In my favorite poem by Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay, he reminds us that like the seasons of nature, life is one season melting into another, and quickly fading away. This is my attempt to document each season in my life and my family.

More On The Bible

Filed under: Bible,Faith — Rachel at 7:21 pm on Saturday, August 17, 2013

First off, thank you all so much for commenting on my last post. I’ve really been thinking a lot about some of the comments you guys left, and I would like to maybe have a conversation here about them. I appreciate the different insights people from different parts of my life have to offer as I struggle with this topic. It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one who is wrestling with the topic. It is also good to hear that people who have wrestled in the past have found peace. That is, I believe, the heart of what I am searching for…peace.

One comment that I loved was left by my friend, Gretchen, on the link to my post on Facebook. She said that God is too big to fit inside any box…even the Bible. I cannot sufficiently express how much this comment resonated with me. I have been thinking about it ever since. The idea that the Bible doesn’t represent God in all His fullness…or even come close. I was taught to believe that we could learn about God in the Bible. That it held all the answers to life’s questions, in some form or another. As I mature, though, I find that I have all kinds of questions about God that the Bible doesn’t shed any light upon at all. Instead, the Bible’s contradictory representations of God leave me vastly confused. I understand that He is a great and infinite God, and therefore is multifaceted. However, some things seem like they should be mutually exclusive. Like, love and hate. How can you love the whole world, yet condemn the majority of us to an eternity in Hell? The Bible doesn’t answer these questions for me. It is the source of my confusion. I find great comfort in the idea that the Bible is not the final word on who God is and how he relates to us. It’s a relief to think that Religion may have used the Bible to try to box God up but I don’t have to keep Him there.

Mark, a friend of Amy’s, left a comment that I’ve been chewing on. He said, “What if the Bible had a single, primary purpose: to teach us about Jesus. To teach us about how He created everything, how He has a penchant for working with and through families, to teach us about how He was born, lived, died, and most importantly how He rose again? To teach us about how He has gone to prepare a place for us to live with Him?” For the most part, as I have kicked this thought around, I like it. I feel like the one thing I can embrace for sure about the Bible is the teachings of Jesus. When I read them, they feel very true to me. When I think about Jesus as an actual man who walked this earth, I don’t have to doubt that he did. History proves that he was real. I have enough faith to believe the parts that can’t be proven…his deity and his resurrection. The part that is problematic for me is believing that the purpose of the whole of the Bible is to teach us about Jesus. I still have the issues of knowing about the canonization process, the disputes over what was Scripture and what was not, and wondering if man’s best efforts were anywhere near right or complete. Also, what about the parts of the Bible that don’t actually talk about Jesus? What am I to do with them? For the most part, I agree with Mark’s idea of how to view the Bible, but I feel like we are approaching the subject from different starting points. I believe that he is starting from the idea that we have a Bible that is accurate, reliable, and complete. I am unable to set out from the same premise, so this idea doesn’t assuage my inner conflict about how to view the Bible. Mark, if you happen to read this, I would love to hear your thoughts, and know  if I even interpreted your comment as you meant it.

Another comment that meant a lot to me was from my dear friend, Joy. She is my oldest friend. We have been friends since we were babies together. I even named my daughter after her. So, when she started off her comment by saying, “First of all, I love you!” I immediately felt loved. I am so thankful for the people that can hear my heart through what I write. Joy wrote in her comment, “ I just want to point out that the Bible is a book of faith. I truly believe man wrote what God wanted them to (II Pet. 1:21), not just what they thought was a good thing to write. Psalm 138:2 is also very interesting where God says His word is honored above His name! But these things have to be believed…through faith! Think of all the O.T. stories – Elijah on Mt. Carmel, the Red Sea crossing, the fiery furnace. If you tried to research and analyze them, you would NEVER believe them! They are impossible…except with God. Just a few thoughts. I’m sure you’ve already thought of them. The Bible IS God’s Word! But it can never help you if you don’t have the faith to believe it.I love you. Please know that most of all!” Joy, I really appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment for me. I agree with you that you have to have faith. After all, without faith it is impossible to please God. (That part rings true to me.) You may find it interesting to know that I don’t have trouble believing that stories in the Bible actually happened. I don’t have any qualms believing that God can send fire from Heaven or part seas. My issue comes with trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with them, and what they lead me to believe about God. I believe that God can cause a city to crumble after people walk around it seven times and blow their trumpets. He’s God. Of course he can do that. My problem comes when I think about what that means. It means that little babies and old men and the sick and lame of that city were crushed in the rubble of their broken homes. I don’t understand that part of the stories. Why would God do that? Or the story of the dude that rushed to keep the Ark of the Covenant from tumbling to the ground. God struck him down despite the intent in his heart? Or the story of Achen? That one killed me as a little kid. I didn’t have a problem with Achen being killed for his disobedience. It made sense to my little child’s heart. He did wrong; he got punished. The part that grieved me was when the teacher got to the part about where they were to stone his family with him. I have this irritating habit of putting myself into the story and imagining if I had been Achen’s daughter, dragged from safety to be killed by the stones hurled by God’s command. It didn’t seem fair. It still doesn’t seem fair.

