I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Bible this year.
I said it.
Oh, I know what I’m supposed to say about the Bible- it’s divinely inspired, living and breathing, sharper than any double –edged sword. I know what I’m supposed to do- read it daily, memorize it, “eat it” (Jeremiah 15:16), “hide it in my heart” (Psalm 119:1).
But I’m trying to be real here.
And in my current season of life, that’s not quite where I am.
This year, these feelings have been precipitated by a writing piece I’ve been working on as well as the inspiration and wisdom I’ve read from several authors/bloggers I respect. Rachel Held Evans posts about Biblical Womanhood and points out that this can mean anything from making a woman marry her rapist, to calling your husband master, if you take the Bible at its literal word. She was making a point that we need to ask better questions about why we interpret things the way we do and to be wise with the way we throw around “Biblical” in front of words. Because we all “pick and choose” which scripture to follow. For example, I choose not to follow the scripture verse that says to kill a woman if she isn’t a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:21). All of this reading and processing got me thinking. I’ve been working on a writing piece in which I’m trying to find 101 verses that Evangelicals no longer follow and 101, in contrast, that if followed, would literally change the world. I’ve had lots of stops and starts along the way. I’ve been working on it since April. It’s now October.
Why do I keep stopping and starting?
I stop often because I lament and am frustrated about the way women were treated in the Old Testament and how certain verses in the Old Testament and New Testament are used to promote gender roles, in particular, that women should be submissive and men should be leaders. I mourn the wars, the violence, God smashing babies heads on rocks. I feel unsettled when I read narrow verses about eternity and can’t fathom God banishing my Jewish friends or my Muslim sisters in the Middle East who lived their lives in Earthly Hells of forced prostitution, genital mutilation, and honor killings. They dealt with this their whole Earthly life, and now, supposedly, they will have a relentless life in Hell in their life after death too?
Sometimes I feel a sense of shame for feeling the way I do. Especially because I “know” what I “should” be thinking, feeling, and saying about the Bible.
But simply put, I can’t fake it anymore.
It’s leaking out.
I bring my Bible to less and less places these days.
I open it less and less these days.
But I am learning more about God, the ways that He/She speaks, more about people and imago dei than ever before. I am learning that the story didn’t end with Revelation. I believe, along with the UCC and other churches, that God is, indeed, still speaking and that he isn’t limited to the sole medium of the Bible.
By looking for him in ways other than this book, I am washed over with refreshment by all of the ways I discover him all around me. In the beauty of the trees. In a song. In the resilience of women and girls who have been trafficked but refuse to see themselves or others as victims, rather as victors. By not reading this book as much as I “should,” I am more acute to these other ways he speaks (kind of like how dogs don’t have good vision, but make up for this with an excellent sense of smell). I guess what I’m saying is I see him everywhere. And it’s not in the more traditional places that I’ve been so affixed to.
He’s everywhere. All day. I see his love win out over evil time and time again. I know that’s supported by a verse in the Bible. Though I’m not reading it right now and quoting it, I am most certainly experiencing it and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God’s hand is in this, making beauty out of brokenness.
There’s some dark stuff in the Bible. Genocides, infanticides, killing animals (God’s creation) to assuage God into forgiveness of sin, commanding women to remove themselves from everyday society simply because they had their period and that this uncontrollable bodily act is somehow so revolting that women should be embarrassed to be seen when it, by no choice of their own, arrives biologically…
There’s beautiful stuff too. You know. Faith, hope, love. Forgiveness, grace, life over death. I can’t read 1 Corinithians 13 without feeling a deep connection to something holy and beautiful. I can’t read the Sermon on the Mount without feeling as though Jesus was truly remarkable, encouraging all of us to live a life very subversive to cultural, societal, even, at times, religious mores.
But for right now, I’m taking a little break from this book. You can tell me that I’m straying in my faith. You can tell me that I shouldn’t be doing this. You can tell me I’m wrong. You can tell me I’m missing out. You can call me a disrespectful sinner. You can tell me that God doesn’t like the way I’m talking about His word. Go ahead.
