So here we are at “Bookends,” and just when I thought I had seen it all, along comes the translation of the Bible into emoji characters! You know, those cute little pictures that appear in e-mails and other on-line messages. I suppose the idea behind it is to introduce the Good Book to a generation who may not otherwise read it. Far be it from me to pan such an effort. In my own youth there were comic book versions, including a paperback book called “The Gospel according to Peanuts,” claiming to illustrate biblical teachings in the mouths of Charlie Brown, Linus and company, including Snoopy (who, however, did not speak but was a mute witness).
So all that is cool, if you like that sort of thing, though experience would show that accurate insight and useful understanding will have to go at least a step or two beyond the comics and emojis. And like any difficult topic, it only becomes simple after we have grown to really understand it quite well. My observation (not criticism) has been that only after many years of living and learning have acquaintances of mine become able to summarize in a nutshell what the Bible teaches about the living of life. Before that, they had many theories and preferences, but now they often just speak of “a walk.”
The walking-part is about learning and living in relationship. Yup. Relationship is what they now say it’s really all about. All kinds of relationships, with oneself, with special others, with people out there, with animals and nature, and most of all with God. And I agree with them. Certainly, most of us have had some serious issues with God, often because it’s hard to understand why some very tough things happened to us and we instinctively know that God must have had something to do with it. But just saying it’s about the relationship is not enough — rather, do I understand the relationship and the person who is in it with me?
Relationship as a “walk,” that’s quite a concept, and very biblical too. And in many places the Good Book insists that the walk is primarily about two things — about truth and about love — both together and not one without the other. In fact, in one place the apostle Paul says it boils down to “speaking the truth in love,” and the scholars say that the original language here has the sense of “living by the truth,” not just speaking. One leg is a genuine interest in knowing what is true, what is right and accurate, and not mere gossip, hunches, hasty assumptions, tradition, or social pressure. The other leg is living nonjudgmentally towards others, with grace and patience, practical compassion and generosity. One leg at a time, one after the other, not hopping for too long on one alone — that is how the walk is done.
Too simple? Just try to be consistent in it for a week or so. It’s not so easy, but this is how progress is made in the relationship, one day at a time, one leg at a time. We can get it wrong is if we start thinking the truth is the most important leg, because then we won’t have a balanced walk and people may start to wonder why we’re so unloving or extreme in our views. On the other hand, trying to be loving without a sound foundation of belief and thought will likely lead to shallow sentiment or the kind of political correctness that pretends to ignore significant differences. Truth and love are both equally necessary.
To illustrate (without emoticons), on various occasions I have watched a person of faith being figuratively crucified by other people of faith, and the tools used were reviling and gossip. Those who believed the stories going around typically avoided further conversation with the person under attack, so that they never did investigate or learn another side of the story. No interest in truth there, and consequently no real love shown. Yet the same people would insist that they only had the best of intentions. But no way, no how. No interest in truth means no demonstration of love, no matter who the relationship is with.
Sorry, but I don’t have a really good emoji to accurately reflect that.