What is the Bible by Rob Bell – Part 16 Akward
What is the Bible?
Part 16: Awkward
All right, we’re sixteen parts in to this series, and we’re just getting started. Today, I’ll start with a story, a story that will help us begin to think about materiality, inspiration, and revelation…
Several years ago I wrote a book called Love Wins. Interestingly enough, everybody who read the book really liked it (please tell me you’re laughing…). Around the time the book came out I had a conversation with a well known pastor who has a massive following who had said that he wanted to talk to me because he had concerns about the book. (I learned that having concerns is what church leader folks say when they’re really hacked off…)(I should probably add that I don’t google my name and I don’t read reviews or blogs and so I had no idea what to expect.) We started talking and he started asking questions and quite quickly I noticed that when I would say something good about God he would immediately say something violent and awful about God.
For example, I might say that
Jesus spoke about the renewal of all things
and then he would counter with
But God might decide to wipe out the whole village like in the book of Judges.
That sort of thing.
Everything I said, he countered with a verse or story from the Bible about how cruel and punishing God might decide to be-including his continual insistence that God just might decide to send everybody to hell to burn forever because all of humanity deserves it. When I pointed out that if God is like that, able to decide about all of humanity, then couldn’t could God possibly decide not to send everybody to burn forever in hell? If God is that random, as this pastor kept insisting, why does it always have to be horrible random? Can’t God go both ways on the random thing? Why not good random? Isn’t that the God that Jesus talked about? The one who gives people equal pay for working less hours and invites the losers to the parties…(Actually, that is Jesus’s point! Over and over again, that’s his point! God doesn’t give what people deserve…)
To which this pastor would inevitably counter with something about how you can’t trust those sorts of stories because of…and then he’d quote something brutal from the Old Testament.
If you’re thinking that sounds like it was a fairly awkward conversation. It was.
We went back and forth like this for a bit until it dawned on me what was going on between us and I said
I don’t read the Bible like a flat line. I don’t see all of the passages in the Bible sitting equally side by side so that you can pick one and then counter it with another and go back and forth endlessly, always leading you to the randomness of God. I read it as an unfolding story, with an arc, a trajectory, a movement and momentum like all great stories have. There are earlier parts in the story, and there are later parts in the story. The story is headed somewhere, and a Christian, I see it headed to Jesus. Because of this, I read it through the lens of Jesus, especially the parts that come before the specifically Jesus parts.
He said he had no idea what I was talking about.
So, let’s review: The Bible was written by people.
People wrote things down over a long period of time.
These things they wrote down, some of which began as oral tradition, gradually took shape as the library we know to be the Bible. Books were left out, writings were edited, things were added, decisions were made about which books belonged, and eventually the library of books we know to be the Bible came to be THE BIBLE.
These things people wrote down reflected how they saw the world at their time in their contexts. These stories they told and the explanations they gave for how and why things happened like they did were filtered through their particular consciousness.
When you read the Bible, then, you are reading an unfolding narrative that reflects growing and expanding human consciousness. When you read it as an unfolding story you don’t edit out the earlier bits or pretend like they’re not there, you read them in light of where the story is headed. That doesn’t mean that the earlier bits are bad or worthless, they’re just earlier. That’s how people understood things at that point in the story, but the story kept going. (Thank God.)
This, my friends, is why you cringe during those sermons when the preacher reads some gruesome story in the Bible and then tries to explain it in a way that gets everybody all tied up in knots. The preacher at that moment is treating the Bible like a
rather than the
that it is.
When you understand it as a static report, then you’re constantly having to defend that God and explain why that God is not as evil and cruel as that God clearly appears to be. You’re endlessly trying to reconcile earlier parts in the story with later parts, trying to make them sit side by side on a flat plane, as equals. It leaves you stunted, furthering the stilted literalism that robs these stories of their life. It’s awkward, and unconvincing, and it’s why lots and lots and lots of people don’t sit through sermons like that. (By the way, the endless stream of articles and surveys and columns about declining church attendance rarely if ever talk about consciousness-which is the real reason people don’t go to church. They’ve moved beyond tribal/violent/magical/mythical consciousness and so they experience those sermons and teachings and ways of seeing the world as a step backwards…)
For whatever reasons, the Bible comes out of actual human history, reflecting the funky, flawed, brilliant, frustrating people who told these stories and wrote these books. It reflects growth and maturing and expanding perspectives-much like an individual grows and matures. Are you proud of everything you’ve ever said? Are there things you said and done that if we were to hear and see them now you’d be mortified?
So why does it surprise us that in this very human recording of where we’ve been called the Bible there are parts that are shocking and repulsive?
They reflect earlier parts of the story,
and earlier parts of the story are often like that.
(Which raises questions about the many ways in which he haven’t progressed in the modern world, still furthering some of the same warped and twisted ways-but we’ll get to that.)
God has this funny habit of using actual people to get the word out. And people, as they do, have agendas and perspectives and particular consciousness. People make decisions and leave things out and include things that weren’t there earlier-and in forming the Bible people decided what God said and what God didn’t say…
That’s the Bible.
However divine or inspired or revelatory we believe it to be, we’ll only get there if we start with the humanity of this book. If you start there, you just might find something divine, but only if you start there…
Next – What is the Bible?
Part 17: Assumptions and AA Meetings
Source: Rob Bell on Twitter: @realrobbell or Tumblr: http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/