Is the Bible true?
You’ve probably heard someone ask this question, and, whether you admit it or not, you may have asked this question yourself.
Is the Bible true?
Usually this question has to do with various kinds of truth.
- Cosmological truth. Is biblical creation accurate in light of modern science?
- Historical truth. Are events like the fall of Jericho believable in light of archaeology?
- Moral truth. Is the Bible trustworthy on sexuality in light of psychological and biological studies?
I can’t answer these questions, at least not in any meaningful way, in a single post. But I can suggest another arena in which the answer to the question, “Is the Bible true?” has to be “Yes. Absolutely!”
That arena is what we might call emotional truth, which comes to us obliquely, only through careful attention to small details made almost in passing. Let me explain.
Many churches follow what is called the lectionary, a prescribed set of biblical texts to be read each week. In this way, churches worldwide unite in following the same readings week by week and year by year. This summer, the lectionary works its way through Genesis, the first book in the Bible.
This Sunday, one of the lectionary texts is Genesis 29:15-28, a story at once both familiar and strange. In this story, Jacob works seven years to marry his cousin Rachel. But his Uncle Laban, Rachel’s father, has other designs. When Jacob spends his first night in the wedding tent, it is not Rachel he finds but her older sister Leah. Laban explains that it’s not the custom to give the second sister first. Of course, Uncle Laban didn’t explain this to Jacob until after he’d worked for seven years in order to marry Rachel!
Right smack in the middle of this debacle, right at seven years, there is this unexpectedly sweet note:
So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Think about it. You’ve sat through a class and thought, “Will this ever end?” You’ve been on a trip and wondered, “Will I ever arrive?” Time doesn’t actually go slower—but it feels like it. The earth doesn’t rotate more sluggishly; it just seems like it.
On the other hand, you’ve had the experience of looking at your watch or phone and asking, “Where’d the time go?” “Do I really have to leave?” “Is the night over already?” Again, this sensation isn’t due to the earth’s rotation or the moon’s pull on the oceans.
The unassuming line, So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her, gives us a glimpse of emotional truth.
I know this. I know this to be true.
I’m writing this post a week ahead of the lectionary schedule because I’m leaving tomorrow on a trip to celebrate my thirty-fifth anniversary. I’m writing this beforehand because I’m not, for two weeks, reading anything important, writing anything important, or doing anything important, aside from the most important actions of all—loving my wife Priscilla and being loved by her.
I look back on my thirty-five years with her. That’s 420 months or 12,775 days or 306,600 hours or 18,396,000 minutes. Those days have brought us our share of grueling experiences, when the clock seemed to stop: enduring sudden job loss, spending an endless first night with a daughter in pediatric ICU, anticipating a phone call that never came.
Yet never, never once, has the earth, my earth, seemed to rotate more slowly than I wanted it to in the presence of the woman I married. Never have I wanted time to speed up.
At our wedding, Priscilla and I vowed to be by each other’s side in prayer and in service. Throughout the thirty-five years that followed, I’ve grasped the truth of Jacob’s feeling for Rachel: it has seemed to me but a few days because of the love I have for her.
Is this a cosmological truth? Hardly. Jacob’s feelings—and mine—violate the known rhythm of the universe.
Is this a historical truth? Nope. Jacob’s feelings—and mine—can’t be gotten to by peeling off layers of our psyches, the way an archaeologist digs through centuries of dust and detritus.
Is it a moral truth? Not at all. Jacob’s deepest feelings—and mine—offer no rule book or yard stick for how to order existence.
But it is truth nonetheless.
It is the sort of truth I can understand.
How one person has the power to make time stand still. I look in my mind’s eye and see her, a bride of twenty-three, as the doors to the church open thirty-five years ago.
How one person has the power to make the moments and minutes fly by, like a cityscape outside the window of a rushing train.
It is a truth told in passing. Self-effacing. So normal, so true, as to be nearly invisible. Evanescent but enduring.
You can have your cosmologies and histories and moralities. But right now, thirty-five years in, I’d trade all those types of truth for one covert claim to love: So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Why? Because it’s true. On this count, I know, the Bible is true.
To listen to a podcast on this terrific story, see week 7 of St. Paul's United Methodist Church Summer Together. It won’t be available until Thursday, July 27th or so.
Image: Jacob Encountering Rachel with her Father’s Herds (oil on canvas, 1836), Joseph von Führich