Understanding what it is that we are Reading

As soon as we move out of our comfort zone then we risk becoming uncomfortable. That is obvious and yet it takes us by surprise no matter how certain we are that it is going to happen. We are capable of failing to anticipate and expect the unexpected. In the Bible, revelation and truth tends to be revealed to those who are completely out of anything which could ever be described as comfort zone.

This creates a disconnect between the reader who imagines that religious faith means comfort and safety and material which comes out of situations and experiences of great danger and deep fear and anxiety.

The Bible is filled with passages and material which challenge us because they make no sense to us. And the important thing to grasp here is that they make no sense to us. It is not necessarily that they make no sense at all.

When we begin to look at studies of other religious traditions including those which are evident in the same general area as Hebrew religion and scripture had its birth then it is possible to draw parallels and begin to draw at least preliminary conclusions. There is precious little within the framework of traditional Reformed church life which is likely to cast helpful light onto any quest to understand the more challenging and dream-like passages from the Old Testament simply because much of our theology places the whole emphasis on dogmatic belief and orthodoxy as opposed to direct experience of the divine.

We recently looked at, among others, these passages from the Old Testament.

Genesis 28: 10-19

Jacob left Beer-Sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

Genesis 22: 1-19

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

Exodus 3: 1-6; 4: 1-9

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’“ The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail” —so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand— “so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back into your cloak” —so he put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored like the rest of his body— “If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

We also watched the videos which are embedded below in the order in which they appear in this post. The intention behind juxtapositioning the biblical texts and the video clips was to suggest to people that it is possible to begin to understand what is going on in the Old Testament by seeing it all from the perspective of what may be similar religious rites, experiences, attitudes, purposes and expectations from other contemporary and ancient traditions.

None of this is an invitation to experiment with spiritual medicine nor is it a denial of the truth or reliability of anything we are reading. It does not speak to the whole of the Old or New Testament. It has nothing whatsoever for instance at this stage to say to the miracle narratives in the gospels. This is actually a way into understanding and accepting the truth of what we could not accept before. What we are doing is trying to understand and recognise the kind of literature we are reading. Is it simple, primitive, story? Is it myth? Is it the account of a dream or vision? Is it narrative history and description of historical, empirical truth?

Expansion of consciousness is not a journey into fiction. It is a deeper delving into truth. Consciousness simply means awareness. That is clearly the Old Testament view as can be seen in the Jacob’s dream narrative in which the dream or vision in the vehicle through which the truth and divine will is transmitted.

I touched on this in a very simple sermon on Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28: 10-19) recently. The link is here.

 

Myths, Shamans and Seers, Phil Borges

 

Ayahuasca, Visions of Jungle Medicine, Adam Oliver Brown

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