You better get the Bible right or else…
That seems like a statement someone who takes the Bible literally would say. Such statements drive me crazy. I’m very tired of the arguments concerning right thinking about the Bible and God. I don’t even feel like arguing with these people for very long — what’s the point? They aren’t open to actual discussion or seeing that good people can interpret the Bible in multiple ways. It’s either their way or the highway. For them, heaven is going to be a pretty lonely place because it seems like so few, if any, will be able to pass the theological test to get into heaven.
Except this way of looking at the Bible and God is total BS. Yes, I’m naming it and calling it what it is. God gave us reason to use. God isn’t some kind of tyrant that demands blind faith and smites those who have questions or doubts. That’s not the God I know anyway.
Biblical literalism is, first off, impossible to follow. The context of the Bible is far different than 21st century America. How are you supposed to follow literally the commands in the Old Testament about slaves and women who are raped being forced to marry the rapist? Are we supposed to change our laws so that slavery and rape is permitted just so we can literally follow one section of the Bible?
We aren’t supposed to ignore the more unpleasant parts of Scripture or explain them away as if they are inconvenient. We should explore them fully. The beauty of the entire Bible is that there is more than just looking at one verse at a time, or one chapter at a time, or one book at a time. There’s the whole book.
The beauty of the Bible is that we see a progression of humanity’s relationship with God. It changes over time. It changes with understanding. It changes with the incarnation. It changes after Jesus leaves and the Holy Spirit comes. The Bible is a book of constant change. Yet, how many of our Bible literalists are stuck in time somewhere back in the time before Christ?
The Bible is a beautiful and ugly book at the same time. There is murder, death, slaughter, cheating, brokenness, sex (lots of sex in various forms), slavery, war, anger, fear, etc. People who say the Bible is boring have never read it.
The Bible is also a book of change, restoration, life, peace, calm, salvation, meeting God face-to-face.
Reading the Bible literally misses so much of what the Bible is about. It misses the person of God. It misses what, for Christians, Jesus calls us to do — to go and make disciples, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, to eat with the outcasts, etc.
Too many Christians get so caught up in making sure they have the right beliefs about the Bible, that we miss out on actually carrying out the beliefs as we are called to do. These Christians get stuck in their heads, when we are called to open our hearts. What good is a belief if is doesn’t lead to some kind of action to carry out the belief? What good is orthodoxy of belief unless is leads to orthopraxy — living the belief?
Orthodoxy become more important than orthopraxy for Biblical literalists — living out what Jesus commands us to do, not what Jesus commands us to believe, because frankly, belief is nice, but it by itself is a luxury. What we believe, what we truly believe, is what we carry out. So yes, focus on what you believe because belief is important. But that’s not where faith ends or stops. If your belief causes you to damn another Christian or others, then that’s what you are going to live out. And frankly, it’s a hard and negative life. You’ll ignore the other things that Jesus tells us to do — feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, eat with the tax collectors, be with the outcasts, etc. because damning people doesn’t require any follow-up. It doesn’t require you get to know the people around you. It doesn’t require risk. It doesn’t require getting messy with people who have messy lives. It doesn’t require you do anything. It only requires blinders on your eyes. So damn if you must, but get out of the damn way — there’s a great deal of hurting people for us to reach out to and touch their lives with God’s grace and love.