Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Q: "But can't we just ignore the bad parts of the Bible?"

That would seem to be the correct answer to a lot of things, wouldn't it? The Bible seems to have a lot of stuff that rubs people the wrong way.

Like some don't like all the war and slavery and oppression in the Bible, and want to believe God "beyond" or "better" than those icky parts. And that's certainly understandable. Those things are icky.So they just ignore those passages (or say they were written by rogues or primitives of some kind -- which is just another way of ignoring them).

Some others don't like all the stuff about turning the other cheek, helping (not bombing or impeaching or passing laws against) your enemies, putting other people ahead of your wallet, and so on. These folks actually have an easier time ignoring icky Bible parts because they have more than 1,700 years of human-values-based, scholarly "Christian theology" and tradition to assure them beyond any doubt that Jesus was just kidding about requiring all that stuff from His followers.

Problem is, falling either way from the narrow path of what God intends us to learn from the whole Bible means we don't get the whole, real answer to who we're supposed to be in Christ, and how that should translate in the world around us. 

So, the short answer is "NO" -- we can't ignore any part of the Bible. If we do, we do so at our own spiritual peril -- and to the peril of any who happen to listen to us more than to the Holy Spirit, and to the peril of any who are vulnerable (spiritually, emotionally, physically, economically, politically, etc) to our half-rat Christianity.

Consider these points, for a longer answer:

1) It's not God's fault when people (including us) run His meaning through the stinking pig pen of our own sinful selfishness.

Most people ("left", "right", "middle", "nowhere", etc) do only use or overemphasize one part of the Bible over another, as best fits their own personalities, bigotries, and so on. Much of that is just human nature. We've all been raised within certain cultures and sub-cultures and sub-sub-cultures that form(ed) how and what our brains will see or even recognize as reality -- even when we work to get our brains outside the limited culture box of our birth.It's a real human struggle to reach beyond the rain-puddle-deep thinking the world wants us to aspire to.

So we're human! But that's not the problem. What is? Not exercising godly humility regarding our own (or our denomination, or political party, or whatever)'s ability to see the truth even a trillionth of a trillionth or a trillionth as well as God does on His worst day.

We each should be recognizing that we're all just human and actually know diddly about what's required of us by God.Being a Christian human being should make us willing to stand up for what we believe (because that's also required of us by God), but also very hesitant to be a jackass about it. We each should be ever-aware that the best we can do, on our most enlightened, most brilliant day, is actually worth less than a leaf in an outhouse compared to the awesome intellect, good-doing, and justice-performing holiness of God.

Well, that's what we should be doing. What are we too often doing instead?

We're off in the outhouse, glorifying our filth-leaf, and deciding that being pig-headed, or memorizing lots of scripture verses, or getting (or listening to those with) college degrees, means we are now fit to remake what God means into our own image. Why? Because we know we're right, and God's right -- so that means God is the same as us (cue demonic cheering), right? So we can pick and choose the message we want God to mean, like: God doesn't distinguish between good and evil! Or, God knows poor people are only poor because they're lazy! Or, God believes in socialism! Or, God believes in capitalism! Or, God loves the people I love! Or, God hates the people I hate! And WOW! What a God! Just as spiritually spineless and evil as we are! Hooray!

NOT.

When those who claim to follow Christ only embrace the parts of the Bible that make them feel good (whether they make others feel good or not), then what they have isn't Christianity -- it's narcissistic feel-good-ism. It's "aren't-I-grand"-ism. And whether it comes from "right", or "left" or nowheresville, it always means people are going to be hurt, and people are going to be turned off by what they've been convinced wrongly to think is THE Gospel.

God has nothing to do with that. He never has. And He never will.And that's one message we miss, if we don't embrace the whole of the Bible and our human history.

2) Understanding the message God intended for us in the whole Bible takes more than just reading or studying the words on the page.

When we study the Bible, it's true that we have to go back to the original words, in their original languages, to make sure we're getting the real deal. When we do so we have the opportunity to see, for example, that Paul used the same leadership words for women as he did for men (despite most mistranslations today). Or that the verses (like in Timothy) where Paul supposedly said "homosexual" or something similar have been flat out re-worded by sinful human beings just to make it appear Paul and God condemned being Gay.

But we can't stop there. We also have to understand the grammar and syntax and history as it would have been understood when and to the people to whom it was written. When we do that we have the opportunity, for example, to see that, despite the translations and interpretations we get from those who make maleness an idol, Paul wasn't dumping on women and what they should be within Christian fellowships at all, but rather challenging those who wanted to keep them under male-worship's subjugation (Just as an aside: I would love to read a letter from Paul if he had a chance to answer those who changed his words to make it appear he said the opposite of what he truly wrote/meant! Whew!)

