Monday, May 28, 2012

When "the bible is clear" might be the wrong answer

"All right, then, I'll go to hell" posted on Rachel Held Evans's blog, May 23, 2012.  By the way, that's my favorite blog.


Remember the scene in "Huck Finn" where Huck's friend Jim, a runaway slave (this is set in like the 1800s) is captured, and Huck has to decide what he's going to do?  He knows the right thing to do is let them take Jim, because he learned in church that slaves should obey their masters.  But he remembers what he and Jim have been through, and how Jim has been so kind to him, and he says "All right, then, I'll go to hell" and vows to help Jim escape from slavery.

So Rachel talks about the idea of following one's feelings instead of what the bible "clearly" says.  She says:

I want to be faithful to the inspired words of the Bible, not bend them to fit my own desires and whims. Being a person of faith means trusting God’s revelation, even when the path it reveals is not comfortable.

But another part of me worries that a religious culture that asks its followers to silence their conscience is just the kind of religious culture that produces $200 rewards for runaway slaves. The Bible has been “clear” before, after all—in support of a flat and stationary earth, in support of wiping out infidels, in support of  manifest destiny, in support of Indian removal, in support of anti-Semitism, in support of slavery, in support of “separate but equal,” in support of constitutional amendments banning interracial marriage.

And then she tells about attending a church service with gay and lesbian people and serving communion to them, and how she was sure that her Sunday school teachers from the past would have condemned what she was doing- but she knew it was the right thing.


First of all, this scares me.  What if I'm misunderstanding the bible, and I'm doing the wrong thing, treating people badly... What if we think the bible says certain things are right or wrong, but that conclusion just doesn't feel right- do we follow our feelings or not? 

Oh man, everyone believes some things that are wrong, no one's perfect, oh man what to do?

But let's think about when this would come up in a practical sense.  It seems like Rachel is applying it to how the church has treated gay/lesbian people- how apparently the bible "clearly" says it's wrong, and therefore... well therefore, what?  Don't interact with them or talk about LGBT issues, or other Christians will disapprove?  O_o  Well... actually yeah, I feel like that's what I'm "supposed to" do.  But that's wrong.

Wow yeah, when you say it that way it's obvious.  That's so wrong.

So, back to the general case: How DO we know whether to trust the bible or our feelings?  Well gosh that's a loaded question; that's worded very misleadingly.  Here's what we really have:
  • What the bible says
  • Christian culture's interpretation of what that means for us 
  • Our own personal understanding of who God is/ what he wants
  • Our feelings about what seems right or wrong (Is it conscience- the Holy Spirit speaking to us?  Or is it deceitful sinful nature?)
And somehow we have to come up with what God actually wants us to do.

And one might ask, "Okay, if different controversial issues keep coming up, and people claim 'the bible is clear', but then eventually everyone agrees that actually, we do need to change this unjust issue in our society, and the previous interpretation of the bible doesn't make sense- then what's the point of reading the bible and placing so much importance on it?  See, no one gets their morality from the bible."

Hmm.  Good question.  I'm glad you asked. 

Maybe reading the bible isn't about analyzing the commands "do this" or "don't do this" and trying to figure out what God meant by that and in what situations it would apply.

Maybe the point of reading the bible is to learn who God is. And if we know who our God is, it makes sense to do one thing or another in the different situations we face.  Knowing God- that's incredibly vague and impossible to quantify- in that sense it's harder than a list of "do this" and "don't do this". 

So my conclusion is: In cases of "commonly held beliefs about what the bible says vs my feelings"- you better check to be sure your "feelings" are also consistent with what the bible says about God.  For example: "Christian culture tells me to do this, but I feel like that's not right because I've read the bible and I know about how Jesus was compassionate to everyone, over and over (with the exception of the religious people who thought they knew everything)."

And I don't mean "but God just wants us to be happy" or something that sounds nice like that.  I mean something consistent with the God you see in the bible.

Heh.  Ironically, my answer to "but what good is the bible if we keep deciding its commands don't make sense as time goes on?" is we need to study the bible more.  Not just the commands, not just the nice-sounding parts, but all of it, all the weird parts.  We need to know who our God is.

1 comment:

  1. Great insights! Your writing serves as a good reminder to retain a sharp mind instead of blindly following tradition. Thanks!