Yesterday I kicked off this little series on the Bible which aims to lean in to some of the angst that is often felt by people (Christians, mainly?) who really want to engage the Scriptures on a level that goes beyond just a surface acceptance of the Text.
Stylized like this Jimmy Fallon bit, in this post I offer the third PRO/CON of Reading the Bible.
PRO: The Bible reflects ways in which humanity has sought after, heard from, wandered from, and engaged with their Creator
CON: Those interactions all occurred a long, long time ago, and can be quite violent and disturbing.
Even though our 21st century is worlds apart from the ones we find in the Bible, the essence of what it means to be human hasn’t changed all that much. The Bible is full of stories of how humanity has sought to connect with their Creator, and who doesn’t find their own stories reflected in these stories?
For instance, have you ever felt like the people you trusted most in life (say, your family) all ganged up on you, and treated you like dirt? Made you feel like an outcast?
If so, you can relate to Jacob in the book of Genesis, who’s brothers sold him in to slavery because they didn’t like him and were jealous of him.
Have you ever made a horrible mistake and betrayed a close friend, and wondered if they’d ever forgive you again?
If so, you can relate to Peter, who denied he even knew Jesus. Only to then have Jesus come to him later and affirm his love for him, forgive him, and restore their relationship.
I could go on and on… stories of heart break, stories of betrayal, stories of questioning and doubting God, stories of triumph and overcoming…
Stories of God never giving up on us. A God who is compassionate, and merciful, and slow to anger.
These stories are the stories of humanity whether it happened 3000 years ago or happened last week.
But still, that being said, it can be kind of weird, when you stop and think about it, that we orient ourselves around and follow things that were documnted in a book written so long ago.
It raises a really good question: Honestly, what does this dusty ancient book have to do with me here today?
I was sitting at Modern Times, a bar here in North Park, writing this. And I was surrounded by a wall made entirely out of floppy disks. You remember those? Little square disks of color that held 1.44 megabytes of data? I think I fit my entire Freshman year of college on ONE of those disks.
Then you look over and their bar is made out ofold VHS tapes.
Floppy disks and VHS tapes. Ancient, ancient techonology… of like 20 years ago!! But now completely irrelevant and useless to us.
Ours is a culture that thrives on the Next-Best-Thing.
We all know this to be true.
What is the newest and latest model?
So to consider, then, giving ourselves to a book written two to three thousand years ago can seem at best naive, and at worse irresponsible.
I think It’s easy to read some of these Bible stories and think “what in the world does that have to do with me today?” Not only that, but they seem so barbaric, and primitive, and violent… because, well, they are!
It’s tempting at times to want to dismiss the Bible because of the atrocities that we read in stories like those found in the OT.
But one of the things I’ve had to reconcile with is this: if God truly desired to interact with, engage with, and be in relationship with Creation, with humanity, then what choice was there but to do so with.. well.. humans?
in other words, God didn’t really have a choice in the matter when it came to WHO to work with, and HOW to work with them.
The world of the OT was barbaric and violent and filled with warfare.
It’s kind of like parenting: if you, as a parent, have any hope whatsoever to raise a mature 20 year old who is full of compassion and love and respect, well then you HAVE to start with a winy, needy, violent, selfish, disobedient child!
And consider this: God’s blessing on people, like the Israelites (who engaged in some rather bloody warfare and went through their own seasons of oppressing people) is not a blanket acceptance of all their actions.
I was reminded of this concept recently when someone on FB said something to the effect of, “well, if you voted for Politician X a couple years ago, and you still support them today, then that means you have to be in full support of all the things they have done while in office!”
And I pushed back by saying that I, as a parent to my children, will always hold them in my blessing. I will always support them. But of course that doesn’t mean that I therefore must always (or WILL always) support or be in favor of everything they DO!
So to believe that God chose Israel as a nation that God would then bless uniquely so that they could be a blessing to the rest of the world does NOT mean that God therefore blessed or approved of everything they did as a nation, or of everything some of the characters in those stories themselves did.
A couple more thoughts.
Keep in mind… God was working with the raw materials of humanity thousands of years ago. And so we should expect then, when reading the Bible and reading these stories, we should expect to see that type of world reflected.
But we should also expect to see a God who is about the business of trying to help humanity towards greater love, and peace and unity and wholeness.
When we read, for example, a story in the OT where we are told that God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, we must ensure that we also pay attention to details like God also telling them that once they subdued their enemies that Israel was then to treat their neighbors and others with respect and hospitality.
I also wonder if a lot of what we see in the OT, the stories of God seeming to be a violent or war-like God, are examples of a sort of Divine Accommodation.
In other words, picture this:
If I’m God, I personally might object violently to violence, for I am a merciful, compassionate, forgiving God.
But I ALSO am 100% committed to this project called Creation.
Committed to the restoration and reconciliation of all things.
But in order to do that, I have to make some accommodations of my inherent values and principles in order to effectively engage with humanity.
Just overriding your free will isn’t an option. Love has to be completely free otherwise it isn’t love.
So I make some accommodations… but I don’t just stay there, in that place, nor do I leave you there.
I accommodate and then I invite and compel humanity towards transformation. Towards growth. Towards maturation and evolution and greater wholeness and equality and love and peace.
Eventually it becomes evident that I can only do so much going about it like this. So I choose to visit my creation, showing up as someone just like them, so that I can actually physically show them who I am and what I’m like.
And you guys, this is so important, and I feel like I say it all the time… but the God we are introduced to in the OT is NOT the final , not the last, not the best, not the most accurate picture of who God is and what God is like.
That is found in Jesus.
The Bible is not a flat document.
Everything is not weighted equally.
If the scriptures are not read through the lens of the person of Jesus then we are doing it wrong.
Okay… my point for this Con is this: yes, there is a lot in the Bible that is disturbing and confusing, and at times it can portray a really cruel and violent God. But those are incomplete and inadequate pictures of God. We HAVE to look at Jesus or we will constantly be led astray.
And to dismiss the Bible because of those sorts of stories is, in my mind, to not fully understand or appreciate what the world was like back then and what God was (and indeed still is) attempting to do with Creation.