The headline on my news feed from Google Chrome the other day declared, “Tyra Banks Urges End to Super Models War.” I didn’t know a Super Models War had even been declared. What international body has the jurisdiction to declare such a war – the Elite Modeling Agency, perhaps, or the editorial board of Marie Claire – or maybe Michael Kors just issues an executive order.
I didn’t bother to click on the article and read it. In the first place I was sure it would be silly. In addition, I knew the actual story could never compete with my imagination (stop chuckling – that’s not what I mean!). In my mind I could see vividly an army of super models in baggy battle fatigues (they would have to be baggy, no one makes battle fatigues in size 0), and 5” stilettos. Cheryl Tiegs and Christy Brinkley, since they are both in their sixties, would serve as commanding officers. Famke Jensen and Heidi Klum fly overhead in vintage WWI Fokker DR1’s. Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington both drive APC’s filled with commandos from the catwalks of Paris, New York, and Milan. Iman is there commanding her elite, Ecru Beret Forces, which include Kate Upton, Kate Moss, and Gisele Bundchen – all of whom carry bedazzled Kalashnikovs. Those are the ingredients of a proper Super Models War.
Oh the curse of a literal mind.
Several years ago, James Thurber wrote a piece in the New Yorker about taking adults literally when he was a child. His dreams were terrorized by the woman who was “all cut up,” the man who was “all ears,” the man who “could not put his foot down,” and the woman who “lost her head.” The simple use of language requires the simple use of common sense. We need the ability to decode – to discern between a colorful phrase and a literal statement. We bring this common sense to books and newspapers, texts and tweets, movies and television programs, conversations and negotiations or we will fail to understand them at all. We must bring the same common sense to the Bible, or we will not understand it.
Seminary exposed me to a wide variety of serious scholars. They had many different approaches to understanding the word of God. Some were puzzlers and tinkerers – always looking to solve a mystery, or find a new meaning. Some were crusaders, looking for a theological underpinning for their cause. Some were engineers – taking apart and categorizing the grammar, the vocabulary – and in the process coming up with eccentric and improbable conclusions. Some were members of the cheer-squad – looking only for the happy thought, the encouraging phrase. There were the Literal Leonards, the Metaphorical Marvins, the Doom and Gloom Divas, and so many others in the interpreter’s bestiary.
I am sure I bring my share of preconceptions to the Word. But I have always believed that our task as readers is to listen with prayer and common sense. “What does the Bible say?” should be a simple enough question to answer, if we will be still for a moment and listen prayerfully. Jesus, especially, speaks simply. The great challenge is not to puzzle out the things that lead to life and godliness, but to live a life faithful to the Word.
Unfortunately, there are many who are too bored, distracted, misinformed, or irascible to be satisfied just to listen. And so we end up hearing all sorts of fantastical absurdities – Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ girlfriend, Jesus will one day rule from a throne in Jerusalem, it doesn’t matter how we worship, baptism is optional - all about as probable as a Super Model war with all the ordinance and trimmings.
Let us all be aggressively skeptical of any argument which is the product of exotic or byzantine reasoning. If Albert Einstein could state his theory of General Relativity in two pages, I should be able to answer a Bible question of cosmic proportions succinctly as well. If it takes a person 40 pages to argue that baptism isn’t necessary, that person is wrong. The Bible says plainly “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” (Acts 2.38). That is what it means.