As a major in Religion I had heard it all. That my beliefs were false. That you’d be silly to believe in this. The archaeological evidence that disproved a certain story. The contradictions within a text that is without error. The other cultures that our “Genesis” pulls from. Any deep study of the Bible will introduce this sort of as I saw it “Religion bashing.” And as I was taught to do I dismissed it as atheists trying to arrogantly disprove God and all that I stood for. “This is the divine writings of God. The Bible can stand against its critics.”
Looking back I actually regret tremendously my dismissive tone towards many of my professors when they rebuked the beliefs that I saw as immovable. (Though their tone was very cynical most of the time.) After all, this was the reason I studied religion: To put my faith on trial as it were. So to get going two grand points:
1. I believe in God and I believe in Jesus and there is absolutely nothing you can do to convince me otherwise.
Perhaps that seems like the most close-minded outlook on something that “Nobody can prove.” All I can tell you is that for me, it has been proven. An experience of many years ago planted an immovable seed that since has done nothing but grow.
2. I believe the best way to find truth is to do exactly what I had done. Put things to the test. If it is true it will stand the test. Words I won’t accept are “that’s just the way it is”. I find those words to be incredibly poisonous. It’s as if you ask a question and Gandalf himself, staff and sword in the air, screams at you “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” As if some great secret sits behind the question and a great wall of fear is standing in the way of examining the point.
I read my Bible most viciously when somebody teaches me something counter to how I’ve heard it my whole life. Maybe it’s as simple as a different perspective of a passage or story. Or maybe it is some background that breathes life into something that prior just “existed.”
Learning things like the word for Hell -“Gehenna”- actually means “The Valley of Hinnom” and discovering “WOAH! That’s a real place that exists outside the holy city of Jerusalem.”
Or that John was written towards an audience in Asia Minor where people worshiped the Greek God Dionysius and that he, among other labels, was the god of wine and feasting. And that to receive his power you would eat his flesh and drink his blood. You could receive his power by eating a sacred meal.
Or that Matthew was written to a Jewish audience and can actually be split into five sections that resemble the five books of Moses. And that like Moses, Jesus gave a sermon on a mount. And that like Moses where all of the firstborns are being slaughtered by Pharoah, and Moses is spared, Jesus too is a survivor of child slaughter by King Herod. Or how Moses fasts for 40 days and 40 nights while recording the torah, Jesus is sent out into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and 40 nights.
Or that nearly every religious culture had a flood story, some even involving a giant boat and animals.
Or that beginning part of the bible that creationist and scientist have argued for the last uncountable years is actually a poem. And that in the book of John, Jesus performs 7 miracles and that his 8th miracle would have been his resurrection and where does this 8th miracle happen? In a Garden! As if the writer of John wanted you to know there is a new creation story. The seven signs representing the seven days of creation and then at the beginning of this new week Jesus appears from the dead mistaken as a gardener.
You start to see that there is more going on in the bible than an error-proof historical account of the Israelites and life of Jesus and his ministry. There is language that existed to prior cultures. Imagery that would have registered to the audiences being told these stories. Imagery that already had been told prior to the introduction of Jewish and Christian stories.
Jesus meets people where they are at.
Just look at the entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Which the book of Hebrews later tells was never for God but for man. The sacrificial system existed long before God introduced himself to Abraham. It’s why Abraham was so quick to offer his child up to God. It was common for people to sacrifice their children to God. God used what was known to people to help show them his true character.
My point in sharing all of this is that the Bible has so much more going on in it than the common reader often notices. Many of these things however go against the grain of how we’ve been raised to see the bible. Maybe there are errors in the bible. But maybe they aren’t errors. If we leave behind the structured lens of how we are told to look in to the bible, we can explore with great truth a deeper understanding of the God the writers are telling us about. For many the immovable “Word of God” creates a false deity and idol that we put above the truth of God himself (I understand how paradoxical that can sound.)
To say that God has no role in the word is silly. I’m not saying that.
But I try not to remove the humanity that exists in myself with the humanity that existed with the writers of the Bible. My views on God are tremendously different than they were years ago. In the way that my experiences evolve so did the writers of the Bible. (Just look at Paul’s theories of the end times) They documented the God to which they experienced. Which is why the Gospels are so groundbreaking. PEOPLE LIVED WITH GOD! And they taught many about it and some even wrote it down. But rather than this is EXACTLY what happened they used languages and imagery that would have been common to help tell the stories of God. Often pulling from the past to help explain the present. Does this make them false? No! If anything they would have reigned with more truth to the audience of intent.
