Growing up, every year during the summer, my parents sent me to the middle of farmland Ohio for a week long “Bible” camp. It was hosted by our denomination (Protestant/”Brethren”…..but our church looked just the same as any other inter-denominational church at the time), and involved the average amount of any church-camp activities: capture the flag, fireside chats, swimming in the camp lake, girls, soda, sing-a-longs, girls, girls again, and twice a day, a Bible study.
A Bible was one of the objects on the list of things to bring every year. Since I never owned one of my own, I found myself rummaging through the book shelves at home once a year, blowing the dust off some tattered, dog-eared, leather bound Bible from the 1950’s, and stuffing it in my bag beside my socks and water balloons.
But my relationship with scripture hasn’t always been that casual and guilt free. I remember, in particular, a moment after one of our camp bible studies, I was so excited to be done and moving on to another activity, I flung the Holy writ half-way across the room. It landed with a smack, face down on the hardwood floor, and slid 10 feet until coming to rest under a bleacher, some of my notes and random paper’s scattering into the wind as it’s top half flapped open.
I remember immediately feeling remorse and thinking, “What did I just do?” Although no one communicated to me such, I had this gut feeling I had just flippantly defiled something sacred. Out of reverence, and the fear of being struck by lightning (as the cursed and damned sometimes are), I immediately picked up all it’s floating contents, stuffing them back in, and closing it up, held it to my chest in an ambivalent gesture of affection and confused remorse for my actions….hoping God would accept my act of penitence.
And, to be completely honest, that moment has symbolically described my tenuous relationship with the Bible ever since…..
Many, if not most religions have sacred objects and ceremonies. Many, if not most, have a sacred text. The differentiation between the sacredness of the object and the text itself is always a source of constant tension. Many religions attribute the text (content) to be predominantly sacred, other religions consider the object itself sacred, and some religions see it as both.
Growing up in the Protestant church somehow taught me to be a “paranoid iconoclast”. No object of any kind was sacred and/or to be worshiped….they were ALL to be torn down. Someone might get the idea we were under scrutinous self-examination in order to obsessively root out any such object. There was this looming idea that one day, out of the blue, it could be found out, unannounced to you, that you were actually worshiping an object above the Lord God Himself. Just as the golden calf was ground down and made into golden-pesto, by which all Israel ingested it in order to remember how they sinned against God in the desert, so too, we would be made to grotesquely digest the consequences of our sins.
I might be painting a dire and dramatic picture here, but somehow, this was my general impression as a child. As I became an adult, the examples became more overt. Often I heard pastors rail from the pulpit about the importance of reading scripture and knowing God’s word, yet halt the horses in a quiet dramatic hush to softly underscore, “..BUT YOU SHOULD NEVER WORSHIP IT!”
…This idea always made sense to me. I’ve always loved American Protestantism’s almost reckless abandonment of any object or sacred imagery. In some ways, it puts the power back into the people’s hands, and keeps the few from controlling the many by power of sacred objects and secret wisdom. But on the other hand, I see now that it has almost completely whitewashed American Evangelicalism’s understanding of art and imagery, which has had catastrophic effects on how we as a church understand such things as metaphor, irony, hyperbole, etc.
You’d think 9 years of Catholic school would have “broadened” my understanding of sacred objects, but it only heightened my knee-jerk reactions and highlighted the absurdity by which I saw such things as holy water, statues of the saints and Mother Mary, the Apocrypha, and the Rosary. It wasn’t until I began taking Art History courses in college when I learned the church’s relationship with imagery and objects was A LOT more complex than what I was giving it credit for.
So why mention all this? Why tell a small, seemingly insignificant story about my life as predecessor for a discussion on the hallowedness of Scripture?
Well, if it comes down to it, I recognize the intensity of the subject matter and the razor’s edge we all walk when having a deconstructed conversation about the Bible….
Just as I held that Bible in my arms, so long ago, knowing that I might have violated something sacred, I’m also determined to know a God who chooses to value me more than an inanimate relic. It’s a tight rope walk between deep, intrinsic reverence, and the ability to ask the necessary questions, letting go of the unnecessary assumptions in order to arrive at the inherent truth. My prayer is, as I approach this “hornets nest” of a subject, I approach it with precision and the peace of a steady hand, in order that it receives the attention it deserves, while at the same time, asking the hard questions of ourselves as Christians.
