Friday, August 21, 2009

Reading the Word with Liza Hamilton, Part 1

I love the Dickensian depiction of the "dour Presbyterian" Liza Hamilton in Steinbeck's East of Eden: "Her head was small and round and it held small round convictions...She had a code of morals that pinned down and beat the brains out of nearly everything that was pleasant to do".

Throughout the novel, Steinbeck is determined to bury her simple fundamentalism by the burgeoning free-spirited, individualism of her husband Samuel, his friend Lee, and their curious reading of Genesis 4. Samuel remarks, "Give me a used Bible and I will, I think, be able to tell you about a man by the places that are edged with the dirt of seeking fingers. Liza wears a Bible down evenly." This begs the question, Who's reading their Bible rightly? The seeking fingers or the even wearing?

Ultimately, there is room at the hermeneutical table for both readers. The Word is relevant and timely, answering burning questions of burdened fingers. If I cannot approach the Word with my aches and fears and joys to whom else may I go? It has the words of life.

Contra Steinbeck, however, it is not the only way or even the best way to read. To paraphrase Newbigin, the Bible does not have answers to all our inquiries because more often than not we are asking stupid questions. Our reading and preaching today has joyfully joined the ranks of Samuel and Lee, hungry for individualistic, therapeutic, myopic tidbits. This Sunday morning snackfood energizes us for another week of living within our own story, the one untarnished and uninterested by the one in Scripture.

Joining Liza in evenly wearing our Bibles is crucial. What breaks to the fore from Genesis to Revelation are not anecdotes for our ailments but the thundering story of God gaining glory for himself by redeeming a people and recreating a world. And we are guests on that sacred ground.

1 comment:

John Paulling said...

Great post, David. I love it when readers have different takes on a character in a story than the author of the story does. At the very least it proves that the writer has learned to create authentic 3 dimensional characters. That is quite a feat!

I wonder how we would begin to ask better questions of the Bible. This hearkens back to our year long conversation about presuppositions. Would the answer be to read the Bible more evenly and thereby end up asking the same questions the Bible is asking and trying to answer?