The King James Bible’s ubiquitous fan base seems to be growing. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Inspiration in the Bible and the Beats, David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors identifies one inspiration for his art as the Bible. In reference to the King James Bible, Longstreth suggests,
“I just like the stories. Clearly there are stories in there that animate some deep [stuff] in the human psyche. I don’t particularly relate to any of the superstitious aspects of it, like the religion per se, but as a collection of stories, as a collection of characters, tales, the quality of the language is beautiful.”
David Longstreth’s outlook on the Bible shouldn’t surprise anyone. He makes no claim to religion, which relegates the Bible to an apparatus for psychological exploration and a literary masterpiece. However, I’m not sure that Longstreth is that far off in his assessment of the function of the holy scriptures. First, in animating the deep stuff in the human psyche, we are attempting to answer deep questions about ourselves– questions such as why do I act the way I do or why am I here or what am I supposed to be doing. Are not these the very questions the Bible answers about humankind and God’s interaction with them? The three questions just posed can all be answered to some extent in the first book, Genesis. Why do I act the way that I do?– Moral evil entered the created world when mankind choose to listen to the words of the enemy of God instead of God himself (Genesis 3:1-7). This resulted creation being separated from God (Genesis 3:17-24). However, in the judgment of humankind, God provided a promise that would ultimately reverse the curse of humankind’s actions (Genesis 3:15). Why am I here?– Humankind was created in the image of God for relationship with other humans and with him (Genesis 2:18-25). Humankind was charged with creatively care-taking God’s creation (Genesis 1:27-31). Because of the presence of evil in the world, humankind struggles in human relationships and care-taking creation. We see this clearly in how we treat one another in this hemisphere and the carelessness toward other human beings’ plight throughout the world. We also see this in our disregard for God’s creation, many times using it as our personal trashcan. We fail in relationships and creational care.
The second function of the Bible, as defined by David Longstreth, gives us a collection of stories. Here too, it is hard to disagree with Longstreth’s assessment. The Bible was not meant to function as a set of propositions although it contains them. Propositions in the Bible are set within a story. For example the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) do not exist apart from the context of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 1-14). God explained that Israel’s motivation for obeying the Ten Commandments is rooted in his mighty act (the story) of deliverance (Exodus 19:3-8). The Bible is a collection of wonderful stories that relate God to his creation. They re-tell how God diligently pursues relationship with humankind throughout generations of the world. These stories also re-tell how humankind continues to wreck the relationship between God and humans because of the effect of evil that results in sinful choices by humankind. In the Christian faith, all of these stories point to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, where we find God entering the story in human form, in the person of Jesus, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: Live a perfect life in relationship with God and restore the relational divide between humans and God (John 20). This brings us back to Genesis: curse reversed (Genesis 3:15). In time, God will completely restore creation to its perfect preeminence (Revelation 21:1-8). God will once again walk among his created in perfect relationship. All of these are stories that answer the thoughts that “animate the deep stuff in the human psyche.” So in this way, perhaps we should view the Bible similar to David Longstreth. But when we view it in this way, it becomes impossible to divorce the “religion” from the stories because the stories are the “religion” if by religion we mean relationship to God.