As for me, I’ll be sitting here, real, raw and exposed, being transformed into something, someone, I hope, that has experienced God on a visceral level, reminded that some of our “Heroes of Faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11 did not even own Bibles. And to let you in on a little secret, I do, in fact, still turn to it from time to time. Just not as often as I have in the past. And to let you in on another little secret, I really do love this book. Not in the pollyanna ways I once used to, but from a part of me that’s been willing to ask questions, talk to God openly and honestly about what’s going on here, and take a chance that even though I may not be reading it, I am, in fact, experiencing it. And sometimes in life we don’t need to read anymore; sometimes we need to get our hands dirty, our toes squiggling through wet grass, because life is meant to jump off the page, have actions to correlate with words, and to be LIVED. Because the story is still being written. Somewhere along the way, I feel as though I’m living the words I have read or heard quoted time and time again. And sometimes I wonder if I’m literally standing on a page in the Bible. But then I realize that I’m experiencing it, in real time, and somewhere in between this reading and experiencing, it all amalgamates, and I don’t know if I’m reading or living or both. All I know is it’s beautiful, it’s holy, it’s reckless, swelling with this life abandoned, messy with watercolor streaks painted far outside the lines. I’m not worried about my behavior (or misbehavior if that’s how you see it) in this season. I’m ok with experiencing God in ways predominately outside the Bible in this current season. Because He’s got me. He’s got you. Letting each one of us experience Him in the ways we connect with him the most. I’ll keep coming back to this book; you can count on that. You can travel the world over, but there is some place in the world that can resonate as home. I guess what I’m saying is I’ve left my “safe home” of Bible reading “quiet times” (Christianese for Bible devotionals) and I’m running around the field, to first base, and second base, and even third, and I will always end at home. I might strike out on my way. But I always start fresh at bat from “home.” I’ve found my home in Christ, and this home is lit with the light from the Bible. And it’s also lit with solar panels and candlelight; it’s energized by some stories of the poor, some preaching, some time spent in solitude out in Creation, sunlight on my face…
So beautiful that the more I think about it, I wouldn’t describe my Bible relationship as “love/hate.”
I’d say it’s “love/freedom,” and it’s an insatiable love that cannot be contained to any page or binding.
If you see me somewhere along the way on my journey to “home,” I’d appreciate your encouragement, not your judgments. I hope we can ask each other hard questions. I hope we can recognize that there is so much going on here than we will ever realize and that’s why it’s called FAITH. I hope you accept me when I say that I see a lot of grey in the Bible, with a few “black and whites.” But maybe you won’t. And that’s ok. I’ll see you at home plate, where we will celebrate the big, big God we worship as this big, big team as brothers and sisters. There might even be ice cream.
The beauty of faith is that it can be questioned, and I think being faithful means to be honest about our doubts and convictions. I think we have made the Bible more important than God and we are now following a book rather than having a dynamic faith and battling it out.
I wrote a similar post about the Bible http://johnadavid.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/how-i-learned-the-bible-is-not-the-word-of-god/
by the way, most of the old testament problems are contextual and the expressions are poetic rather than literal. Prophecies do get symbolic. The Hebrew scribes added a great dramatic tone into most expressions about God, to accentuate the story. When it is said, “destroyed everything” and “killed everyone” that is unlikely to happen but the term is used to institute that the war was carried out in passion, the point was not to promote the battle report as bad.
Again, for instance, God smashing babies on rocks is again a poetical expression and I am also sure that God never did that or does that. Its pointless. Israel saw itself as the carrier of God’s light, law and commands so therefore in the theocratic sense they are they ones who are carrying out the judgement.
Also the cananite wars in the O.T were not genocides. Consider the Amalekites, they had warred on Israel in the past now they were going to avenge with another war. An eye for an eye. To call it genocide is quite a mistreatment.
Also it is true that almost all cultures of that time were male dominant and so the women was not considered equal to man.
I once had a debate with someone who said: 1st century was Christianity sexist. I mean really, the debate just could not get off the ground. My contention at the very beginning was, applying a very modern concept to ancient peoples is a non-starter and that is something that should always be pointed out. But this is not sliding by the issue, only saying that one has to understand culture before the analysis. I guess that is the whole “argument from outrage”, and its not good.
In first century Israel, women were often illiterate and women didn’t have as many rights as men, so the husband was a sort of “covering” for her. Since he was legally and morally responsible for pretty much everything his wife did (Numbers 30:6-16), it made sense that she would defer to him in domestic matter. And note this is not just exclusive to Israel, the whole of the eastern world is somewhat the same.
Have a good day.
oh one more thing, please read Paul Copan’s “Is God a moral monster” it deals with the O.T difficult passages like war, genocide, etc etc