But we can't even stop there. We also have to extrapolate or pull the meaning from ancient texts into modern times. For example, the Old Testament is chock full of God's orders to take care of and stand up for orphans and widows. But are we as modern-day Christians to take that as meaning orphans and widows are our only charge? Hardly. If we're using our extrapolation skill set, we understand that orphans and widows were among the vulnerable in that place and time (socioeconomically, but also culturally and legally), and so we are charged with standing up for and taking care of those who are vulnerable socioeconomically, culturally, and legally in this place and time.

This is why we can't just ignore those passages that have been made to appear to condemn Gay people, or that appear to support Christians at war, and so on -- even if we're ignoring them because we think that's a way to show our godly support for the oppressed or victimized. If we do, we're simply shooting our own spiritual understanding in the foot, and we're only half-helping.

For example, those Leviticus passages? Those aren't about Gay people, but about God's people needing to focus on God and be completely different and visibly distinguishable from the evils and evil choices of the world around us. If we extrapolate their meanings into today, we realize that everything we do that makes us blend into the non-Christian world around us is God-rejection. Like, stepping on others to climb a career ladder. Having the really sweet car. Sleeping two adults and two kids in a home that could house twelve. Counting on voting and political contributions to "change" the world. Leaving it to "the church" to take care of the poor. All these things and more are part of the idolatry of the modern western world today, just as men having sex to make magic and burning your children alive to get better crops was to the Hebrews and their evil neighbors 3,500 years ago.

So if we're simply ignoring those passages? Then we're missing a big message from God to His people: be recognizably different, make different choices that actually make you stand out and God look good, as you live out your Christian life and represent Jesus Christ.

Same thing with those passages in Romans 1. Again, not about Gay people, but about straight people. Paul writes that these were people whose natural, God-given sexual orientation was heterosexuality, but who were so out of control they were even having same-sex sex (just like people do today, for "kicks" or because it's "cool" to be rebellious, or whatever). [The only people who can argue that Paul was talking about Gay people here are those who also believe that being Gay is a "choice" -- by which they mean Gay people are really straight people who've chosen to be Gay.]

Yet how often are we presented with two choices regarding these passages:
  1. Accept the false logic and affective prejudice that says Paul meant God condemns Gay people, or
  2. Ignore these passages in order to stand against the oppression of Gay people. 
Neither of those actually covers what Paul's message was in this whole two chapters (Romans 1 and 2). What was his message? That its possible to be so out of control in self-worship, materialism, and God-rejection that nothing appears really "wrong" anymore, or that wrong things appear fun or right. Paul wrote about people who were greedy, envious, ok with murder, lived for bickering and fighting, lied, hurt each other for fun, gossiped, thought really highly of themselves, invented new ways to do evil, crapped on the wisdom of the past, couldn't be trusted, were unloving and without mercy, and suppressed the truth they knew existed -- and who, even though they knew all these things are wrong and deserve punishment, not only kept doing them but also loved encouraging others to do them, as well.

And if we either ignore this passage, or twist its real meaning into something God didn't say (which is still ignoring it)? Then once again, we're missing God's real point -- and we're in actual danger. There is nothing (nothing!) in what Paul describes of those ancient people that does not also apply in full to the western world today, especially as more and more generations pass without having a foundation in the real truth of Jesus Christ. But Paul points out that God not only gets torqued at such ridiculous evil life choices, but also turns His back on the people who insist on making them. And isn't that a message we and the whole world today needs desperately to hear?

3) Getting God's meaning also requires understanding His action through the whole stream of human history, as revealed in the whole Bible.

God doesn't change -- but what He's required or allowed of people at different times in our development as a human race has changed.

The most obvious example is food.  
  • First, Adam and Eve (and all the animals, including all the predators) were to eat only seeds and plants in the garden (but not that one fruit).  
  • But after the flood, God changed that and told Noah now people could eat anything and everything (except blood), and that included animals / meat.  
  • Then after He took the Hebrews out of Egypt, God changed that and set up this huge complicated mess of rules about which animals and foods could be eaten or not eaten and how. 
  • But then Jesus (God) came along later and said that all foods were now clean again.  
God didn't change -- but what He said was ok or allowed did at different times because He had different things to teach or grow people through in those different times. So anyone who says "God's an ass because He says we can't eat shrimp!", or, "God says it's not ok to eat meat!" is missing the truth of the WHOLE Bible, by focusing only on one narrow piece of His work throughout human history.

That same kind of thing applies with slavery, and war, and the rest of those icky things. Just because God said "ok" at one point in time does not mean that was His whole plan, or all He had to offer people. Look at it in our modern human terms:

We let (we actually encourage, with diapers) people going to the bathroom in their pants when they are too young to know or do any better -- but if they do it as teens or adults, BOY do they get punished in one way or another (assuming they aren't having extra difficulties, that is).

