What is the Bible by Rob Bell – Part 13
What is the Bible?
Part 13: Consciousness and Violence
So let’s talk about Lot, Sodom, Jericho, and every other violent passage in the Old Testament. And the New Testament, while we’re at it. Let’s include the stoning commandments (throwing, not smoking), that weird thing in the book of Numbers where a woman has to drink the dust to find out about her pregnancy, Abraham offering his son because that’s what people did, and while we’re at it let’s include this question from one of my readers:
kingofchapterone asked you:
Did God really tell the Israelites to kill everybody, including the women & children, in those OT stories? Did the prophets hear wrong? Maybe they were putting some (well intentioned) projections of their own agenda onto God? Or maybe the powerful were just using God as a tool to advance their own agendas? Or is God just a psychopath who had a “come to Jesus” moment?
And this one while we’re at it:.
tylorstandley asked you:
Why would God command people to kill women and children? Why are those stories so important?
Lots of answers.
First, when you’re reading these stories in the Bible, you are reading stories told by people (Really obvious, but I will keep repeating this throughout the entire series).
And people were (and are) at various stages of consciousness. (Think of consciousness like a lens, a filter, the primary way you see and understand the world.)
What you read in the Bible was mostly told and written by people at a tribal stage of consciousness (Tribes existed for their own self preservation, when you went to war with another tribe it was your god vs. their god, if you won you wiped them out so they wouldn’t come back and seek revenge later on-but you already know this.).
That’s how people saw the world,
that’s how things worked,
that’s how they understood their lives.
Second, how people interpret events and experiences depends on the stage of consciousness they’re at.
When you read those stories, then, you are reading an accurate reflection of how people understood their world and the events that transpired in it.
Does it surprise you when someone in the Bible wins a battle and then gives their God the credit? That’s what people did at that time.
Does it surprise you when after winning they wiped out the women and children and then said their God told them to do it? That’s what people did at that time.
Does it surprise you when they won and then let no one escape but put everyone to the sword, and then said they did it with God’s power? That’s what people did at that time.
Does it surprise you when Lot says Don’t rape them, have my daughters! That’s what people did in those situations.
Third, you find these stories violence and repulsive and primitive and barbaric
because they are.
If you didn’t find them shocking and awful and confusing, something is wrong with you. And people who read these stories and say Well, that’s just how God is have a very, very warped and dangerous view of God.
Fourth, all the stories in the Bible-we’ll focus here on the Torah-aren’t like that.
Do you find it primitive and barbaric to care for widows and orphans? (As it’s commanded in Deuteronomy…)
Do you find it cruel and violent to leave a corner of your field so that the poor could have something to eat? (As it’s commanded in Leviticus…)
Do you think it is primitive that people should be set free from slavery? (The book of Exodus…)
No, of course you don’t.
These ideas were new,
and they’re found in the Bible.
While we’re at it, in Ezekiel 16 the prophet quotes God saying “I will restore the fortunes of Sodom…” Apparently what happened earlier in the story with the cataclysmic destruction of Sodom wasn’t the last word about Sodom.
(More on that later.)
Fifth, then, and here’s where things get interesting: What you find in the Bible is stories accurately reflecting the dominant consciousness of the day and yet right in amongst and sometimes even within those very same stories you find radically new ideas about freedom, equality, justice, compassion, and love.
New ideas sit side by side with old ideas. Vicious violence is right there next to new understandings of peace and justice. Awakening consciousness happens from within current consciousness. Seeds are being planted, seeds of a new vision, a new awareness, new possibilities, seeds that are just starting to grow, like the Abram story about a tribe that blesses all the other tribes…
Sixth, then, (And we’re on a roll now, aren’t we? Starting to cook with gas! If we were preaching we’d be waving hankies and shouting amen!)(Or maybe you’d just be sitting there quietly tweeting about it.) here’s the truth behind that truth: Consciousness does not change overnight.
Change takes a while.
That’s how it’s always been.
That’s how it is with you.
So let’s talk about you.
Have you ever had the idea that you should eat healthier?
Did you become a raw vegan the next day?
Have you ever had the sense that you should exercise more consistently?
Did you start competing in triathlons the next day?
Have you ever had the conviction that you should do your part to take better care of the environment?
Did you reduce your carbon footprint to zero the next day?
You had a new idea, a new vision, a glimpse or a vision of an expanded, enlightened view-something profound was revealed to you-and then it gradually took root.
Step. By step. By step.
One new action. Followed by another. Followed by another.
Because change takes a while.
And that leads me to my seventh point, the crescendo, the zenith-the moment when the drummer is suspended upside-down over the crowd doing a solo (Have I mentioned how much fun I’m having writing these posts?)-
Why do you ask these questions about the violence in the Bible?
Why are you so offended?
Why do you find them repulsive?
Why do they cause you to stop reading the Bible?
Because they’re primitive and barbaric?
But what is it within you that can make that judgment?
What is it within you that is disgusted by such violence?
Where did you get this idea that there’s anything wrong in these stories?
You got this idea that there’s a better, more civilized way because you do not share that dominant consciousness. Whether it’s love or peace or justice or compassion-there is some way, some lens, some filter that you run things through that tells you that killing lots of people is wrong and any god who commands such a thing should be avoided at all costs.
How did you get this way?
How in the world did the world produce you?
Humanity has matured, evolved, and grown in consciousness since the time theses stories were told.
(In certain ways. We’ll get to that later.)
But as a whole, you’re repulsed and offended because you’re at a different stage of consciousness.
You don’t see the world that way.
You think genocide is wrong.
You think rape is wrong.
You think putting women and children to death is wrong.
Which leads me to another question: How do you explain why we look back on those stories with disgust?
What has happened in us that we read those stories the way we do?
Is there something at work in human history, pulling things forward?
Is that something a someone?
Your ability to be turned off by these stories is evidence of growth and maturing consciousness!
Do you get this? The thing in these stories that makes you the most pissed off and disillusioned and wondering why we should even be reading these stories is itself a prime example of our capacity to grow and move on and transcend earlier stages of consciousness.
Because your underlying repulsion with the violence stories in the Old Testament comes from your belief that we’re more enlightened than that.
Have you arrived?
Have we arrived as a culture, as a society, as humanity?
Do we have it figured out?
Is there peace on earth?
Do we have a long way to go?
But just the fact that you are repulsed and confused and turned off by those violence stories means that something has been at work within human history moving us forward.
Because none of us have it nailed.
No city, no country, no family, no institution, no individuals, no business, we all need help. We all have a long way to go…
If you read the Bible as a static record about the God who orders people to kill other people, it will never make any sense.
But if you read it as an unfolding story, reflecting growing consciousness about who God is and who we are and what it means to pursue justice and love mercy and walk humbly (as the prophet Micah said), you’ll begin to see something at work, just below the surface, planting seeds, gradually moving and calling and pulling and tugging and inspiring and transforming…
If you read it as the story of humanity waking up, evolving and expanding in consciousness, growing in maturity, becoming more and more enlightened (which was Paul’s prayer in the letter to the Ephesians) you may just find a story worth telling…
Next – What is the Bible?
Part 14: A parable that will require your participation.