I’ve long been fascinated by the Jewish approach to life as it flows from Judaism. Perhaps it grows out of the possibility that my paternal grandmother may have been Jewish. Even the most atheist of Jews has their religion built into their DNA. Even Jewish humour has it’s origins with Rabbinical oral culture.
The Midrash is a collective name for rabbinical interpretations, thoughts preaching growing from their study of the Torah and goes back centuries. It has, as I understand it, shaped Jewish thinking as much as the Torah itself.
The various Midrash seek to bring clarity and understanding to the meaning of the Old Testament although they often contradict each other because of different interpretations they are, from my limited experience, filled with wisdom and offers insight worth considering. I am particularly taken with this passage at the moment.
I was drawn to this after talking with my son, Harry. Harry is in year 8 and is currently looking at the Slave Trade in history at school. I was telling him how the Bible had been used to say that slavery was godly and Christian. At the same time the Bible was edited down to make a Slaves Bible to instil Christian understanding and ethics while removing anything about slaves being freed.
The quote brought to mind disagreements about how the Bible should be read. It can and is read as a straight forward document of God breathed word, inerrant. It is also read as God inspired writing, God putting forth his wisdom through inspiring a multitude of men to write it down as best they could. Words that need to be read in the context of the time they were written. It is also read as a mystical text which offers meaning beyond the surface, that seeks to understand or just make room for, the mystery of God the unknowable.
The problems begin when we, as human beings, believe that we are following the right way to be a believer and that everyone else is wrong. Most of us accept that God is bigger and more mysterious than us, unknowable except for what he lets us know. But most of us, me included, think there are people who call themselves Christians who just don’t get it, they act like Pharisees or new age hippies. It is incredibly easy to ignore the log in our own eye and focus on the speck in another’s eye, particularly if we are convinced there is no log in our eye.
I have had more than the odd disagreement with fellow Christians based on differing theology, differing ways of reading the Bible and I will no doubt continue to do so based on my limited understanding of who God is. But I have come to recognise that God is not a man, he is, in many ways, as understandable to us as we are to ants. As it says in Mark 4:11 “so also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except The Spirit Of God” and later that the Spirit From God enables us to understand the things given by God. We may know what God shows us and gives us but it is hubris to think we know the thoughts of God.
The quote from the Midrash suggests that our aim should be to see beyond the surface, that as Jesus spoke to us in parables, perhaps God’s words are draped in deeper meaning then is obvious on the surface.
I am left with a lot to think on. Questions I need to ask myself that may have no answer. Do I behave like I alone know how God thinks and what He wants? Do I read only the surface of his word or do I seek to see below the surface? Where can I see what is on God’s heart?
A lot to think on indeed
For anyone interested you can read more about the Slave Bible here