Since it’s almost entirely poetry and “true myth,” and since we live in one of the most literal-minded cultures of all time, it’s not surprising that the Bible largely remains a closed book. Those who make the loudest claims for its veracity often see its meaning less clearly than many they judge to be total outsiders. If you treat biblical myths as history, you end up with either distortion or absurdity. Even worse. As Voltaire once said: “Those who believe absurdities end up committing atrocities”
When read for what it genuinely is, the story-told in myths, parables, metaphors and allegory-of the evolution of the human soul and its relationship to the mystery called God, the wider human community and the cosmos itself, its power for inspiration and transformation is immeasurable.
For example, everybody recognizes that the two accounts in the opening chapters of Genesis which tell of the creation and of the beginnings of the human saga are mythical in nature. They have to be. There is simply no other way of expressing such sublime truths as they contain. The packaging is fictional, but the inner, abiding truth being told is eternal.
Properly understood, they put a finger on the very core of our being. They touch our life today, now, in this moment. Here is a simple example. After Adam and Eve had tasted the forbidden fruit (nothing whatever to do with either apples or sex, by the way), they tried to hide from God: “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amidst the trees of the garden.”
Then rings out a question that has come echoing down the centuries with a never-ceasing urgency to each of us: “And the Lord God called unto Adam [the word means, simply, man in the generic sense] and said unto him, ‘Where art thou?’”
We try to hide from God-from the true depths of ourselves and of our beingness-and the haunting, searching question keeps on coming in so many varied, sometimes subtle, sometimes shrieking, ways: “Where are you?”
We are challenged to pause and consider, to ask ourselves where we really are in our lives, where we are in our intentions, in our relationships, in our spiritual journey, in our own personal evolution, in our connection with our Higher Self and with others.
Anyone who equates myth with fairy tales or assumes that because no Adam and Eve ever existed as objective, historical entities, the entire creation account can be dismissed or ignored is self-deceived. The eternal truth is there and cannot be denied. The Ground of All Being hurls this question at us: “Where are you right now?” And the universe awaits the answer.
Different Bible myths confront the soul within us with other profound questions that strike equally at the meaning and fabric of our daily existence, if only we pay attention. I’m thinking in particular of a passage from the stories in the First Book of Kings (chapter 19) about the great prophet Elijah. It’s dealt with in detail in Finding the Still Point but sounds within as a frequent check on my own spiritual growth-or lack of it-and so comes to mind powerfully here.
Because many people feel at times depressed, frustrated, weary or burned out, they can identify with Elijah’s plight. Even though he had accomplished great things and had seen God acting in his life, he found himself at one point quite down-even to the point of longing for death itself. He tries to wiggle and twist and, like Adam, to escape somehow rather than boldly face his situation. He takes refuge in a cave. Then comes the divine Questioner with this probing query: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
In other words, he has reached a point in his life where he has to stop and take a very long, hard look at what on earth he is really doing with it. Where is he headed? Why is he at this particular spot in it? What is really going on? Confrontation with this crisis brings him a fresh vision of God in that “still, small voice” that speaks to him and commissions him for fresh directions, new challenges. He is changed, transformed, turned from defeat to a person throbbing with energies for greater achievements still.
Life today seduces us into thinking that these and the other life-changing questions posed by the Bible can be avoided by sheer busyness, the never-ending quest for pleasure or other forms of running away to hide. But, like Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven, in his poem by that name, they ever pursue us, silently. Waking or sleeping, they follow us “down the labyrinthine ways” of our own hearts and minds, and call for an answer.