When you read and study this library in its totality, there are certainly themes and continuities and things that connect exquisitely, but if we’re honest we can also admit there are as many ambiguities regarding violence, money, sex, faith, prayer and a hundred other topics.
It doesn’t diminish the Scriptures to admit their complexity and their lack of clarity.
3) The Bible was inspired by God, not dictated by God.
Christians will often rightly say that the Bible was “inspired by God,” and I completely agree. However, I think that idea often gets terribly twisted in translation, and we take huge liberties with it that simply defy logic and history and the Scriptures themselves.
The Bible is “God’s Word,” but I don’t think it’s at all accurate to see the Bible as “written” by God. In fact, the Bible never makes the claim of itself. The authors of the books often claim personal authorship, and clearly describe their specific reasons for writing and their circumstances and mental state during the process. They rarely claim that in that time, God had possessed them, taken over their minds and limbs and faculties, and physically manipulated them to record verbatim the words we read in the Scriptures.
These are the words of men, who were compelled by God to tell, not only what they claim to have heard God say, but things that were happening in and around them; struggles they had, personal reasons for writing and their specific experience of God. Of course they were inspired by God, but they remained inspired human beings, not God-manipulated puppets who checked their free will at the door and transcribed God’s monologues.
I would argue that every Christian who has ever lived has been inspired by God, filled by His Spirit. I would certainly hope so. I often feel quite sure that God is inspiring me when I write or compose music or give messages; that I am intimately connected with Him. Does that mean that I don’t bring a whole lot of me to the table too? Of course not. That’s been true of every Christ-follower from Mother Teresa, to C.S. Lewis, to the Reverend Billy Graham.
Is it reasonable to assume that the same can’t be said for Moses, David, Matthew and Paul; that we get as much of them in their writing as we get God’s direct voice? The book of Timothy says that The Scriptures are “God-breathed,” that they originate from God, but it doesn’t claim that they are God-dictated.
How can we find a balanced understanding of words that come from God to us in the Bible, but do so passing through the hearts and hands of other flawed, fragile followers from history?
4) We all pick and choose the Bible we believe, preach and defend.
One of the greatest criticisms Christians like to level at another Christian whose opinions deviate from their own is that he or she is “cherry picking” from the Bible; holding tightly to verses that they agree with and championing those, while conveniently jettisoning ones they are uncomfortable with. It’s a common way to belittle another’s biblical interpretation and minimize their differing perspective, charging them with selective spirituality.
The only problem is, each time this assertion is made, the one making the accusation conveniently claims complete objectivity; as if they somehow have a firm, dispassionate understanding of the entirety of Scripture, without bias or prejudice, and that the other is violating that by subjectively commandeering the text.
The good news (or bad, depending on how you view it) is that we all have our own Bible, made somewhat in our image. There are as many specific individual interpretations of Scripture in history as there have been readers of it. Our understanding and belief about the Bible is a product of our upbringing, our denomination or tradition, the amount of study we’ve had, the friends we’ve lived alongside, the pastors and professors we’ve learned under, the area of the world we live in, the experiences we have, as well as our own personality, prejudices and preferences.
There aren’t two followers of Jesus who have ever been found in total agreement on the 66 books of the Bible since they were recorded, and so we all have a personalized Scripture, despite our desire to claim otherwise. We all cherry pick, even when we think we are not.
Is it really fair to ever accuse someone else of selectively using Scripture, unless we’re prepared to cop to the same crime in the process?
5) God is bigger than The Bible.
This past week I took a walk along the beach, taking in the ocean. For those who’ve ever done so, you understand the vastness; the staggering beauty and power; the relentless force of the tides. You know well those glorious sounds, the scent of the air, the sand beneath your feet, the unfathomable colors of the sunset, the smallness you feel; the overwhelming scale of creation that you find yourself face-to-face with.
Billions and Billions of words have been written down about the ocean. I could gather up every single one of them; the most beautiful, vivid, accurate descriptions from fisherman and marine biologists and children and poets and vacationers. I could read every last, most eloquent word about the ocean to someone who has never been there, and it would never, ever do it justice.
There’s simply no way to adequately describe the ocean in words. You simply have to experience it.
I wish more Christians would admit that the Bible, at its very best, at its most perfect and inspired, is just a collection of words about the ocean.
God is the ocean.