Two scriptures in order present both horns of a dilemna:
The first, Matthew 5: 17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. ”
The second one: Mathew 5: (underlining added)
21“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b]will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,[c]‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 21“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b]will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,[c]‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
For some people, The Bible is the only or first answer to everything. For them, an idea called “solo scriptora” , meaning “only scripture” is the way to go. It is a comforting, if challenging, way to live which sets limits, defines “normal” and “right”, and presents a form of hope if you believe what it says and do and say the right things. It is definite and constant and offers a security nearly unmatched if you can live up to its challenges or believe in certain things.
For some people, the Bible is a living document, a starting point, an anchor, a good book, but a fallible one, written by fallible people over the course of time. It is the cause of wrestling with the faith, consternation, insecurity, give-and-take, arguement, etc. but it is the “big tent” book as well, that says God loves everyone because God created everyone. It is a piece of a living relationship with God, not the end-all-be-all book of answers for any situation.
For some people, it is just a bunch of stupid, superstitious stuff that people believed when they thought the earth was flat. For them, it has no bearing at all.
For some people, the Bible makes a great doorstop or table decoration of the time you went to church and proved you were a good person.
I choose the hard road, number 2 above, well aware of numbers, 1, 3, and 4. There are a whole lot of people I respect who believe number 3. There are a whole lot of people I love who believe #1. I don’t get #4, in the same way that I don’t get college as an “undeclared” major. Not being affected by something you’ve come into contact with (a book or an educational system, for instance, or a piece of art) simply makes no sense to me. I feel sad for those people, but they are who they are. Finally, there a whole lot of people who love me that believe as I do, #2, because they understand me. Actually, there are people in all 4 categories who love me and whom I love, whether we understand each other or not. What that means is that a person doesn’t have to believe in the Bible to love others. That may be central to the whole thing or not. As above, it depends on who you ask.
Here’s my take on it, with everything above taken into account. The Bible IS NOT a book directly written by GOD in a giant Bic pen or with a hammer and chisel, or even by a magic flying finger, except possibly the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai. It IS a a giant collection of stories, history, worship, sayings, music, etc that tells us what God was and is like. It is written by a whole bunch of people, in a whole bunch of places and times, and they don’t all agree with each other or even with the Bible as they know it, as Jesus says in the above paragraph. It evolves over generations not because the words change (though our guesses at the words do at times), but because we evolve or change our perspective on it.
Jesus argued with the text and said he wasn’t doing it — both in the same speech. That gives me, as a follower of his, permission to do the same. What if I get it wrong? Well, if you believe some of my friends, I go to hell. If that’s the case, well then so be it. I went there faithfully. Am I scared somewhere in the back of my brain? You bet I am. Those friends are either right or wrong. That’s 50/50 odds. But I choose to live fully in my faith. I can’t settle for a half a loaf, and to look up the textual answer to every question I have would be to stop having a brain of my own and a heart of my own. People who don’t eat at all from that loaf because they think it’s poison make sense to me. I think they’re wrong, but they make sense to me and I see it as my job to prove that it’s safe. People who eat from it while ignoring the spaghetti next to it miss alot, even if they stay alive and are quite content. People who think “that’s supposed to be good for me” but never try it make no sense to me. But people who use the loaf to beat others over the head with miss the whole point, neither eating it and living, nor nurturing others. I like the bread of the Bible, I fill up on it, I savor it’s taste, I grow and live from it, but I consider it only one course in the meal.
When Jesus says, “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind” (and “love your neighbor as yourself”) — in Luke 10:27 — I take it seriously. Note that “mind” is in there, as is “heart”. I have those, I think. I like to think that there’s some soul involved as well in my case, but I’m not always sure about my strength of conviction/action and that’s a problem. But that’s my problem. Others have problems in other areas.
People who believe in solo scriptora seem to me to have no heart. Or if they do have one, they think they can’t use it. They think of the heart as “fallen” and problematic and “human” and not to be listened to. I either can’t or choose not to live that way.