The writers were sharing their word of God. Inspired by their experiences. And to see the gradual experience of God for the past 6,000 years is liberating to me. I get to see the ways in which people experienced God. The ways in which people understood God. The ways in which the character of God grew. The ways in which more and more and more and more the love of God became the dominant trait. And these things invite me in to the story. We also have a word to say about God. And that draws me in. That I get to tell the world about the God I have experienced and share him in the same ways these writers got to.
That my friends is a LIVING word.
I find great relevance in that.
Now for many and most the secure and comfortable works for them. I’m not barking at you. The way I and others approach the God conversation doesn’t work for you. And that’s fine. Not everyone is meant or wired to have deep investigation. What works for you is trust in your leaders and that is fine. But what happens when your way doesn’t work for someone else? What happens when it limits the God experience for someone who wants very passionately to understand beyond the structured? Or when someone wants to understand why the structure is “the way that it is.” And upon deeper investigation finds something that actually feels more authentic? More true?
Well if I’m being honest the approach is often met by the more traditional voicing fairly mean labels and frantic concerns about the danger that individual is going to cause to all around him. And often when the individual says why they see it the way they do it is met exactly how I responded to my religious professors. Dismissed as we have been told to dismiss. EVEN when it actually makes far more sense.
It’s like saying without a shadow of a doubt the Earth is all there is. You can see the light of the stars but if you leave the Earth you may just find out there is more out there and that TERRIFIES you.
For the explorers it is a walk made lonely. You are finding so many new and wondrous things that are drawing you in and yet when you share them excitedly with others they try to cure you or bring you back or steer you away. But you can’t. You are wired to explore.
THERE ARE STARS!
I was originally going to focus this on the question: “Is God experienced more reliable than God written?” Or to use an example.
Say the bible taught not to eat meat but you had an experience with God that told you that it was totally okay to eat meat. Do you trust the bible or do you trust the experience?
I suppose it’s a guided question because my response was already set up.
Peter (as told by the bible) trusted the experience.
Now I’m not putting myself on the same level as Peter. But I am able to judge my experiences of the living God by comparing them to those whose experiences of God are told and embodied in the Bible.
To wrap it all up:
God is alive. God is with us. God loves us. These are three of the most pivotal points of the New Testament.
The Bible is very much rooted in a time and place.
There is fighting for scripture and there is knowing the context to which the intent lies. Holding to an idea that was relevant 2000 or more something years ago can be clinging to an idea that has long since been left behind. The bible has polygamy, the bible has slavery, the bible has killing adulterous people. While relevance can be found by analyzing this time and place some words and teachings do not have the same relevance as they once did.
It becomes a difficult and hazy line when defending the scriptures against the changing times. Was God’s best for us going back to what he taught 2,000 years ago? Or is a living God pulling us forward evolving us into the new creation?
There is the fear of conformity of course.
But that fear of conformity is why Christians fought for the continuation of slavery. Fought against civil rights. Fought for discrimination and against women voting. The fear was conformity.
Sometimes by just accepting things because “That’s the way it is.” Can be infringing upon God’s reconciling of the world. There were Christians who fought for slavery and discrimination in the name of God. Something upon looking back seems viciously against the intent of God. But if we don’t believe God is pulling us towards the new creation well then shouldn’t we go back to slavery? White superiority? The lessening of women? Or should we listen to the living spirit. Who said He would reconcile all things back to Himself?
A reading from the book of Mark:
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath
3 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
God himself was irritated when the religious were so stubborn that they were putting what was biblically justified in the way of loving a person.
It was the “heresies” of Christ that led to his death.
The lonely Christians are the astronauts. They are the John Glenns, the Neil Armstrongs. They stand on earth and see the stars and they know in their core they must go. Even if they will never reach them. It’s the journey towards. All we can do is get closer.
Rather than criticize those minds so deeply focused in a genuine pursuit of God engage them. Test them. The truth will stand.
“The unfaithful witness is the one who simply transmits the conventional and familiar, unchanged and undigested. He is unfaithful, in the first place, because he is lazy. For the labor of interpretation and contemporization, the work of ‘translation,’ is grueling work and it is never done without abortive trials and breath-taking risks. . . . He who simply repeats the old phrases takes no risks; it is easy to remain orthodox and hew to the old line. But he who speaks to this hour’s need and translates the message will always be skirting the edge of heresy. He, however, is the man who is given this promise (and I really believe this promise exists): Only he who risks heresies can gain the truth.” (The Trouble with the Church – Helmut Thielicke)