I shared recently that I’m a recovering porn addict. A HUGE part of this slavery was mistaken, yet QUITE common, views I had about God. While in my addiction I was SUPER concerned with being correct about things, in my freedom and life I’m more interested in being connected. The rewriting of what I think are untruths about our Creator has me more connected to and in awe of our Source than ever before. This is part 2 in a series, so if you haven’t already read it, you can check out Part 1 here: https://gracenpeaceyoga.com/2018/05/13/lies-we-believe-about-god-part-1/
At the beginning of Part 1 I lay some groundwork for where I’m coming from, so without diving into them again, I’ll just note I do my best to approach this all humbly and I give mostly equal value to scripture, reason, experience, and tradition (i.e. community) when it comes to considering the Divine. In one of the comments concerning Part 1, a lovely soul shared with me on Facebook how believing in a God who expected her to be perfect, and was angry and withdrew from her when she sinned, resulted in MORE sin, as shame will kill your soul. YET, removing our performance from the table and coming to understand our heavenly Parent loves her immensely just as she is, and will never leave her, has MASSIVELY reduced the frequency of her falling short. YES! That’s totally been my experience too and why I share this, to both aid people in relating with and becoming like the Christ. While expectation and disapproval left me enslaved to porn, believing and experiencing God’s unconditional Love and approval gave life and freedom.
With that said, I’ll start us off and frame this blog with these words from Ronald Rolheiser:
“God cannot be thought, but God can be met. Through awe and wonder we experience God and there, as mystics have always stated, we understand more by not understanding than by understanding. In that posture we let God be God. In such a posture, too, we live in contemplation.”
God is the Bible / The Bible is the Fourth Member of the Trinity / The Bible is More Important than the Holy Spirit
I’d say this was probably a greater sin for me than my porn addiction. I made the Bible into an idol, using it to judge others, belittle myself, and completely define and contain God. Why would I take the time or engage in the “ambiguity” of listening to the Spirit when I had words on a page to “clearly” spell things out? At least that was the way I saw things, and I think I’m far from alone. After Part 1 I had a wonderful conversation with one of my best friends, who from a place of love and care asked me some great and pointed questions. While this isn’t the place to go into details, I point this out because he inspired me to clearly state: I have a high view of scripture; it’s important, inspiring/inspired, and invigorating (life-giving) stuff.
A question I get is: How can you say you have a high view of scripture when you pick and choose and/or get creative in your interpretation? GREAT question! I used to read the Bible as a constitution (i.e. clear laws to be obeyed and beliefs to be affirmed), yet now I read it as a story and conversation (props to Brian McLaren for the constitution vs. story/conversation wording). N.T. Wright likens living as a Christian and using the Bible to being an actor and performing a Shakespearean play. He breaks Judeo-Christian history into five acts, saying we’re living in the fifth act. The Bible gives us the story of the first four acts and the very beginning of the fifth, but NOT the narrative for our part. Imagine, Wright says, someone found a previously lost Shakespearean play, meant to be five acts in total, but missing most all of the last portion. How would great actors perform the last bit? Would they repeat the early part? No, of course not. They would create their performance in a manner that was in line with the trajectory, motifs, storylines, and themes of what came before. A story-view of the Bible is much the same; recognizing the story has an arc, trajectory, and dynamic movement to it, it has a vital role in helping us communally join God in taking the plot forward.
