I'd Rather Watch The Movie
My Relationship With The Bible
Let me start with a few short thoughts that highlight my overall feelings about the Bible and how I relate to it. These thoughts are inspired by various people (Robert Capon, Bill Johnson, Rob Bell, etc.) so if they sound vaguely familiar, it’s because they aren’t really my 100% original thoughts. I’ve been influenced, and who hasn’t!?
Nobody in the Bible had the Bible. Why are we making such a big deal about the Bible?
I read the Bible wrong my whole life. It’s not an instruction manual; it’s more like the script of a movie.
What’s true about the Bible aren’t the things that people are so adamant about defending as true, they are the things that people step over in order attack others.
I used to read the Bible ALL the time. When I was a kid, I had a Bible that had a few comic-book-esque illustrations in it in addition to the New King James Version of the text. Let’s be honest, I just read the parts with pictures.
Then when I became an “on-fire” adolescent, I tried to read the whole Bible every year, getting stuck in late January in the Book of Leviticus.
Then I started preaching and forming messages to share with others from the Bible.
When I ran into opposition (aka sinners that needed saving), I would read it for verses to share with them to prove them wrong in their public-school inspired beliefs and save their souls (aka get them to repeat a prayer or come to church with me and raise their hand and go to the front to boldly confess before God and man that Jesus was their Lord now) – It was my weapon for winning the battle.
Then the Bible became a bit of a taskmaster to me. The church I was working at expected me to be reading enormous amounts of it on a daily basis. I read it through several times. I challenged others to do the same. It was as if the more you read, regardless of retention, thought, etc — the better you were.
I just read the words on the page, never really thinking about some of the horrific things recorded on those pages or about how God’s actions often came across as angry and vindictive. I never really read it with a critical eye. I’d heard people say there were “contradictions” and other stuff that didn’t sound very appealing in the Bible. However, those people were blinded heathens and hadn’t really read it.
Come to find out, those people actually did read it. A LOT. Like more than anyone I had ever known, even the psycho-super-readers that I knew from Church that had whole chapters and books memorized. They knew who wrote it, the history surrounding those times, what it said in the original language, all of this stuff. The more they knew, it seemed the more they uncovered flaws and were able to poke holes into what I thought was something I could believe in with absolute, water-tight “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” faith. I believed that this was God’s Word, and contained answers to everything, but most importantly, I thought that this book contained the truth of how I should live and what I should believe, literally.
I haven’t really read the Bible much in the last several years. Even when I worked at church and had to preach, I wasn’t reading it daily except for the parts that I was going to speak on and that was about it. Now that there has been some time that has passed and my relationship with the Bible has changed, I can look back and see how messed up my view of it (a view that many others hold) really was.
IS THE BIBLE THE WORD OF GOD?
Whoa! Just re-read that statement. The Word of God. THAT’S HUGE! Like how in the world would we actually know that? It’s just repeated so much over and over that it makes it easier to believe. If we are being practical about it, the Bible is comprised of the words of people. Many of which who were writing about events and things that happened hundreds and even thousands of years before they were alive, meaning that a lot of what is recorded, is passed-down from oral tradition and stories. Am I saying the Bible is not inspired? No, not really. Parts of it are very beautiful and definitely have a sense of divine inspiration about them. Lots of books are inspired. Why is it important to believe that this book is THE one? Does it change the truth in it? If the Bible is a source of joy, hope, peace, etc. for you, whether or not it is actually the words of God doesn’t really have an effect on you at all. Because there’s NO WAY to really know. I believe the only reason it is so passionately referred to as the Word of God is because it gives us something to defend, something to fight for, fight with and fight against. We don’t really need those things. That’s not helpful. Bringing it down to a very practical level, reading a book and stating, “my book is the best book, all other books aren’t really good or true,” that is just not necessary.
LOTS of different religions think that their book is the Word of God. So, who is right? If some of the others are right, does that make the Bible-believers wrong? At the root of the “Bible is the Word of God” argument is a whole lot of good/evil thinking.
I believe a more life giving, open-minded way to approach this idea is to simply say that the Bible contains divine truth.
IS THE BIBLE INERRANT & INFALLIBLE?
How did we get this collection of books? Who picked the books that it should contain? What writings didn’t make it in? Are there mistakes? Are there contradictions?
