I’m now back to regular work – yay – and back to having less free time than I’d like.
That said, I really liked sharing spiritual reflections, so I was thinking of useful ones – and this one seems like a good one to share.
Biblical Literalism vs WWJD?
People have occasionally told me that I should respect and smile politely at people who believe in a “literal interpretation” of the Bible. I’ve thought about this – a lot – and no. I really don’t think so. Some things are just wrong and need to be called out – and this is one of them.
First and foremost, if you are going to take the Bible literally, then this means you basically believe in a God that occasionally asks people to commit mass murder.
This kind of thinking leads to some truly bad results. For example:
Let’s try to acknowledge and learn from past mistakes – as mistakes. I know, Jesus said not one jot nor one tittle shall disappear from the Law or the Prophets. Very true. However, just because we have something written down, just because it’s worth reading – and learning from – that doesn’t mean we should do what it says.
I’m not going to get into the literalness of – for example – Exodus and Joshua. I will say that like many sane, modern thinkers who 100% believe in God (well, some days more than others) I believe things like the Jewish people are totally native to Israel. At least some of them (as people do) probably migrated elsewhere for work or were forcefully taken as slaves.
Some certainly learned lessons from this experience and those lessons are part of the Bible.
I do not believe God ever asks people to murder innocent human beings (well, mostly innocent – there’s always two sides right?) But there are profound lessons to be learned from these stories. For example, what about freedom fighters wanting to take back your land from people who stole it? Is there a rightness to this cause? How many generations are too long?
It’s all very confusing, almost as confusing as I sometimes feel as a mixed-race Asian/European person living in the United States on land that may have been forcibly taken from the people who once lived here. Even if we wanted to give it back, the owners may have been wiped out as part of a genocide that happened generations ago.
Here’s the thing we need to acknowledge: mass murder does work if you want to take people’s stuff from them. If you don’t care about human life, at all, (other than yours and your people’s) it does have the practical effect of giving you their stuff.
When will we learn? Every time a fellow believer tells me “but this is how the world works” (referring to some systemic sin like racism or classism) a little piece of my soul rolls its eyes and says – never mind. I’m opting out of the rest of this conversation. Let’s talk about something else, like how would you like it if you were born without access to education or medicine?
The Bible can serve as a powerful story of longing and forgiveness – never forgetting those who have gone before. Or – it can be that pretty, leather-bound book we keep on our nightstand.
The Bible can also, perhaps more usefully in terms of things I have the power to do something about, serve as a lesson to me as a believer wanting to acknowledge my internal struggle toward holiness, including being absolutely ruthless toward my sins.
Something like “sin” can be hard to put into words. Sometimes, a really good rabbi like Jesus will talk As If we should cut off our arms – not because we ever should (unless of course we have gangrene or we’re stuck in a bear trap and there is No Way Out and back to safety otherwise – yikes.) Sometimes, we need to be ruthless.
Whatever is good in a bad situation, God can and will redeem it. But we have to give God room to do that. To destroy our personal, internal Sodom and Gomorrah, sometimes we need to quit looking back and continually running back for more stuff. Meanwhile, the real God is like – come on now, I want to purify your heart for YOUR good. That way you can enjoy Sodom and Gomorrah (meaning everything from the physical things of this world to social interaction with our neighbors that *doesn’t* involve raping and murdering them.)
Gosh darn human race!
All of these lessons matter. We must never forget the horrible things we have personally seen and done. We must not forget genocide and mass murder. Because, we need to learn from the past. In order to move beyond it. In order to say Never Again – and then move in another direction. In processing these events, we may well ask – why does God allow such things? What good can we get out of them?
Your answer may well be because There IS NO GOD! God hates us. Welcome to much of the Old Testament – if you really sit down and read it, which I highly recommend. It’s a good book, more about human nature than divine nature, in many ways.
Eventually, God knows we’ll get over it – probably – and if not then good luck building your own value system. Seriously, build your own value system. Whatever. It’s all good. God will still be there, when you least expect it.
What Do I Believe About the Bible?
The best summary would be from a devout writer who didn’t know their words would one day appear In Scripture, in the form of some supplemental additions we often call The New Testament.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
I talk to God a lot, and this would be a neat summary of how God has taught me to view the Bible, which is as a true expression of God’s relationship with humankind in finite time. It probably says a lot about my relationship with God that we use phrases like “finite time” as opposed to “eternal time.” To me, the Bible is in a sense eternal – in the sense that human beings and creation is something “at home” in God’s divine nature. I’d say this distinction doesn’t matter but I feel like maybe it does.
Many people seem to have this confused idea of eternity. Because it’s hard to imagine “forever,” we tend to have a “snapshot” view of eternity where Nothing Changes. Eternity is NOT no time or no change. It’s all time and all change, all fullness.
I know. Big thought.
It is true what Yeshua aka Jesus said. The Bible will NEVER go away. Because in God’s eyes nothing of value ever goes away. Ever.
Imagine for a second that you are God. To you all times, all places are forever present. That doesn’t mean that you are unaware of linear time and how things change. In fact, you are hyper-aware of these things.
Sometimes, we can idolize our *understanding* of the Bible and view that as if it were God. We think we so deeply and thoroughly understand “God” that we can have some grasp on a being who – if you actually *read* the *whole* Bible is literally beyond our finite understanding.
Just because you say the word eternal doesn’t mean you really *understand* eternal. However, if you understand love – and live out God’s love – then you understand eternity. It’s all there, seriously.
Hope this helps. Either way, it helps me to write this down in between all the other deep thoughts.