I like these lyrics:
If I should find myself in blackest night,
and fear is stabbin’ me all over,
a tiny prayer cracks the dark with light,
and I hear sounds behind my wall.
Inside, a still small voice, it calls and calls.
Then like a thunder bolt it falls and falls:
When life becomes more real than children’s games,
or we’ve become too old to play them,
We’ll grow old gracefully,
we’ll hide our shame.
but there’s that voice behind the wall.
And like my conscience, it is still and small.
Each word is mercy, protects us all:
Know who wrote them? Alice Cooper.
It seems as though the few posts over the past couple of weeks about Bible interpretation and other issues have left some of my friends wondering what is left of Christianity if we do away with a very strict Biblical literalism. For example, if we assume that there was death before Eden and the Fall, does that mean that eternal life is a myth too? I don’t think it’s necessarily so, and that theme is getting explored in the earlier post about death.
A couple of final comments on the interpretation thing and some of what is around it, and then some consequences of that for who God is to me and how I (tentatively) understand faith.
- The fixation on a text-derived religion derived from a single text is not something I can continue to subscribe to. I believe we see God in the natural world around us, in other people, in those we love, and in other faith traditions and ethical ideas. The Bible is one important revelation of God, but to privilege it and use it to the exclusion of all the other ways we can learn of God is to fall into a form of idolatry, making the text the god rather than allowing God to be God.
- That position does have consequences for doctrines – like recent creationism – that are erected in defiance of other kinds of evidence, and on very carefully developed (and, I have argued here, misunderstood) textual justifications. It means that there are other tests of the justice, mercy and power of doctrines and ideas than the use of ‘proof texts’ from scripture.
- No-one should pretend that they follow literally everything in scripture anyway. In how many Christian churches do you see animal sacrifice? OK, so maybe that changed in the new testament. What about women not speaking, and with their heads covered in church? Every church picks and chooses which bits of the text it will apply and which bits it will ignore, so the claim that every word is to be literally followed breaks down in practice in every case. And that’s a good thing: no stoning for a whole range of crimes and sins.
I realise that what I’ve said here places me outside the mainstream of Christianity, at least as it is practiced in the West today. That’s not such a bad place to be, but I’m still a Christian, a follower of Jesus and Jesus’ teaching, and I still believe the Bible has value and teaches us how to live and how to find salvation and live as part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
But I realise that things like the attitude of some of the Bible writers to homosexuality and toward women and their role are things that arise out of particular cultures at particular times, not universal rules that require repression and intolerance as part of faith.
To me, God is an infinite reservoir of love, that I can draw on when my own stores are too shallow (which is pretty much all the time) and reflect onward to everyone around me. God is the Creator: but I don’t understand the specific creative techniques God used and is using in an on-going way.
God is not an old white man with a long beard a long way off. God is infinite and contains the universe, and is throughout it, everywhere, all the time. God contains all possibilities of gender and race and culture and age and an infinity of other things besides. God is the ultimate reality… and is wild and alien, and will not sit still to fit into the tiny, cramped boxes we try to cram God into.