ERRANCY vs. INFALLIBILITY
Colossal words when it comes to the Bible. Both are used, often interchangeably, but for the sake of our current socio-political-spiritual climate, giving them closer definition is worth the effort. Sometimes a word is overused/or abused, and becomes a trigger, evoking a certain understanding outside the scope of it’s original intent.
ERRANCY: (according to Merriam-Webster)
: free from error
INFALLIBILITY: (according to Merriam-Webster)
: incapable of error : unerring an infallible memory
2 : not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint : certain an infallible remedy
3 : incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals
ERRANCY…..where navigation gets tricky.
At this point, we can all stop to tear our robes and gnash our teeth. It’s where we finally walk the sacred cow up to the chopping block and swing the axe. It’s a scary and frightening precipice we stand on, but remember, if our imagination created it, then our imagination can lower it, and maybe somewhere in between we can find out the truth about the Bible and errancy.
Growing up in Evangelical America, the Bible’s inerrancy was simply implied. From where I stood, it was a tributary force feeding into contemporary nuances of Christian thought (such as creationism, the pro-life movement, nationalism, human sexuality, and the moral play book for all contemporary fundamentalist/literalist sects of American Christianity). To question the Bible’s fallibility, at the time, was to step on and burn everything sacred in the faith.
But time has helped us see the fallout of this idea, and so has the context by which we understand our faith moving in and among us. The conversation of whether the Bible is inerrant has gone from “not really anything urgent” to ASAP. If you don’t believe me, look how the Bible is being used to handle such subjects as climate change, same-sex marriage, politics, culture wars, etc, etc. It seems the olden days are gone, when quoting the Bible and asserting it’s truth based on the fact we believe it to be so, or because it says so of itself (not really a thing, unless you try and stretch a few verses like 1 Peter 3:16, which only states all of scripture to be “God-breathed”, not perfect….certainly, man is God-breathed and not perfect) **((Also, in philosophical terms, asserting something’s true based on it’s own assertion to be true is what’s called “Begging the Question” and is a fatal error when it comes to understanding what truth REALLY is.)).
So, right away, we are forced into distinguishing whether or not the Bible is TRUE, yet IMPERFECT….which in itself is an interesting question: can something be both flawed and truthful at the same time?
INFALLIBILITY: The compass of intent.
Taking away the Bible’s pure perfection, is scary. It means that we can’t slam it down and say, “See…..it says so!”. In fact, seeing scripture as inherently errant actually demands we engage with it on a deeper level. As a good friend of mine always reminds me, “Any false prophet can quote scripture, but a true prophet has to interpret it.”
Interpreting demands we suspend our judgement and opinions to find out what is really being said, the quoting only gives us license to bolster a topic we already feel strongly about. While both can be used, using quotes as absolute formulas to complex moral dilemmas is one of the most dangerous games we can play with God’s Holy word.
For too long now, American Christianity has scored and underscored the use of scripture as a “moral gavel”….an absolute last call on all our moral decisions, by which we throw down quotes and walk away like we are dropping a mic in a rap battle. But, it seems, we are really just exposing our own laziness and lack of understanding.
Morality isn’t that easy. It’s taken our ancestors thousands of years of pondering morals and ethics to come up with any ideas, and scripture’s contribution has to be more than, “because God says so.” If we are going to give Scripture all the reverence it deserves, and yet not strip it of it’s authority to speak in our lives, it’s important we understand it’s infallibility.
If, generically speaking, “left-sided” Christianity discards the Bible’s authority, and “right-sided” Christianity claims it to be completely flawless….what’s the middle point?
The words infallible and inerrant have been used interchangeably, but they are different in their sentiment. Infallible implies the intent or motive behind something as “without fail”, or to be trusted, even if its content has flaws. In other words, the intent of scripture is infallible. It is meant to communicate how deep and compassionate God’s love is for us, and it does so by communicating through story, prose, poetry, biography, prophecy, etc. It intends to draw it’s readers into relationship and narrative with both God and God’s people…therefore, it is also a living and active part of our relationship with God. In the big picture, the Bible can be trusted, even though some of it’s authors deserve scrutiny.
