As many know, my interest in religion cuts a wide swath. If a Buddhist monk in Tibet has a little something to say, I want to hear it.
And recently, I’ve been hearing more and more from Christians who make up a group I call “the toad people.”
Several of my favorite writers — Richard Rohr, Karen Armstrong and Krista Tippett, to name a few — have come to see many Bible stories as 100 percent true, but also imaginary.
To explain their thinking, let me begin with this:
When poet Marianne Moore was asked for her definition of poetry, she replied, “Poetry is an imaginary garden, with real toads in it.”
What she was saying is that the things we get out of poetry — the emotion, the power, the insights, the sense of humanity — are very real indeed. But the setting of the poem may well be fiction.
In other words, Robert Frost may not have “passed by woods on a snowy evening,” but the feelings and impressions he shares with us in the poem are rock-solid real.
And today, more and more Christians are opting to look at scripture through that same lens. They are becoming “toad people.” They ask, “Does it really matter if Satan dropped in on God one day and made a gentleman’s bet that he could break Job down?” No, they say, because what the book of Job offers is very real. It’s true in its depiction of human suffering, spiritual might, God’s awe-inspiring grandeur and the glory of language to communicate eternal truths.
What's more, the toad people say, even if events depicted actually happened, our modern eyes might not even recognize them. The wondrous Tower of Babel, for example, may not even have put a dent in the Salt Lake City skyline.
If we all went back to witness Joshua’s sun stopping dead in the sky, or Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt, the events might have been so different than we've imagined them that we'd miss them completely.8 comments on this story
For now, the discussion rolls on. What is real in the Bible? What does “real” mean? And "Oh Say, What is Truth?" Of course, the ideas the toad people are spouting have been said before. There’s nothing new under the sun. But I read a lot, and if my take on what I'm reading is right, more and more Christians are paying attention to the "toad take" on scripture.
I do know it's not a debate that will end anytime soon.
In fact, it may go on until kingdom come, when we’ll all get to see exactly what kind of kingdom is coming our way. Unless we miss it.