Scripture: Isaiah 40:8
By Jill A. Kirchner, MDIV, DMIN
September 13, 2015
Tomorrow night, I will begin leading the Bible Study group in a discussion on the Gospel of John. Leading Bible Study is probably one of my favorite parts of ministry though I have a love / hate relationship with the Bible, which many Christians refer to as the “word of the Lord”. This love/ hate relationship began when I was 15 years old. When I was 15 years old, I heard the call to go into ministry and I was so excited about that call. My good friend at the time, Susan, who attended a very conservative, evangelical church said, “Jill, you can’t be a minister. You are a woman. That would be a sin.” I said, “Susan, how in the world can serving God and the church be a sin?” The next day, she handed me a scripture passage, a passage from 1 Timothy. It said this, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission; I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing.” (1 Timothy 2: 11 – 15). I said to Susan, “What the heck is this? Women must be silent? Women can’t teach a man? Women will be saved through childbearing? Is this a joke? Do you really believe this, Susan?” “Look Jill,” Susan said, “these are not my words, this is the word of the Lord. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
I began to wonder what other words the Lord had to say and so I opened the Bible and really began to read it seriously. I learned how at one time the Bible had been used to justify slavery. “Slaves be obedient to your masters” writes the apostle Paul. I learned how the Bible was used to defend segregation. In the 60’s pastors such as Jerry Falwell preached from the pulpit in favor of segregation. Ham, Noah’s son had looked on Noah in his nakedness, and for this he had been cursed to servitude and slavery along with all his progeny, according to Gen 9: 25 – 27. It was believed that the descendants of Ham were from Black African ancestry. And so as a response to the Supreme Court’s order to dismantle the segregated school system, “Christian schools” were formed, where whites only were allowed because the Bible, the word of the Lord, said so.
I learned that Galileo was placed under house arrest by the church because he had this radical idea that the earth was not the center of the universe and that the earth moves around the sun. Biblically it was considered heresy. After all, the Bible clearly states that sun rises and the sun sets, not that the earth rotates around the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:5)
And how many wars have been justified biblically…for God was always destroying people – smiting one nation or another. If it is good enough for God, it is good enough for us.
What about the justification for the Holocaust and anti-Semitism – scripture says that the blood of the Jews will be upon them and upon their children (Mathew 27:25) for killing Jesus. John goes on to say that the Jewish people loved darkness more than light, for their deeds were evil (Jn 3: 18 -20) and the Jews were the children of the devil (Jn 8: 39-44). Those words are hardly designed to build mutual respect and yet, this is what we call the word of the Lord.
And then, of course, too many of us have heard how the Bible is used to condemn loving same sex relationships. However, I wonder if those same people who condemn homosexuality because the Bible calls it an abomination, have really read the rest of the Bible? Eating shellfish is considered an abomination too, but I have never seen a Christian holding a sign outside of a Red Lobster declaring that “Eating shellfish is an abomination.” (Lev 11: 10 -12) The Bible says that if a child curses a parent, that child is to be executed. Scripture says that if a woman is on her period she is considered unclean and shall not be touched for 7 days. (Lev 15:19ff) And yet we never find ourselves asking women whether they are clean or unclean before giving them a hug in church. Scripture says that one cannot approach the altar of God if he / she has a defect in eyesight. (Lev 22:16-22) Therefore we must have 20 / 20 vision to approach the altar of God. This past year I started wearing reading glasses. I guess I can no longer approach the altar of God. Scripture says that if a spirit of jealousy comes upon a man, he can order his wife to undergo an ordeal of drinking a poisoned potion. If the woman dies her guilt is assumed. If she survives then she is presumed to be innocent. (Num 5:11)
On top of it all, there are inconsistencies in scripture. There are two creation stories – one in which animals were created before humans and the other where humans were created before animals. (Gen 1 – 2) There are two flood stories: the familiar one where God has Noah collected the animals two by two (Gen 7: 15, 24), and then another story where the animals are collected seven by seven. (Gen 7:2). There are different versions of the birth story of Jesus as told by Matthew and Luke, with different characters and a different timeline. Different gospels give different accounts of the resurrection of Jesus – one gospel claims that Mary got to the tomb first; another claims that Peter got to the tomb first. And then we got to love the questions that the children ask, “If the lion is to lie down with the lamb, where are the dinosaurs? How come the dinosaurs are never mentioned in the Bible?”
