One of my new readers – Olivia – sent in a wonderful question yesterday. Let me share her question exactly as she submitted it: “I have a Bible passage question I would love for you to help me with: During the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, did Christ actually calm the storm, or did He just go out to the disciples to be with them and help calm their fears? I like to think that He just went out to calm the men–to show that He won’t promise that we won’t have troubles, but that he will always be there to help us become peaceful again. So lovely.”
In order to get at Olivia’s specific question, I thought I would back into my response by putting it into a larger context.
One of the most central aspects of our faith has to do with how we interpret Scripture. Many of us grew up in traditions that taught us there was only one way of reading Scripture: literally. For folks who read Scripture literally, they approach it in a manner much like they read the newspaper. They expect it be contain information that reports just the facts of what happened. In some of their minds, the information either happened exactly the way it was reported and is true; or it did not happen exactly as it was reported and was fabricated.
While a literalist perspective is one way of reading Scripture, I do not believe it is the only way to engage it. In fact, I think it can be extremely dangerous to take our 21st Century, Western-oriented perspective on reporting (i.e. “Just the facts, ma’am”) and assume that’s the way folks intended to write thousands of years ago in a radically different cultural context.
I like to think our spiritual ancestors who told their stories were more sophisticated than we are today and understood how to capture truth and meaning in ways that were far larger than just the facts. Some call such an expansive reading of Scripture a metaphorical reading of Scripture. I like to use a simpler, more down to earth phrase to describe such a reading. I like to use what Marcus Borg called a “more than literal” meaning.
What that means in relation to your question, Olivia, is that instead of reading the story only as a factual account of what happened to the disciples at a particular location on a particular day – I read it as an account of how Jesus’ appeared in the turbulent lives of his disciples and calmed the storms.
And instead of putting all of my time and energy into arguing whether or not “calming” mean a literal cessation of a storm or a “more than literal” introduction of peace into their troubled hearts, I put my time and energy into finding all of those times and places in my life (and in the lives of those whom I serve) where the spirit of Christ has appeared and calmed the stormy waters of our lives. I could give you dozens and dozens of those accounts!
I also appreciated your powerful point – a point often lost in the story – about the fact that storms DO appear in the lives of Jesus’ beloved. Some folks talk in ways that seem to suggest that if we are good or faithful enough, we can avoid storms in our lives entirely. It would be nice if that were true, but I must say that I have yet to meet a single person where that has been the case.
One last order of business for today…
Some of you have asked how you go about submitting questions. The easiest way for you to do that is to post your question as a comment to the blog. I will find your question and respond.
As I conclude today’s entry, I hope you know how blessed I feel to have the opportunity to interact with such thoughtful – soul-filled – readers. I look forward to responding to the next question.
Until then, I ask, “What do you think?” in response to Olivia’s question.