I’ve been thinking a lot about faith stuff recently – about what I believe, about what most Christians believe, and about the gaps in between and what to do about them. I haven’t been writing much, because I am shy about broadcasting these things. I fear condemnation.
An old friend from the camp days e-mailed me a while ago, and asked about God stuff. So, in my mission to be honest in my spirituality, I tried to explain a bit of where I was at. After a bit of back-and-forthing, the ball is in my court with some questions about a statement that I had made, which is that I don’t know that the Bible is the word of God. My friend asked me what, if not the word of God, did I think it was – and what was the point of doing anything with it if I didn’t think it was divine? Good questions, and ones I’ve been kind of waltzing around for the last little bit.
I guess the first issue, which came up in my friends’ questions, is that I don’t think that believing the Bible contains historical accuracies necessarily leads to the conclusion that it’s therefore the word of God. By saying it’s historically accurate, I mean to say that the Bible talks about things that are backed up by other accounts or by archaeological evidence – I am not trying to make any statements about the objective versus subjective nature of history. The Bible also talks about things that aren’t supported outside of its text (and I’m not suggesting that a lack of supporting evidence in itself means that these things didn’t happen, just pointing out the fact). However, the question of whether the Bible is actually divinely inspired, and was meant by God to be taken literally as the primary source of guidance for humanity exists outside the issue of its historical veracity.
So, when I say I am not so sure that the Bible is the word of God, what I am saying is not that I doubt that there was a guy named Solomon who built a temple, or a guy named Jesus who rattled the authorities and suggested a path of love and humility, but that I don’t think that the people who wrote the many texts that make up the Bible were channelling God’s will into a perfectly discernable resource that we can clearly follow so that we know we are doing what God wants us to. Which leads to my friend’s further question – if you don’t believe that the Bible is the word of God, then why believe anything about it at all? Good question – and sometimes I wonder about that myself.
To answer that question, though – I have to answer what the Bible is – if I don’t think it’s a combination of 100% factual history and God-breathed instructions on how to live our lives. I guess I think that the Bible is a story of people trying to understand God – of them putting into words their experiences that they believe were full of him, and their interpretations of how he moved in their lives. As such, I guess I believe that the Bible is one of the sources through which we can understand the nature of God and of the kind of lives he wants us to live. We also see him in our relationships, in the world around us, in amazing art, and in so much more. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t see the Bible as the source of truth about God, but at its best as a source of truth about God. It’s tougher this way – having to discern what I think is actually godly, rather than assuming that it all is. I definitely don’t feel wise enough to make these discernments all of the time – but I also don’t feel comfortable saying that hatred and oppression or disregard for the planet we live on (for example) should be accepted because they are in the Bible.
Working through this makes me squirm, but I know it’s an important thing to do, no matter how much more uncertainty (or unorthodox certainty) lies ahead.