I’m just one small part in an unfolding story.
I don’t know how it’s going to end (I’m not even sure how how it started).
Right now I’m quite content spinning my little spiderwebs here in the corner, remaking my home day-by-day, in a location that seems appropriate. Regarding faith and doubt and God and the bible: if you’ve been following this blog for a while you will know I’m far from being a pulpit-preacher. A community of people I’m growing to love, they welcome people like me. People with questions and guilt and too much “should” shouting at them, people who have become burnt out on religion. People who have tried, and still – simply – doubt. Some of these people are contributing further thoughts over at Karissa’s place, so when you’re done here, go check it out.
Because I’m trying to be done with guilt.
Because I’m trying to be done with ‘should’.
Because I’m trying to be done with trying.
Because the whole process of how The Holy Bible came to be is fraught with impossibility, and smothered in dirty, bloody human fingerprints.
Because there’s a voice that tells me to be careful, and be safe, and stay within the bounds of tradition and religion, and it’s not The Voice that I know.
For a whole bunch of reasons, I haven’t picked up a bible in a very long time.
That’s not to say I haven’t read scripture. I sat through enough Sunday school meetings and high school bible classes to know my fair share of memory verses. There are still plenty of verses I cannot recall without referring to the embedded tune accompanying them in my head. Leftovers from memory verse challenges and days brought up changing the slides on the overhead projector during ‘praise and worship’ at our little pentecostal church, those lyrical scriptures were burned into my brain as I stared down at the film laid over the blinding bulb, searing those black words into my retinas as the guitars thrummed repetitively in my ears.
I remember hearing or reading this phrase recently: the bible is either absolute, or it is obsolete.
And I wonder if that person actually meant and believed that, or of they were just kind of proud of their clever catch phrase. I wonder if they were prepared to back it up by concluding it was obsolete if they couldn’t prove it absolutely.
I think we try to pack our lives into boxes of black and white, and we try to use the bible to help us in that sorting process. I don’t think that’s working out too well. For those who cannot accept the bible as absolute, phrases like this alienate them from the things they can accept. If we make ourselves the gatekeepers and use the bible as the key, we are putting ourselves in a role we were never meant to fill, and turning away flocks of people in the process.
I know many people who have had the bible used against them as a weapon, as a tool of abuse and suppression and oppression and possession. For those people, it is truly damaging for them to hear that it is all or nothing.
If it is either one or the other, people are going to be forced to choose the other.
If we are reducing the bible down to these wishy-washy platitudes masquerading as wisdom, we are doing a gigantic disservice to the
and wisdom that the bible is.
Further, if I am – or you are – encouraged not to doubt the bible, encouraged not to throw ourselves into searching out interpretation and translation and uncovering the nuances of meaning and culture and context – then I have to wonder what the agenda is of whoever is doing the encouraging.
The truth is I do doubt the bible. I don’t know how not to. I’m sure it’s very simple for some people, to self-reference and circularly declare that the bible asserts itself to be true. But that doesn’t make sense to me. Can we get an independent peer-review over here? (Hey! A joke! See I’m not all serious.)
I doubt that the accounts that are written down are word-for-word, verbatim, actually what happened, when it happened, and why.
I doubt that the men who deliberated over which books to include in the canon were infallible. It’s certain that the men (and possibly women) who wrote thing were not infallible.
Some might say
“Just have faith – you just have to believe”.
But if it is a matter of talking my mind into just believing, I could just as easily talk myself into having faith in the phone book. Sometimes I think that would be easier – at least I know if I call a number someone will answer (yep, that was another joke, I know, I know… this is SERIOUS! Back to business…)
I don’t think that the bible is an answer-book for life’s questions.
I don’t think that the way I choose to interpret the bible will be the correct one, and I don’t think yours will be either.
I don’t think that just because it’s written in the bible, it’s true.
And I don’t think that is a dangerous statement to make.
So, what would I say about the bible if I knew no one else was going to read this?
I would say that I sometimes wonder if any of it is ‘true’. But then I think, how can something as hodge-podge as the bible be ‘true’ anyway?
And I wonder how much has been lost in translation. And I wonder what we miss out when we take it all too literally. We remove the poetry and the mystery and the wonder.
I would say that I’m sick of people telling me how I should live my life or what I should believe or what I shouldn’t say based on a single bible verse.
I would say that I think that we live an incredible place of privilege, knowing that we can have a bible if we want one. Maybe we take it for granted. Is it possible to rely too much on the bible? Is it possible that if we think the bible contains the answer for everything that we will try to make it answer everything, instead of using our brains and hearts and minds and hands and each other?
Maybe having such ease of access to the bible actually isolates us, makes us islands?
I don’t know that any of this is true, I am simply wondering.
I’m wondering if we could go back to communal access to scripture, whether we’d spend more time together, wrestling, disagreeing, working out our faith as a family.
