This short article is a result of the fact that of late I have been coming across two frequently asked questions from various circles, both lay as well as religious. The questions put forward concern both the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.
The First Question
The first question is that, “Are all the stories that are there in the Old Testament true?” The last occasion when I heard this question being asked was in the context of the story of Lot’s wife who against the instruction of the angel of the Lord turned back to look at Sodom and was turned into a pillar of salt (cf. Gen 19).
Surely the Bible is the Word of God for us Christians, but at the same time we need to know and understand it well that the words of the Bible were not ever dictated by God to any human being for it to be written down (except for a few exceptions as stated in Jer 30,1-2). It is the collection of the concrete Divine experience of humankind in human history.
The Bible is an “inspired” writting by humans who have lived this Divine experience in their lives and penned down their concrete Divine-human experiences to help their fellow human beings to live their lives, their difficulties, their pains and share their joy with others with the view of living it all in the context of the Divine. The words and stories of the Bible are true in their essence in that they speak of our human limitations and our frailty before the Divine, and they propel us to move ahead in our journey towards a life in God, a life in His perfection.
In a post-exilic era (after the final Babylonian exile of 586 B.C) when war and foreign rule had destroyed the land and identity of the land of Judah because of disobedience to God, only looking back at the sin would render people static like pillars of salt. Instead they had to move ahead with their lives in a foreign land and carry on their life and rebuild it both individually as well as a community, but, in the ways of God’s commands.
True to its essence, the Catholic Church accepts it as its Holy Book and all its doctrines are based on the words of the Bible. But it also accepts the Bible as an inspired Book in the sense I have just mentioned. The 11th of the total 16 Documents of the Second Vatican Council is the DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION, ON DIVINE REVELATION DEI VERBUM SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON NOVEMBER 18, 1965, and §8 begins: And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time.
Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the people of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes. The official doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic Church are a guide to our Christian faith which is to be personalized and interposed with the aim of living a life in God both for ourselves as well as to help others live it the same way.
The Second Question
The second question regarding the New Testament that I came across was through a mail challenging me that the words of the Bible which are proclaimed to be Word of God are not true. The Bible proclaims in John 14,14 “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it,” and in Mat 7,7-8 “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds and to whom knocks it will be opened,” but if these words are true then “Why are my prayers not being answered? I am not asking God for anything impossible, I am only asking Him to heal me.”
My response to this has been – true, nothing is impossible for God. He can work any miracle any moment to heal one of any kind of sickness. But the counter question I put forward to myself in such cases is that am I worthy that God works such a miracle for me in my life? Put differently, have I asked God to grant me this favour with a total self-surrendering faith in Him saying that, “Lord I surrender to you and to you alone, you are my maker, my creator and my sustainer. Where would I have been if you did not carry me in your arms in my moments of my pain and anguish when I have shed painful tears in isolation which you alone have seen?”
The lines when picked up from the Bible at random and asked as to why this is not being fulfilled because it is said to be the Word of God is not directed to the proper understanding of the Scripture. Each verse is connected to its preceding and following context. Each Gospel has its particular literary structure and forms. Each of these sayings have their context wherein lies the conditions of the fulfilment of the promises.
As far as the humanity of Jesus is concerned, we know for sure that He was a man extremely learned in the Torah and was teaching the true essence of the Torah to the people and helping them to live a better life in God: both by spiritual as well as by material healing. He was not a simple miracle worker, but worked miracles by His own faith as well as through the faith of those who accosted Him. Time and again we find the saying, “Go your faith has healed you,” especially in the Gospel of Luke. And this is the essence of all miracles.
Surely we can be healed of all ailments, both physical as well as spiritual, but our healing will depend on us and our self-surrendering faith in God and not the miracle of God alone. It is this self-surrendering faith in God that will make us worthy that God works the miracle that we desire for in life. A complete surrender to God is not an easy task. After all these years it is only recently that I have learnt how to pray with complete surrender to Him through the vicissitudes of life experiences. In turn agin it is He who gives the Grace to surrender to Him through constant faith and prayer.
– – – written by Ruma Ray, Kolkotta