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I don't understand

Scripture is enormously difficult. I know I posted the quote from Dean Trune a few entries back but the reality is I believe that only to an extent. As someone who is a "professional" Christian, I'm in this spot where I'm supposedly teaching people about God's word and packaging it up nicely in Bible class lessons and sermonettes and Bible studies and whatever. But the truth is there is a little part of me that hates doing that every week. Some part of my psyche loathes the expectation I put on myself to draw some nice, conclusive message out of whatever bit of Bible I'm "teaching" at the moment. Sometimes I want to do a class where I just simply read scripture and let everyone hem and haw on it's craziness or confusion and totally blatant slap to our comfortable, white-washed understandings of everything. Honestly sometimes it just doesn't make sense or reveals something that I simply don't want to accept or feel the need to explain away.

I don't know how bold it is to say it for the people who read this blog, but I'm no fan of the idea of Biblical inerrancy. I like the idea of inspiration, but inerrancy just simply does not hold water. A simple study of the real history of the Bible really puts the idea of inerrancy to rest, at least for me. It is a masterfully crafted literary masterpiece assembled communally over thousands of years by hundreds of writers from all walks of life. It is the gritty narrative of a people and their relationship with a God who is at the same time both deeply compassionate and vengefully vindictive. It is the autobiography of a people who seem to have no compulsion to cover up their own wretchedness. Most striking of all though is how it has lasted - it has come down through hundred and hundreds of generations and has been preserved through the rise and fall of civilizations, languages, and cultures to bring its story to the world. But..... it is not perfect.

Here in Kansas there are all these Christian radio networks, one of which airs a show called "The Bible Answerman" done by this Bible expert Hank Hanegraaff. Ol' Hank definitely knows his stuff, and sometimes I find myself enlightened. But Hank is absolutely convinced that the Bible is completely incapable of contradicting itself, even in the smallest details. The other day a caller phoned in asking about a two sections of scripture that both describe a certain event, except they each ascribe the cause of this event to two completely different characters. This was evidently a faith hurdle for this caller because he has always been told that the believability of the Bible rests in its inerrancy. So, Hank proceeds to weave one of the most ridiculously complicated webs of insanity I have ever heard to explain that these two scriptures actually harmonize, eventually explaining that if the caller was willing to understand "full-orbed truth" and would take a hermeneutics class he would understand. Thankfully, the caller didn't nod his head and hang up, because the blatancy of the contradiction was simply too obvious. Eventually Hank reached the end of his BSing capabilities and said "I have explained this sufficiently" and hung up. All I can do at that moment, as I sit there in my car, is think about how if I was not a believer, that would have completely turned me off.

On Mondays I walk over to the Union and eat Taco Bell and explore the Bible with a girl who is trying to see what faith is like. So far we have read through the first few chapters of John, and have done about 4 1/2 chapters in about six hours of studying so far. Why? Because it is enormously difficult. Almost every sentence, especially in the things that Jesus says, is complicated and hard to understand. I don't know if you have noticed, but Jesus is rarely straightforward in the things he says to people, especially in the conversations that John is so fond of recording. I imagine that most of you who are reading this are believers and have long accepted the Gospels at face value. I want to challenge you right now to throw all of that aside - try to completely forget what it is like to believe in God and be a Christian and all that stuff that has been built in you for so long, and take an honest, word by word read through the first three chapters of John. Be honest with yourself and try to sincerely ask yourself all of the questions that arise in your mind that you may have trained yourself to immediately suppress. Do this, now. I'll see you back here in a few hours.

...

Great, now that you're back, do you see what I mean? Wow, so deep... so mysterious, right? And, confusing! But this is part of the craziness that is scripture! If you think that scripture can be easily comprehended if we just apply enough study and reason to it, you are sadly mistaken. If you think formulas and doctrines can be systematically laid out coherently on a spreadsheet (as I have seen done), you are approaching the book with some serious blinders. Scripture is so intricately woven, so mysteriously written, so hard to accept or understand right off the bat, that it truly is an exercise in faith to even read it. This is why it pushes me so hard to read it alongside someone who has never read it but has a desire to understand it. Sometimes the most profound insights come from those who go to the text with no pretense. One of the most common phrases that comes from the mouth of the girl I am studying with, who is enormously intelligent and will be a law school superstar, is "I don't understand." But she says that not out of frustration but to comfort herself in the idea that it is okay not to understand. One of the first things we did was explore how even the apostles themselves, the first "superchristians," had no idea what Jesus was talking about much of the time. Jesus went to the cross with them still not getting the full implications of the message or what was going on.

So, let's let ourselves wrestle with the text. Let's let down our massively inflated scriptural ego and admit that a lot of the time, we just simply don't get the Bible. We need not be threatened by its mystery or the imperfection. I believe this is disconcerting because we have placed God squarely within the pages of this book rather than the other way around. As awesome as the Bible is, God is still bigger than it. Let's put our faith back in God.


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Blogger Wes and Ellen - 1:51 PM

Cary,

I appreciated your thoughts shared here. I have a hard time with the inerrancy perspective to. Absolutes like that one are tough for me to swallow.

Wes    



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