I never wanted to publicly admit that I’m not sure of the bible’s divinity and what that even means, anyway. Or that I don’t believe that the book of Genesis is a literal account of the way the world was formed in the very beginning. I know not everyone is going to agree with me, and I’m conscious that sometimes disagreement can equal rejection. I’m afraid that conflict can equal loss of relationship. But recently, and maybe paradoxically, I have been reminding myself of this bible verse –
“Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life… is one not yet fully formed in love.”
– and so, hoping in the presence of that perfect love, and intentionally tuning my ear and eye to where that love fits in the Grand Story, I will continue, because what I have to say is important.
Because while these thoughts and ideas have the potential to be quite threatening, to me they have opened up a whole new universe of wonder. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly how I feel about it. I feel unworthy to comment on the nature of the bible because I’m not a scholar or theologian. I’m just a girl with a whole bunch of questions who was brought up in an oppressively religious church and was always told what to believe and when to believe it by the man in the pulpit (clarification: I am referencing here my childhood church – essentially a cult – not the church I began attending as an adult, and still love and believe in, despite my recent absence). I guess some people would see that as ‘the reason’ why I am now questioning the bible. maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. As long as it’s not a way of invalidating what I have to say I don’t really care.
I say all of this to get to what I really want to say: It’s OK, random people of the internet who are possibly reading this right now.
If you’ve been told not to question or challenge scripture or seek out something that feels closer to truth, then I’m not ashamed to say that those demands come from a place of fear. Fear that you will walk away from the faith, or fear that you might cause others to question. Fear of the loss of control. Fear of hell.
I’ve always felt like I should hold back my questions about the supposed inerrancy of the bible.
I still feel like I should just keep quiet about not believing that there was a literal world-wide flood, about believing that this universe is more than 6000 years old and that evolution is the most probable (sophisticated, beautiful) theory for how we got here. I feel like I shouldn’t mention that I don’t believe God actually told the Israelites to invade and pillage and murder and destroy. I feel like I shouldn’t mention that I have serious questions about the parts of Jesus’ life that are actually recorded (albeit with discrepancies, in each of the four gospels). I feel like I should just bite my tongue when people seem so sure of their particular interpretation of the prophets and of the book of revelation and how they’re so sure the world will end in fire and brimstone.
I don’t trust people who start a sentence with ‘the bible clearly says’. That’s a huge red flag for me. Maybe you’ll think I’m listening to the serpent of Eden…
“Did god really say…?”
That would be disappointing, but so be it. Shaming or condemning people for questioning the bible isn’t new territory (though I believe it is more dangerous than the questioning itself).
Maybe for some people it’s easy to subscribe to that old saying “The bible says it, I believe it. That settles it!” But that doesn’t work for me. The problem with that is the bible says some pretty nasty shit. And who decides how we interpret the nasty bits? Who decides which bits are literal and which bits are metaphorical?
But, truthfully, I’m not sure what works for me at the moment. I don’t have the answers, and to be honest, I’m not certain that I’m actually looking for them. I was hoping I’d be able to wrap all this up in a neat little declarative package of “This is what I think and that’s OK” at the end of this, but I don’t even know if I can do that. (I think part of me didn’t even want to write this because I’m not certain of anything, and shouldn’t you be certain about this sort of stuff if you’re writing about it? But I gave myself a bit of an out with the name of my blog, so there!)
In this era of social media, where it is generally the most assured and certain voices that are the loudest, it can be hard to say “I’m not sure…”
It can be hard to say “I don’t know if I believe that anymore, but I don’t really have a three-point sermon as to why…”
It’s hard to be honest about where we are at, knowing that there will be those around who will want to know why-and-how-and-when-and-what do you actually believe anymore?
“And if you don’t believe in something you will fall for anything, don’t you know?”
Well, that’s not true.
I have spent too long feeling afraid of how others will handle my questions about the bible and faith and everything in between.
I don’t know what to do with that fear other than love the people that induce it, and love myself through the process, and rest in that strange and universal love that seems to reach me despite it all, but want to speak to the other doubters and thinkers and questioners:
You are not alone.
And it doesn’t mean you have to throw it all away.
And it doesn’t mean you have to throw any of it away, but as a well known Christian blogger says, we can still love it, and “honor it and value it and celebrate it for what it is, not what I want it to be.”
And what it is, is a blood-stained book, smothered in human finger-prints. It carries beauty and mystery and the story of a people and a world on the road to redemption.
I believe we are still on that road.
The Holy Bible is just part of the story.
And the story is still being told.
This post is a contribution to a Doubter’s Anonymous link-up on “The Bible and Doubt”. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’d also love to know that I’m not alone either. (I don’t like to beg, but… Please comment. Comments are like caffeine for bloggers, they keep us going!)
For more scholarly thoughts than I can contrive, check out the following links:
Rob Bell: “What is the Bible?” (This guy still uses Tumblr for his blog space, what a champ)
We Make the Road by Walking, by Brian D Mclaren
The Bible Tells me So, by Peter Enns