Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Burden of the Gospels

The Burden of the Gospels by Wendell Berry
Anybody half awake these days will be aware that there are many Christians who are exceedingly confident in their understanding of the Gospels, and who are exceedingly self-confident in their understanding of themselves in their faith. They appear to know precisely the purposes of God, and they appear to be perfectly assured that they are now doing, and in every circumstance will continue to do, precisely God’s will as it applies specifically to themselves. They are confident, moreover, that God hates people whose faith differs from their own, and they are happy to concur in that hatred.

Having been invited to speak to a convocation of Christian seminarians, I at first felt that I should say nothing until I confessed that I do not have any such confidence. And then I understood that this would have to be my subject. I would have to speak of the meaning, as I understand it, of my lack of confidence, which I think is not at all the same as a lack of faith.

It is a fact that I have spent my life, for the most part willingly, under the influence of the Bible, particularly the Gospels, and of the Christian tradition in literature and the other arts. As a child, sometimes unwillingly, I learned many of the Bible’s stories and teachings, and was affected more than I knew by the language of the King James Version, which is the translation I still prefer. For most of my adult life I have been an urgently interested and frequently uneasy reader of the Bible, particularly of the Gospels. At the same time I have tried to be a worthy reader of Dante, Milton, Herbert, Blake, Eliot and other poets of the Christian tradition. As a result of this reading and of my experience, I am by principle and often spontaneously, as if by nature, a man of faith. But my reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands. This is the confession of an unconfident reader.
Read the whole thing here.

It was written in 2005 but is just as relevant 5 years later, an excellent essay!

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