Maybe We’re Not Smart Enough to Understand the Bible

From G.K. Chesterton’s The Strangest Story in the World, a chapter of The Everlasting Man:

” There is perhaps nothing so perfect in all language or literature as the use of these three degrees in the parable of the lilies of the field; in which he seems first to take one small flower in his hand and note its simplicity and even its impotence; then suddenly expands it in flamboyant colors into all the palaces and pavilions full of a great name in national legend and national glory; and then, by yet a third overturn, shrivels it to nothing once more with a gesture as if flinging it away ‘ . . . and if God so clothes the grass that today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven-how much more. . . .’ It is like the building of a good Babel tower by white magic in a moment and in the movement of a hand; a tower heaved suddenly up to heaven on the top of which can be seen afar off, higher than we had fancied possible, the figure of man; lifted by three infinities above all other things, on a starry ladder of light logic and swift imagination. Merely in a literary sense it would be more of a masterpiece than most of the masterpieces in the libraries; yet it seems to have been uttered almost at random while a man might pull a flower. But merely in a literary sense also, this use of the comparative in several degrees has about it a quality which seems to me to hint of much higher things than the modern suggestion of the simple teaching of pastoral or communal ethics. There is nothing that really indicates a subtle and in the true sense a superior mind so much as this power of comparing a lower thing with a higher and yet that higher with a higher still; of thinking on three planes at once. There is nothing that wants the rarest sort of wisdom so much as to see, let us say, that the citizen is higher than the slave and yet that the soul is infinitely higher than the citizen or the city. It is not by any means a faculty that commonly belongs to these simplifiers of the Gospel; those who insist on what they call a simple morality and others call a sentimental morality. It is not at all covered by those who are content to tell everybody to remain at peace. On the contrary, there is a very striking example of it in the apparent inconsistency between Christ’s sayings about peace and about a sword. It is precisely this power which perceives that while a good peace is better than a good war, even a good war is better than a bad peace. These far-flung comparisons are nowhere so common as in the Gospels; and to me they suggest something very vast. So a thing solitary and solid, with the added dimension of depth or height, might tower over the flat creatures living only on a plane.”

When we complain that the Bible contradicts itself, that it’s for morons who are simple and can’t reason…perhaps we are tipping our hand in the intellectual card game.

Stupid people seem to understand it because they are too dumb to think…and yet you insist that you do not understand?

Maybe you do not understand because its literary genius is too high for you…that you are too simple to understand it? Should you consider the possibility that your insistence that the Bible makes no sense is an admission that you are unable to understand, or even to recognize, the intellect that is too high for you?

You may not understand because its comparisons and metaphors are too complex for you. Its poetic substance and reasoning beauty is too subtle. You openly declare that you cannot match Scripture Reference A with remotely-placed Scripture Verse B, and declare that it is because it makes no sense.  But maybe it makes perfect sense and you don’t get it.

After all, Jesus, though a man, was no mere man, and spoke not as a mere man. And the author of the book is The Word, the Creator, Almighty God.  He is smarter than you and I.

Don’t despair. Every one of us can become simple enough to understand if we so choose.

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7 thoughts on “Maybe We’re Not Smart Enough to Understand the Bible

  1. insanitybytes22

    “Should you consider the possibility that your insistence that the Bible makes no sense is an admission that you are unable to understand, or even to recognize, the intellect that is too high for you?”

    Amen! I have no shame in admitting precisely that. The bible is a work that continues to astound me, that takes my breath away when I get just a taste of it’s complexities and the lessons being taught there.

    Thank you for that quote, that’s lovely.

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  2. tildeb

    Maybe you do not understand because its literary genius is too high for you…that you are too simple to understand it? Should you consider the possibility that your insistence that the Bible makes no sense is an admission that you are unable to understand, or even to recognize, the intellect that is too high for you?

    Or maybe… we do understand all too well because we can comprehend the written word and take note of inconsistencies and contradictions right there in the text making incompatible factual claims. Of course, without degrees of theological sophistication to alter meaning just so, assign metaphor to discover ‘breathtaking’ insights, and insist on literalism (where appropriate), it’s no wonder the books of the bible utterly fails to deliver a concise and reputable message… not that it’s the fault of god who supposedly directed the lost original writings, the copying of the surviving copies, the translations, the rewriting, and the modern versions that are different. We can’t hold the perfect divine author responsible, of course, but can rest assured that the Napkin Religion is the one true religion because it says so right here on this napkin. Breathtaking insight… like wash your hands. Oh, right… let’s not allow our mundane expectations of divinely inspired insight get too sophisticated.

    Now where did I put that literal-to-metaphor translator of mine? Those darn demons have hidden it again. Oh, bother; now I have to prepare another burnt offering.

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  3. Chillingworth

    I was watching a Star Trek episode just today in which a (religious) character said to a skeptic something like, That’s the thing about faith. If you don’t have it, no explanation is enough. If you have it, no explanation is necessary.

    It’s not the best line ever, but it’s better than a lot of the lines about faith that atheists try to write for TV.

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  4. madblog Post author

    That sounds like Next Gen or later? The quote unfortunately suggests that faith is a blind something you have or you don’t, rather than a choice to trust based on evidence.
    True as far as it goes though.

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