No, you read that right. It’s not an accidental misquote of the first chapter of Genesis. Instead, I’m questioning my questions.
I’ve long struggled with what to make of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. My problem with these texts falls into two main categories.
On the one hand, there’s the way in which they run up against my understanding of contemporary science, including the classic faith-versus-science and creation-versus-evolution debates. I’ve blogged and posted frequently on that general theme many times in the past (don’t worry, that won’t come up for discussion here). But that’s only half the problem.
The other half has to do with how they run up against my sense of ethics and morality.
The conquest of Canaan is a big part of that. For those of you who don’t know what I mean by that, it’s a catch-all phrase for the invasion of Canaan by the brand new nation of Israel that had just been liberated from 400 years of captivity in Egypt. And it includes a series of episodes in which the nation is ordered, apparently by God, to go in and slaughter the indigenous/resident people, sometimes specifically including the women and children, and even the animals.
There’s also the many passages which convey a rather negative view of women, or slaves, or people with various disease conditions.
Or the way it doesn’t speak out against things that in today’s society would be outrageous. Chapter 19 of the book of Judges is a particularly disturbing example of that.
In these and many other cases, the fundamental problem is that I find myself saying:
“My God wouldn’t indiscriminately wipe out a whole city simply because it …”.
“My God is big enough to overlook …”
“I can’t worship a God who would ….”
“My God wouldn’t care if that person was a …..”
“The God that I see in the Old Testament is nothing like the God that I see reflected in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ”
I know I’m not alone: I’ve heard many other people spout lines like that.
But recently I’ve begun to recognize the danger in what I might be doing. Putting God into a box. Constraining him to fit my model. Defining him by my standards and criteria.
The lump of clay has indeed risen up against the potter (Isaiah 29:16 and 45:9).
Do I have the right to say what God would or wouldn’t do? Can or cannot be?
How do I deal with this?
Do I take the view that the Bible tells it the way it is … accurately relates historical events, captures the exact attributes of God, and unabashedly gives us some seemingly bizarre ritual laws … and I’m just not able or not permitted to question it? (Do I hear Colonel Nathan Jessup rant, in the voice of Jack Nicholson: “You can’t handle the truth!!“)
Or can I dismiss it by pointing out that the Bible was written by people (all of them men, and all from a very narrow slice of the social, racial, historical pie), that they just told things the way they saw it, and, most importantly, that their view just doesn’t connect well with the 21st century, Western, post-modern way of thinking?
Or is the truth somewhere in the middle? Where do I draw the line?
Some would say that when in doubt, err on the side of the Bible. Who am I to buck against centuries of theological tradition? Maybe I should just accept it. “God’s ways are higher than my ways“.
And yet, sometimes it just doesn’t feel right!?
What do I do?
Maybe go to the source. As another desperate believer cried out: “Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
(to get a notice when my next blog post appears, follow me by clicking the three horizontal bars at the top right corner of the page)