In the smaller nuanced view: the Bible is written by humans, and therefore, carries with it the weight of their own iniquities and misunderstandings. Considering the intent and approach of each author in scripture should be part of the interpretation process…sometimes even first and foremost. Unfortunately, claiming the Bible to be inerrant and flawless only gives someone the convenience of manipulating and quoting it according to any vague moral stance. But, the Bible is filled with VERY DIFFICULT passages that can’t be glossed over. Failing to acknowledge the bad with the good is fool-hearty and cripples our ability to interpret and understand it.
(To be fair, there are LOTS of resources dealing with Scripture’s inerrancy vs. infallibility. This is only a vague attempt at a summary of the subject. Here’s a good beginning read on the subject.)
In conclusion, it’s my opinion the directional guidepost, or compass, we can rely on, is the intent or motive of the Bible. In this way, it is infallible. However, it is also errant at the same time. Using it’s specific passages and verses to support your own opinion or reiterate what you believe is God’s “will” is a dangerous game of Russian roulette, by which you may find yourself skewered under the weight of your own contradictions. In the end, it takes more effort to remain blind to the Bible’s contradictions of itself, rather then take the time to process it with others who are reading it different than you.
Just the same, if I were to stand in front of a Rembrandt painting, or Rothko, or Monet, I would expect to see the flaws accounted for in the entire work. In fact, this is what makes the experience of seeing a master’s work live, in person, so valuable….you get to experience it’s genius, and it’s flaws all at the same time. Just so, the Bible is genius in the way it’s written and assembled, but getting closer should teach us to begin to identify the beautiful and ugly interwoven together on each page.
Either way, the concept of the Bible being inerrant is dangerous, perilous, and something each Christian should seriously evaluate before making moralistic claims upon it.
Therefore, the leaping point for this conversation is not really whether or not the Bible is perfect as much as whether or not it’s imperfect. If so, what can we trust? Really, this has always been the question. The Bible’s errancy is not so much a problem for the here and now, as much as it is an overarching problem (and pandora’s box) for the future. If some parts of the bible aren’t true, then what parts are and are not, and how do we know the difference between the two? Fundamentalists who cling to the Bible’s inerrancy aren’t fools. Their Biblical posturing comes with it’s own set of problems, yet they understand how letting “a little go” puts everything into question, and creates a chaotic starting point.
But truth still persists. The journey shouldn’t be that frightening, as long as we trust the intent by which we’re meant to get there. If, for example, our hearts are set on knowing God better and selflessly seeking His will, we have everything to prosper. If, on the other hand, we intend to make up a moral laundry list in order to defend our own beliefs and create “us vs. them” scenarios (by which, of course, we are always on the “righteous” side of things), we have everything to lose.
And perhaps this was God’s original intent for scripture and the Bible all along. Perhaps it was meant to confound us and keep us guessing on many things, just so we never turn it into an idol of worship and Holy merit. Perhaps it best serves us all when we are processing, or interpreting what it says, rather than when we arrive at certain moral destinations. After all, morals have not been solved within all of mankind’s history, they certainly won’t be solved by American Christianity in the 21st century by a book that seemingly contradicts itself…..
The question remains…..If Scripture is flawed, or errant, how can we know what truth is?
As a Wesleyan (more info. here), we have a simple road map in determining God’s will in our lives:
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is the common “blueprint” Wesleyan’s use when making decisions, both in our personal lives, and the community of believers. There are 4 factors we consider:
1. Scripture: What does God’s word say about the subject?
2. Tradition: How does our past history and tradition(s) dictate to our decision?
3. Experience: What is our personal experience telling us?
4. Reason: How is our individual reasoning helping clear (or cloud) our decision on this matter?
Traditionally, Scripture has been the trump card for all 4 of the determining factors, making it the supreme gavel by which decisions are either vetoed or approved. Since my wife and I arrived “at home” in Wesleyan thought, we have always understood it in this way…which, in essence, turns the quadrilateral into a hierarchy, with scripture as the foundation. It looks something more like this:
This always seemed right and just to me, until I started seeing the Bible differently. As I began to understand scripture and the possibility of it being errant (containing flaws), the paradigm shifted…….
Other Christian denominations have different approaches, however, Christianity as a whole shares (or should share) ONE common factor: In order to know God’s will, and what is right and wrong, whether it be over issues of sexuality, relationships, governance, conduct, ethics, etc., we all need to come into contact with God personally and communally.