When Christians say that the Bible is the literal, inerrant, infallible word of the Lord, I have to ask them, “Have you really read your Bible?” Too many use the Bible as a weapon to support their own prejudices. The Bible, however, is an invitation into a relationship with God. I do not believe that the Bible is the word of God, but I do believe that the word of God is in the Bible.
Jesus did not ask us to give up our intelligence. We are to use our good intelligence; we are to use our minds that God gave us, we are to use historical and literary criticism. God lies beneath the literal words of the sacred texts.
Frederick Buechner uses the window metaphor as a way to talk about scripture. We don’t worship the window. We simply look through it to get a glimpse of the divine on the other side. Just because there are smudges, swatted flies and hairline cracks obstructing our view, we don’t throw the window out. We learn to distinguish between what is part of the window and what is beyond. The Bible gives us a glimpse into the Holy, into the true word of God.
Even though the Bible is covered with human fingerprints all over it, it still remains the most sacred of books for me. It was written over a period of 1500 years by more than 40 authors from all walks of life – shepherds, kings, a tentmaker, a physician, fisherman, and philosophers. The authors lived hundreds of miles apart and their lives were separated by centuries. And yet there is one common theme: it is a love story between God and humanity.
“My relationship with the Bible is not a romance but a marriage, and one I am willing to work on in all the usual ways: by living with the text day in and day out, by listening to it and talking back to it, by refusing to distance myself from the parts of it I do not like or understanding. The Bible blesses me, challenges me and affects everything I do” (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, pg 56). That is why we call the Bible God’s living word.
I believe that the key to understanding the Bible as the word of God is not to take it literally, but to enter into the experience of the Bible, using the stories as metaphors for our own lives. The Bible is not just stories about the past; they are stories about the present. The purpose of these stories is not to tell us what God did, but what God does. The story is yours and the story is mine! There we are crossing the Jordan River; there we are reaching for the hem of Jesus’ robe. There we are experiencing resurrection in our own lives!
The Bible is an encyclopedia of human life of earth – there are some saints, but there are also lots of scoundrels. Take Moses, the greatest Jewish leader of all time. Despite bringing the 10 commandments down from the mountain, Moses broke 4 of them. Moses lied, Moses stole, Moses murdered, and Moses made allowances for adultery. On top of that, there is the cheater Jacob was a liar and a cheater, Noah was a drunk, David was an adulterer and a murderer, Solomon was a womanizer, Jonah ran from God, Peter denied Jesus, Judas betrayed Jesus, the Disciples fell asleep during Jesus’ time of greatest need. I think to myself if there is hope for them, there is hope for me. There are times when I am a scoundrel and I, too, am met with God’s love and grace.
The Bible is not the word of God, but the word of God is in the Bible. There are scripture passages I have turned to during very challenging moments in my life to find comfort and strength. Jeremiah 29– “I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not for evil, plans for a future and a hope.” Psalm 46 — “Be still and know that I am God.” Philippians 4 — “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Romans 8, “Can anything separate me from the love of God? No nothing can separate me from the love of God which is mine in Christ Jesus.’ Matthew 19 — “With God, all things are possible.” Psalm 121 — “I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where does my help come from? My help comes from God, maker of heaven and earth.” Over and over, the Bible affirms that God is Jehovah-raah, a caring shepherd. God is Jehovah-jireh, the One who provides. God is Jehovah-rophe, the One who heals. God is all this and more.
The Bible is not the word of God, but the word of God is in the Bible. The Bible points to the Word which is beyond all words. And so I can confidently say with Isaiah, “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.” Amen.