“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”
-Oceans, Hillsong United
Just because something may seem dangerous, doesn’t mean that it’s truth is negated. Often times our fear of this possible danger builds borders around ideas to protect us.
This is very obvious once we notice it.
I noticed it likely the first time I heard someone say God created the universe with “apparent age.” That beliefs suggests that even though scientist may be revealing through carbon-dating that the universe is older than Biblical Literalist have taught, the “Bible teaching” is still true because God made Creation look older than it really is. It is so obviously conforming the truth to our box, that you have to stare eyes wide open and ask is that what we are doing to everything?!?
I’ve heard people say that when we face some uncertainties about the world, ourselves, and the universe, we should always bend towards the authority of the scriptures for truth. But this literally means bend truth towards the Bible. And that’s just too dishonest for me.
The fear that questioning authority is to lose one’s grounding (and to lose one’s truth), is not an argument that disproves the claim. It’s a fear that silences the question. A fear that protects security.
As it’s been so perfectly put out to me, people don’t resist change, they resist loss.
I have learned that it’s hard to abandon things you’ve held with certainty your whole life. There is pride, comfort, and ego attached to certainty. It’s easier to hold things together and say I am right, and they are wrong. I don’t think many understand how well acquainted I am with this loss and pain. Often the assumption is that skeptics prefer to stir things up instead of assuming a long and difficult journey of loss and wandering through lonely doubt-filled deserts. At times my religion has experienced some truly difficult losses that left me questioning the entire foundation. I acknowledge that the fear of losing grounding is a very real thing to fear. At times, my journey has felt this way. But as I’ve also experienced, you cannot “unsee” certain things. Any attempt to return to how I used to see things just didn’t work. Even when I faked it. The reality was the insecurity; the reality was the questioning of my standing. Who would ever want that in their life? Why would one volunteer to move towards that loss?
It’s like Peter and the disciples when they saw Jesus from their boat….walking on the water. See, Jesus was standing on that which the disciples feared could not be solid. The solid ground was in the boat. Most of them thought they couldn’t go to Jesus out there. They would sink.
But not Peter.
Peter called out “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Sometimes we see a Ghost before we see Christ. And that can be terrifying.
Sometimes we see Jesus in places we don’t expect. We expect Jesus to be exclusively in our box. Or rather…our boat.
But Jesus wasn’t in the boat.
“Come.” Jesus said. So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.
Walking on what we’ve always been taught isn’t solid ground can be terrifying. And like Peter we may take five steps out there and start sinking and try and go right back to the boat.
But Jesus isn’t in the boat. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
So why would one volunteer to move towards that loss?
Because that’s where Christ is! Death and resurrection. Loss for life.
“If your faith is threatened by something that’s true, then it wasn’t much of a faith to begin with.” (Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God)
I learned something important in stepping out of my boat of theological certitude, I learned to trust the divine. I learned to have faith. And before you say how dangerous that idea is. Is it not what Paul said we would be able to do?
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
He’s not saying anything here about “scripture.” He’s saying authority and wisdom is found in God as led by the Spirit. Not some divine pen-stroke. God allows us to see Him, and he uses that as his Word. When I speak of my experiences of God…it is a word of God. Is that not what every pastor prays before a sermon? That the words they preach would not be their words but God’s words?
Do we actually trust that God could do that?
Does that prayer mean the sermon we give will be perfect? OF COURSE NOT! We might take three steps forward and two steps back! We easily know this and have experienced this, but for some reason we think the authors of the Bible behave by a different standard! I’ve taught things in past sermons with so much certainty is scares me to think about how strongly I no longer believe those very things. And every pastor if they are honest has done this! We evolve, we grow. We hold passionately to our beliefs just to read a new book and see everything differently. It’s part of being human.
That’s what the scriptures are. The scriptures are the words of God in the words of people. (Richard Rohr)
God seems to be completely okay with allowing us, with all our mess, and with all our limitations, to tell His story. He allows pastors week after week, generation after generation, to give sermons of all varieties and perspectives and traditions. If the Spirit is so damned concerned with the perfection of her teaching, she could do a better job.
People like Paul didn’t operate any differently than our pastors on a Sunday morning. They had strong beliefs that changed over time with experience. We get to see plainly Paul trying to work his questions out in each of his letters. We look so reverentially to the early voices of the faith because they are most closely attached to the source of our truth. Because they are most closely attached to the actual Word of God…Jesus the Christ.
But even Paul disagreed with the apostles. In Galatians 2:11-14 we find this humanity in our Biblical sources! They disagree and argue with each other about what they are teaching and how they are living. Peter struggled with Paul’s understandings of the Greek inclusion and circumcision.
The Bible was written by men (and whichever woman wrote Hebrews) who had real, transcendent experiences. And we get to look in and learn from them. The Bible, is the ongoing experience of God as told by God’s people. It’s told through their cultural lenses, and through the limitations of their already preconceived ideas of the divine. This doesn’t mean they never transcended what was preconceived. We find this happen even in the Scriptures! The former ways are revealed moot. One idea will later lead someone beyond. Often times the writers of other OT books have to clarify the obvious contradictions of Israel’s laws. So often Jesus transcends and includes the former ways.
We sit easily by today and say that no, we should not stone or kill people who have affairs or commit sexual sins. We know we shouldn’t lose our minds over eating shrimp. We can barely fathom a reason that that would ever make sense. But there was a time where people believed very strongly that it was okay to kill the sexually immoral (that God demanded this), and that it was evil to eat shrimp or pork. But humanity evolved. We became more aware over time. And we will continue to do this. The Bible is a testament to this evolving consciousness. The Bible is the tradition of seeking to know and experience that which holds everything together. It’s why the claims of Jesus are so profound. Jesus shows us the face of that which we seek to know. We look to Him.