It is not enough to think you can arrive at truth on your own. God’s will, and moral decisions need to pass through the loving thoughts and embrace of those around you. Hearing God speak to you is a wonderful thing. Immediately assuming it’s 100% accurate and 100% infallible is not. It is your sole responsibility to take all things you believe to be God’s to the community of faith around you, and test it’s accuracy. Just because you think you hear a word from God, does not mean it is so.
The community of believers should be a trusted source. An epicenter of love in your life. A place where you may all differ in opinions, yet strive to know each other through the power and force of love (think of the book of Acts, so many different opinions and personalities, yet all joined in the bond of love).
Just the same, believing a word from God from another source (bible, pastor, friend, etc.) should always be a discernment process. Just as Paul encouraged the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5 vs 20-23), or John (1 John 4 vs 1-3) wrote in his letters, test everything to see whether it is from God. In the Old Testament, God often (not always) spoke through Moses and the prophets in a vertical way (coming “down” from God, to the prophet, who then relayed the word to God’s people). But the advent of the indwelling Spirit in each believer’s life (commonly known as the “priesthood of all believers”…info here) has forever changed the dynamic. If the Spirit dwells in all of us in equal measure (which He/She does), the dynamic of hearing and interpreting God’s word should always lie between 2 points: PERSONALLY and COMMUNALLY.
The gift of prophecy didn’t fade away after the Old Testament. In fact, the opposite. It became expanded upon and realized with multiple dimension by the power of the indwelling Spirit.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN AS FAR AS FOLLOWING THE BIBLE?
As previously mentioned, I’ve commonly used the Wesleyan quadrilateral to resolve many of my spiritual quandaries and questions. However, during my time as a pastor, I hit a wall with this traditional interpretation of God’s will.
There was a certain issue of sexuality which drew me out of my comfort zone, and completely smashed my initial interpretation of the quadrilateral. In this issue (of sexual nature) TRADITION and SCRIPTURE were not very kind on the subject, but my REASON and EXPERIENCE were pointing the opposite ways of what scripture and tradition were telling me. In a “stale mate” of this kind, it has commonly been understood (within my denomination specifically) that scripture trumps all other options. In this specific subject matter, the more I researched the Bible, and what it had to say about the sexuality, the more confusing and contradictory it seemed.
Now, some might stop me at this point, hands out, and exclaim: “Hold it. The Bible’s clear, God’s idea of sex is between a man and woman who are MARRIED. That’s it!” While I’d say you are kind of right, I’d actually agree that you are not really right at all…..in fact, you are seeing this as a “equal to”, or “less than” equation, as opposed to a “more than” sum. In other words, you’ve already sorted yourself out by using the statement in an exclusionary way, as opposed to an inclusive invitation towards discourse. At this point, the conversation most often drifts into an entirely different tangent, but inevitably, it finds me citing examples of intolerable sexual behavior, not only seemingly accepted by God, but unavoidable by the human race.
From the incest committed by Adam and Eve’s children, to incest committed by Lot (declared a “righteous” man in 2 Peter 2 vs 7) and Abraham (married Sarah, his half sister), to Paul’s scorn of women without head coverings and effeminate men with long hair (watch out 80’s spandex rock-and-roll lovers), the Bible doesn’t make a very good sexual handbook.
Obviously, sexuality is a “touchy” subject in our society, and the conversation turns red hot (I mean….how many dual meaning descriptive terms can I possibly use on this topic?) and personal. Of all subject matter, many people not only want the Bible to be clear on what’s “right” sexually, but what is wrong (in many cases, they NEED it to be). If it is the final validator, and revelation of God’s true thoughts on sexuality, our uncomfortable “problems” are solved. Someone, or something has to call the shots before the whole world turns into hell on wheels and we all begin marrying our pets and farm animals…..right?
There is an inherent sense of fear, disgust, and panic all mixed in one concerning the topic of sexuality. These preconceived feelings and notions cause many Christians to deeply desire black and white answers, sent from the Holiest of Holy’s on high, in order to create absolutes and shut down conversation which might challenge millenia worth of traditional (or, taken-for-granted) thought. But this way of thinking only finds us swerving to validate our own preferences and opinions, while leaving those who are less fortunate alone and pulverized under the debate. Unfortunately, the Bible is not a big help on the matter. In fact, if used as the sexual ethics “catch all”, someone might have a great case for polygamy, incest, sexism, and the idea that Jesus has damned all those who’ve divorced and remarried (Matthew 19 vs 3-12, Mark 10 vs. 2-12…it’s repeated twice.).
