What If: Everything Cannot Be Solved in the Pages of the Bible?

This is an easy one for me. It can’t. I said it and I’m not going back.

Somehow, that does not seem to satisfy the heart of the question, so I am going to try and put thirty years of wrestling with this one into a few paragraphs. I’m sure that this will be wildly insufficient, but I need you to know my starting point as it relates to the Bible. I have spent many years learning how to study the Bible. I have studied for memorization. I have read for direction. I have examined for the storyline. I know the content. But it has taken me years to make peace with the scriptures.

When I graduated from high school, I received multiple books that had topics with associated chapter and verse. Where should I turn when I was worried? When I was doubting? You get the point. The number of times I would feel something very normal and human and I would go to these books so that God could “correct” my doubt or fear or pain are too numerous to count. I spent many years forcing a text about a struggling widow or a leper onto my 23-year-old struggle. And while there is constancy in the heart of the message, it never fit and often left me feeling unseen.

There was a turning point about 10 years ago when I began to find a pack of thinkers with whom I could resonate. My desire to learn from and be shaped by, yet not be shamed by or mistakenly instructed in a way that was never intended, was lived out in their writings and lives. While I have countless voices that speak truth on this subject to my soul, I need you to know about the Holy Trinity of scripture shapers for Lacy Hilbrich. As I have learned and questioned and opened myself up to see that the text is a story of the people of God and not an instruction manual, it changed the way I want to see God.

“The Bible is not an argument. It is a record of human experience. The point is not to prove that it’s the word of God or it’s inspired or it’s whatever the current word is that people are using. The point is to enter into its stories with such intention and vitality that you find what it is that inspired people to write these books.” 
― Rob Bell, What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything

“Bible stories don’t have to mean just one thing. Despite what you may have heard from a pastor or Sunday school teacher along the way, faithful engagement with Scripture isn’t about uncovering a singular, moralistic point to every text and then sticking to it. Rather, the very nature of the biblical text invites us to consider the possibilities.” 
― Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

“Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual—follow the directions and out pops a true believer; deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force. If anyone challenges this view, the faithful are taught to “defend the Bible” against these anti-God attacks. Problem solved. That is, until you actually read the Bible. Then you see that this rulebook view of the Bible is like a knockoff Chanel handbag—fine as long as it’s kept at a distance, away from curious and probing eyes.” 
― Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It

My love for reading scripture only deepened when I began to let go of the worry of getting it right. When I embraced that reading the text was a conversation starter rather than an ending point, I began to love the story of God more. What we know from scripture is the heartbeat of God told in the stories and voices of the people of God. In reading, we are invited into the way that the Spirit has worked throughout the ages. This is refreshing news for many of us that have faced the reality that this one book is not the answer manual to every modern question and problem. Often the solutions I am looking for are not on the pages of Ephesians or Deuteronomy, but if I take the faithful journeys of the past and sit with the truth, I can find my own way to listen to God.

What If: The Devil Doesn’t Even Begin to Describe the Evil of this World?

The devil. What a fascinating historical and literary image that scholars have passionately pursued for generations in all areas of art. The movies, in particular, offer eerie representations of what happens when human desires reign and a pitchforked, latex wearing red thing wields destruction and demise. In almost every religious expression, we see a representation of evil at work in the world, but in the faith that is rooted in Biblical texts, there is a figure that carries many names (Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, the Antichrist, Father of Lies, Satan) and has one purpose – destruction.

Recently, I have been watching National Geographic’s The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. This fascinating look at all aspects of faith and religious practice has been a wonderful trip around the world to explore the way that people connect with the Divine. The first episode of season 3 is called “Search for the Devil.” In this episode, we are introduced to many expressions of perceived evil. While the different understandings and approaches to the existence of evil is intellectually fascinating, I find it important to note that there is a universal stream of belief that flows through most religious traditions. Almost without exception, there is a base agreement that there exists in the universe a presence that divides. I often wonder if my attempt to quantify and define the presence of the forces against, have pushed me to once again build a box of “understanding” that fits. The more I explore the “why’s” and “how’s” of my faith life, the more insufficient these boxes feel.

Like many belief structures of the Christian faith, it is fascinating to me the ways that different periods in history had vastly different views the devil. While many people who study the Bible would trace evil to the serpent in the Garden in Genesis, there is actually no mention of the devil in the creation narrative. Interestingly, the Hebrew word that is later translated as devil or Satan, was used to describe the human oppositions to the prophetic work of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. In the direct translation of the Hebrew, the same word is “the adversary.”

While we can spend an enormous about of energy dissecting and challenging the way the Church has defined evil in the past, I wonder if a more valuable conversation is rooted in our experience of division. If the roots of “evil” and the “devil” are in separation and destruction, we know about those things. We don’t need to define them because we see and feel them every day. There is no doubt in my mind that you and I both know evil: cancer cells dividing to kill, the bullet that flies through an English classroom, the fist that lands on the cheek of a child as a drunk parent rages, the trauma of rape, the bottle of pills that is a siren in the mind of a suicidal teen. These are images that define the desperate and powerful work of adversarial force.

We live in a world that is saturated with a power hungry hierarchal pyramid of inequality and hate. We continually make excuses for the ways that we (YOU and ME) are outside of this norm, and yet each and every one of us are perpetuators of the very divisive nature that scriptures and mystics and shamans and elders teach others to caution. The more I study the devil and the power of evil, the less I care about the definition or the “correct” theological wrapping paper. What I know is that the elements of separation (the very context of evil) are all around, many in ways that we would like to ignore and minimize. What if rather than worrying about the reality of the horns or the talons of the creature, we acknowledged in our spirit that we look evil in the eye everyday – in others and more importantly in ourselves. The only way that I know to drown the voices of hate and division and lies is to first recognize them and call them out, and secondly to breathe (remember our conversation on this subject?) love and healing all over those wounds.