Wednesday, May 2, 2007

the bible and whateverthehell

I don't know anything about how much anyone "should" know the Bible. I don’t mind digging around in it and asking questions about it, as you know – I like that. It enriches my reading of the Bible to think about its background, etc.
For instance, I don’t believe in a guy in a red suit with goat hooves and a tail and a pitchfork – those are all metaphors that over the years were pieced together from various sources to try and get at what evil is. There are two or three traditions that come together in the Bible around the idea of what Satan is – there’s the ha-satan of books like Job; he’s a member of God’s heavenly court and he is the messenger or “accuser,” which is what ha-satan means. There’s the Baal god of the Canaanites (the residents of the Promised Land, whom the Israelites defeated in order to move in, after their time in Egypt and the desert) and the Egyptian gods, who are the enemies of Israel’s God because those countries are Israel’s enemies. “Baal-zebub” is one of the names for the Baal god. Plus, there were Babylonian ideas of the spirits, good and bad, picked up in the Exile, and Greek ideas of the spirits, good and bad, and Paul picks up on both of those traditions, using the Greek word daemones which we translate as “demons,” but which just means “spirits.” Now, having said all of that, I know that stuff about the background of the Bible and yet that doesn't invalidate what obviously is a theme in the Bible, which is, there’s a struggle going on, and loving and reconciling the world to Himself isn’t easy for God or for us human beings. What is Evil? I’m not sure. But I know there is Evil, or darkness, or whatever you want to call it (I always say that at its roots, it’s Fear) in the world.
Just because the Bible may have lots of things that it says instead of just one thing doesn’t mean that it’s less – I see it as MORE. give the Bible a break, right? It was written over hundreds and hundreds of years by hundreds of people in many many traditions and contexts. I’m amazed that it makes as much sense as it DOES, not the other way around! (I can do a similar discussion of the biblical and historical traditions around the idea of Hell, or Hades, or Sheol, or Gehenna – all related but not the same things, and understood differently in different parts of the Bible and in different Christian traditions – but I think you get the idea.) I don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater – but I did some of that when I was a younger man. I had had a traditional upbringing and then I got to be a young adult and didn't have to go to church anymore and then I got really educated and smart and figured I knew everything and I was more enlightened than those churchy people, and I decided I didn't believe any of that crap anymore. I was open to ideas – but not trust and faith.
And then what I found as I continued to grow in my adult years and my philosophy of life was that without trust and faith, what's the point? I realized that I wanted my life to be meaningful, and that meant love, and trusting God, and healthy relationships, and knowing that God is a lot bigger than me.
What was cool about that was that the more I learned about history and religion and theology and the Bible, the more interesting it was to me – and instead of thinking I was smarter than all these people who believed this stuff I believed when I was a kid but I was smarter than now, I respected my fathers and mothers in the faith. I respected other people’s beliefs. I respected other denominations and traditions. And I knew that there’s plenty of room for lots of ways to understand God. And that made room for me NOT to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but just to know that there’s a lot of stuff that may not be true the way it was for me when I was a kid, but that didn't mean it wasn’t true – I just had a different understanding of it as an adult.
C. S. Lewis was one of the people who helped me through that. So is Anne Lamott. Not bad company.

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