Writing the Word on John

If you've read my post What's the Word? you'll realise it's a bit different to some of the others. I've gone for a more creative re-reading, so this is my chance to explain what on earth it's all about.

I'm a passionate believer in the importance of history. Knowing the past unlocks the future; we gain insight and clarity from the lessons of experience. And I love reading the Bible with an eye closely pinned to the historical story behind the text, the context each writer or editor faced, the events to which they respond. I love it because it brings the story alive. But ultimately that's not enough.

It's not enough because there's a vast chasm between the world of the Bible and the world we inhabit. Democracy, for example, was barely an infant by the time the Canon was closed. Technology, science, philosophy, maths, art; they are so far advanced with so much innovation that much of what we assume everyday is unrecognisable to the likes of Isaiah or Daniel, Paul or John. If we get into their world and hear their concerns we get stuck on the other side of a grand cultural canyon. We could suggest parallels with our contemporary world, but after taking an almighty leap across that great divide the best we will do is plummet to the depths and leave a few choice questions splattered on the opposite cliff face.

Spattered questions are useful. That's been my approach with all my postings on the Old Testament. But the questions are not the end-game. They're the start. And there's more.

The Bible is the living and active Word of God. God-breathed, useful, inspired! But God is not Jack Frost. He does not breathe on our window panes in fixed and intricate patterns. God breathes and dynamic unpredictability bursts into life! God speaks and the universe expands from the minutest of nothings to the vastness of galaxies. The Word of God is living and active in the person of Jesus and in his ongoing life-giving presence in the world. When we read the Bible and it ignites us, then we have read the Word and written it with our lives. When we read the Bible to master it - for doctrine or ethics or anything - something inside us dies. For we have lost the breath of inspiration, till the text turn the tables and masters us, which can redeem us and make us alive.

This is what it means to me to say that the Bible is my authority. It is a master, my master - as I read - whether I would choose it or not. Like it or not.

So the goal of my endless historical research is writing. Not writing on history, but re-writing history. Because I believe that is what the Bible inspires me to do. John opens his Gospel by re-writing Genesis 1. 'In the beginning...' he starts, 'was the Word'. Well that's a bit different to 'In the beginning God...' John loves the logos as the divine personification of rational wisdom and sees the idea expressed in Jesus. He brilliantly invests his human tale with divine authorship as he makes philosophy come alive to his readers.

So I've re-written a creation account. Genesis 1 - 3 doesn't deal with evolution, which creates challenges when we ask where evil came from. If life was dying before humans existed then forbidden fruit can't take responsibility for death. So my opening paragraphs imagine a creation shaped like a Big Bang, and in which Black Holes become metaphors for selfishness and decay. Life gets spoken into being by the Word, but only after death has made it's mark. Death came from darkness, which sucked out the light it didn't understand.

But the rewriting of creation is only useful as a context for thinking about our life today. And so I re-write the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at Jacobs well. It's how I imagine it. But it's also the Word coming alive as I explore what life really looks like for a woman oppressed by a deathly religion. Could we imagine 'a different kind of worship and a different kind of world' for our own time? Because this is the life that fascinates me - the life that can't be repressed, or held, nor neatly tidied. I attempt my own reimagining of a contemporary and popular philosopher (Derrida) in order to work out my discipleship in my world, just as John did with the Logos in his.

This re-writing isn't finished. Because it's never finished. Because John will always be written as the Word writes in me - in us - and we write our lives on the pages of history. As we do so, we narrow the canyon; our history joins with John's history, our story is his story.