New Year Book Review

The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart
by Peter J. Gomes

So many of us want to be individuated and make responsible decisions, to become uniquely ourselves, yet to belong to others. We crave community. In our search to realise these desires, what value should we give to the Bible?

Peter J. Gomes is a Harvard professor, and an outstanding  preacher and writer. He presents an argument in favour of taking the Bible seriously. He addresses it to those who either trivialize or idolise it, thereby miss its dynamic, living, and transforming quality. Gomes invites us to enter into the Bible and let it enter into us. Quoting one of his favourite teachers he says “Apply yourself closely to the text; apply the text closely to yourself.”

Gomes treats his subject in three sections of intelligent and utterly readable informal conversation:

  1. what is it?
  2. how can those who have been excluded  (by reason of race, sex, including sexual orientation that draws from the Anglican tradition’s documents) from the Bible re-appropriate it?
  3. what does the Bible have to say to me?

He is concerned with questions of the age such as: am I the only one who is confused? What can I trust?  Am I on my own? Can I feel good about myself? And how can I face the future? These questions, Gomes goes on to demonstrate, are answered by the Bible.

Listen to what he has to say about science and religion quoting Frederick Burnham, a Christian who calls chaos theory a new theology. “Chaos theory reveals not only that there is unpredictability and that nature is open in its process, but that there is also in this randomness a certain ordered freedom, and that the order and the freedom are bound in a relationship…Everything in creation is free and yet simultaneously and paradoxically bound by its relationship to everything else that is.”  Therefore he infers we all belong to one another! And whatever each of us does affects the entire world. The Bible has nothing to fear from science and science with its wonder and awe and infinity can identify with such sentiments expressed by the psalmists and other Biblical hymns.

In his final chapter Gomes deals with the Bible and Mystery. Mystery lingers, deepens, and develops a meaningful relationship with the one who is drawn into it. We are enchanted by what we find. We discover the love that binds us, he says.  “He has made everything suitable for its time yet the eternity that draws us remains obscure. We are not meant to understand it as much as to probe its meaning, and be drawn into it.”

Following the fall of communism, and following the failure of many of our world systems now we confront “the bleakness of our own interior life and futility of our terribly threadbare hopes.”  This profound poverty of spirit, this soulless and spiritual barrenness leaves us desperately thirsty for a real source of living water. In an upbeat fashion Peter J. Gomes proclaims that the good life is still available to those who search for it.

— Reviewed by Sr. Patricia McGowan



The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart
by Peter J. Gomes
Harper Collins, New York, 1996