I grew up in a Christian home with parents who were deeply faithful to one-another (almost 50 years of marriage this year) and deeply faithful to their understanding of the Bible as presented by various preachers and teachers over the years. I am blessed to have been raised in a home where my mother and father were set on becoming the best version of themselves, and they attribute that to the work of Christ in and through them. I can honestly say that I have had a front row seat to seeing them grow more in love with each other and learning to love others in their relational world.
Although I grew up in a conservative Christian evangelical church environment (a description that means something different to me now), my home life did not reflect the religiosity or fundamentalism often associated with the aforementioned phrase. My parents encouraged questions, doubt, wonder and respected the fact that I was taking my own journey, and that I would need to get there honestly, wherever "there" would be.
This was yet another reflection of my parents robust faith. The ability to trust God with me and not get so invested in the results that it left them using shame, guilt or coercion to get me to believe or behave in certain ways. Seriously, I'm so grateful for my folks because of the way that they lived and still live out their "way of Jesus faith" - it's inspiring!
But you cannot talk about faith, Jesus and God without discussing the role that the Bible has to play in all of it. And this is where things have gotten complicated, at least for me. Throughout my life I have had moments of divine encounters that are simply not explainable. I have been caught up in the wonder and awe of a God who created the cosmos and is still at work in the world that he loves. This, I have been and continue to be certain of.
The Bible on the other hand holds more ambiguity and complexity for me.
As someone who has spent the majority of my life studying and teaching the Bible I have had a hard time reconciling difficult passages of a God inciting violence with the constant affirmation that God is good, or the way that a Biblical worldview seems to work for some but not for others, especially if you happened to be born with the "wrong" anatomy, or born in the "wrong" place in the world. I have, like so many others, wrestled with this ancient library of literature as I have studied, preached and tried to practice what I read, all the while wondering if my (our) approach to this Good Book is the best approach.
The Bible as Peter Enns says does not behave the way that we want it too. The issue is not in the composition of this ancient library, but in the way that we have tried to make it behave, often to accomplish personal or political agendas. The post-apocalyptic movie, The Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington dramatically makes this point, where the book (The Bible) is being pursued for the purpose of gaining power and control over a world in chaos. It's a movie worth watching just to see Denzel Washington knock it out of the park, but the point is not lost.
The Bible has been made to behave in a way that it was simply not intended to. It has and continues to be used to gain control over others and shut down conversations. We have created dogmas, systematic theologies, statements of faith, all of which are designed to state what the "clear reading of Scripture is", all the while ignoring the fact that we are trying to make the Bible do something that it was never intended to do, never mind that "the clear reading of Scripture" seems not so clear as evidenced in the multitude of denominations and splits which make up the Christian tradition.
On the one hand, the Bible has been used to exclude and judge people, justify all sorts of horrific attitudes and actions throughout history (present day included) and at the very same time, the Bible has been a source of transformation, making others into more loving human beings who have brought and continue to bring a whole lot of good and beauty into the world, giving us a glimpse into what God's preferred future may actually look like.
How we read the Bible matters greatly because it significantly shapes who we become and how we view the Divine.
As we are now only days into 2021 with a pandemic still raging out of control, political upheaval in what is likely the worlds most powerful empire, and the curtain being pulled back on the inequalities and injustices that continue to exist at every level - our world is still in need of healing, restoration and redemption which the Bible has a great deal to say about. I am convinced that this ancient library, written, compiled and arranged many years ago, reflecting the attitudes, customs, beliefs and understandings of real people living in real places and real times continues to be an essential book to help us navigate the very real complexities that we all face.
If we read this book well (and perhaps allow it to read us) we can discover that there is an audacious hope that is held out for us to embrace, an invitation to become more truly ourselves and, not only a bold critique of the injustices and inequalities behind the curtain, but a way forward for all of us, as we read of a God who is loving, healing and setting right the world he loves.
The Bible with all its mystery, beauty, weirdness and awe is a book for our world, allowing us to see differently and to be a different kind of people - a kind of people shaped by love. As Rob Bell says, "...it's easy to read the Bible and miss an entire world of weirdness and joy and hope and innuendo and implication just below the surface."
Perhaps we need to dive deeper, below the surface.
So yes, my relationship with the Bible is complicated. There, I said it - again! And I am perfectly ok with this. There are times when my relationship with my best friend, lover and wife has also been complicated, even after 19 years of marriage and yet it is the most rewarding and beautiful relationship that I have. Something being complicated is not a reason to walk away, it just means that it's time to ask new and different questions and to think differently than we once did. It's an invitation, an opportunity, a beckoning into new territory. That's called growth, transformation and movement.
My sincere desire for myself and for you is that we would reclaim a reading of the Bible that propels us and the world forward allowing us to experience the profound love of a good God made known throughout its pages.
It's complicated but so worth it.