Samson, when he found himself surrounded by enemies, seized the jawbone of a fresh-kill donkey and swinging it hither and thither dispatched his foes. Or so the biblical book of Judges says (15:14-16).
I was jawboned recently by a coterie of biblical literalists – people who assume that God dictated the words of the Bible. Armed with that assumption, they flailed me with scripture passages ripped out of context, declaring, “That’s what God says, so the matter’s settled.”
That approach to the Bible represents a basic misunderstanding of God’s way of messaging.
God writes in the sand.
So the words of the Bible are human attempts to capture divine messages as they are being blown away.
The Bible’s writers tell us about their experiences of the presence of the Transcendent One, the Anonymous One, the One who is self-named I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:14) – experiences that are couched in the language of myth, history, poetry, novels, letters, theological reflection, etc.
But the words of the Bible do not capture God. They do not give us a ‘fix’ on God.
God is always somewhere ahead of Scripture’s words . . . escaping from them . . . in the future of them.
R. S. Thomas describes a dream:
Always in my dream
he kneels there silently
writing upon the ground
what I can’t read – signs
and diagrams; and his accusers
have withdrawn. He was with the future
always, . . .
The “he” in line two refers to Jesus. Like Jesus, God is with the future always. Like Jesus, God writes in the sand.
One day, a passel of biblical literalists flung an adulteress at Jesus’ feet and demanded that, in accordance with “the law of Moses,” she be stoned to death. Jesus responded by bending down and writing “with his finger on the ground.” When he looked up, the woman’s accusers had melted into the crowd.
Thomas, reflecting upon that incident reported in John 8:1- 11, draws the conclusion that Jesus “was with the future / always.”
The line break between “future” and “always” gives added emphasis to “always.” Jesus did not live with the literalists in a law-book past.
When Jesus straightened up from writing in the dust, the men who wanted to stone the woman who had found love in a way contrary to “the law of Moses” had vanished. Then she was set free by a different love to move into a fresh future.
God writes in the sand, forcing us to understand that God is “with the future / always.”
Poem of R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:
“Always in my dream” – “Symbols,” No Truce with the Furies, 38.