Some examples of where I get off the bus re: “scripture, right or wrong” are central to my faith. I like to think, as Robert MacAfee Brown used to say, that I take the Bible seriously, just not literally. For instance, the question, “Was the earth created in 7 days?” is one that people spend their whole lives arguing about. I could care less. For me, the question is “Who created everything?” followed immediately by “and what does that mean to me about how to live?” Life is a series of open-ended questions, rather than a series of Yes/No questions.
Was Jesus born of a virgin? I think so, even though I know it’s bizarre or simple or whatever. But I don’t care. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t. I’m certainly not going to go to war over it. It’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is that Jesus was unique, more than “just” human. And that means that I should give his words a whole lot of weight when I consider how to live. That I do believe with everything I’ve got.
Part of what I know, I know from growing up in the era that I have. Things change, often for the better, but not always. The Bible hasn’t changed hardly at all. Paul says, “women should keep quiet in church”, He also says “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you”. I’m guessing that Chloe wasn’t quiet in church, she being the apparent head of the household. There are prophetesses all through the Bible, including Anna. who announces Jesus. She certainly didn’t keep quiet in church and God didn’t want her to. Prophetesses who can’t prophecy aren’t doing their jobs very well.
When I was a kid, the ads in the paper said “Help Wanted, Male” and “Help Wanted, Female”. Now we think, (correctly) that that’s just dumb. When I was a kid, of course the minister was a man. What else would he be? In the same way, of course God was a man. What else would He be? But there’s Biblical arguements in both directions. Right now, we choose to believe that women can and should speak in church. We also choose to believe that God is male, female, both and neither, that God is Spirit. There’s Biblical precedent for all of them. So, what does the Bible say? It says lots of things.
Are my gay friends going to hell? When I was a kid, gay people didn’t exist as far asI — and most people– knew. Now you can’t put your finger on my Facebook page without bumping into one of them. In the old days, of course, they were going to hell, because it was a moot point. They didn’t exist. It was easy to say we’d stone ’em, or burn ’em or do whatever. Now that we know they do exist and can be quite nice people, for the most part, we’re stuck with the challenge of scripture. Do we really want to do that? No. What did Jesus say? Nothing. So now what do we do? People who believe in THE BIBLE should realize that, despite what their faith says, regardless of what they believe, the BIBLE says ‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death (underlining mine)”. Do they do that? I hope not. So now what? How does that work with “love your neighbor as yourself?” We have to guess. We have to figure it out using all our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths. And we have to do it with all the tools, human as they are, that we have. That is faith — faith not in the Bible, but faith in God. Faith that God loves us more than wants to blast us into hell. What if we’re wrong? Ouch! I can’t believe in a God like that, or I choose not to, depending on who you ask. In any case, I won’t. It’s not my experience of God, generally.
And if I won’t stone gay folks, who I could make a “better” case for, I won’t kill the infidel either, or the pagan (which at one time would have meant Christian). This means, if Gandhi were alive, I wouldn’t kill him either. Why? Because I don’t like being killed for being me. So, I try to “love [my] neighbor as myself”. That’s from Jesus. Remember him?
See? We guess all the time. We make this stuff up as we go, and the Bible remains the same. Is it possible to stray too far from it? Absolutely. Have I ever guessed wrong about God’s will for me? Plenty of times! Is God smarter than me? That question’s too funny to even entertain. Of course God is. That’s what makes God God, and me me.
So what do I have to go on? The idea that, in addition to God being smarter than me, (having more “mind”) God is also more compassionate than me (having more “heart”), more able to do things than I am (having more “strength”) and loving better music than I am (having more “soul” — er, just kidding about the music thing).
So, there you have it. A long, rambling, strung together bunch of thoughts and guesses and understandings passing for a theology. You’ll probably have to read this one twice or three times to wrap your head around it because it has so many twists. But when you’re done with my theology, I hope you’ll do your own.