We want to know truth. We search for truth. Some of us study for years and years trying to grasp truth. We scrutinize, interrogate, and judge in order to arrive at the truth. We do this in many circumstances, including with the Bible, but we have to ask, is this right?
We scour commentaries asking questions of history, culture, sociology, and the such hoping to gain new insights into truth. This is a good, needed, and necessary endeavor, but I wonder if such focus on details have led us to think that truth is only found in facts. Do we find truth only by scouring the details? In deconstructing the text?
I’m currently teaching a course on hermeneutics, the art of interpreting the Bible. One of my recent classes touched on the theme of Hebrew poetry. We spoke about all the necessary tools to interpret poetry in the Bible. We touched on synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic parallelism, and word pairs. We talked about subgenres: laments, doxologies, thanksgivings. We talked about structures such as acrostics and their use in the Bible.
All of this is necessary, but even I was struck with something that I said in this class.
The purpose of learning this isn’t so that we can dissect the poems, but so that we can let them speak. And if we let poems speak, we’re going to realize how ill-prepared we are to listen.
Poetry wants to make us feel when we’re used to numbly looking for facts.
We will never understand poetry in the BIble unless we set aside our incessant need to dissect, to deconstruct, and instead read in order to see, in order to feel. The problem is that this feels weird. It’s uncomfortable. We’re not used to reading for feelings, but for facts. Maybe, however, the Hebrews knew something that we don’t grasp so easily. Perhaps truth can’t always be explained, maybe truth lays outside of what we can describe. Could it be that some truths can only be experienced, felt, envisioned?
If the authors of the Old Testament had wanted us to have facts, they would have written facts. If God wanted to teach us truth in data, God would have inspired such writings.
Instead, we have poetry, and we have to let poetry speak as poetry does:
In images and in feelings.
So the next time you pick up the Bible, find some poetry, and read not to understand, but to feel. Perhaps we’ll feel some truth that we never knew existed.