By PHILLIP SPENCER
To the fair number of people who have asked: as a matter of fact, I have been watching the 10-hour series, The Bible, that has recently started showing on The History Channel.
And, yes, I am finding it interesting, though I would dearly love to know how the film’s producers have made their decisions as to what to include and what to leave out. It is a bit like a stone skipping across a lake — it touches down briefly and moves on, but most of the lake is untouched.
The Babel story, Jacob, Joseph, the wilderness experience of the Hebrew people are barely remarked upon and I would love to have seen those stories addressed.
Still, the places on which it has focused so far have been intriguing and some moments I have found quite helpful. The creation story is revealed through brief images and this might indeed be the only way that part of the story can be reasonably told. Another segment — the relationship between Sarah and Abraham and, therefore by extension, Hagar — is one that I have found revealed for me some new insights. I was especially moved (perhaps even disturbed) by the extraordinarily wrenching incident of the encounter between Abraham, Isaac and God on the mountaintop. I was no less struck by the intensity of the character of Moses. He is perilously on the edge of madness in his drive, in his ferocious commitment to his staggering task.
I understand that the story will shift half way through from its focus on the older testament to telling the story of the newer one and I admit to being quite curious about how Jesus will be portrayed. Jesus is, after all, at the centre of the Christian faith, the lens through which his disciples understand the nature and character of God. How will they depict his humanity and his divinity and not make him other-worldly?
Certainly the complaints by the religious establishment of the day that he spent too much time with sinners suggest to me that he was a most engaging and approachable individual. On the other hand, how will they present his humanity without descending into schmaltz? Will they show us his “edge” alongside his warmth?
The fact that I am even engaging in this musing is a result of having spent some time pondering the book itself, the Bible. It puzzles me, encourages me, irritates me, and rarely leaves me in the place that I began. I have approached it in different ways over the years. Ethical guide, rulebook, historical document, oracle — the Bible has played different roles in my life. Latterly, however, I have come to realize that in its reading I find myself increasingly drawn into the story — not as a simple observer — but as a participant. It is as if it has become my story, too.
If you haven’t already watched it, you might want to tune in some Sunday night. Of course, the movie’s never as good as the book.
Rev. Phillip Spencer ministers at St. Stephen’s United Church, Qualicum Beach