I started a new Bible study last week: She Reads Truth’s Open Your Bible by Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams. I’ve had this study for a few years and tried to start it once before, but it didn’t really grab my attention so I put it down and started something else.
I don’t know what made me try again, but the second go round has been much more engaging for me. God works in mysterious ways indeed.
As I studied some stuff this weekend, I shared some thoughts on my Instagram Stories. One of the first sections in the workbook is about the Bible being true and what is Truth. (For those not familiar with theology talk, little-T truth is not the same as big-T Truth. Big-T Truth refers to God and the Bible.) I commented that someone I follow on Instagram who I respect and believe to be smart has started sharing her thoughts on Christianity. I’m always interested in talk about faith, so my ears perked up a bit when she mentioned this. But then I quickly lost the excitement when this was her statement:
Love is hard. Especially when you think you’re obligated to love everyone. That’s God’s job. Not yours.
Oh man, say what?
So I shared this wise paragraph from the Open Your Bible book I’m working through:
Friends, whatever we read in the rest of this study is meaningless if we don’t believe the Bible is true. The Law given to Moses and fulfilled in Christ, the good news of the gospel, the promises upon which our hope is built–it is either all true or not at all true. Truth isn’t about expedience, and it’s not about comfort. There aren’t degrees of truth. Because the Bible is true, even the parts we don’t understand are good news!
Then I followed it up with my own commentary:
The Bible is really explicit about being all or nothing. We don’t get to pick what we want to believe and ignore the rest. Listen: there are things I don’t understand about God. There are things I don’t get about the Bible. I have questions. But it doesn’t mean I get to discredit them or say they’re not right because my little human brain doesn’t comprehend it. Sometimes obedience is painful. Sometimes obedience is hard. Sometimes obedience isn’t politically correct. Pretending we’re just more “enlightened” than past generations or we’ve suddenly discovered our “personal truths” after centuries of people wrestling with the same questions is so arrogant and dangerous.
God’s design is free will. We get to decide if we want in on his story or not. But we don’t get to pick and choose what parts of the story we agree with. And that’s where people get uncomfortable and make up new rules that suit them better. “It’s either all true or not at all true.” (But don’t take my word for it; dig in and see for yourself why the Lord is good and righteous and true even if we don’t always feel it.)
And now, a few days later, I’m still thinking about some of the responses I got. Of course, there were encouraging ones, ones that agreed with me. But there were also many people who disagreed with this wholeheartedly. (I’m choosing the word “wholeheartedly” but that is a gentler, kinder way of describing some of the reactions.)
Two responses make me write today. Two responses stuck out to me in my interactions with followers. Two responses make me want to clear up some misconceptions.
#1: I can’t believe in a Bible that encourages slavery and rape against women (followed by random Bible verses to support her arguments.)
UMM, WHAT? You think Martin Luther King Jr., a preacher who often carried his Bible as he fought for social justice, fought on a Biblical platform while secretly hoping for and encouraging slavery? You think the millions-strong black church who is leading the charge for social justice in our world right now is just ignoring the parts of the Bible that promote their own mistreatment and abuse?
You think faith leaders like Beth Moore who fight for women’s voices in the church built her life around a text that also just happens to says it’s okay for men to rape her? There are whole denominations who allow women ministers and you think those women preachers are helping to spread a gospel which promotes the idea they are second-class citizens not in control of their own bodies?
I think some good old fashioned critical thinking skills would help with this argument. I’m not even asking you to read the Bible to understand how ridiculous this is. I’m just asking you to think a little bit.
There’s some really basic Bible knowledge that would make those arguments null and void: we have to remember the Old Testament is a history of God’s people. The Israelites (Jewish people, if you’re not tracking with me…) have had a long and twisty journey with God and those Old Testament books are overflowing with history, stories, and rules. If I open a textbook in high school history class, I don’t assume the author of those books is approving of the Holocaust or the genocide in Rwanda because they are giving information about it.
When I read in the Old Testament about people groups who sacrificed babies to their gods, it does not translate to GOD WANTS ME TO SACRIFICE BABIES. That’s a huge, problematic leap. When we take into consideration the time period of these stories, the cultural norms and experiences of the people, and the militaristic society that existed during Bible times, it starts to give you a different lens to understand and process what the Bible is talking about.
Somehow (through Bible illiteracy, actually) we’ve created this whole group of people who want to point out all the horrible things the Bible has in it by taking every single word as literally as possible.
When I teach students in middle school or high school English class about reading literature, we learn a lot about literary devices: metaphor, simile, foreshadowing, analogy, hyperbole, imagery, personification, and symbol to name just a few. We learn to dig deeper than surface level when we read poetry or prose.
GUYS, THE BIBLE IS THE SAME WAY.
Goodness, I’m kinda embarrassed so many people feel free to discredit something they haven’t even read, let alone studied. You get to have your own opinions, but at least be educated about them please.
If we can remember basic-level stuff like the Old Testament is a history of God’s people and His relationship with them, the New Testament is when all the foreshadowing of a coming king actually happens. God sends His Son into the world, and IT CHANGES EVERYTHING.
God’s chosen people are no longer just the Jewish people, but everyone! We’re no longer relying on priests to tell us what God wants, we have the Holy Spirit in us to help guide us and go to God for us. We don’t have to sacrifice animals for forgiveness, because the Ultimate Sacrifice, Jesus, comes and does it once and for all. For every single one of us.
Suddenly the playing field is level, grace is never ending, and we get to live out this new freedom every single day.
We still read the Old Testament, because we learn so much about God’s character and ways. We still read the Old Testament, because human nature has always been sinful and we can see so much of ourselves and our current struggles in people who lived a really long time ago.
We still read the New Testament, because we learn about Jesus and His ministry and how He did life with people. We read the New Testament, because it tells us how to love people well and it offers us hope and peace in times of trouble.
Final little tidbit for today: taking things out of context, not telling the whole story, using words to hurt other people–if someone did that to you in a relationship, we’d call it manipulation. If we do it with God’s word, it’s the same thing. We have to have context before we start spouting scripture. Our culture and news is filled with people doing this–using God’s Word to further their own agenda or power.
This is the exact opposite of the point of the Bible.
What a heartbreaking realization, when discussing why you have to take the Bible as a whole or nothing (because it’s what the Bible says which in turn makes it what God says, not what Mary Graham says), that people can Google a few scriptures, use verses out of context, and believe the Bible is for persecuting and hurting people.
Guys, we have to do better.
Tomorrow: the second response which got me writing.
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