Note from CM: First of all, I want to commend and thank everyone for one of the best discussions of the Bible and theological issues this week that I’ve ever been part of. This has been most stimulating and encouraging.
Today, as we prepare to look at Greg Boyd’s book, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, I give you one more quote on the nature of Scripture, especially in the light of some of the ways it portrays God and some of the apparently less-than-edifying materials it contains. Lewis’s focus is not on the violent passages such as the conquest, but on the Psalms. But the Psalms raise, in some ways, similar issues. How does God speak through words of humans about God and addressed to God? Words that convey clearly all of our human limitations and foibles? Words that are imperfect and messy; as Lewis says, “untidy and leaky”?
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This is from C.S. Lewis and his book, Reflections on the Psalms.
The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naïvety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not ‘the Word of God’ in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message.
To a human mind this working-up (in a sense imperfectly), this sublimation (incomplete) of human material, seems, no doubt, an untidy and leaky vehicle. We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form— something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table. One can respect, and at moments envy, both the Fundamentalist’s view of the Bible and the Roman Catholic’s view of the Church. But there is one argument which we should beware of using for either position: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best for us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done— especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it.
…Certainly it seems to me that from having had to reach what is really the Voice of God in the cursing Psalms through all the horrible distortions of the human medium, I have gained something I might not have gained from a flawless, ethical exposition. The shadows have indicated (at least to my heart) something more about the light. Nor would I (now) willingly spare from my Bible something in itself so anti-religious as the nihilism of Ecclesiastes. We get there a clear, cold picture of man’s life without God. That statement is itself part of God’s word. We need to have heard it. Even to have assimilated Ecclesiastes and no other book in the Bible would be to have advanced further towards truth than some men do.
• C.S. Lewis