Case in point: If we took Paul’s words at face value, we might make a case that it’s ok to marry based solely on two people’s sexual desires for each other (which becomes problematic at, oh, I don’t know, 10 years in with 3 or 4 children clamoring over you, a full time job, and bills up to your eyeballs…..). It’s the idea that marriage and love are validated by God when it’s a chemical reaction in the body, but gives little guidance on what to do to expand marital love beyond eros into other forms of love, or how to transition from allowing it to be an impulse into an inner decision. I’ve seen many marriages fail when the “if you burn for each other, you better marry” rule is applied. All because they took a small passage of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (chapter 7 vs 9) as a universal standard for all people and all time, rather than opening up the passage in a way that creates conversation around the uniqueness of who they are and their present circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a proponent of sex after marriage, I just don’t need the Bible to validate my beliefs. Also, I don’t presume God believes the same things as me, or creates universal standards by which He can’t give grace unto.
But the topic goes on and on, and get’s rather personal. Again, without getting lost on a tangent, what does the Bible say about sexual nuances, even among married couples? What sexual act is permissible and not permissible according to God’s standards? Are we to assume, as the Puritan’s did before us, that a hole in the sheet, lights off, little physical contact as possible, is the best way to copulate as a couple? Certainly, they were using more of their own reasoning than scripture to support their behavior….they were playing it “safe” in their sexual decision making, which is the response of a community of believers who believe God is an overarching, punishing God, desiring less for us, rather than more.
Beyond the topic of sexuality, the list of subject matter the Bible is ambivalent on continues…. Is it ok to put someone on, or take them off life support? What about using therapy and/or drugs to help mental illness? What about the recreational use of (legal) drugs? Is capital punishment condoned or condemned by God? What about war and pacifism according to scripture? What about mixing our nationalism with our religion….how is that idea different in the Old Testament, as opposed to the New? Even more, why do both the Old and New Testaments seemingly give us such opposite understandings of who God is?
There are many nuances to life and relationships, and the Bible is simply a story of God and His people over time, trying to understand those nuances. As we read it, we assimilate to the story and find ourselves in a similar story, with similar situations. We hear the voices of it’s ancient writers, prophets, and poets calling out to us, warning us of our decisions, and perhaps affirming or denying our motives. It’s a relational text, first and foremost, and needs to be given the space to communicate to us, NOT through moral ideals, but through relational terms. Grace, wrath, freedom, slavery, peace, and war are all happening within it’s context…..but we won’t know how to make all the pieces fit if we don’t come to it’s text with the right intentions.
What guiding light can we follow then?
Before you slap me with the “postmodern”/relativist label and write me off, I do believe the Bible gives us one absolute rule by which to live by.
“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ( Matthew 22 vs. 34-40 NIV).
Often, when God wants us to know something, He will underscore it by repeating it. This commandment, the foremost commandment, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength was so important to God (and the gospel writers), it’s repeated throughout each gospel (the greatest example being Luke 10, where Christ is quoted as telling the story of the Good Samaritan to accompany the idea of what it means to “love your neighbor”).
Therefore, there is a common denominator, a northern star, a consistent constant which we can trust for all time (and all purposes) on our moral compasses….it alone is the trump card, above scripture, experience, reason, and tradition. But it’s not really a trump card at all, more like a binding element which links everything together in a beautiful, relational union….
You see, as I hit a wall within my denomination, concerning their moralizing of certain sexual issues, I found the traditional Wesleyan quadrilateral was failing me on the issue. When I began to look to the Bible to make the final call, it only failed me further. I quickly understood something was missing, and my trusted quadrilateral went from being a source of inspiration and direction, to a tomb by which I realized only death and legalism. In order for me to understand the quadrilateral, I had to replace it with a living, breathing heart again. Something that gave all it’s points and counterpoints life and existence and the ability to guide my path……it needed the foremost commandment, LOVE.
Therefore, my map went from this:
Love was, and is, the deciding factor. It’s the reason God became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and it’s the reason Christianity has existed for over two millennia, in the face of massive persecution and massive mistake making (on the church’s part).