Many thousands of scholars and other people far smarter than I am have researched this more thoroughly than you can imagine. I am in no way qualified to teach you anything about this but there is a point that I want to make. Instead of defending this book to the bitter end, be open. Read the research (specifically the research of those that you would disagree with at this time in your life), dive in and know that you aren’t going to be de-railed, shipwrecked or start worshipping the devil (not that there’s anything wrong with that…ha!).
There are plenty of contradictions, discrepancies and other “mistakes” in the Bible. The process by which we came to call those specific 66 books “The Bible” is more dramatic and political than a season of House of Cards. So, what does that mean? Do we throw it out because it’s not perfect? Absolutely not. Humans wrote it and there is beauty in both the divinity and humanity of the Bible. If you emphasize only it’s divinity, you’ll always be making excuses for and propping up it’s humanity. However, if you approach it from the mindset of “humanity,” you’ll stumble into divinity that you have never seen before! The Bible doesn’t have to be perfect for it to contain divine truth.
IS THE BIBLE TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY?
Did everything actually happened as recorded? Does it matter if the whole Noah & the Flood thing actually happened? No. The point of that story remains regardless of its historical accuracy.
Does it matter if the first few chapters of Genesis accurately reflect how this world actually came into being? NOPE. Not at all. There is divinity in both the poetry of Genesis account of creation and in the scientific research that states things happened differently.
Did Jesus really fight off the Devil for 40 days in the desert? Did he really walk on water? Did he really do all those miracles? Did he really rise from the dead?
Maybe. It doesn’t change the truth in those accounts at all. The lessons on how to rise above temptation and live by faith still ring true. Jesus himself downplayed the miracles recorded in scripture. Resurrection is a divine truth. Whether he actually died, rose and ascended doesn’t change the truth that is evident throughout creation, that there is life again after death.
WHOA WHOA! Jonathan, did you just deny that Jesus died, rose and ascended to heaven. I didn’t deny anything! But you have to be comfortable with that level of critique, questioning & criticism to really explore these things in depth.
“Metaphor is the only possible language available to religion because it alone is honest about Mystery” – Father Richard Rohr
Even if some of the stories in the Bibles are simply that, stories or metaphors, etc, it doesn’t change the fact that the Bible contains divine truth. Jesus himself used parables (made up stories) extensively in his teachings. No one debates the historical accuracy & details of the woman that lost a coin! As a matter of fact, I have found that when you look less at the facts, details, etc, you see the more glaring items you’ve previously missed and usually, therein lies the greatest, most life-giving truths.
If you’re wondering if I believe in the resurrection, my answer is: Sometimes.
IS THE BIBLE OUR INSTRUCTION MANUAL?
When all of the other questions have been looked at with an open heart and mind, it kind of seems like the Bible really isn’t the foundation that we’ve made it to be. I don’t think it was ever intended to be. I think that the fascination, fixation and zealous defense of the Bible is based in that it is the only tangible, touchable thing that Christianity has. Tangible and touchable is a lot easier to deal with than the uncertain, ethereal and eternal. We’ve used it as an instruction manual and guidebook. Which is sad because of the access that we have to God and the universe. It’s like fixating on a confusing set of furniture assembly instructions when you’re in the master carpenter’s workshop with him. God is bigger and better than the books.
You’d never watch a movie one tiny clip at a time and base your decisions off of it moment to moment, referring back to certain clips out of context from time to time. That’s ridiculous. You watch the entire thing. Then you look at it as a whole. What are the themes? What is the main story? What are the parts you like the best? Read the Bible that way. I believe that the overall themes of the Bible are love, redemption and resurrection. There are so many things in the Bible that would lead you to believe otherwise, and that is what makes a great story! CONFLICT!
I still value the Bible and see it as an important part of my life. It’s what I grew up with. I still read it, enjoy it and refer to it often but with a much different perspective.
There is endless revelation and new truths to be discovered both in the Bible and all around us, every single day. Many people have a negative opinion of the Bible because it has been used as a weapon and rulebook in their lives. It has been made out to be something that it was never intended to be and they’ve been turned off by people who have aggressively defended it without regard for science, technology, cultural advancement or at times, even common sense. When you strip all that away, the book becomes much more approachable and useful. The Bible contains divine truth. That’s enough for me.