Chasing an Elusive God
An essential guide to reading the Bible, not to find answers but to hear the urgency of the questions.
Is there anyone “up there” to hear our cries for help? Will there ever be justice in this world? Why do we suffer? Is there life after death? Is there a meaning in history? How will it all end? Is there a God? What do we mean by “God” anyway?
The answers are in the Bible, some say. But are they? This book is a guide to reading the Bible not to find answers but to hear the urgency of the questions and to realise that those who wrote the Bible were searching too. They searched in many different ways. Sometimes what they say seems alien to our way of thinking. Sometimes we feel they are kindred spirits. Sometimes they challenge us to think again. Often they argue with one another, and as we read their words and respond to them we become part of the ongoing conversation. This, rather than false notions of “authority”, is what makes the Bible relevant and exciting.
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Ray Vincent's book asks us to take the Bible for what it is - an anthology of different kinds of literature, books each created from materials collected by their compiling author, covering a time-span of over a thousand years. He asks us to be honest about our reactions to the Bible: to acknowledge that whilst in some places we recognize and appreciate what is has to say, in others we have no sympathy whatever for its attitudes. Of the various volumes I know which ask their readers to reappraise the Bible, this is the most gentle: it calmly encourages the reader forward. Its use of biblical material is confident and, a few exceptions apart, its language is neither churchy nor academic. ~ Helen Bellamy, Sofia
How should we read the Bible – as the authoritative word of God, or as a human creation that poses questions rather than offers answers? Ray Vincent suggests that the Bible is a “fascinating collection of literature” compiled from poems, stories and sayings which have passed from generation to generation. The purpose of his book is to help readers to understand the Bible as part of the ongoing search for truth and for God. The stories in the Bible are not there “just for the record”, but are part of the process by which people attempted to understand themselves and their world in the light of their particular perception of God. In reading these stories, he suggests that we ask ourselves why was it so is important to tell them and to tell them in a particular way. Rather than telling us directly about God, the Bible records the experiences and thoughts of people who are searching for an “elusive God”. Likewise, if we read the Gospels without the framework of traditional Christian dogma, instead of a biographical account of Christ’s life we get a picture of Jesus from writers trying to explain their experience of him. Whilst the work of biblical scholars has cast doubts on many things that had been taken for granted, it has made the Bible “a more interesting and exciting book to read”. Such scholarship, however, may make the ordinary reader feel inadequate to the task. To assist, Vincent makes helpful suggestions and provides a very useful historical framework of the Hebrew Scriptures listing 10 episodes of Jewish history linked to the passages of the Bible which refer to these times and which reflect the writer’s experience. The Hebrew Scriptures can then be seen as a debate of many voices, “each telling their own story for their own purpose”. Written in an accessible, conversational style, Vincent’s book offers a guide to “re-thinking the Bible” which will appeal to anyone wishing to read it with imagination and curiosity. ~ Patricia Brewerton , REFORM Magazine
★★★★★ This is the second book by Vincent that I’ve reviewed, and I enjoyed it as much as the first. Ray writes simply and draws on a lifetime of Biblical research. His approach is an even mix of informative and entertaining without coddling. This book tackles the personal quest for God … a quest which repeats itself throughout the Bible. When we question our origin and cosmic purpose, trying to understand who or what God is and what he wants, we’re in good company. We see the same pondering throughout our holy book, from Genesis to Revelation. When we reach different conclusions than our neighbors, we’re again in good company, for the Bible’s authors hardly reached any consensus. So Ray’s newest book is an exploration of the themes of a very human book: the Bible. From the mystery of the divine to the quest for meaning in life to the cry of the oppressed for justice to the emotions which rule us as human recipients to the great question of life after death, Ray journeys through what the Bible has to say—and not say—as the ancients struggle to make sense of the same questions we ponder today. Ray sees the Bible as art, not history. That is what brings life to its pages. He explains with a comparison: “Van Gogh did not set out to inform us what sunflowers look like: a photograph or a botanical drawing could tell us that. What he did was to contemplate sunflowers, to open his heart to them, and to express in his painting the feeling they gave him. Because he did this we can look at that picture today, feel something of what he felt and see sunflowers, and perhaps the whole world, in a new way. That is what great art is about.” Likewise, we must open ourselves up to the world of the Bible, its human struggles and dreams, in order to share in its journey. Excellent reading! I can’t wait for Ray’s next work. ~ Lee Harmon, thedubiousdisciple.com
If you have problems with your Christian faith and the Bible this interesting and well-written book won`t make them disappear but it will illuminate them and help you to deal with them in a realistic (I might say `believable`!) and fruitful way.` ~ The Rev Michael Taylor, Emeritus Professor of Social Theology, University of Birmingham, UK, Personal Endorsement
This is a thought provoking book that deserves to be widely read by any who know their Bible well (or think they do!) and any who admit they struggle with it. It is a good read – and so is the Bible! ~ The Rev Dr Janet E Tollington, Director of Old Testament Studies, Westminster College, Cambridge, UK, Personal
This book can be very helpful to readers who–whether they articulate it that way or not–are searching for connectedness with “the divine” within their confusing and often lonely experience. It is clearly written and presents the consensus of responsible scholarship in a way that makes it accessible to thoughtful readers. I think readers will find the book provides a matrix for viewing their own stories (or searches) within the larger human story. ~ Dale K Edmondson, Pastor Emeritus, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, CA, Personal
Ray Vincent's book expresses a lifetime struggle with the Bible. As a sprawling uncomfortable book, the Bible's “authority” is often not obvious, yet it has captured the imagination and heart. In this little book Vincent seeks to enable his readers to hear in Scripture the family discussions and squabbles of people gripped by God, and to find in their conversations a resource for our own lives. Chasing an Elusive God is written clearly and expressively. Although it is aimed at non-specialists, most readers will continually either discover something new or be encouraged to see something well-known in a new light. ~ Dr Tim Bulkeley, Old Testament Lecturer, Carey Baptist College, Auckland, NZ, Personal