Love was in the beginning, is in the end, and is now and forever shall be. If you choose to scoff, shrug your shoulders and chalk this thought up to the wind, then you might as well go ahead and toss your Bible away too…..because you’ll never understand it if you don’t apply this one foundational principle to it….love, both of God, and of our fellow human beings is it’s guiding principle. When you read it with this motive in your heart, you are sure to know God. When read with any other motive, you will be as good as the Devil in understanding it’s true meaning.
Sure, love can be interpreted as a vague and generic term, without boundary lines and guiding direction, but that’s your problem, not ours. If you dismiss love in this way, you may be in danger of not experiencing it, or even worse, experiencing it’s antithesis. Will love immediately answer our questions and give us instant results? Absolutely not, but it’s the directional force by which we follow when trying to understand God’s intent in our lives.
These days, I don’t ask myself what scripture says about a topic, as much as I begin conversations, with both God and my community….(which so happen to include scripture). I look at my reasoning with them, we evaluate our past and traditions, we search through scripture, and we share each other’s experience in conversations born of love and mutuality…..the circle is never-ending, fulfilled and satisfied, and while some things still hover in the air, it doesn’t matter, for God deals with the right answers in due time. It’s what’s happening in the relationships that matters most. If truth is a process, love provides the guide posts by which we know we’re going the right direction.
Am I learning to love through thickness and thin? Or, am I only looking to find a pat answer to salve over a “problem”? Am I seeking to simply extract the “truths” of scripture? Or, am I allowing the written word to enhance and grow my relationship with the living word (or logos) in a way that leads me to the path’s of righteousness for His name’s sake, and His name’s sake alone?
Make no mistake, there is a grave danger here. If scripture is found to be only good for creating precepts and principles by which we live by, it essentially takes the form of god in our lives. We may be using language which seemingly deflects the idea of turning the Bible into an idol (such as “God’s word” or “God’s commands”), but in essence, we are really saying, “there is no God outside of what we read of in scripture”. No longer is God living and breathing and able to be known apart from this thing we call the Bible, but He/She becomes a definable image with a definable context, by which the Bible is the only known revelation. (Important to mention this is typically a Protestant dilemma, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Christianity see other literature outside of the Bible as cannon….also, many charismatic sects of Christianity push back against the “Bible only” revelation of God.)
If, in essence, someone comes to us and says “I’ve experienced God!”, and we respond with, “well, what does scripture say about that?”, we’ve flattened their experience to a game of dodging buzzers and red flags.
However, on the other hand, if someone comes to us with the experience of God, and we respond with “Let’s reason together and see how we find insight with the help of scripture, history, and the community around us”, we’ve framed a narrative, by which we inclusively give them the love, grace, freedom (and maybe even reproach) to grow into what God is calling them to. Essentially, we’ve taken their experience and wrapped it, first and foremost, into community and relationship.
Let the truth of revelations sort themselves out as we seek to live out the loving, compassionate character of Christ. Honestly, the problem might not even be a problem to begin with if we’ve already fostered a community of relationships more concerned with the character and presence of God OVER words and knowledge from God. Prophecy and tongues have their place, but they are second in command to loving one another and finding God’s love within each other (2 Corinthians 13).
The two different approaches seem subtle at first, but their outcome is profoundly different. Giving a loving framework by which others smooth over the infirmities of following God’s will in their lives, makes for a real, living, breathing faith. Banking everything on what the Bible says kills the relationship and pits the believer against God and His Holy word. It’s the difference between wholeness, healing, and spiritual schizophrenia.
After all, Moses invited all Israel up to Mt. Sinai, but they refused, and told him to go alone instead. Further more, they refused to wait patiently to hear God’s will for their lives and constructed a god of their own. Their golden calf was only a natural response of what happens when humans refuse the mystery of relationship for the humanly definable god……we make one of our own, and give it our own terms.
My question to Evangelical America is: Has scripture become our golden calf? Is it only a manifestation of our own laziness and unwillingness to ascend into higher understandings of God together? Do we want it to be our god and answer our questions for us, or do we want to accept the invitation of the Almighty to know and be known?
From the ten commandments, to the Ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, right down to Jesus’s treatment of the Sabbath, there hasn’t been much God has told us to do He hasn’t potentially broken Himself (or allowed us to break). Perhaps He has always been telling us to look first to the relationship before the articles of faith, and avoid worshiping gods of wood, stone, paper and ink…..to climb the mountain of His Holy presence before we melt something down into our own image.
