Tuesday, September 4, 2007

God Is Still Speaking

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible...Image via Wikipedia
I just love this tag-line from the United Church of Christ. It's one of the things that drew me to to the church.  God is still speaking is a simple phrase that says volumes.  I’d like to explain why I take the Bible seriously but not literally.  There was a time when I made an idol out of the Bible, worshipping the Bible as much or more than I did Jesus or G-d.  When I say as much or more, I mean that if Jesus spoke something to my heart, I'd have to square it with the Bible before I believed it. I thought that not only was the Bible divinely inspired, I guess I thought it was divinely dictated; word-for-word. I never really thought about the implications of that belief were. Did I believe the Bible dropped from the sky written on golden scrolls, written by the very finger of G-d?  Did I believe G-d spoke to Moses in King James English while Moses sat in an auto-writing trance, putting G-d’s words down onto a scroll?  Did I believe that G-d did this with each of the authors of the many books of the Bible’ whispering the words into their ears or just taking over their hands as they wrote?  When it’s put that way, it sounds absurd.  But, I believe that is what a lot of Christians believe.  Or at least it would have to be the way if the Bible were literally THE WORD OF GOD, like they think it is.
I’m not here to bash the Bible.  Not at all.  The Bible has some of the greatest wisdom ever revealed to man.  It contains truths that I haven’t found anywhere else.   It really is a miracle.  Particularly the New Testament.  It is such a leap forward that only divine inspiration can explain it.  The Jewish people themselves (the authors of the book for about 1,500 years of its 1,600 year span of birth) are a miracle.  The fact that they even have survived, as a people, over the thousands of years they have retained their identity is amazing.   But, I dare say, the Bible is not infallible.  The Bible is man’s view of G-d, not G-d’s view of man.  It’s an amazing, progressive revelation of how man has come to understand his Creator. Looking at it this way explains to me the apparent contradictions between the god of the Old Testament and the god of the New Testament.  Both are man’s perceptions of G-d.  Which is more likely?  G-d changed or man’s perception of G-d changed? The Bible was written by men, not by G-d.  As such it reflects the thoughts, hopes, fears, cultural influences and yes shortcomings of the men who wrote it.

A little Bible history here.  When I sat down and thought about the sources of the Bible (sources- plural, not source- singular), I could only come to the conclusion that I was putting way too heavy a burden on the Bible to be infallible, complete and inerrant.  The Bible was birthed over a period of at least 1,600 years. Many scholars say Job predates Moses (the author often credited with the first five books of the Bible).  We tend to think the books we have are arranged in order from the oldest to the newest (news flash- they are not).  Think about a 1,600 year period for a while.  If we were going to create a “Bible” today, we would have to take the best writings we could find from a period spanning from the year 400 to the present day.  Most of us (I include myself in that number) can’t even really grasp a period of 1,600 years.  Granted, the pace of change has grown exponentially over the past couple of hundred  of years.  But, even allowing for that, the opening pages of the Bible were written in a far, far different time than the closing pages.  There was a period of silence of 400 years between what we call the Old Testament and the New Testament.   Then, we have a period of silence for the last 1,900 years.  Nothing has been added to G-d's Word in that time.  I use the word “silence” to describe these two periods because if you believe the Bible is the One and Only True Word of G-d, G-d must have stopped speaking for 400 years between the last book  in the "Old Testament" and the first book we put into the New Testament.  Then, G-d fell silent again and hasn’t spoken for the last 1,900 years.   Was He giving Israel the silent treatment for 400 years? Is She giving us the silent treatment now?  Did She say it all?  Does She have nothing to say about the issues of our day?  G-d told Paul about men having long hair, women speaking in church, slavery, etc.  She gave the Israelites detailed instructions right down to how to not mix fabrics and how to plant their crops.  Yet, She has nothing to say about stem cell research, nothing to say about racism,  nothing to say about the way we are destroying our planet, nothing to say about gay marriage (I know He said it all in Leviticus-right?).  Seriously.  We have a lot of things we can use guidance on.  What would it take for G-d to open up and give us another book?  How would we recognize it if She did?

I speak only slightly facetiously.  Many of us take the letters of Paul as the literal words of G-d.  I've heard people reading from his letters say "This is what G-d says about..." .  Yet, we’d find it strange if 100 years from now someone took Billy Graham’s emails, bound them in a leather book and told everyone to follow them or go to hell.  I do think there are eternal truths in the Bible, mixed in with a lot of cultural things that need to be ignored.  I do think the writers of the Bible were inspired. But, I think Lao Tzu (author of the Tao Te Ching) was also inspired.  I think the verses in the Dhammapada are inspired.   I think Brian McLaren writes inspired things.  I think Philip Yancey has been inspired.  George MacDonald wrote things that I think are every bit as inspired as anything in any of these books.

Why do I think this is important? What’s wrong with believing the Bible is the infallible, complete, inerrant Word of G-d?  Bible idolatry is a dangerous thing.  It keeps us mired in the past.  A past that was far from perfect.  It has led to the justification of slavery, keeping women silent and in bondage and to the justification of homophobia.  Bible idolatry and literal interpretation has caused people to not care about the stewardship of the planet because they’re going to be whisked away soon and G-d’s going to burn this place up anyway.  Bible idolatry has caused wars, genocide and  murders.  Bible idolatry says G-d can’t speak any more.  Bible idolatry closes us off to  progressing beyond where Paul was almost 2,000 years ago.   Koran worshippers flew planes into building on September 11, 2001 to kill “infidels”.  People who believe that Abraham being willing to kill his son for god is a good thing scare me.  What if G-d tells them to kill me or their child?  It’s high time that we understand the Bible for what it is. It’s time to stop the madness.

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