Friday, January 17, 2020

Living in the Bible

When we read the Bible, should we be able to find ourselves in the Bible? To use literary categories, there can be archetypal characters, archetypal plots, and and archetypical places. 

1. Characters

There are figures whose experience may parallel your own in certain respects. For instance, the hope, longing, elation, aggravation, depression, and despair of the Psalmists and Prophets. 

2. Plot

Likewise, there's the plot. The lifecycle is the elemental perennial human plot. Birth, childhood, coming of age, adulthood, parenthood (repeating the lifecycle), aging, death. 

Scripture picks up on this but deepens and extends it. We are born in this world, but on a journey through this world on the way out of this world. Although we live and die in this world, death is not the end. And ultimately, the saints will return to this world, a renewed world. 

3. Setting

This in turn shades into the setting or landscape of Scripture. Although biblical events happen in real time and space, there's an emblematic quality to certain localities in Scripture which readers have always sensed. In that respect, the landscape of Scripture can move on an allegorical plane for some readers. Where the lifecycle and the individual Christian pilgrimage is is overlaid on the symbolic setting of Bible history. 

We're born in exile. Some of us are on a quest to return to our ancestral home (Eden, heaven). With various obstacles in the way. But others are on a journey to hell. 

Consider some archetypal places in Scripture:


Banishment/exile (e.g. expulsion from Eden; expulsion from Promised Land/Babylonian Exile)

Captivity (Egypt; Babylon)

Nomadism (Patriarchal narratives)

Urbanism (Sodom, Jerusalem)

Desert (Sinai)

Promised Land 


These have different symbolic connotations. And they can have parallels with our own lives at different times.

We aren't born in Eden, but some people have a fairly Edenic childhood. Yet they may suffer a dramatic downturn in their fortunes. 

The nomadism of the Patriarchs isn't the same thing as exile. It's a rootless existence, but it has freedom. And since they take their family with them, it's not lonely. There's an insecurity and lack of direction to it, but it's not inherently unpleasant.

Also, it can be cyclical, where wayfarers move back and forth within a certain range. Often seasonal. So it's not wide open. It has boundaries. 

The alternative to banishment is escape. The Israelites were delivered from bondage. The Babylonian exiles were released and repatriated, although some chose to stay behind. They had become assimilated. 

This stands in contrast to settling down. Having a particular place to call home. But cities have complex connotations. The new Jerusalem is utopian while Sodom, Gomorrah, and Babylon are dystopian. 

Cities can be psychologically claustrophobic. And ironically, many people feel lonely and alienated in cities, due to the anonymity and indifference to individuals. 

In the case of exile, you're not where you want to be. You feel shut out and cut off. It never feels like home. There's always the sense of being out of place. Not belonging. 

If the promised land is a homeland, the desert is a no man's land. Hellish. 

Our lives can parallel different kinds of archetypal space at different times of life, depending on our circumstances, where we live, and our psychological situation. 

This also plays on the sense of being lost (and alone) in the world. Lost in the crowd. So many who came before us. So many who come after us. Groping for meaning or going with the flow. 

Can we find our way out of the woods? Is the way forward or back? Do we know what we're looking for? Where is home? What is home? 

Suppose you're hopelessly lost, so you must rescued. That's the lost and found motif. You were found. 

Kinda like if you were abducted in your sleep. You wake up in the middle of nowhere. How do you get back? How do you retrace your steps?

Or take a war-torn area. A soldier leaves home to fight. When he returns, the village is burned to the ground. There is no home to go back to. That's gone. He can't go back to the life he had. 

Symbolic space and symbolic time pan into each other because both may symbolize a journey. Travel through time and space.  

A river is dynamic. That's emblematic of a journey downstream, to empty into the ocean (perhaps).

But even a dry canyon can symbolize a journey. Although it's static space, it has a trail in two directions. 

Our lives have a plot that in some respects will parallel the overarching plot of Scripture or the subplots of individual characters. Likewise, we live in places that may parallel emblematic places in Scripture. These all resonate at an allegorical or analogical level. Sometimes your life may feel rootless, sometimes exilic. Sometimes you may feel trapped. Sometimes you may feel lost. You can locate yourself in Scripture using the the landscape of Scripture as a symbolic map of the soul. 

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