This is what it means to read the Bible in light of Jesus. We now read these stories with Jesus in mind. Did Jesus lead us to murder our enemies and pregnant women? No. Did Jesus lead us to stone adulterous women? No. Our words of God became flesh. Jesus was the revelation of what was true of that long tradition of seeking to know and experience the divine. He’s the quest in the flesh. He’s the cornerstone that builds the whole foundation.
“The Bible is not a Christian owner’s manual but a story-a diverse story of God and how his people have connected with him over the centuries, in changing circumstances and situations.”-Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So, 163
This doesn’t mean that truth is relative or that God changes. Rather that we are relative, and we change. We evolve, and with this evolution so do our understandings of God. This isn’t just true for us, but also it’s true in the Bible. Faith is a subjective thing, there is no avoiding that. The faith of the authors was subjective. I’m not sure why this idea is so often received as shocking.
We now have tools to X-ray the human body. We can send a camera inside a person and take pictures of what is going on. We can watch a child develop. We can study the brain. We’ve sent people into the heavens and brought them back home. We’ve sent telescopes into space and seen beyond our galaxy. We’ve dated fossils dug up from the earth. These are not things the authors of Scriptures could do. Yet we bind the truth of our universe to people who thought there were vaults of water in the sky locked behind a glassy firmament with doors that opened for the moon and windows to let out the rain. Humans can understand some matters more than ever before. And this shouldn’t be a bad thing or something to fear. As Augustine of Hippo wrote, “Whatever truth is found, it belongs to God.”
It should not surprise us that ancient understandings of God sound ancient. Or that ancient understandings of the universe sound ancient. They are what they are.
The reason God is seen as a bloody, warrior, God who tells His people to kill babies and pregnant ladies is because that’s what gods did thousands of years ago. It’s the lens by which the Israelites understood a god. Territorial gods would either win your battles if you were obedient, or cause you to lose if you were not. This wasn’t just a Biblical idea. It was the ideas of the world. All gods asked you to sacrifice your child, it’s why Abraham isn’t like “heck no!” The authors of the scriptures operate from their vantages, but what’s so divine and brilliant is they often transcend these vantages as well. This is what it means to start with the human to reach the divine. They often point beyond what was culturally determined. And that even in the midst of the barbaric, they teach us incredible things about who God is, and who we are. The text of the Bible mirrors human development and understanding. This is what I mean when I personally use the term “living word.” It’s what excites me so much about my role in the story and your role in the story! We each have a word of God to share with creation! Orchestrated by our time, our culture, and our experiences. The Bible is constantly inviting us to interpret it and wrestle with it. This isn’t just a task for Christians. It’s a task for anyone that is human.
Things in the Bible seem so barbaric…. because THEY ARE. And this is okay. When the Bible says God said to kill all those babies….God didn’t say that! The authors of the Bible said this. How often do we use God to justify our evil? “I’m going to be an ass to my underage roommate who drinks because the Bible says he’s wrong to do that.” This is how the NRA can become so closely attached to evangelicalism. Or how Christians can decide to not bake a cake. Or how we allow Israel to continue to unjustly treat others. Or how white men could see themselves superior to all others. Who do they often cite for their superiority? We justify our judgements of others with the scripture alllll the time. We use God to make our evil look justified. We do it, and so did the authors of scripture. Fortunately, there are many authors within the Scriptures who self-criticize the religion and Israel for constantly falling victim to this.
There are numerous claims that challenge even the New Testament writings. Jesus didn’t know Greek! Shocking as it may be the words we have are Greek words. “We don’t have the original words of Jesus, except for maybe a few small instances that speak to the original language and that’s not even the point, the point is the Spirit that was released in the risen Christ in history is guiding our hearing of the word of God so the key is to be a Spirit – led person, surrendered to the Spirit, then you can test and approve of what you’re hearing by discerning and holding things openly. If you’re still ego led, you’ll misinterpret. You can have a doctorate in scripture and you’re going to misinterpret. (Richard Rohr conversation with Rob Bell.)
I’ll let you pause at the shock of that statement, read it again, think about it, and when you’re ready let’s keep moving.
Do you approach the scriptures for the sake of debate? So that you can argue what you believe more clearly? So that you can tell the world why Christianity is right and they are wrong? Is that why you read the Bible? If so, close the Bible and walk away. That is an ego-led approach. Instead, invite the Spirit to speak to you. Invite God to breathe life into anything you read that resonates with truth.
I’m always fascinated at how seemingly it made more sense that Jesus was the fulfillment of so many obscure prophecies than say…the authors of the New Testament were very aware of the OT prophecies and therefore wrote them into the narratives of Jesus’ life. This is not to say he wasn’t actually the Messiah. Or that he wasn’t actually the Christ. Simply that the narratives of his life seem deliberate to cross off certain absurd prophecies that make for entertaining stories. Like that darn donkey. Or take the story of Jesus calming the storm. Read that story and then go read Jonah 1:4-11. Or Read the Gospel of Matthew and then read the story of Moses in Exodus. The Gospel writers knew what they were doing. They each had their own agenda. And this is why the stories differ on numerous details and timelines. History wasn’t the priority. Pointing people to the Christ was. And they told the story in confrontational ways best equipped to help their audience experience the Christ.
I don’t share all that was unraveled in my faith to destroy your faith. I’m not trying to say none of it happened. Nor do I wish to leave you insecure about all you’ve ever learned and known.
But with every death, there is an opportunity for new life in Christ. We are invited to follow Jesus. To die to ourselves, and arise with the Christ.
Where do we go if the authority of scripture is something to question? How do we know what is and isn’t truth? The Scriptures teach that they are all summed up in two ideas: Love God, Love people. Dare I quote the same verse twice in one essay? “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)