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If You Meet the Bible on the Road, Kill It

In its "failure" to say one thing on anything, in its "failure" as a book of answers or font of univocal truth, the Bible opens itself to mystery. It is faithful not to the answer but to the question that takes you to the edge of knowing. "There is a crack in everything," declares another great songwriter and theologian, Leonard Cohen. "That's how the light gets in."

The ninth-century Zen master Lin Chi is remembered for saying, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him"—meaning kill your attachment to the Buddha. Nurturing an attachment, even to the master of detachment, prevents spiritual growth.

Attachment to the cultural icon of the Bible is similarly debilitating. It's a false image, an idol. If you see it, kill it. The Bible is dead; long live the Bible. Not as the book of answers but as a library of questions, not as a wellspring of truth but as a pool of imagination, a place that hosts our explorations, rich in ambiguity, contradiction, and argument. A place that, in its failure to give clear answers and its refusal to be contained by any synopsis or conclusion, points beyond itself to mystery, which is at the heart of the life of faith.

We might even go so far as to say that the Bible kills itself. It deconstructs itself. Reading it undermines the iconic idea of it as a univocal, divinely authored book and our desire to attach to it as such. Scriptures have a tendency to exceed the boundaries of orthodoxy and resist closure. The Bible keeps reopening theological cans of worms. It resists its own impoverishment by univocality. In so doing, it fails to give answers, leaving readers biblically ungrounded.

- Timothy Beal, "The Bible Is Dead; Long Live the Bible," The Chronicle Review, April 17, 2011