I want to take a minute to talk about speculation. Most of the stories we have in the Old Testament don’t give us a lot of detail, especially about what people are thinking or why they make certain choices. A lot of what I do myself as I reflect on passages is speculate about what it must have been like to be in that situation. I find this is valuable.
Speculation helps us keep the characters real, to remember that they were real people with real emotions in very complicated situations. Speculation helps us find empathy for people we might otherwise write off as wholly evil or too good to identify with. Speculation helps us take applicable lessons from the stories without obvious morals.
However, it must be engaged in carefully, intentionally, and critically. We need to be careful or we can add elements that simply aren’t there. I always think of the example of Noah. It makes a dramatic scene, sure, to imagine Noah preaching and calling for repentance, warning his neighbors about the impending flood, only to be laughed at and ridiculed. The problem is, this doesn’t critically fit the narrative. God had already made up his mind. This wasn’t Nineveh receiving a last chance, the last chance had already passed. Why would he send Noah to waste his time and suffer needlessly?
When we focus on speculation that carries us away from the narrative that is present, we are distracted from the lessons that we should be focusing on. There are other stories in the Bible that teach us to stand firm in our faith while others mock us, persecute us. Noah teaches us the importance of remaining faithful when we are alone, when there is no point left in preaching or sharing the gospel. Noah teaches us to obey when we are given something very difficult, perhaps seemingly impossible, to do.
I already wrote about Noah, I know, but it is such a good example. Compare this to Joseph. We have so very little regarding how he felt about his experience. We only have the moments when he was literally overwhelmed as he faced his brothers in Egypt. Beyond that, we have to speculate.
I believe it is worth talking about why he shared his dreams. I think it is important to suggest that he was not blameless, that his own childish, perhaps defensive, bragging could not in any way justify what was done to him, but it does humanize his brothers. It complicates the situation. I think it is important to discuss the complex emotions he must have been dealing with as he chose to do his work well. I think it is important to discuss his complex emotions as he faced his brothers again. We can learn a valuable lesson about forgiveness versus trust if we speculate.
And, when we speculate, we have to test what we imagine against what we know. Has anything I have supposed about Joseph contradicted anything that is recorded? Do any of the lessons I’ve taken from the passage violate principles that are clearly laid out?
Let’s go back to Noah. Do you want to build empathy with him? Ask yourself how you would feel if you were told that the entire world you know, all the people around you, are going to be destroyed. And yes, you know they’re evil. Are you rejoicing in their punishment? Muttering to yourself the whole time you build the strange boat that they deserve what’s coming and it’s about time? Or are you terrified? Do you think he might have had friends, regardless of their corruption? Do you think he was worried about how they would survive once the flood was cleared? Do you think he maybe kept it a secret because he was worried some would believe him, after all, divination was not unheard of, and try to join him in the boat?
Engage in speculation. Connect to the Bible stories in a human and personal way, but do so prayerfully with honesty about what you are doing, caution, and intention. And examine your Bible study resources for speculation. Do they utilize it honestly? Openly? Or do they present it as fact? What about the traditions you’ve accepted? Are they scriptural or speculative?
Deconstruction isn’t about tearing the Bible apart, it’s about separating the speculation from the Scripture, the tradition from the Bible. It’s about testing that speculation and those traditions against the Bible to find what is worthy and what should be amended.
Series Disclaimer: throughout this particular series, it is always possible that I simply missed something, or honestly forgot it. I am, however, operating on the assumption that my experience is actually fairly typical despite coming from a comparatively small denomination. I feel justified in this assumption because I have put effort into interacting with and listening to as wide a variety of people as I can, and I put effort into paying attention. My entire life I’ve put effort into paying attention, into understanding. So perhaps I’ve missed something, or forgotten a single lesson, but I am speaking of broad impressions of a large culture. Should your experience differ, I am glad. Should I be wrong, I would be relieved.