No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
--Romans 8:37 NRSV
In my daily emails this week, I have been sharing my experiences with the Bible along with the perspectives of Rachel Held Evans in her book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. If you missed any of them, you can find them on the “PHCC Blog” page on the church web site (www.parkhillcc.org). My thanks to Kathy Hendrix and Sara Riggs for updating that page.
Evans, like many Christians I suspect, understood the Bible to be different things at various times in her life. In her childhood, the Bible functioned as a storybook. Her first Bible was a Precious Moments one with a “doe-eyed David on the cover, two baby lambs resting in his arms.” As a teenager, the Bible functioned as a handbook “because it told me what to do” and she turned to it for instruction in relationships, dating and other concerns. Then in college the Bible became “an answer-book, or position paper, useful because it was right.” In her young adulthood, however, she continued to ask questions and her understanding of the Bible changed again.
The more time she spent “seeking clarity from scripture, the more problems [she] uncovered.” Things she had been taught were biblical, such as “restrictions on women’s roles in the home and church, the certainty of hell for all nonbelievers,” became “muddier in the midst of lived experience.” The Bible became “an unsettling version of one of those children’s peekaboo books.”
Beneath the colorful illustration of Noah’s ark was—surprise!—the violent destruction of humanity. Turn the page to Joshua and the battle of Jericho and—peekaboo!—it’s gencide.
Well-meaning family and friends gave Evans all sorts of books and tools to prove the Bible was “true” and to justify all the things in it that were contrary to her experience of God (e.g. slavery, polygamy, violence, war, genocide, etc.), yet their efforts only weakened the Bible in her eyes.
This is the point where so many people raised in Christianity depart from their faith. Their childhood and adolescent understandings of the Bible and their religion run into other worldviews that leave them questioning and usually rejecting the belief system they were raised in. Yet, for Evans (and also for me), that didn’t happen Evans writes,
When you stop trying to force the Bible to be something it’s not—static, perspicacious, certain, absolute—then you’re free to revel in what it is: living, breathing, confounding, surprising, and yes, perhaps even magic.
Yes, the Bible has been used to justify horrible things in our world, but it has also inspired people to do radical and wonderful things that benefit our world. Discerning between those two ways is our task, a task made easier when we allow the Bible to be “what it is, not what [we] want it to be.” Evans finds a useful metaphor in the function of fairy tales:
Citing G.K. Chesterton, author Neil Gaiman often noted ‘Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.’”
The Bible’s stories inspire us to experience a God who provides abundance in places where we think there is only scarcity, life when we only see death, and redemption where we only see shame. It doesn’t have to be a handbook or policy position paper. We can recapture some of what we knew as children—the “magic” which enabled us to experience awe instead of the cynicism we took on as adults.
Whatever PHCC’s future may be, any healthy and vibrant future must include its members experiencing this kind of “magic” with the Bible. There are plenty of churches that use the Bible as a combination biology textbook and self-help manual. There are plenty of others who basically ignore it altogether as they make their congregations into social clubs. There are too few who live being inspired by the Bible’s stories of God’s grace and expansive love for all people.
Even though it’s summertime and numbers may be smaller, we still offer a great discussion in the Zoom Sunday School class happening on Sunday mornings. I’m also up for leading or helping get a Zoom Bible study going any other time. Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere fast, but in the meantime our need to be inspired remains. I’m all ears for anybody’s ideas about how we can be transformed as a church by engaging with the Bible as it is, instead of what we want it to be.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples