When I appeared on the radio show last weekend as part of a panel discussing whether or not it was possible for the wise to believe in the stories of the Bible, the best part of the experience was having a chance to visit with a rabbi who has an extensive background in Torah, Talmud, and the Philosophy of Science.
I’m not sure if it was because of the relatively conservative political tone of the commercials being aired during the show, or because of something else, but the rabbi, with a twinkle in his eye, insisted toward the end of the show that only a fool would believe that God had meant the sacred words of Torah to be understood literally. “God makes us work for wisdom!” He hides it from us so that we must seek it out and grow because of the seeking.
My friend Ann, in a totally different context this morning, pointed me toward a wonderful bit of rabbinical teaching on the opening of the Book of Genesis. You should watch this, and then continue reading:
Parshat Bereshit from G-dcast.com
More Torah cartoons at www.g-dcast.com
I thought of the rabbi from this past weekend and I listened to this rabbi expound on the meaning of the text from Genesis. I was delighted to listen to his unwillingness to concede that the account was simple even though it contained contradictions. Like St. Augustine, he works from the assumption that when the biblical writing is apparently contradictory, it is because there is greater truth to be found by going deeper.
He neither dismisses the contradiction by saying it is true because God’s word is simple and literal nor does he dismiss it by saying the contradiction proves that it is only a fable and therefore not worth learning from.
On the contrary, he is treating the text in a sacred and serious manner. He presumes that it speaks truth, even though we may be required to work a bit (or a lot) to get to that truth. When the going gets difficult, the scholar bears down knowing that the truth to be found must be worth the challenges that are guarding it from our simple grasping.
I’ve found that most of my biblical encounters are just like this. I start by presuming the bible is true. And then I presume that reason allows us to, with caveats, to think properly. It’s in the reconciliation of conflict between scripture and reason that the great Wisdom becomes known.
Maybe the Light of the First Day isn’t just consciousness, but Wisdom.