I suspect most think of Bible characters, not as normal people, but as people on drugs. But what would happen if we didn’t?
Normal people have normal reactions to things. They have hopes, dreams, fears, motivations, and all sorts of emotions. The Bible, being a large book covering a lot of time, understandably doesn’t dive into what all the characters are thinking and feeling all the time… But I don’t think readers seem to understand we need to fill in these blanks. So…
Bible characters often come off as… well… like they’re on drugs. I know I’m making a giant assumption here to guess at what is going on in other reader’s heads when they interpret stories, but I think I have a little evidence. First look at movies. To make it easier let’s make it a drinking game. Take a shot every time a character in a Bible movie looks or acts like they’re on drugs. Whenever their actions seem unmotivated, overly spiritual, overly dramatic, odd to what you see every day- take a drink. (Don’t actually do this. I’m scared you’d die.) Some movies might be a little better than others, but you get the idea. Sure most of the movies might just be bad movies, but I think the lack of realizing the humanity of the characters is a major contributor to the badness!
I think you see this in lots of “spiritual” art. How many paintings have you seen of a stoned out apostle with a hallow and psychedelic colors. Why did Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar come out when they did and look like they do? Well… drugs. Judas just had a bad trip on the ‘shrooms (but a wicked good voice).
But more seriously, I just finished performing a play I wrote called Joseph Loved Mary. And the one piece of feedback that struck me the most and I got again and again was how people would say, I never thought of that. They expressed this awe at the idea that Joseph responded and behaved like a human. And these were smart, thoughtful people, many that I know personally.
I wonder if the assumption that these Bible characters act differently than we do is part of the problem. Maybe the constant seeking of “spiritual” experiences we see in church is because that’s where we’ve thought Bible characters lived from. I remember in church constantly seeking that next spiritual high, trying to figure out how to live out of some super spiritual state. I think that’s kind of a common thing.
But what if we thought of Bible characters as real (sober) humans? If Bible characters could be seen with normal human motivations, would that change anything? Could heroes be read as people, so we wouldn’t have to overlook their dark parts? Could the “bad guys” be better understood from their perspective? Maybe they were trying to do good as far as they understood it. Maybe we can relate. Maybe it puts new meaning to, “They did what was right in their own eyes.” Would we maybe respond differently to asylum seekers if we took to heart the fears of Mary and Joseph seeking asylum in Egypt? Would religion be approached differently if we tried seriously to get in the heads of the Pharisees?
If nothing else, when you read Bible stories and try to imagine real, (mostly) sober humans playing the parts, the stories get much more interesting, much more complex, and much more subversive. If you’re going to read the stuff, I’d highly recommend it.