Second in a series started on my old blog to be finished here.
Texts do different things. And because they do different things, they have different characteristics. The stop sign around the corner from my house only works if it is not open to interpretation.It always comes in the same shape, size, font and color. We don’t want anything subject to the whims of the reader. This text needs to be reduced to one meaning and one meaning only.
The thing about a stop sign, though, is that I never imagine a person behind the text.I don’t think of an author or it doesn’t make me ponder the meaning of my life in relation to the person who authorized it. I doubt this is a maxim related to texts, but their might be some sort of correlation here–the more reducible a text, the less relational it is.
So, I’m thinking that a text designed for relationship, especially a relationship over time and space, has to be more porous to meaning than a stop sign.And this might especially be true if a text were hoping to serve relationships across time and space. In other words, certain texts have the ability to communicate beyond their immediate circumstances. My grocery list from Monday is a perishable text and fairly reducible in meaning. No one will be reading it tomorrow, much less 2000 years from now, even though as grocery lists go it’s a pretty good one. For a text to continue to speak to new audiences, it has to be fairly open or porous to meaning. And this might especially be true if the relationship to be secured by the text has as its subject a non-reducible subject. Like God.
Now, its conceivable that a text speaking for God might serve the same kind of purpose as a stop sign–to get people to obey certain signs.Then we might want a reducible text. But if the text speaking for God was primarily interested in sustaining across time and space relationship with a holy God, a non-reducible God, then that text might have to be fairly porous, open, interpretable, relational, or dynamic in its capacity to make meanings.
I would submit that this is what we have with the Bible: a non-reducible text in the service of relationship with a holy God.
This is not, however, how many of us have been taught to regard or use or study the Bible. Ironically, we have thought that for it to speak for God it has to be reducible to one meaning, to one interpretation. We think it has to be like a stop sign. I have a spate of books on my bookshelf dedicated to the pursuit of making the Bible hold still. I think this says more about us, particularly those of us conditioned by the modern story of human mastery, than it does about the Bible.
So, I’m trying to rethink all of this without overreacting, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, without reducing things to an either/or approach. Stay tuned.