I recently told my husband that I don’t want to read the Bible unless I have a commentary beside me. My seminary-educated parents taught me that the best way to read the Bible was to read the original Greek/Hebrew, to understand the context and culture of the time, to be aware of who was writing it, what the situation was, and who was being written to. Once you have figured out the original meaning and intention of the passage, then you can figure out how to apply to modern day life. I agree that this is probably the best way to truly understand the Bible.
The problem is that most of us laypeople aren’t fluent in Biblical languages, and we don’t have much knowledge of historical context. Study Bibles certainly help, but more often than not people try to understand the Bible as best they can on their own. Which means that believers interpret (and mis-interpret) the Bible in a million different ways.
I’ve written before about how Jeremiah 29:11 has been misinterpreted and thrown at young people to remind them of God’s “specific” plan. Romans 8:28 is also often seen as a harbinger of the prosperity gospel: love God, and good will come to you.
But we all know it doesn’t always happen that way.
Scripture is confusing, and at times I find myself at a loss when it comes to understanding it. There are moments when God seems angry, hateful, and spiteful. There are times when God appears to cause suffering. Is that the God I know? It doesn’t seem to be. I often wonder about the humans who wrote everything down that eventually became Scripture. Like a memoirist, perhaps they looked at the past through the lenses of the present, which of course, are always colored by new understandings and experiences. How many human fingerprints stain the Bible? Or is stain even the right word to use?
The passages of Scripture I love are when someone is broken. Jacob’s limp after wrestling with God and demanding to be named. The sinful woman’s broken bottle of myrrh. Peter denying Jesus. Gethsemane Jesus: fearful, exhausted, and alone. I love these stories because they teach me that there is hope for all of us, and that our wrestling hearts are never rejected by God.
I relate to man who said, “I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” Some days that is the cry of my heart, when the reality of God seems so distant from me, and yet in that absence I still long for him.
Christian Wiman writes, “The Gospels vary quite a bit in their accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and the ensuing encounters he had with people, but they are quite consistent about one thing: many of his followers doubted him, sometimes even when he was staring them in face. This ought to be heartening for those of us who seek belief.”
The truth is that the Bible is full of doubters.
Over the past several months, I have become part of a community called Doubters Anonymous (created by Alissa BC). We are a group of questioners, doubters, believers, unbelievers, and everything in between. We have created a private, safe space for us to share our struggles. Soon we hope for that space to become more public. Plans are in the works, and new things are coming. We are excited about opening our doors and welcoming more of you in.
A week from today, we will host a Doubters Anonymous link-up on the topic of the Bible and Doubt right here on my blog. We invite you to write about your struggles with questioning Scripture and to link up your blog post here.
Some questions to get you started are:
What is your experience with the Bible from a doubter’s perspective? What parts of the Bible have caused to you question? When has the Bible felt difficult? When has the Bible seemed errant rather than inerrant? Where do you see the fingerprints of humans – with all of our faults and strengths – in the Bible? How can a doubter have a relationship with the Bible? Or can he/she?
Write about your experience with the Bible and doubt, and come back next Wednesday (Sept 10) to link up!
Check out our first link-up, What I Want You to Know About Doubt, HERE.