I’m still struggling with it, not making any final statement. But I decided that I needed to get serious about it and do daily Bible reading and devotions. Bought a great new study Bible and a journal, and started on the Bible reading plan that my church follows.
The very first day one of the prescribed chapters (the plan uses some Old and some New Testament verses each day) was Exodus 32. Those who know their Bibles will know the story of the Golden Calf that Aaron made while Moses was up on Mt Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments.
Here are the relevant verses:
25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.
27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ ” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”
As you might also know, the tribe of the Levites then became the priests for the people of Israel forever.
This text is not the issue by itself, but it’s a perfect example of the problem I’m having. That is, I’m told by everyone that it’s ‘take it or leave it’ with the Bible, all or nothing. But so much of what it says just does not fit with my values. Do I want to worship a God for whom an atrocity like this is considered a laudable thing?
I’m left with a few options:
- I change my values to fit the values of God as shown in the Bible. I realise just taking one passage out of context is not really fair, so I go back in and try to read the whole thing, over a year or so, and get the big picture of God’s mercy and love to balance things out. But it’s not just the killing, it’s the attitudes to women, to gay people and so on, and a whole variety of other things.
- I do as some other Christians do and explain away some parts of the Bible as ‘cultural’. Not really intellectually honest or satisfying, IMO, just in the sense that it then becomes a matter of each person deciding which parts are and are not binding… which just casts us back on our own values.
- I consider that what was really going on in some of these parts of the Old Testament was Moses forging together a nation in a tough time and doing what it took to maintain order (that ‘laughingstock in the eyes of their enemies’ phrase is telling). But that’s similar to the alternative above – once you admit that any of it is anything other than God-ordained, where does that stop.
I guess the bottom line is that I have a set of values – about honesty and integrity, love, caring for others, justice and a whole variety of other important moral values. They inform my decisions and who I am. And the problem I’m having is that, far from being the foundation of my moral values, my religion is outraging them at every turn.
I’m still struggling with what to do with that.