I recently came across this line: “Always make time to read authors with whom you know you will profoundly disagree.” This, I think, is a good dictum, and one I have attempted to follow in my so-called scholarly pursuits.
However, I think that this dictum is especially apropos within contemporary Christian circles. In particular, I would suggest that Christians should spend a little more time carefully reading the bible; for they might find that this book, more than most others, contains that which they will find profoundly disagreeable. More often than not, this book doesn’t say what we think it says, and it doesn’t confirm what we want it to say.
Thus, to genuinely encounter this text is to be confronted with the necessity of conversion. And conversion, well, that’s frequently a messy and painful (but oh-so-glorious!) thing.
In many ways the conversion that this text offers us, is like the salvation Aslan offers to Eustace-the-dragon. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Eustace is converted into a dragon and Aslan comes to him to change him back into a human. In order to accomplish this transformation, Aslan tells Eustace to undress and get into a pool of water. This is how Eustace describes the event:
I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully… But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped… But the same thing happened again… [and then again]… Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — “you will have to let me undress you.” I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.”
I imagine we must go through a similar process to truly encounter this text. It takes many readings to strip away all that we have imposed upon it and, although the first few readings might not be all that painful, the deeper we go, the more we feel the claws — “sharper than any double-edged sword” (Heb 4.12).
Let the reader be so warned.