Last weekend, I attended a wedding. The bride and groom asked their guests to register by highlighting their favourite verse in a Bible that they will carry into their new, shared life. A few days later, I sat beside my mother’s hospital bed and read to her from Psalm 121. Her long life has been lived in the shadow of mountains, and her faith has been shaped by the God who is more steadfast and enduring than mountains. At the wedding and the hospital, I marvelled at the power of Scripture to inspire, strengthen and guide. I give thanks for the Bible.
In a previous column (Oct. 23, page 8), I wrote about the “respectful critique” or “hermeneutic of suspicion” that I bring to the sacred Scriptures. I am grateful for readers who have responded, adding to what is a rich conversation. In this column, I offer a balancing principle, for I also come to Scripture with a hermeneutic of hope.
First, though, I need to reiterate that my primary hermeneutic is that of Jesus. When I look at a scripture, when I discuss it with others, when I prepare to preach, I ask, “How does this scripture look through ‘the lens of Jesus’?” I was encouraged by the thoughtful guidance on biblical interpretation provided by our national church. Specifically I am referring to Being a Faithful Church 4 (available online at commonword.ca). Under a title of “Using the Bible in helpful and unhelpful ways,” one principle declares: “The life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus are central, and serve as the critical lens of interpretation that helps us understand all of Scripture.” Amen!
In the same document, we are cautioned to avoid “generalizations without having immersed ourselves in particular texts.” Similarly, “We should not assume that our own context is either static or normative when interpreting the Bible . . . we live in a changing context, and our understandings are partial.” Truly my context is not static. Certainly the norms for a 21st-century Canadian woman are different from the norms of biblical times, and my understandings are partial.
These reflections grew from questions about the Bible’s helpfulness in ethical decisions today. These are not abstract questions. For example, some 2,000 Canadians have elected for medically assisted death in the last two years. Did any of them seek and find support for their actions in the Bible, as they endured such suffering? When family members are faced with complex decisions about medical procedures to prolong the life—or end the misery—of their loved one, can they find direction in the Bible?
Does the Bible have anything to say about the conditions under which a person might seek to end a pregnancy? Or which infertility treatments to seek? Do we find guidance when selecting which methods of birth control we are to use, if any? Which would we avoid for religious reasons? In short, as robust, precious and sacred as we find the Bible to be, we encounter limitations in using it as the sole resource for some ethical decisions.
Nevertheless, we have hope. With the model of Jesus—known in the gospels and living among us today—we can approach Scripture hopefully. Surely hope was operating as the wedding guests lined up and carefully selected a Bible verse. Surely hope was operating as I saw my ailing mother soothed by the words of Scripture that testify to a faithful God. I pray that we may continue to wrestle with the Bible, to listen for God’s voice in the voice of the other, and to be open to the treasures found in the Bible’s rich and varied textures.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.