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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Is the Bible just a beautiful story?



(This is the text of a video by the same title. I guess I shouldn't be frowning. Oh well!)

Hello again. I’m holding a delightful collection of stories called Tales of the Arabian Nights. In order to save her life, the beautiful Sheherazade tells her husband the Sultan a string of wondrous stories including “Sindbad the Sailor,” “Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp,” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Robbers.” Is the Bible just a story, like the Arabian Nights? Some people claim that it is.

Sometimes critics of the Bible describe it as a collection of fairy tales. If they want to sound a little more sophisticated, they say the Bible contains the mythology of the Hebrews, and they will point to a few story elements common to the Bible and ancient near-eastern myths. Other critics bypass the mythological accusation and say that Christians are na├»ve because they choose to believe a story with a happy ending—at least for themselves.

With regard to the first accusation, I have to wonder if these people have actually read many fairy tales and myths. I have read many of the ancient near-eastern myths; I’m familiar with Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, and I can say emphatically that the Bible is different from all of these. It is true that there are some points of comparison between ancient myths and the Bible. For example, the number seven is common to the Bible and to several ancient near-eastern myths. There are a few parallels between ancient near-eastern flood stories and the biblical account of the Noahic flood. That would not be surprising if the flood actually happened and if various peoples retained some memory of the event. But Scripture has no tales of quarrelling, murdering, thieving, sexually immoral gods. If anything, the Bible should be described as an anti-mythology. From the creation account onward, it is deliberately hostile to the kind of worldview that lies behind all ancient mythologies. In The Beauty of God for a Broken World, I argue that Jesus Christ is different from all rival gods ancient and modern.

With regard to the charge that the Bible is just a story, I admit—no insist—that it is a beautiful story. Certainly, there is a seductive kind of beauty that corrupts the heart and destroys the soul. But at the deepest levels beauty truth and goodness belong together and depend on each other. Granted, there are some parts of the biblical narrative that seem ugly, especially to modern and post-modern readers, but that brings to mind a line from The Lord of the Rings. When Frodo decides to trust the rough-looking ranger, Strider, he says, “You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way that servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would—well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand” (Lord of the Rings, chapter 10).

When I wrote The Beauty of God for a Broken World I wanted to show something of the beauty of the Bible’s God and the Bible’s story, even in the parts that, like Strider, don’t seem fair at first glance. Because beauty and truth are not enemies, the deep beauty of the Bible’s story is one of the great evidences of its truth.