So I have recently, I think maybe the last 2 months now, been reading through the Bible as well as reading through James Kugel’s book “How To Read The Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now”. It has been, I would say, a very challenging and rewarding experience.
I have wanted to try to read through the Bible and try to overcome any pre-existing biases I have towards the text for a very long time… to simply read it as it is without any preconceived ideas towards it. I had tried doing that a few times before, but, to be perfectly honest, it can be hard to pull yourself out of your own biases. I’ve found that by reading through this book and having multiple interpretations and ways of interpreting thrown at me (generally at least 2 per account that he writes about), I am better able to read objectively than if I just try to will myself into being a blank slate.
One of the things I also wanted to do was to read in a way that introduced the smallest possibility of someone else’s bias affecting what I read as well, and so, while ideally I’d be able to read in Hebrew and Greek, I cannot do either, and therefore I chose the English Standard Version (ESV), as it is a literal word for word translation. The other types of translations, for the curious out there, would be thought for thought translations (which are the most common), such as the KJV or NIV, or paraphrases such as The Message. The downside to a thought for thought translation is that translator bias enters into the equation of how they translate… they translate it to say what they believe the text is trying to say. There are advantages as well, and disadvantages to the word for word approach, but, that bias is specifically what I want to avoid.
This process is probably the most elaborate deconstruction of my beliefs that I have entered into thus far in my life. It’s a true no holds barred scenario in which nothing is off the table. I can imagine that some might find that prospect terrifying, as I am essentially telling myself that I know nothing as I evaluate a set of beliefs that I used to know. I do not see it as terrifying though, because no matter what I tell myself about what I believe, something in the core of me tells me that so long as I am honestly seeking the truth, then I will find it. I certainly hope that everyone reading this knows me well enough to know that I am seeking the truth.
One of the words that I’ve encountered a lot thus far in my read through of the Bible (I’m a few chapters into Numbers now) is the word sojourn, or references to sojourners. I like that word. For some reason I just like the way that it sounds. For whatever reason it also fills my head with imagery and subtle hints of further meaning just beyond the word itself. The simple definition of a sojourner is simply someone who stays temporarily in a place. We’ve all been literal sojourners at some point in our lives, I can’t imagine that anyone reading this has never taken a vacation. That said, there is an interesting, I guess dichotomy is the right word, within the pentateuch as it tells us about the Israelites, and about people who are sojourning among them (It very often makes reference to laws that those sojourning amongst the Israelites are also to obey). At this point in time, the Israelites are themselves sojourners, a people without a home, and so everywhere they stay is temporary. So we’re talking about sojourners amongst sojourners. I think that is an interesting way to look at the Church as we interact both with others within the Church and those outside of it.
One of the things that the word sojourner says to me is that this is a person who is, to some degree, alone. It doesn’t mean that they have no interaction with anyone or that they are an island, but that they are on their own specific journey, and while it overlaps at times with that of another, ultimately their journey is their own. Is that meaning literally in the word? No, not at all. But for some reason, when I read the word, I think that.
At this point I’m guessing you can tell the direction I’m going with this. I think that these accounts in the Pentateuch show a picture of our own sojourning, in a spiritual sense. I think that we are all sojourners among sojourners, and that none of us has a place to call home, and so we will simply keep sojourning. We are all at different points in our journey, and none of our journeys are the same. One thing that I refuse to ever say to someone as an argument is to assert that I once believe as they did, and then imply that one day when they mature in their belief they will surely come to see that I am right. Even if I think it’s true in some circumstances, I hate when people do that to me, and it would show a belief on my part that I have arrived, which, I most certainly have not.
There are a lot of Christians out there that I tend to think are mistaken on a lot of things. I love all of them, especially the ones I know personally, and I would never call into question their Christianity. We may sojourn a bit apart from each other for now, but certainly someday we will find ourselves together again, so long as we’re looking for the same thing.
No matter where you sojourn, remember a few things. First, that wherever you are took time, effort, and likely some pain, so be patient with someone who from your perspective seems to be a bit behind. Be kind to your fellow sojourners. No matter where you differ, if you’re both seeking to know the truth, your journeys are in line, you are partners in that quest. Remember that none of us have arrived, we are all likely to be wrong in some aspect of our belief about the truth, so don’t judge anyone for not adhering to some aspect that seems particularly important to you. Leave that to God, as God is the only one fit to do it.
Edit: Oops, I said I was reading a different translation than I actually am. Fixed.