This picture (^) is taken from a mural on the wall of a church in my own neighborhood. It always strikes me, every time I see it, no matter how well-intended it’s designers were, it’s sending mixed signals.
“Everyone’s Welcome” sounds nice….and reflects the vision of the cross. But, the Bible is blocking the way of the vision, forcing us to see it first and foremost. It stands as a colossal monolith between us and the cross, and it’s message is clear: Everyone’s welcome….as long as you see the Bible the way we see it. As long as you understand our adoration of Scripture (and, most likely, the control it gives us) rivals our very adoration of the savior Himself. Sure, everyone’s welcome…..under certain conditions, stipulations, guidelines, and circumstances.
In the end, do we love the Bible, or do we love God? If it be found we love the Bible, it may also be found we love the idea of what it represents…..absolutes, order, control, definition of the undefinable, the absence of mystery, justification of our own opinions, guideposts for living a “righteous” life, affirmation of the God we believe in, ability to defame character, ability to justify our own way of life, a book of merits, a secret code of politics, the ability to believe that mankind is not only despised by God, but doomed and soon to be destroyed.
The good book has so much to offer us, but until we learn the difference between reverence and love, we have only made it our god on our behalf. Perhaps this is the one idol Protestantism forgot to smash…the one drop of leaven that has contaminated the whole loaf. More likely, it’s a book that no longer needs abuse by our own subjective wills…..which gives it neither power, reverence, or the ability to foster love.
Just so, I don’t regret holding it in my arms many years ago after flinging it across the room. I realize now, God wasn’t mad at me at all for my behavior, I was only mad at myself. I was disappointed in my own hypocrisy and inability to give respect where respect is due. I knew that if I professed a Love for God, I must choose to manifest a respect for His words and ways. There was no law I had broken, except the law within myself…..to never be a hypocrite, and always exhibit the truths of my own convictions.
The foremost commandment is what I was called to as a child, and it’s what I’ve resolved to live out throughout the rest of my lifetime. I’m at peace and rest with the Bible, knowing now that it only plays a part of the whole by which I see the foremost commandment of Love actualized in my life.
What is to be said for us as a community of believers and the issues we face?
Abide by the foremost commandment, first and foremost. (In, I believe we should change our current language from “do you accept Jesus Christ into your life as your personal Lord and savior?” to “do you commit your life to living out the foremost commandment, to love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, as well as loving your neighbor as yourself?” This would certainly start new believers off on the good foot…..)
There are many conversations to be had, and many issues to resolve, but until we all abide by the foremost commandment, the Bible will do nothing more than serve as the arrows by which we pierce each other with…..until then, it is waiting to unfold it’s many splendid mysteries and revelations, guiding us on our path.
**Appendage (side note):
Thoughts on the word “inspiration” from an artist….
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3 vs. 14 NASB).
Inspired is an artistic word. It is different than “All scripture is dictated by God”, or “mandated by God….” It involves a spark of creativity between the created and the Creator (also, important note, degrees of separation forming between us, the audience, and the author). As an artist, when the divine inspiration happens, it’s often through a veil, dimly lit, under the soft-spoken tones of a still, small, voice. Rarely, does inspiration come in the form of a blinding image or revelational words…..in fact, the purpose of creativity is to engage the one who’s inspiring and the one inspired into a process of mutual creation. Cocreation, mutual authority, mutual trust, these are all the hallmarks of a divine being who value’s loving relationship. They should be the lens by which we see the writer’s of Scripture, as opposed to seeing them as automatons who fall under a trance and lose control of their fine motor functions in order for the Spirit to use them in a way that EXACTLY dictates what need’s to be said….that’s more possession than inspiration.
When inspired, a good artist understands it is not only the original vision that creates the spark of life, it’s also the “accidents” or unintended “mistakes” that lead the work down a path of genius. Working with these mistakes and gracefully accepting them is the mark of a true master, and it shows an amazing amount of trust and patience on their part. Just the same, if the Bible is the “inspired” word of God, why do we often treat it like the “mandated” or “authorized” word of God? Why don’t we understand God’s ability to seize it’s mistakes, and make good from them? This perspective glorifies Him even more, and gives equal platform for ALL people of ALL race, nationality, gender, and economic status to appreciate it.