If you’ve been around girls for any length of time, you know that, generally speaking, they like to talk. A lot. About everything. My roommate and I are no exception.
Once or twice a week, Anna and I pull on our pajamas, climb into our loft beds, get nice and cozy…and then, inevitably, it happens. One of us brings up something another student said in class or something that we’ve been thinking about lately, and the hour of deep conversation begins.
These conversations vary in subject. Sometimes we just talk about things we did when we were younger or how stupid people can be, but more often we discuss our opinions on religion or human rights or issues that our college really needs to fix. The other night, we were talking about the Bible, how important it was that people read it and interpreted it for themselves as opposed to going by whatever their preacher taught them or not bothering with it at all, and what importance it actually held in Christianity and one’s relationship with God. That conversation spawned this entry.
Here’s my deal. The Bible, divinely inspired though it may have been, was not handwritten by God. He didn’t sit down at some heavenly desk, pound out His Word, and send it hurtling through Earth’s atmosphere to land, complete with His signature and a rather impressive resume, at anyone’s doorstep. Rather, a group of men wrote out what they thought God would want them to say based on their own experiences and whatever inspiration may have come to them through vision or prayer. I’m not saying that what these people wrote isn’t important; I’m simply saying that it was written by humans, who were every bit as fallible, imperfect, and opinionated then as we are today. I definitely believe that God can speak through people, but I also believe He mostly speaks using their voices, their accents. What is written in the Bible would be God’s Word as translated through our minds.
What’s more, the Bible we have today is not simply His Word through the eyes of the men who wrote it all down. Oh, no. It has been through translation after translation after translation, and those of you who have studied a foreign language know that there is no direct translation for some things. Besides, there were many, many books that aren’t included in the Bible today because certain humans—not God, humans!—decided that they weren’t worth including. They were too “out there”, or not in compliance with the rules of the time, or, hey, maybe they didn’t think that particular piece of God’s word was pertinent enough. Even if the Bible had fallen directly from Heaven into humanity’s hands, it would certainly have been through a world of changes since then.
Finally, putting aside all of this, I believe firmly that the whole of God’s Word cannot be contained in a book. If even my tiny reserve of knowledge is too vast be put into one book, how in the world could God’s fit? Even if He is omniscient and unchanging, the world certainly isn’t unchanging. There are issues going on today that weren’t going on when the Bible was riding its first wave of readers. Sure, you could point to some abstract passage and tell me that it was what God intended in reference to, oh, abortion or the place of women…but come on. Slavery has been abolished. Women wear spandex-cotton blends. You don’t hear much about temple whores anymore.
But if God were going to use people to write a new Bible that better explained these things, would we immediately realize that the writers were divinely inspired and hurry to devour more of God’s wisdom? My gut feeling is no. We’d call these people New Age* at best and cart them off to mental institutions at worst. Still, we know our Bible is real and perfect and whole because it has (somewhat) withstood the test of time, and anything that withstands the test of time must be one hundred and ten percent true, right?
Er, moving on, then.
Now that I’ve explained my views on this, let me also point out that I’m not telling you to drop your Bibles (or your faith in God, for that matter) and run. Far from it. What I’m suggesting instead is that you read your Bible even more heavily. You decide what sounds right, what feels right, what makes sense in the context of today and what doesn’t. Pray. Ask God about it yourself. Learn through your life experience and the life experience of others. Even if the Bible is filtered to us through thousands of other people’s eyes and hands, the way we experience God also has to come through our human filter. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t need God in the first place.
Let me also address an argument that I get sometimes regarding the things left out of and changed in the Bible. “Don’t you think,” the protestors say, “that God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, would make it so that what information needed to get to us would get there and what needed to be left out would be left out?”
My answer is, well, maybe. Maybe God used His mighty hand to shape history in such a fashion that we got this exact Bible. Maybe He was careful to make sure we got all of His Word that we needed and the rest was dispensable mumbo-jumbo. But as much as I believe God nudges us toward certain paths, I also believe that we as humans were given freewill, and tampering with the Bible is no exception to this rule. Saying that He wouldn’t allow it to be marred is something akin to saying, “Well, if God didn’t really want all those people to die in the Holocaust, He wouldn’t have let it happen, would He?”.
See, God may have a plan for all of us, but He also allows all of us to make choices regarding that plan. Sometimes, or even often, we make the wrong ones. Besides, just because something isn’t written in the Bible doesn’t mean it isn’t important or true, for you or for anyone else. Not having a perfect written guide to all of God’s Word doesn’t mean that He has failed us. It just means that we have to look a little deeper, which is something we should try to do anyway.
* For the record, I don’t have any problems with people who are labeled as or choose to label themselves as New Agers. In fact, some people would probably call me New Age, what with my ideas about finding one’s own belief and having different means to the same end and such…but hey, whatever creams your Twinkie.