No Telling What You Might Hear
WHEN A MINISTER reads out of the Bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being read but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson—something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen—and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it—there is no telling what you might hear.
- Originally published in The Magnificent Defeat
ON HER DEATHBED, Gertrude Stein is said to have asked, "What is the answer?" Then, after a long silence, "What is the question?" Don't start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks.
We are much involved, all of us, with questions about things that matter a good deal today but will be forgotten by this time tomorrow—the immediate wheres and whens and hows that face us daily at home and at work—but at the same time we tend to lose track of the questions about things that matter always, life-and-death questions about meaning, purpose, and value. To lose track of such deep questions as these is to risk losing track of who we really are in our own depths and where we are really going. There is perhaps no stronger reason for reading the Bible than that somewhere among all those India-paper pages there awaits each one of us, whoever we are, the one question that (though for years we may have been pretending not to hear it) is the central question of our individual lives. Here are a few of them:
* For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? (Matthew 16:26)
* Am I my brother's keeper? (Genesis 4:9)
* If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
* What is truth? (John 18:38)
* How can anyone be born after having grown old? (John 3:4)
* What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:3)
* Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? (Psalm 139:7)
* Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)
* What shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25)
When you hear the question that is your question, then you have already begun to hear much. Whether you can accept the Bible's answer or not, you have reached the point where at least you can begin to hear it too.
- Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
[Both quotations are copied from Buechner's Facebook page]