The Bible can be weird.
I don’t mean the laws about mildew. I don’t mean the miracles (which are there precisely because they’re, well, miraculous). I don’t mean the bits that don’t seem to tally with how we normally see Jesus. I don’t even mean the Book of Revelation. No, I’m talking about the really weird stuff.
I mean, there are giants in the Bible. Not just Goliath, who gets all the press, but Anak and Og and the Rephaites. There’s a talking donkey. There are demons who have conversations with Jesus, and there’s a witch who (apparently) successfully summons up the ghost of the prophet Samuel. There are sea monsters. It’s weird.
And you know what? I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t get the story of the Witch of Endor. I’m fascinated by the fact that the fledgling kingdom of Israel seemed to keep having problems with warriors of unusual size. I get what’s going on with Balaam himself, but why it has to involve a talking donkey is beyond me. The rational part of my brain would like to ignore them; after all, they seem to exist in a strange, liminal space that isn’t really touched upon by mainstream thought. We can point to mountains of philosophy and theology that talks about how Jesus can be the Son of God. There are fewer works on the obvious effectiveness of the Witch of Endor.
Sometimes it’s easier to ignore these stories. After all, they get in the way; if you’re trying to talk about Jesus, it’s no fun when someone else brings up the talking donkey.
And yet they’re there for a reason. The people who originally handed down the original scriptures kept them in, and they knew as well as we do that animals don’t talk. They didn’t worry about the giants lurking in the corners of the first few books of the Old Testament. And I like that, I’m glad they did that, because they knew all those weird stories meant something. And to ignore and disregard those stories because they don’t fit a 21st Century western worldview would be a mistake, because it’s never good to stop listening to people’s stories. And these stories supported a whole people throughout times of invasion and exile, and we should remember and respect that.
Of course, it’s easier to get embarrassed or frustrated by the giants and the donkeys if all those stories and poems and histories have become codified and canonised into a big leather reference book on the shelf. They’re perhaps a little more potent when you’re living in an alien land, and the night is dark, and you don’t know if you’re ever going to see your home again. The stories keep and sustain you. They forge your identity and carry your memories.
So I think I’m over my worries about the strange bits of the Bible. I still don’t know what to do with the talking donkey, but I’m happy for her to be there. And I’m happy for the Bible to keep being weird, because if it ever gets too easy, ever stops being challenging, ever ceases to provoke new questions and new ideas and new insights then we’re reading it wrong.
And maybe that’s when we’ll start fearing giants again….