So I ask myself, why do I teach my children these stories as an attempt to teach them about God? If they make me feel this bad, why do I tell my children, “This is your God?”

I think it’s pretty obvious that all I have is a bunch of questions. I don’t have any answers. I know I can’t ever understand God fully, but, Lord have mercy on me, I need some peace!

Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts. If I answer your comment with a question/challenge, please know that I am just struggling to see if I can come away with something to hold on to. Please reply and help me understand why you believe what you believe. Not just what you believe, but why you believe it. I need some people to wade in with me and talk about it.

12 Comments »

Comment by Gretchen

August 17, 2013 @ 10:08 pm

I think your questions are great and probably help more people than you know! I love reading your blogs–they get me thinking. I’ve had many of your same questions, and still do. But I {mostly} quit worrying over not understanding it all. To me it’s not a lack of faith to have these questions but a desire to understand our creator more. Some things will never be known or understood and maybe they are not meant to be. The bible seems to me a beginning place… A tangible place to see God’s words. And that is great.. But we have something even better now, His Spirit, where we can hear His words for us in the here and now.

Comment by Rachel

August 17, 2013 @ 11:48 pm

A beginning place! I like that.

Comment by Dorcas

August 19, 2013 @ 7:58 am

I like that “beginning place” too.

I wish I could weigh in and say something profound and helpful. I am, after all, a “student of the word” and have been since I was about 7 and memorized 2 Tim. 3:15 “Study to show theyself approved, a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly diving the word of truth.”

And I’ve been a clergywoman for more than 30 years. And a pastor….and I am 63 and fully expected to be a woman of wisdom and understanding by this point in my life.

Yeah.

And I could pretty much have written this exact post. It’s been coming for a while, perhaps. However, it struck me in a very stark, uncomfortable, new way about 2 years ago when I was (not for the first time) was reading the Bible through in a year. But this time my husband and I were reading it in a chronological version. And I was slogging through Leviticus and Numbers and Chronicles and thinking thoughts that would have shocked my former parishioners.

I’m lost too. And praying for us…and hoping prayer really does matter. I’m not certain.

I think of the things I used to preach and teach with confidence and conviction….and I cry.

Comment by Mark Hunsaker

August 19, 2013 @ 10:19 am

Rachel,

Thanks for your post. Sorry I’m late, yesterday was a work and travel day for me. But, I wanted to answer your questions and share some additional thoughts.

First, I want to respond to your question/comment about starting points. So we are clear, I do think the Bible is accurate and reliable. I don’t like the word “complete” though and I think zooming in on this distinction will help you know where I’m coming from.

First, I do not think the Bible is some kind of “divine book.” That is, when you pick up the Authorized-KJV-Red-Letter whatever edition, I think it is just a book. Per your own research, you know that the process of assembling the contents was messy. At seminary, I’ve spent a huge chunk of time studying this, reading texts like you read and actually studying several NT manuscripts in the original language. Cool stuff for a geek like me.

Some Christians use the Bible like it is not only a divine book, but a magic book. They would not use these words, but that is exactly how they use the book. They hold it up in the air while they pray, they quote verses as mini-incantations and on the list could go on. This is tragic at best.

So instead, what if our starting point was Jesus Himself? The actual dude. Now, to be sure, the book is going to be involved in discovering who He is, what He did and what He said, but now if we encounter variations in words or manuscripts or translations, we don’t have to GASP and say “lordy lordy the bahble has an error!” Instead, as Jesus followers, we look at what His first followers wrote about Him, what they felt was important to record and pass on to us, and we recognize that John had different Greek skills than Paul and that Luke certainly captured things from a physician’s point of view. And we can allow for the possibility that maybe Jesus helped them along the way.

Because, while it is easy to see where some scribes who hand-copied manuscripts took liberties, it is also quite interesting to note which liberties they took and which they didn’t. If you look at F.F. Bruce’s manuscript comparisons (and many others), you’ll find that there are no changes to the facts at hand about who Jesus was, what He did, His passion account or His identity as God. Instead you see guys trying to correct grammar, or to use more modern language as the centuries progressed, or when they translated from Greek to Latin to German to English the made decisions on how to convey to us what the originals said.

