Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are We Engaging Our Imagination When Reading the Bible?

Recently, I have been reading and rereading the book of Ezekiel for a class on Inductive method of Bible study (IBS)...yes, I know. It is a running joke amongst students as well. But what strikes me is how cinematic Ezekiel's prophesies are--how R rated they are. These passages are meant to engage the imagination!

This statement is certainly true of apocalyptic literature but I believe it is true for much of the rest of the Bible, as well. Since the Israelites had a prohibition against graven images, words took on the role of creating pictures and stirring emotions in the mind of the reader. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we struggle with the Bible today. Our culture is saturated with imagery and we require more prompting to draw rich and colorful landscapes in our imaginations.

Rather than offer up a bunch of my own opinions on our modern culture and the waning imagination (perhaps I will write about that some time in the future), I would rather ask some questions--questions that I have been asking myself lately. 

1. Am I taking sufficient time to engage my imagination in the Bible when I read?

2.What are these characters or writers feeling? What would it be like to be in their shoes? (For example, when reading Psalm 10, do we allow ourselves to become the Psalmist and follow him on his emotional/spiritual journey throughout the psalm?)

3.What descriptive words are being used? And how are the various descriptions working together to build a visual set? (For an example of this read Jeremiah 4:23-27 then leave a comment below about what comes to mind for you.)

4. Am I taking time to visualize what is being said?

5. Will historical, geographical, cultural, etymological study help me here?

These are just a few questions that we could all ask. The important thing to understand here is that the Bible is more than a mere collection of facts, laws, and moral guidelines--most of the Bible is story! Genesis, Exodus, parts of Leviticus, parts of Numbers, parts of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Song of Solomon, the Prophets (if you look at the broad scope), the Gospels and Acts (that's 1/2 the NT right there), and even Revelation are stories (true stories!) with plots and characters, heart aches and joys, fears and courage. Even Paul's letters have stories embedded within them, as scholars like Richard B. Hays has pointed out.

As Christians, we have to understand that the Bible is not just some repository of commands and solutions for our own personal lives, it is an Epic story of God's redemptive plan. It is time that we quit using the Bible like a fortune cookie "verse of the day" (though individual verses can provide us with strength and encouragement). We need to unlock our poetic souls and live and breathe the story. As we engage our minds in study, let us not forget to engage our imaginations (guided by the text and the Spirit of God), stepping beyond analytical reasoning to the let the Word engage our very souls.

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