Three weeks ago, I posted about the Bible, and came to the apparent conclusion that, in the last two thousand years, “we’ve learned, most of us, to approve of fun and play, and disapprove of slavery and capital punishment for heresy. In other words, we’ve learned to disagree with the Bible.”
If we have learned this, and are unrepentant about it, it is difficult to sign up to any statement of faith that accepts the Bible as ultimate unquestioned authority, and totally without error.
No one has responded (on this page) to my challenges.
I may have been right, or I may have been wrong (for a recent alternative view see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/high-regard-scripture-not-bibliolatry/).
But whichever I am, such an attitude to the Bible is problematic for anyone who calls themselves a Christian. I am well aware that dangers exist, and I have of course made a list.
- As I suggested, my views may be plain wrong. I often am wrong. I believe that it’s better to have a naughty child than to beat that child with a stick; and that an ideal Christian society wouldn’t punish people for becoming atheists. But maybe this is just my capitulation to the spirit of the age. And behind almost every argument of this type today lurks the Elephant in the Post, ie sexually active same-sex relationships. I’m not likely to enter into such a relationship myself, but I’ve written a book where the protagonist is unrepentantly gay. It is possible that I am endangering not only my own soul, but also the souls of other people, which is much worse. Jesus said, “It would be better for [a person] if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2. There are similar passages in Matthew and Mark.) We should not take this lightly. Over the years, we’ve become increasingly tolerant of doubt (despite the warnings in James 1: 6-7)) but still doubt is not itself a virtue.
- People may have learned arguments over the correct translations of some Bible verses, and of course Catholic Christians have a slightly different set of books. But on the whole the Bible is a solid and lasting edifice to build a faith on. My instincts, your instincts, maybe even the instincts of many people over time, are less solid. They shift, and they come from dubious places like the heart, which is “deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt” (Jeremiah 17:9). You can interpret Bible verses different ways, and balance them against each other, for or against war or slavery. But if one rejects the Bible as ultimate and unchallengeable authority, on what do we stand, and where do our arguments end? I have a lot of sympathy with those campaigners against women priests who basically say that ordaining women is the thin end of the wedge towards rejecting Biblical authority. This is not the place for the full debate about Scripture and women in leadership! But if I or the Archbishop of Canterbury, or even Pope Francis, say, “I’m not happy with the (apparent) Biblical stance on X,” we have no control over what other things, that I myself believe are right and even essential, future Christians may reject.
- Debating and questioning are (for a certain kind of person) very enjoyable experiences. We are on this earth for a limited time only. Instead of having fun complaining about the difficulty of matching up the two birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, shouldn’t we/I be doing more important serious things, like feeding the hungry, proclaiming the gospel, and baking cakes for the Senior Citizens’ Party? It is alleged (perhaps incorrectly) that the medieval church argued about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. They had more crucial things to think about, and so do we.
- Similarly, a danger about asking questions is that one can get more interested in the questions than in God. There is a Bishop in C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, who rejects heaven, in essence because he loves his intellectual enquiries and his self-image as an enquirer, and is afraid that God may provide answers. I identify with him more than I like to admit.
- And there’s the arrogance. So many of my complaints come down to things like “but God must have meant X,” or “a loving God can’t have done Y, therefore He didn’t,” or “Well, Lord, if You expect me to accept that bit of Ezekiel, You’ve got some explaining to do.” But as Paul says, in his morally-baffling potter metaphor in Romans 9:20, “But who are you, a (wo)man, to answer back to God?” I do so love the moral high ground. It’s a bit worrying when you find yourself seeking the moral high ground with relation to God. It will come as no surprise that one of my favourite verses is Genesis 18:25, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” This seems clearly to imply that our God-given moral sense does allow us to make some assumptions about a good God. But it needs to be balanced with Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” God in the Book of Job both smashes Job’s pretensions to argument with Him, and tells Job’s friends that Job is right (to argue and complain?) and they are wrong. It is a basic truth of Christianity, and of most religions indeed, that God is greater than I am; and that pride towards God is a sin.
- And so is pride towards other people. This is hard to type, but if you and I read the Bible, and you accept something, but I find difficulties with it, and start arguing with God, does this not make me cleverer and wiser and deeper and braver and more mature and independent than you? NO IT DOESN’T. But how easy it is to think so! And, as C. S. Lewis says, in Mere Christianity, “whenever our religious life is making us feel that we are good – above all, that we are better than someone else – I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil.”
- I am fitting in with the Spirit of the Age, and that is not what I’m supposed to do.
There may well be other dangers involved in saying, “No, I’m sorry, I’m not accepting that just because it’s in the Bible, and its direct opposite isn’t clearly in the Bible. Not if everything inside and around me is screaming that it’s wrong.”
But these seven should be enough to make one cautious, as one walks slowly forward, giving God odd looks, and praying for guidance.
Love from the PPI Blogger