In one of my classes we studied a monk from the 9th century who had copied a very early manuscript from the 2nd century. What made this particular episode very helpful was that this monk’s Greek was terrible. As such, when he copied the early manuscript, he was unable to “update” it because he rarely knew what it said, so he just copied it. There are numerous examples like this in the tens of thousands of manuscripts that we have. And these examples give us beautiful glimpses into the reliability of what we have now. It is amazing.

If Jesus is real, and let me proclaim to you that He is, then He’s going to see fit to get us what we need. But He’s not going to do it in a mystical way, He’s going to do it the way He’s been doing it since the beginning: through people. He has a real thing about that. He loves to do things through people. Especially families. And as you know, people (and families!) can get pretty messy. And yet somehow, we have an incredibly detailed history of those earliest people who followed Jesus and all the things that happened. They knew, as did their children and their children’s children that we would need to know the story. The story of the rescue plan. It started in Genesis 3:15 when God announced that He would send a savior, it continued when He told Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed, it continued in the Exodus when God told that family of Hebrews that they were His prized possession and then had Moses build this amazing Tabernacle which taught them about what the Savior would do and how He would do it. On and on through the entire OT, the Rescue plan is told again and again, sometimes modeled, sometimes explicitly told (wow Isaiah!!) and then all through the so-called minor-prophets it is told over and over again until the baby is born and we get to see the whole thing play out. The book of Hebrews in the NT is a pretty cool summary of this. Especially chapters 8-10.

Tragically, it is all missed when you set aside the story and instead use it as a tool for incantation, condemnation, power, prosperity or for so-called “righteous living”. The story is about Jesus. He explained this to the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. He explained this to the Jews who wanted to kill Him in John 5. To say the OT is about law and the NT is about grace is to disagree with Jesus. The WHOLE STORY is about grace. The whole story is also about justice. Jesus didn’t die on the cross as a “precious moment,” He died on the cross to rescue us from condemnation. He rose again not to make us happy or good people, He rose again to move us from death to life. The WHOLE STORY is about grace!

And, may I say to you Rachel, I think your path to peace regarding God’s word will be paved with His grace. Start with Jesus. Not the Bible. I know, I know, we use the Bible to learn about Jesus. But Jesus is not a book. He is a real, living, breathing, physical dude who sits at the right hand of the Father. And if He is real, call out to Him and ask Him to help you learn the whole story. He will.

Below is a quote from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus (Ephesians 2:11-22). It is not a one-liner but rather him describing this wonderful story. We have about a thousand manuscripts of this letter and some of the church fathers from as early as 125 copied these words several times, struggling with them, being shaped by them and ultimately dying at the hands of their oppressors because of them. Take a few minutes, grab some coffee, and read this. There is a huge amount of explanation here about “why” the story played out like it did. Marinate on it. Pray to Jesus about what it says. Notice words like “purpose” and “peace” and “foundation” and “household.” Think about the story. Pray about the story. Ask Jesus to help you know the story.

–BEGIN QUOTE–
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
–END QUOTE–

Comment by Rachel

August 19, 2013 @ 11:00 am

Dorcas, I hope we both find the peace we need. Thank you for sharing with me what you are going through. I know their are communities of Christians that have built their churches on asking these kinds of questions and finding peace in the midst of the questioning. There aren’t any of those churches where I’m at, so I truly appreciate people like you who will interact with me online. It helps to have conversations, even if they can’t be face to face.

Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to me. I really appreciate the things you wrote. I really need to think about what you wrote…probably read it through several more times. I’m really feeling this: “And, may I say to you Rachel, I think your path to peace regarding God’s word will be paved with His grace. Start with Jesus. Not the Bible. I know, I know, we use the Bible to learn about Jesus. But Jesus is not a book. He is a real, living, breathing, physical dude who sits at the right hand of the Father. And if He is real, call out to Him and ask Him to help you learn the whole story. He will.” Thank you, Mark, for the encouragement.

Comment by Dorcas

August 19, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

Thanks from me too, Mark. I clicked on your name to take a look at your blog but couldn’t find it. Have you made the transition to WordPress? I concur with what Rachel said. Thanks for taking time to write such a thoughtful response. Made me think of something I said not long ago to someone who deifies the Bible, “Jesus is the Word of God. Why do we try to make the Bible into what only Jesus can be?” When did people start calling the Bible “the Word?” Just pondering.

