Often when I read Scripture, I find myself thinking about my friend Jacob. The reason is not that I see Jacob reflected in the sacred page: I don’t see his silhouette masked behind Psalmist’s righteous man, or hear echoes of his voice in Christ’s parables, or find his life story similar to that of his patriarchal namesake in Genesis. Jacob comes to mind when I hear the Word of God not as one who harmonizes with the Good News, but as an objector, like one of Job’s scholarly companions.
Jacob is a good-natured, extremely liberal, humanistic and atheistic conservation biologist, whom I respect immensely for his intelligence. His voice (for some reason) has found a place in my mind as the “sed contra” to Catholic doctrine—the sceptical “Well, actually…” that constantly questions the truths revealed in Scripture. While I read Genesis, as I’m mouthing, “In the beginning God created…,” Jacob’s voice chimes in: “How do you know the world is created? Do you really believe all that?” Then my meditation begins to go awry as my thoughts run off into the stressful realm of rebuttal. When I take this way of reading the Bible too far, Scripture becomes merely Contra Jacobism, as I begin to interpret the Word of God primarily as a tirade against the heresies of my secular friend.
Over time, I realized that this way of reading Scripture has negative consequences. The danger is this: If we read the Bible primarily in response to the opinions of unbelievers, we will begin to see God’s self-revelation as something merely directed toward the missionary activities of argumentation and apologetical discourse. This mindset can distract us from the relationship to which revelation invites us: a trusting communion with our heavenly Father through Christ.
In our apostolic life, communion must precede mission. When we listen to God, we must first open our hearts to the communion to which he is calling us. It is only from that position of faith and trust that we can securely turn to hear the questioning voices of those who do not yet believe.