior.
And I realized that most ‘Christian questions’ that I hear are like this; they make us and our faith smaller, not larger, more about ourselves and our concerns, and less, usually far less, about any divine destiny for ourselves, our communities and certainly for the world.
In fact I know many ‘Christians’ whose most earnest prayer is not for justice or restoration or healing or even salvation, but for the destruction of the world.
These predictable questions and safe answers bother me for many reasons – they make us lazy and numb, self-righteous and shallow.
We should be ever-flowing and ever-renewing fountains of ‘living waters’ but instead, we are carriers of clichés and slogans.
I’d far rather have ‘Christian questions’ that would keep scholars and thinkers still pondering and provoking further thought, as the Bible has, for thousands of years.
A good question should stir us to look – or even live – beyond our comfort zones – not lock us in them.
A good question should show us, and stir us, to move beyond our familiar, encrusted biases.
If our faith has become reflexive, mechanical or formulaic, it has lost any correlation to anything like a living faith.
Living faith is no formula, no template of self-congratulatory assurances.
Real faith, in every sense, is stepping out, stepping beyond the known, perhaps even the knowable.
Real faith leads us to open, not close, our eyes and hearts. Real faith leads us to the compassion that heals – not just others – but our deepest truest selves as well.
The fossilized ‘faith’ too many of us know and spread, heals, encourages and restores no one. It makes us smaller and certainly less appealing to those who need authentic ‘good news’ when our faith should be making us larger and infinitely irresistible.
As Anne Herbert put it many years ago, the Bible doesn’t say what we think it says, no matter what we think it says.
Somehow, far too many of us have substituted timid, lukewarm agreement for theology, conformity for belief and comfort for discipleship.
Real faith should sharpen our vision so we can recognize – and evoke – and stir into action the many times hidden gifts and attributes of others, as well as our own and use them to heal and restore a visibly aching, broken and bleeding world.
The study Bible that bothers me so much has sterile, predictable questions in the back of the book.
At least it didn’t have proscribed answers.
But I’m sure such a book is out there…