To dissect something, you first have to kill it. If it’s not dead before you start dissecting it, it will die shortly into the procedure, the way that people declared “brain dead” will physically (that is, actually) die shortly AFTER the organ harvesting procedure begins.
But I digress.
To humanely dissect something you first have to kill it. Then you affix it so that it won’t be jarred out of position during the dissection procedure. Then you can start the incisions.
I hated biology class when I was in high school. I refused to dissect the frog that I was supposed to dissect as part of the course requirements. Even as an atheist, I didn’t see the frog as a thing, but as a living being that had been “sacrificed” (actual scientific terminology) and preserved in formaldehyde solely so that I could get at least a passing grade in a course I had no desire to be taking in the first place. This didn’t sit well with me, and anything that didn’t sit well, I rejected. My reward for sparing the frog was expulsion from biology class, which contributed to my failing the course, which caused me to fail the year, which led me to dropping out of high school.
But again I digress.
We cannot approach God as a dead thing, affixed and immovable, to be dissected like a biology course sacrifice. This, I would argue, is the way that most theologians approach God. I had to throw “most” in front of “theologians”, because God’s been on my case to be kinder to those who make a career out of studying him. Some theologians actually are believers, though they make up a tiny minority. So, in deference to God’s wishes and respect for the few theologians who do believe, I will be kinder.
In Jesus’ day, theologians went by the names of “Sadducees”, “Pharisees”, “Scribes” and “Lawyers”, and we know what Jesus thought of (most of) them. Even so, Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion. Paul’s background training is important for me to remember and helps me stay on course to be kinder to theologians.
God cannot be dissected, because he is eternally alive. The most we can do is describe what we know are some of his characteristics, such as being all-powerful, perfect, merciful, and just. Those of us who know him as our heavenly Dad can describe his voice (the most beautiful you’ll ever hear!) and his playfulness with his children. To me, his daughter, he is indulgent but also at times very firm. I don’t get away with anything, and in fact get a harsher punishment than someone who does the same thing but is not a believer. This is just, as I should know better. Those of us who are graced with grace and God’s Spirit should always know better and set the good example, the way Jesus always did. I’m learning, but I have a ways to go before I catch up to Jesus.
The majority of theologians are not believers and so come by their knowledge of God mainly from the Bible. I cannot imagine poring over scripture for the sole purpose of winning an argument or finding some ‘angle’ to exploit for academic brownie points. I know people who read the Bible just to memorize it. This is a mystery to me, why someone who doesn’t believe in God would want to memorize the Bible. As an atheist, I couldn’t stand to have a Bible anywhere near me, let alone to read it enough to memorize it. Nowadays, I can’t stand not having a Bible near me. I always travel with at least one, as most hotels and motels in Canada don’t provide a Bible in their rooms anymore.
Scripture is not a dead thing to those who love God. We believers read the Bible with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, who is very much alive and “quickens” our understanding of scripture. There is no other way to read the Bible, if gaining a better understanding God and his Word is your intention. Sure, you can read it as just a collection of facts encapsulated in words, but that’s not how it was intended to be read. It was written to be digested and absorbed. You are to feed on God’s Word, which is filled with spiritual nutrients. You are to take a bite, chew on it, swallow it down, and let it become part of you.
Jesus suggested we do the same with him – chew on his flesh and drink his blood. Some of his followers were disturbed by this dinner invitation, but Jesus didn’t back down. He insisted that those who wouldn’t ingest and absorb him had no part in his mission. He later explained that he meant we should ingest the words he was speaking, “as they are spirit, and they are life”.
Scripture is a dead, fixed thing only to those who don’t love God. For those of us who do, scripture is very much alive and cannot be affixed to anything, as it moves and morphs and changes with each reading. God’s Word is eternal and his Truth is unchanging, but our understanding of it is fluid: as our faith deepens, so, too, does our understanding of God.
I am not sure that this dynamic happens to those who read the Bible not to feed on it but to exploit it for personal or professional gain. I think they receive only a very superficial understanding of it, if their interpretation is to be classified as an “understanding” at all. This is why they are constantly squabbling over minutia that God never intended to be squabbled over. The deeper meaning – the Holy Spirit-conveyed meaning – evades them, and all they’re left with is the spiritual equivalent of a crucified frog with its sad little fastidiously labeled guts hanging out.
It is infinitely better to know God one-on-one than to know of him only by hearsay. We cannot study God like a dead thing or like fixed words on a page, because God is not only alive, but Life itself. He evades being known by those whose reasons for seeking him are not righteous. They’re like little kids pressing their noses against the display counter at the pastry shop, eyeing the wedding cake. Little do they know that the “cake” is only cardboard covered in icing and was made just for show.
The real wedding cake is kept out back, in a room only the baker and his apprentices can enter.