Comment by Joy B

August 20, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

I have been thinking hard on these things. You raise some VERY difficult questions. It is enough for me to let these things go and trust God. “His ways are higher…” It is SO incredibly sad that innocent people died at Jericho, and no doubt after the 40 years of wandering, and in numerous other stories. I think that is a result of sin. Something Mark said, “The whole story is about grace” I believe is so true. The OT was the law, but it was pointing to grace, showing the people they could not keep God’s laws alone. They needed to be saved! Also, today there are so many difficult things – abortion, war, hunger. There will always be innocent people suffering. There is no answer. Except sin. Innocent people always suffer. And I don’t say this as a wound, but are not you and your children suffering to some degree from your divorce? This is not an attempt to “rub it in” or anything like that. I don’t know what happened at all! I just know innocent people suffer. That’s not God’s fault. It’s people who sin, and cause others to suffer.

I just think this: if you take away the Bible, what would you have? I don’t even understand the comment “start with Jesus, not the Bible.” We would know nothing about Jesus without the Bible. Families would have passed down stories over the years, I guess. But as they experienced hardship, and what they “thought” Jesus was, the image of Him would change. Does that make sense? The Bible is a constant. And as for the Holy Spirit leading us, yes He does! But I believe He speaks and reminds us of things He has already said in the Bible. I know there are many discrepancies about how the Bible we have today came to be. And I honestly don’t understand a lot of that! I do NOT have an intellectual mind.

This link is what our former pastor taught on the subject of the origin of the Bible we have today. He is very thorough, very learned, and very good! If you have time soon, there are video lessons and pdfs you can print out to follow along. I think it would be very helpful!
http://www.firstbaptistchurchofwestunion.com/doctrine-of-the-bible.html

I don’t believe the Bible is all there is! But it is all God wants us to have in our hands to teach us about Him. I also think sometimes we can study “about” the Bible so much, instead of studying the Bible, which will help us in our Christian lives so much!

I am not trying to contradict anybody. It’s obvious that there are many views on this subject!

Love ya, Rachel!

Comment by Rachel

August 21, 2013 @ 10:03 am

Joy, I’m starting to think that the first part of your comment has a lot of validity, “It is enough for me to let these things go and trust God. “His ways are higher…” I feel like, ultimately, this may be the place I need to end up, but, like I’ve said, I can’t stop thinking and asking questions. I have to walk the steps between here and there. It’s a necessary part of my journey.
As far as your comments on the Bible, we would know a lot about Jesus even without the Bible. Christian tradition and thought would have been passed down orally. Many historians have written about the life of Jesus. Again, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. The Bible is not THE Word. Jesus is. We’ve lost that idea amidst our modern day Bible worshiping.
Thank you for the link you shared. You say that your pastor is very learned…where did he study? I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but I don’t have time to listen to someone who hasn’t even taken the time to go to an accredited, respected school. I would better serve my purposes by reading after theologians and philosophers. I’m not saying your pastor didn’t go to seminary. I’m asking if he did. I know most IFB pastors don’t go to school. If he did, that makes a difference to me.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I feel like I have a lot to gain from the variety of opinions being shared.

Comment by Joy B

August 23, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

Rachel, he did not go to seminary. And I actually think that gives him more credibility than if he did. He is not tied to any one school, and what they teach. Does that make sense? Most seminaries have a very strict stand that is unwavering. But he has studied the whole realm on his own. If you knew him, you would know! So I guess you’ll just have to trust me on it! He has a business degree from UT. But he studies unlike anyone I have ever known. He typically studied 10 hours per sermon that he preached. He came up with all he believes on his own. He had commentaries galore from many different writers and eras, and even denominations. When they moved recently, he sold hundreds of books that he didn’t need. Trust me, the man is learned! If you don’t want to take the time, then don’t. I just really think it would help you! He is one of the most helpful preachers I have heard in my entire life!

And I just want to clarify – I know people would pass down things about Jesus orally. But in my comment, I was just stating that their view of Him would change throughout their lives. Look at your view of Jesus right now, and my view. They are totally different. That’s what I’m saying.

I am praying for you. Honestly, it breaks my heart to see you struggling so bad.

Comment by Rachel

August 23, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

Joy, I apologize if I came off as insulting. I didn’t mean to be. I just feel like education is important. That’s all.

Thank you for your continued input.

Comment by Joy B

August 23, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

Oh, I wasn’t insulted at all! Education IS important. But a degree in four years can’t do what a good student for life can!

Comment by Rachel

August 23, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

:)

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