God's the same with slavery, war, etc. Look at people back then (not just the Hebrews) -- at the level of their development in morality, as well as cultural assumptions:
  • They burned their children alive in fires built within idols to gain good crops for the year. 
  • They had sex with animals, and with people they had no natural sex attraction or love for (or any other interest in) to keep their cities magically protected. 
  • They tortured people (like slowly, intentionally starving them to death, or hanging them above ant nests covered in honey) all for good family fun (eek!).
We might say they were "morally developmentally challenged" -- and in a big way (I wouldn't have trusted a one of them -- not even with filth-leaf. Maybe especially not with that!). They were all like children that aren't potty trained yet. Shoot - they were like children who didn't even know anything but diapers existed! And that included the ancient Hebrews (that's what a lot of the early Old Testament is for, by the way. If you haven't decided to ignore it, it will show how far even "God's People" were from truly being His people, back then).

And yet this was what God had to work with. These were the people He had to educate and grow and turn around, reworking them into something better. Did they practice war? Did they even wipe each other out? Did they enslave people? Did they treat women like dog meat? Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yes even to the ones not listed here. And God could have just ordered them to stop immediately -- right?

Well, if you're a parent, imagine having simply ordered your little one year old Suzie to stop going to the bathroom in her pants forevermore, starting right now. How well would that work out for you? Not so good. Not so good.

One of the messages of the whole Bible is that God is a parent, but another is that He allows what we call "free will" because nothing else produces real results (in other words, God says, "No robots, please"). He temporarily allowed and even went along with what these folks could do and understand within their own culture (and He does that for you, too -- you did know that, didn't you? And I'm sure you'd prefer He not start only communicating to you like you were the angel Michael). Did that mean these people were still doing a lot of really wrong things? You bet. Just like it's still wrong for a two year old to go to the bathroom in her diaper. But God kept the human race in moral diapers, just like we keep our little ones in diapers, training and re-training and re-re-training, until its time to be more grown up now.

And that was (one of) Jesus' jobs. He undid the "ok" for a lot of old stuff (the stuff that worked with slavery, war, and so on, because that was as advanced as folks could be back then), because it was time for the human race to now start being grownup -- no longer children (like the very ancient people); no longer even teenagers (like the later people of the Old Testament and many people in the New Testament).

4) The whole point of the whole Bible isn't to proclaim or defend one or another human idea. The whole point of the whole Bible is Jesus. Just Jesus.

Indeed, the whole point of human history is Jesus. We're told that from the very first, through the story of Eve and Adam, when God comforts Eve by telling her that the Savior of the world is going to come from her and fix everything that she and Adam just busted beyond repair. We're told that throughout the Old Testament, in every symbol and shadow of things to come -- all pointing to or anticipating Jesus. And of course we're shown Jesus in the New Testament, shown God's real character in the lived example of Jesus Christ, God on earth, who had to do or allow things in the past He didn't really like or approve of, just to grow the human race into adulthood.

In doing so, Jesus Christ demonstrates God's real values, His real wishes, and His real hopes and plans for the human race:
  • Not as the God that loves war, but the God who rewards and stands for peace;
  • Not as the God who's ok with mistreatment of women, but the God who shows the same love, respect, and treatment to women as He does to men;
  • Not as the God who's ok with slavery, but the God who proclaims all people equal and of equal value;
  • Not as the God who cuts off those who aren't perfect, but the God who created and loved each imperfect soul because it pleased Him to do so;
  • Not the God who yearns to condemn, but the God who longs to save and to keep us near Him throughout eternity. 
If we miss any part of that whole Bible message, then we don't really know God. We don't really follow Jesus Christ. 

Our entire understanding of God and His meaning, then, is not to interpret the Bible as those who are still spiritual teenagers do, picking and choosing what to believe and what to ignore, interpreting the New Testament through the lens of what they imagine of the Old Testament, and Jesus through the lens of what they imagine of the New Testament.

No, our understanding -- and calling to be spiritual adults now -- depends upon our clinging to the whole of God's Bible, in the full linguistic, cultural, historical, (etc) context He put it in, and understanding the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, and the New Testament -- and the whole Bible -- through the lens of Jesus Christ.

To be a Christian grownup means we not only take the whole Bible seriously, but we also have no fear in doing so. 

In fact, our very comfort lies in the entire Bible - -- even in those ugly parts -- because it means seeing the hand of God leading and guiding us not only from our spiritually infantile beginning, but through our spiritual childhood and teen years, to the minimum of where we are supposed to be today as spiritual adults.

Our comfort in the whole Bible also means being able to "see" into the future, into what God will be doing in times to come when we'll be required to go from being spiritual 20 year olds to being spiritual elders, with the wisdom and understanding and heart that He originally intended for us to have.

There are no "bad" parts of the Bible. There are just a lot of bad examples to learn from, a few good examples to learn from, and a lot of love from the God who won't let go of human history.

Don't let go of Him.  

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This article written by Lynne at No Junk. Just Jesus. You can contact Lynne at NoJunkJustJesus@gmail.com.