Wrestling with the text

“In this parable we are reminded that a religious approach to the text is not one in which we attempt to find out its definitive meaning, but rather where we wrestle with it and are transformed by it.” ~Peter Rollins in The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief

I have just finished reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief by Peter Rollins. It’s one of those books that is so good and so mind-stretching that I need to read it again before I’ll be ready to write about the book as a whole. I can say for now, though, that it’s absolutely fantastic and well worth the read. Its message is also subversive enough that it’s going to take me a little more time to fully process it.

In this post, I just want to look at the one idea quoted above that really jumped out at me as I read tonight. While I have heard about the importance of wrestling with the text before, I have a deeper appreciation for the importance of this as I come to the end of this semester of studying the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

We’ve spent time looking at how much of the text is really an extended wrestling with the Pentateuch, those first five books of the Hebrew Bible, as the Israelites tried to apply it to their current times and situations over a span of a thousand years or so. Each generation wrestled anew with what it meant to be faithful to the Torah in new circumstances.

At the same time, those of us in the class wrestled with the text as we studied it and had to reconcile what the text actually says to what we thought it said from our years of Sunday School classes and sermons in various denominations. We struggled with places that seem to contradict one another in the text and with things that don’t make sense to us today. We discovered more about the cultural assumptions we bring to the text and where those may be misleading.

As one who was raised in a fundamentalist setting where the Bible was held to be the one definitive answer to all things (including science), it is both reassuring and challenging to spend so much time looking deeply at the contradictions, ambiguities, and questions that the text raises. As I have shed my fundamentalist viewpoints over the years, I’ve found that living without the clearly defined meanings and absolute certainties to be scary at times. It’s hard not to believe that the right answer is always at my fingertips.

On the other hand, it’s also been immensely freeing. The primary reason that I could not stay within fundamentalist circles was that I could never make myself fit inside the box that was required in order to belong. There is something very powerful about bringing all that I am—including my intellect and my life experience—to my faith journey.

But even more freeing is this idea that Rollins says that there is not a definitive meaning to be found. Although my inner perfectionist chafes at the idea that I might never fully arrive at being right about the meaning, the thought that the whole point of the journey is in the wrestling and being transformed also means that as long as I am still wrestling, then I am still on the right track.

Wrestling with the text, with God, and with life is a constant for me, even when I don’t want to do so. I will continue my wrestling and pray that the transformation continues as well.

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.