I Believe It All Makes Sense

Posted on June 1, 2012

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As a child raised in a Christian home, I learned the song Jesus Loves Me, which contains the lines, “Jesus loves me/this I know/for the Bible tells me so.” I also sang, “The B-I-B-L-E/yes that’s the book for me/I stand alone on the Word of God/the B-I-B-L-E.” Even as I child I understood the central role the Bible played in the Christian life. I knew that you were supposed to find situations in the Bible that could guide decisions in your own life. For example, King David had Uriah killed after sleeping with his wife. Don’t do that.

As I aged, my understanding of the Bible became more nuanced. I began to understand that the Bible was a collective rather the vision of a single author. I understood a bit more about the history of how it came together and how it has changed. I discovered that what I had assumed to be an English book was a translation from two ancient languages. I learned how this book called scripture had been contested, idolized, ignored, spiritualized, and used to abuse.

Yet, as my understanding of the Bible moved from simple to complex; as it was deconstructed by science, history, and linguistics, it was not destroyed. While I don’t side with those who speak of the Bible as clear, objective, true, inerrant, historically factual, scientifically perfect, and somehow separate from human experience, neither do pitch my tent with those who believe having an even modestly critical mind about the Bible will leave you with a few wise sayings but mostly ashes and dust.

I believe there is a better option and it is my foundational premise about the Bible.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

The Bible is alive. It is adaptable and responsive. It can speak into different cultures and times. It is complex and unknowable. It is both consistent and dynamic. It speaks clearly and requires interpretation.

How can this be? How can a book be alive? At this point, I can no more answer this question than I can say how a person can live and grow and change throughout their life and yet remain the same person. The best evidence I can point to is that throughout history the Bible has shaped Christian life, sometimes subtly and over time; other times quickly and dramatically. This shaping has included many people, events, and inventions the original writers never could have dreamed. This would only happen if there was vitality to the Bible.

Now, most Christians would agree about the lifeblood flowing through the Bible, but only in the same way they believe in the activity of the Holy Spirit: as a statement that is affirmed in confessional moments, but often fails to touch the daily reality of the Christian life.

The reason for this is that Christians, on a practical and theological level, lock the Bible into a stagnant set of affirmations and condemnations. However, the Bible begins to be archaic, outdated, antiquated, paternalistic, and violent when you do this. It stops making sense as soon as you reduce it to a set of rules. As the world changes, grows, and adapts, so too the Bible (and our understanding of it) changes, grows, and adapts.

I am not arguing that the message of the Bible can be made to say whatever we want it to say. I believe there are still better and worse interpretations. All I am saying is that everyone knows old people who are loving, intellectually flexible, and generous. Also there are old people who are none of these things. They have stopped learning, stopped trying new things, stopped reading books, and are set in their ways. Where the first radiate warmth, the later suck life and energy. Sadly, much of the time our attitude toward the Bible is akin to the grumpy old man yelling at kids to, “get off my (theological) lawn because you’re messing up the place.”

I believe the Bible makes sense.

Is the Bible archaic and outdated? Yes. Does it glorify the wonton destruction of ones enemies? At times. Does it reflect a history where woman were not treated well? Sure.

It would be great if these parts weren’t in the Bible. In the same way it would be great if slavery, or the holocaust, or seasons 2-3 of Heroes never happened. But denying that they did isn’t helpful. We can only learn from the past if we look fully into it. We can move forward with the Bible at our side when we see the steps God has taken throughout history to move ever closer to humanity, a movement exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ.

If the Bible makes sense, then sin makes sense.

If something is a sin, it isn’t a sin only because God/the Bible says so; God doesn’t view sin like the way I tell my kids to put on their shoes: because it’s more convenient for me if they do. Sin makes sense because it damages and destroys lives. It may not be immediately clear how it will do this and there may not be a one-to-one relationship, but sin is fundamentally a destructive force.

There may be times when you might choose destruction.

Divorce is fundamentally destructive and yet it may be the best choice to make. Life sometimes brings us situations were our best option is destructive. It may make things easier, such as in the case of severe abuse, to focus on the benefits of our destructive act because it soothes our minds, but even divorce in the case of abuse uses one destructive force to combat another. It’s the same way we justify using war to try and achieve peace. In these moments we say, “We live in a broken world and as we do the best we can we fall upon the grace of God.”

How then do we view something that seems to lack a destructive force, but that has traditionally been viewed as sin?

Many things have lost their (supposed) destructive force when they became familiar: card playing, inter-racial marriage, drinking alcohol, mowing your lawn on Sunday, marrying a Catholic (I’m sure there are other examples). More often it was the fear of the unknown or of what is different that made these things taboo. But as each of these things began to touch a wider percentage of the population, they needed to be re-examined.*

I believe God makes sense.

I do not believe that we can escape ourselves. We are embodied beings. We experience the world through our senses and our thinking takes place in our minds. To say that we can get outside ourselves is either obtuse or silly. Still, we should not feel embarrassed by this, but rather embrace it as God has.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

These words continue to be embodied in the lives of believers, in the work of the Church, and in each translation of the Bible. We live in an age where people are exposed to cultural diversity, where global politics and religious extremism often mingle, and one where, to many people, saying “for the Bible tells me so” is not enough of a reason for either action or protest.

I believe it all makes sense.

I believe human activity, when I have seen it in its best, most Spirit-infused forms, adds to our understanding of the Bible. Psychology, science, history, math, art, food, agriculture, parenting, celebrations, wine, music, invention, manufacturing, television, sports, business, sex, websites, and anything else can deepen and refine our understanding the Bible. A person can stand alone on the world of God, but I will not ignore all of God’s wonderful gifts to focus only on one of the best. I will not dismiss the darkest and most troubling parts of the Bible, neither will I rationalize them away. I will approach the Bible as living and active. I will use it to help me,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Love your neighbor as yourself.’

(Mark 12:30)

 

*Admittedly this entire post is a part of my ongoing thoughts about homosexuality. As someone who takes the Bible seriously, who respects history, but whose heart yearns for theological justification for the full inclusion of all people in the life of Christ. I feel like a lot of what is at the heart of the social discussion about homosexuality is really a disagreement about how we read the Bible.

 

 

Photo: K.Horn

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