“I’m a Bible-believing Christian!” someone said to me. “Which part?” I asked. “All of it,” came the confident reply. This assertion wasn’t true – not remotely. And that’s a good thing, because parts of the Bible are confounding at best and criminal at worst.
Want to own a few slaves? Go for it. Feel like selling your children into servitude? Sure, if you can get a good price. Adulterers, Sabbath-breakers, newlywed brides found not to be virgins, gays, those who take God’s name in vain, sun-worshippers, anyone guilty of cursing or assaulting his or her parents, and those held in contempt of court: Kill them all. God will sort it out.
Let’s not ignore the joy of seeing one’s enemy suffer as they witness their children’s deaths (specifically, by means of bashing in their brains); the seemingly divine-orchestrated acts of genocide; and God ordering the sacrifice of children as a sign of faith.
This doesn’t even take into account that you can’t eat shrimp ya-ya, bacon cheeseburgers, hasenpfeffer, or wear clothes blended from two different fabrics (so much for my favorite pants) without falling under condemnation. So, no – thankfully – I’ve never met anyone who believes, much less practices, all of the Bible.
All these unscrupulous commands duly noted, what are people who love the Bible, and who find great comfort, direction, and inspiration from the Bible, to do with it? Should we abandon it all together? Should we construct a massive interpretive matrix to explain away all that we find offensive? Or should we editorialize as Thomas Jefferson did? A man of the Enlightenment, he simply removed what he found too extraordinary in the text to believe.
For my part, I love the Bible. I read it, study it, and teach it, as it has been a “lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” And yes, I believe the Bible, not wishing that any of it be redacted (see below). But I’m not a biblicist whose faith rests on the text being unimpeachable. I want to recognize this Book for what it is: A raw, soil-stained, dairy of the human struggle.
That is, the Bible is descriptive more than prescriptive; theological history more then constitutional law. It is a ragged, earthy, description of how human beings have perceived God. It is a “pointer,” looking back to these earliest understandings, as primitive, violent, and rudimentary as these may have been.
Simultaneously, it points forward and upward; to what can and should be, revealing a mature, compassionate, spirituality best captured by the words of Jesus: “Love God and love your neighbor. Everything hangs on these two pegs.”
No, the Bible should not be used to inflict suffering on others, nor should it be imitated and duplicated by people millennia removed from its original context. Rather, let it direct us to lift our heads and hearts, to point us toward “ways and thoughts higher than our own, higher than the heavens are above the earth.”
(Photo by Raul Petri )