Downsampling the Word

In Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) cannot get the image of the Devil’s Tower out of his mind. At the dinner table, maddened by this new obsession, he recreates the mountain in mashed potato. Finally, he notices the distress of his family, but he comments, through some tears, “Well I guess you’ve noticed something’s a little strange with Dad. It’s OK. I’m still Dad. I can’t describe it, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking. This means something. This is important.”

Man was made in God’s image, and Man, like God, also makes symbols. The Bible is full of them, and this is because God is an image maker. The level of our understanding of the Bible is directly related to our ability—and willingness—to learn the symbol language of God. Sadly, modern Christians want Jesus, but they don’t want His Bible.

What if I told you that the Creation Week, the creation of Adam and Eve, all of the Bible’s Covenants, the sacrificial process, all of the speeches of God, all the Tabernacles and Temples, every Bible story, the processes of cooking, of eating, of sex, of gestation, of the work day, of human life, of building a house or founding a nation, all have the same shape? What does this mean? It means that man, the image of God, in all these Covenantal acts, is creating images of God in all these different registers.1

We Christians need to become more like Roy, poring over the weird stuff in Leviticus and saying, through tears, “This means something. This is important.” We need to learn to see things the way the God Who made us in His image sees them.

Our biggest problem is the constraint of the “sound system” of modern theology itself, which simply does not have the capacity to cope with the “bandwidth” of the Bible. The average theologian, faced with Roy Neary, would look at the Devil’s Tower, and at Roy’s mound of potato, and see no correspondence whatsoever. “These things are not the same. Look. That’s rock, and that’s potato.”

How did we get to the point where those who are trained professionals in the study and teaching of the Scriptures have little or no aptitude for it? It certainly explains why they, and now most Christians, think the Bible is so complicated.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes.

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