104 In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God".67 "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."
Paragraph 104 continues what will be a substantive treatment of the Bible. In our common church life, and here on the blog site, we fall into frequent use of terms without a concrete handle on what they mean. There are so many literary “generics” in the Church that I think there is a potential here for a book. Para. 104 is true and it has a comforting ring to it. Try deciphering this offering: after asserting that the Church finds its “nourishment and strength” in Sacred Scripture (one assertion begging for clarity), the text goes on to say that the Church does not welcome it as human words, “but as what it really is, the word of God.” The phrasing would have been more accurate if the word “merely” had been inserted, as in “the Church welcomes [the Bible] not merely as a human word….”
What else is the Bible if it is not a real book (or more properly, books) written by humans? The Catechism will elaborate on the complicated questions of human involvement later in the series, but in this paragraph the Sacred Scripture has been elevated to a Platonic ideal, the land of perfect ideas, a place where most Americans do not spend most of their day. This brings us to yet another “generic,” the term “Word of God.” I suspect that most Christians understand this as the expressed wish of God that we live morally and well, but in the Sacred Scripture we behold many aspects of the divine personality, some which at face value appear contradictory.
For example, the Church speaks of the Father as coming “lovingly to meet his children, and [to talk] with them” in the sacred books. The texts of the Scriptures, though, do not always come across as loving, at least as we use the term in contemporary parlance. Next Sunday’s Scripture readings for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, particularly the first reading (Isaiah 5) and Matthew (21), are a good case in point. In Matthew’s text on the rebellious and murderous tenants of a master’s vineyard, the take-away seems to be: woe to those unproductive tenants of my vineyard (i.e., kingdom of God), for they will come to a “wretched end.”
I have worked with the Bible, and religious studies in general, long enough to come to an understanding that “love” (yet another term screaming for clarity) is not merely a synonym for tenderness and foreplay, though those aspects of love are not absent from the Bible, either (See Song of Songs, 5). To enter the Bible, and thus meet God, it is a sine qua non to understand the language of the Bible, its literary meaning, to access the being of God.
If I may, I would like to stay with the word “love” because belief that “God is love” is a summary statement of the Christian life, put succinctly throughout the New Testament, as in 1 John 4:8. John’s letter goes as far as to say that “whoever is without love does not know God.” The Christian composers of the New Testament defined God’s love in a concrete fashion: it is the life of Jesus Christ. This makes the concrete definition of Biblical love exceptionally complex, for Jesus himself was complex, and so we must assume that God is complex, too.
What is also implied is that the attempt to embrace love as a saving virtue for salvation is complex, too. Would our catechetics or understanding of the God revealed in the Bible be improved with the word “personal?” As in, God is intensely personal, or God’s love is intensely personal? Once God made the decision to enter the “world of persons,” it was necessary to enter the “world of personality.” It should not be surprising, then, that the Bible is a faith-driven account of unfolding personality—in both a corporate and individual sense.
Lest I be accused of suggesting there is no objective truth, I would respond that the Bible holds together on several basic truths. All humans experience the same God, and the basic theme of deliverance is a constant throughout both Testaments. My point is that in the Bible God has allowed himself to interact with us in a wide range of moods and circumstances. Moreover, those humans whose names appear in this unfolding historical drama do so in personal ways too numerous to count. And, each reader of the Bible is unique, spiritually and psychologically, and the subjective experience of reading the Bible produces different reactions over time.
To return to our theme of God’s love, we gradually see the multifaceted ways God’s love is expressed. Next Sunday’s first reading shows us a God so passionately in love with his people that their betrayal affects him like an unfaithful and conniving spouse. When Jesus saw the money changers desecrating the temple, the Gospels record that he crafted a whip with knotted barbs (premeditation!). “Zeal [love] for my Father’s house has consumed me.” The Bible introduces us to a God whose expressions of love run an amazing gamut of expressions, and often the offerings of love look nothing like our working definition of the term.
Para. 104 concludes with the instruction that “in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them." This is true enough, but it is the tip of the iceberg, and one of the great skills of catechetics and preaching is coming to grips with how God’s power, authority, and grim warnings of consequences for sin are in fact statements served up “lovingly.” Given that there is no true spiritual understanding—for the Church, or us individually—without entering the world of Scripture, it would serve us well to probe it.