For Christians the big questions in any discussion of science and faith generally come down to Scripture. How are we to read Scripture as the word of God? In much of the church there is an assumption that this should be straightforward… just read it literally. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold up well for many of us. It isn’t even science that is the biggest challenge to this “simple” reading, it is Scripture itself. It isn’t clear that the Bible was intended to be read in this flat, literal manner. Among other things, Scripture is full of figurative language and allusions. The books have been structured to convey a message and often (more often than we expect) the flat reading misses in significant ways.
This is not just an insider issue, it is also an evangelism issue. The flat reading is often easily dismissed by skeptics, especially educated skeptics, those who might see books by Richard Dawkins or Bart Ehrman and find it easy to reject the possibility that Christianity is in any fashion reasonable for the modern (enlightened) person. We don’t want to deny truth to attract outsiders, but we also don’t want to erect unnecessary barriers.
I am leading an adult Sunday morning discussion class this winter that digs into the question of interpretation, looking for the full depth of meaning in Scripture. One of the primary resources we are using (after the Bible itself) is Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness by Richard B. Hays. Scot posted on this book several years ago, just after it came out, and reviewed the book for Books and Culture (Believing to Understand). The book is a bit academic, but well worth reading. (As an aside: We desperately need resources that make ideas like those developed by Hays accessible to the average Christian reader and small group or class discussion.)
Calming the Sea. Consider the image above – Rembrandt’s depiction of the calming of the Sea. For many Christians this is just a demonstration of the deity of Christ. He can perform miracles, therefore he is divine. (Of course prophets in the Old Testament and apostles perform miracles as well, but ignore this for now.) Others find it necessary to look for scientific explanations – such as this example about the story of Jesus walking on water, suggesting a layer of ice as a possible explanation. Both the typical Christian brush and the search for scientific explanation miss the point (although the former gets closer). What can we say about the calming of the sea? The following is a passage in Mark (4:35-41).
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”