Okay. Following up with Jude.
A constitution implies neatness and internal consistency. It demands strict interpretation and conformity. Each president in our history has stepped into office with the oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” it. Good constitutions also provide an amendment process that makes it possible, though difficult, to change it.
Of course, we can exchange “Bible” for “constitution” in the above paragraph and it works just fine for many folks – until you get to the last sentence. Witness the bristling that takes place at the very suggestion that the Bible be “amended” in light of current cultural debates.
When we hold a Bible it looks like we are holding one, neat, internally consistent volume written by one Author. The reality is it is a library (this is readily seen in the fact that “Bible” is from biblia = books; yes, to hold the Bible is to hold the Library). Not a huge library, by any means, but a library nonetheless. Sixty-six volumes of varying sizes by our count, volumes written by scores of mostly anonymous ancient authors and collected over a millenium or so, and then edited and assembled by other hands, many of them also anonymous.
No neat shiny heavenly plates these.
Raw, gritty, human scribblings on parchment, scrolls, skins and stone. The first incarnate Word.
You expect diversity in a library – multiple volumes of a variety of genres. So it is. Narrative. Poetry. Song. Records. Allegories. Dirges. Letters. Fantasy*. Legislation. It’s all there. All kinds of literature requiring all kinds of reading and hearing. To compact them all into one narrow bandwidth is to violate the distinctive nature of each. If God wanted one bandwidth called legislation, he would and could have done so. But the fact is only a small portion of the library consists of actual legislation: the ancient “constitution” of Israel (which constitution, btw, did not get them home). The majority of entries in this library is narrative.
To try to turn song into law or narrative into rules requires a certain level of madness, doesn’t it? Though the human authors of this library do manage to turn its laws into song.
To read the Bible as a constitution will alternately produce religious conformity or irreligious rebellion, depending on our disposition – and either way we will miss the Story. A library invites investigation, exploration, wonder, and debate between authors with various points of view. The more time I spend around this Library, the more I appreciate the diversities within it and the less inclined I am to smooth them out into forced harmonies.
And wherever I happen to be browsing in it, I always look for traces of the Story…
* Don’t freak out; “fantasy” is simply a more culturally relevant label (I think) for what we usually call “apocalyptic” literature.