Through a Glass, Darkly

Christianity and The Bible today are the evolutionary result of their very human history. Some say they are divinely inspired and that the latter is the “word of God” but, speaking only for myself, I have to say, “I don’t understand.”

What I read are contradictory statements not just between Old and New Testaments, but between books in just the New Testament.

And you don’t have to drive far in the Bible belt to see ample evidence of differing interpretations of what the book common to them all says.

I conclude I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand.

For some time now I’ve been on a quest with the admittedly impossible task of finding the real Christ, the real Jesus and, in particular, his real teachings. I’ve read The Bible, various translations and interpretations — The Message is, I will note, most enjoyable — and studied several study guides. I’ve sampled churches and apologetic writings all over the theological map.

And, of late, I’ve been looking at some of the recently discovered documents such as The Gospel of Mary through the analysis by Karen L. King who presents not only a translation and commentary on the fragmentary work, but also puts it into perspective with various books in The Bible as well as other works that were also excluded from The Bible.

And she makes a very convincing case that these other works reveal early Christianity as something that evolved over a great deal of time — in my mind’s eye I see a pot of stew on the stove, bubbling and churning — before the set of beliefs and practices we know today were codified, solidified, and ultimately given the official sanction as “correct” Christian beliefs.

The original vegetables and pieces of meat that were cut up and put into that pot have gone through considerable change as they transformed from raw ingredients into the tasty but varied stew we have today.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

The so-called Gnostics, which Ms. King is clear to point out never heard that term much less applied it to themselves or their manner of belief, said that to find God, you must look inside and that what each person finds will be a very personal, and possibly unique, answer.

There are a few individuals I know that speak of having a “personal relationship”. Sometimes they say it is with Jesus, sometimes they say God. But I think that some of those early Christians in what we call the Gnostic camp would have understood and agreed. What that “personal relationship” embodies is a connectedness with something much greater. And it also include a disconnection from the day-to-day churnings of life. That is (I think) what the so-called Gnostics sought.

At best, The Bible is a guide book which, to be successful, must appeal to a wide audience. It offers different things for consideration by different people just as a travel guide lists different tourist sights, different restaurants, and different walking tours. Not everything is for everyone.

So I will put down the books for a while and, instead, enjoy the sights while I do the work that appears, often by design not my own, before me.

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