A couple weeks ago I had a wonderful conversation with a bright and thoughtful young man about the Bible, faith, art, and existentialism. It was one of those moments when I thought, ‘Boy I must have the coolest job ever.’ He asked some really deep questions about life, the nature of reality and the purpose (or lack thereof) human existence.
At one point in the conversation, he asked me about the Bible. It was an honest question, a tough question, a good question every person who follows Jesus should ask. He said ‘there’s a lot of terrible stuff in the Bible, how can you take it seriously? How do you not just pick and choose what you want to read and ignore or dismiss the rest?’
It’s a hard-hitting question because he’s right. There are a lot of terrible things in the Bible. It would be easier to just ignore, sweep them under the rug or to pluck out the Bible entirely. But, I feel like this would kind of be missing the whole point of this faith thing. What makes the Bible holy and inspired is how scripture works on us to transforms us into the image of God known in Jesus (i.e. more compassionate, grace-filled kingdom makers). So, by leaving out the tough parts, the violent parts, the racist parts, the sexist parts, the human parts that I don’t like, I am living in denial that these things exist within the world and more importantly, exist within the darker parts of me. And this seems to me, to be missing the whole point of a spiritual life which is about not living in denial, but being set free by the truth of God’s perfect love. I need to wade into the darkness of our past, the shadows of my self, to see myself with honesty, openness, and vulnerability.
I need to engage in the messiness of the narrative so that I don’t continue to perpetuate a false understanding that the Bible is supposed to be a nice systematic theology that teaches me exactly what we are supposed to think and believe about God (usually reinforcing conclusions I’ve already made) so I can digest it, categorize it and move about my day.
Without this exercise and practice transformation is not possible. Luckily the Bible facilitates this for me beautifully.
So the challenge that I try to place before myself and our simple church community is to try to take the whole Bible seriously. To be bold enough to confront our shadow selves reflected back to us in this holy and troubling book of real flawed people struggling to understand the mystery that is the Divine.