The problem we have with the Bible is that we are taught to treat it as a rulebook or a manual with a whole bunch of directions on what constitutes a Christian. This idea has caused untold problems for believers. We are taught to defend the Bible against any interpretation that is not from our own perspective or church organization. How many times have we ended up arguing the Bible with someone on the basis of a series of proof texts, hauled out of context, to counter someone else’s proof texts?
Last evening I was having a very animated discussion with someone over the bigness of God. This person is very spiritual but not in a mainline Christian way of thinking. We were deep into our debate, yes I’m sorry to say that is what it deteriorated into, over God when the other person asked if I didn’t believe God was bigger than the Bible? Tough question.
We believe the Bible is God’s final statement to this world and sums up all the truth that we can know about God. In other words, if it’s not in the Bible then God doesn’t mean for us to worry our pretty little heads about it. But the gentleman’s question to me was, “what if God transcends the Bible and is working in ways in people’s lives that don’t quite fit into a Biblical context?”
Now, before everyone yells, “new age” theory at me let me try to explain. What the man was saying was simply, “maybe your Bible doesn’t have all the answers for the questions people are asking today or how many people think in regards to the world.” Here’s the rub, when you think about it, he is right. Here are a few examples, “what does the Bible tell us on participating in a Christian nation that puts its trust in bombs and nuclear weapons?” What is God’s view of mega Churches that profess to believe in Him but have as their primary goal fleecing the sheep? What about cloning? What about experimenting on animals or the use of GMO’s in our food? Should Christians own stock in certain companies that don’t project healthy lifestyles for consumers?
The question is how do we react when the Bible is silent on topics that bombard contemporary Christians every day? Let’s circle back to the idea that we treat the Bible as a rulebook. I once attended church with a gentleman who believed that a woman wearing “high heel” shoes was a sin. He made a real fuss over the issue and soon people in the church were demanding “where is that in the Bible?” while people on the other side of the fence were throwing tidbits from obscure texts on adornment back at them. The bottom line was the two young ladies who received most of his rebukes, for their shoes, eventually stopped worshipping with us and everything settled down. Honest folks, is this our view of Scripture?
Do I dare? There are parts of the Bible that, even for believers, is difficult to understand and wrap our heads around. What about Israel’s wars and the strange rules surrounding many Old Testament precepts? Do we really want to stone people? Do rape victims have to marry the rapist? And then there’s a flood that kills everyone but a handful in the Ark and the further drowning of Pharaoh’s army.
Anyone who has read the Bible comes away with more questions than answers. And it is precisely because we run away from these questions that critics and atheists run rampant over the Bible. While we are so busy trying to live up to the rules and regulations of the Bible we are burying our heads regarding the strangeness of Scripture that is a stumbling block to so many people.
Well, I’ve rambled on here enough so I should get to my point. The problem isn’t with the Bible but the unfair expectations we place upon it. In his interesting little book, The Bible Tells Me So, Peter Enns puts it this way. “If we come to the Bible expecting something like a spiritual owner’s manual complete with handy index, a step-by-step field guide to the life of faith, an absolutely sure answer-book to unlock the mysteries of God and the meaning of life, then conflict and stress follow right behind and, like a leech, find a place in your heart and soul to latch on.” I don’t agree with a number of things in Enn’s book but he is right about our seeing the Bible as an owner’s manual and a field guide to the life of faith.
Maybe the Bible is much more than our moral textbook and instead is a help on our spiritual journey. As long as I try to explain everything in life through the lens of Scripture I am going to struggle with my faith. As soon as I understand the Bible as a guideline for faith that helps me understand and evaluate my journey in light of God’s revealing Himself in Scripture, I grow.
The Bible was written in different cultures and different times and we have to understand that to appreciate the teachings of Scripture. To attempt to project those cultures onto us today just doesn’t work. Let me end with an example that might help explain what I’ve been trying to say.
In a number of cultures in the time of the Kings of Israel, child sacrifice was conducted as part of the worship ritual. Eventually, under Manasseh, it infiltrated into Israel’s worship. God punished Israel for its sin, (yes, it is sin to burn children alive) and the people went into captivity. Does this story have any application for us today? Yes! Besides the obvious, that it is extreme child abuse to harm a child in such a manner, it opens the door to further discussion on abortion in our own culture.
We can search Scripture for pointed texts on abortion and come up empty handed, but, if we take Scripture to be a spiritual guide for practical Christian living we can make applications that help us in our ethics. To understand the Bible as a guide for living where we can make applications that help us in our daily walk strengthens our faith. Let’s just admit there are things in Scripture that don’t make sense to us or are difficult to interpret in light of the world we now live in.
Whatever we do we shouldn’t throw the Bible out because of its difficult and confusing parts. We should also understand that God is not contained by what we think about the Bible and how we interpret it. The Bible is God’s outline of what human’s face in life and gives broad directions for how to survive the storms and develop trust in the ONE who sees us through them.