scripture

Reading Scripture Sideways: a new take on a very old book

I’ve been slowly, as in snail’s pace slowly, working my way through Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible. I actually want to read it like the pages are on fire and I have to finish before it consumes them. I want to gorge myself on the clever, gentle, insightful ways of considering an ancient library. Scripture. I used to love it. Even now the word feels so weighty and mysterious when it sits on my tongue. I believe that’s because it is  weighty and mysterious, wrapped in thousands of layers of meaning and interpretation. Yes, I used to love scripture. I was so much more certain of everything then. Now, honestly, I’m afraid of the Bible, and that fear is holding me back from enjoying not only Rob Bell’s book, but scripture itself.

I know what you’re thinking: here comes the crazy again. It’s true. I have all the issues when it comes to church and church business. But through all this great big hairy church mess, somehow, I never believed that God lost her faith in me. Even when I stumble and flail and fall and swear, even when I push her away like an over tired toddler, she loves me still. She’s been faithful in every way and for that I am so deeply and powerfully grateful.

Religious institutions have not been so merciful or forgiving in my experience. Now I’m what old cowboys refer to as ‘gun shy.‘ Churchy words and situations make me anxious. I seldom measure up to expectations, and when I do it’s because I’m not being true to myself. And then there’s the Bible, the weapon most often used against me in religious altercations (also known as rebuking, church discipline and spiritual authority).

It’s true, I’ve used the Bible as a weapon myself, back in the days when together we were infallible. I can accept that about myself even if I don’t like it very much. Had I known how quickly that weapon would turn on me, I might have thumped more gently, perhaps not at all. For as long as I can remember, we’ve elevated scripture with superlatives: inerrant, inspired, ineffable. Words so high, I cannot attain them. I’ve learned to defend it, uphold it, revere it and memorize it, as though tongues of fire straight from Heaven itself licked words upon papyrus scrolls with nary a misprint or mystery in the process.

What I didn’t learn was how slippery millenia old stories of the Divine become as they slip through time. Or how entirely human the men and women who recorded the stories really are. Sometimes a very human agenda superimposes itself over a very divine story. I didn’t learn context, or layers or culture. Truth may be eternal, but the expression of Truth isn’t so easy to nail down in concisely neat terms once and for all.

So I’ve floundered.

My experience of God doesn’t fit so neatly on the pages as it used to. It keeps sliding off, bursting out, growing bigger than the neat little boxes I learned about. The God of my deconstruction is endlessly forgiving, but God out of the box can get you excommunicated (or perhaps even crucified).

I’ve avoided wrestling with scripture for fear it will disappoint me. It has a lot to live up to when you look at it as the very word of God. But recently, I’ve started to see it a bit differently. Jesus, Himself, is the very word of God, and to date, He hasn’t failed me. I think for me it’s time to let the words of the Bible be what they truly are – a very human attempt to describe a very indescribable God.

An immutable, inerrant Word of God is far too dangerous in the hands of someone like me. But a human attempt to unravel the Universal Christ in ways we can understand and embody, with all the mistakes and course correction that entails? That might just be the right fit for a heretic like me. And if it isn’t, I have a God who’s waiting to fill in the gaps. Because that’s the kind of God she is.

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