Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Spiritual Hiccups - Holy Conversations

Christians seem to fight a lot over the Bible.  "The Bible says this.  The Bible says that," we insist, usually to others who don't see it the same way.  What people fight over says something about what they think is important.  So I suppose that all this fighting at least says we consider the Bible important, that we expect it to guide us in some way.  A more cynical view might say that we simply view the Bible as a convenient trump card, and we want to find ways to use it to our advantage.

In our biblical fighting, there are many who see the Bible as literally true, and thus any verse must be taken at face value as God's direct word.  The problems with this stance become obvious to anyone who reads the Bible with much care.  The Bible doesn't always agree with itself. 

I know that biblical literalists are trying to "protect" the sanctity of God's word by their stance, but I fear that they actually do more harm than good.  I fear their stance makes Christianity seem foolish and absurd to those who didn't grow up within such a tradition.  They see the insistence that all the various things in the Bible are literally true to mean that faith requires turning off one's brain.

Today's gospel is a good case in point.  Many people, even outside the church, have heard that while Jesus was on the cross, he engaged in conversation with the two criminals next to him, and promised the repentant one they would be together in Paradise.  Yet in Matthew's gospel, we hear that Jesus was mocked and derided by all manner of folks, and all we hear about the criminals next to him is this, "The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him  in the same way."  That's it.

Then there's today's reading from Judges where God is angry because Israel breaks covenant, and lets them fall to their enemies, but then feels sorry for them when their enemies are bad to them.  Are we really supposed to believe that God is so capricious, that God can't anticipate that Israel will suffer once they are defeated?

It seems to me that we need a better way of accessing the Bible than simply saying "I believe it," or "I don't."  A number of people have suggested the idea of a conversation.  And I like the idea of the Bible as an inspired conversation among people of faith about what it means to live as God's people.  It helps me understand how the Bible can say in one place that Israel's men must "send away" their foreign wives and children (Ezra 9-10) and in another place lifts up a foreign wife as a paragon of faithfulness (Ruth).

What does it mean to you to say the Bible is true?  More on this tomorrow.

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