This leads me to interpretation and picking-and-choosing, but first a word on Jews and the early Church. It may seem to you that we’ve wandered far from the common but usually unrecognized lie of God being the Bible, I’m with you, but I’m going to bring it around. 🙂 As I understand it, the ancient Jews and early Christians viewed every part of the Bible as having present day relevance on their lives. It wasn’t always, or necessarily often, literal or straightforward though, instead it was frequently allegorical. For instance, the early Church was nearly universal in its agreement that God is nonviolent and we’re called to do likewise. With that in mind, they may have read the story about Noah and God flooding the world and killing most of humanity as an allegory showing how violence does NOT work, because right after the story people go directly back to behaving badly. I share this approach because it resonates with me, which leads me to 2 Timothy 3.16, but first …
It seems to me we ALL pick and choose when it comes to scripture; it’s part of interpretation. There’s no flat reading of the Bible, key for me has been not missing the “forest” (the main themes, plotlines, and pictures of God) for the “trees” (individual verses). For instance, in Acts 15 the Jewish fathers of the early church pick and choose based on what seems good to them and the Spirit when it comes to telling the Gentile converts they need only follow a few of 600+ Jewish laws. Likewise, in the Sermon on the Mount, more than once Jesus declares “you’ve heard it said”, quotes a law from scripture, goes on to say “but I say”, and finishes with a new and different law. Again, I read this as guidance that is in keeping with the trajectory of the Bible’s story toward greater love, inclusion, and peace. Likewise, in Luke 4 Jesus quotes a passage from Isaiah, where he talks about God’s healing, care, and kindness, and stops the quote midsentence, thus, completely leaving out the bits about Divine wrath and vengeance. The hearers are so upset by Jesus’ picking and choosing that they try to kill Him!
This brings me to 2 Timothy 3.16 and full circle on the untruth of the God being the Bible. The verse famously declares ALL scripture (i.e. the Old Testament, as this was before the New Testament was formed) to be inspired and useful. It’s generally best to read verses in their context, so let’s look at what comes immediately before and after:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, s o that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3.14-17, NRSV)
Now, I’d like to pair that with a word from Jesus:
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you.” (John 5.39-42, NRSV)
These are two examples of what I see as a great Truth: The purpose of scripture is to point us toward, lead us to, and introduce us to Jesus the Christ, Who IS the Source of the richest and fullest life imaginable. Instead of the Bible being the giver of life (i.e. God), like some religious leaders thought in Jesus’ day, the Christ is! God is a relational Being to Whom the words in the Bible are SUPER important to point us toward, but they are NOT God. While SO much more could be said on this topic, I’ll wrap it up with an observation about the Apostle Paul: Before he started following Christ, Paul did the Bible as he understood it right, following its laws to the “T”. YET, this led him to kill Christians and a dead spirit, because that was the wrong approach. The point of scripture is quite simply Jesus.
God is Done Speaking
In the circles of Christianity I grew up in the thinking was two thousand’ish years ago God inspired people to write the New Testament, but since then our Creator has been done speaking in any new or revelatory manner. What I mean by this goes back to the last point, that somehow the Bible is more trustworthy and authoritative than the Holy Spirit. It seems to me this thinking quite literally not only elevates the Bible to godhood, but to a level of divinity ABOVE the Spirit of God. Now, I think spiritual warfare is a real/important deal. Whether there’s literal angels and demons doing battle and striving to influence us is an interesting topic, but beside the point. The important thing, I think, is to realize there are messages, forces, and “voices” attempting to influence, inform, and even enslave us for ill; one need look no further than the ongoing problems of racism, abuse, mass killings, consumerism, sexism, ablism, xenophobia, wars, terrorism, and on and on to know this is true.
I point this out to note I think we do need to “test the spirits”, so to speak. It seems to me the simplest and best approach is to ask:Does what I’m “hearing” line up with Jesus? Is it in keeping with Christ? These days I spend more time in my prayers listening than talking, and my experience of “hearing” the Spirit has rarely been via a “voice”. Instead, God speaks to me more in my bones, in my heart space, and via my gut. It’s a deep feeling of peace, a rich filling of love, an expansive feeling of connection, an immense joy in my heart, and a profound feeling of wellness. The Spirit is nowhere near done speaking, and the “words” enliven and enlighten us on a deep level. Jesus speaks in John 4 of giving us divine waters that quench ALL our thirst, I kind of think this is what He meant.
I think this is a good landing point for Part 2. I’d love to hear your thoughts! I always try and reread the blog before I publish it, and just finished doing that. I mention that because as I read something in me (Spirit?) encouraged to reemphasize here: I think the Bible is important, inspiring/inspired, and invigorating.
Grace and peace,