Monday, September 26, 2016
The Year Of Living Biblically
Not too long ago, a book came out, by author A.J. Jacobs (pictured above), editor and writer for Esquire Magazine entitled - The Year of Living Biblically. The book, as the title suggests, chronicles Mr. Jacobs' year-long quest to live his life exactly according to Biblical laws and precepts. Born and raised a secular Jew, and who now self-identifies as an "agnostic" - Jacobs decided to see what it would be like and what would be involved in trying to live his life not only by the major tenets of the Bible (the Ten Commandments), but also to live by the myriad of small tenets found in the book of Leviticus and other priestly writings.
The examples of how Jacobs lives his life for one entire year, taking direction only from the Bible, are at the same time both hilarious and poignant. For example, Jacobs decides that he will not lie or gossip or slander for an entire year, but runs into trouble with this, because as a journalist he, in his own words, "I pretty much lie and gossip and slander" for a living. He tries to wear clothes that do not have multiple kinds of material - so he essential wears white for a year - even wearing a full "Jesus-like" robe to work. He grows out his beard. He hangs out with Hasidic Jews. He tries to not lie ever, but finds that this begins to interfere with his marriage, as small-white lies are the seedbed of every good relationship ("you look wonderful today honey...").
Perhaps the most comical example of Jacobs' attempt to live his life by entirely Biblical precepts is when he is in a park one day, and he encounters an older man who he learns has been in an affair - who has committed adultery. The older man says, "you probably are going to have to stone me now." Jacobs, having saved up rocks in his pocket for just such an occasion proceeds to throw stones at the man, only to have them thrown back at him.
In terms of insight and life-change, Jacobs says that what he found fascinating was that as he was living his life on the "outside" by Biblical precepts, he noticed that slowly but surely he began to live his life on the "inside" in a slightly different way. The outer activities began to impact, in a significant way, the inner life. And so, not cussing, trying to love his neighbor, playing a "10 stringed harp", actually began to change his life in positive ways. At the end of his - "year of living Biblically", Jacobs eventually joined a synagogue. He hastens to add, not because he believed in God, but because he found the community of believers to be helpful for him personally.
One thought that did occur to me, as I have been musing about this book is that in some ways, Jacobs, though well-meaning and good-intentioned in his pursuit of Biblical living, has sadly missed the entire point of the Bible. The Bible was not meant to be lived or read as a book of rules, codes, laws, edicts and tenets for good living. The Bible is not an ancient example of Benjamin Franklin's "Farmer's Almanac". The Bible/faith is not a set of moralistic teachings.
Essentially, Christianity is based on one single and all important concept - a relationship with God (for Christians - that is Jesus). Without the relationship, there really is no point to the precepts and teachings and laws and rules. The teachings of God don't make sense, and are silly when viewed as simply a set of codes. While I don't mean to beat up on Mr. Jacobs, who has at least tried to live his life Biblically (a practice that more of us Christians, including myself, should try to do more consistently), he may have missed the forest through the trees. The "forest", to continue the analogy, of Christianity is the relationship with God, the "trees" are the ethics, laws and edicts of the faith.
What I have been intrigued about, however, is the question of whether living the edicts of the faith can actually eventually lead to a relationship with God. I wonder whether it is possible to develop a discipline for God (the laws), even before one develops a relationship with God (faith). To use another analogy, is it possible to fall in love with a girl by first studying the biological make-up of a human being? Is it possible to learn to speak a language by only learning the grammar of the language? Is it possible to sing a song by only knowing the notes in whatever random order they may occur?
I am not sure about this, but I hate to say that I doubt it. The disciples of the faith are in many ways on a totally separate track from the relationship of the faith. The rules of the faith can be acquired through basic attention and discipline (AKA the Pharisees). The relationship of the faith can only be acquired through a leap and a risk-taken. As Kierkegaard said, "Faith is like being suspended over 10,000 leagues of ocean."
But, now that my blogpost is written, I will go back to playing my 10 stringed harp, and eating my breakfast of locusts and wild honey...to contemplate this question more deeply
All For Now,