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Why not believe that the Bible is the literal word of God?

I was in a conversation with someone the other day who was brought up to believe scripture literally. She was a person who had suffered deeply and experienced much loss. She felt an anger toward God and questioned why so many bad things had happened to her. “I thought if you followed God, bad things weren't supposed to happen to you so much,” she said. “If bad things are going to happen anyway, what help is it to believe in and follow God?”

She was stuck in circular thinking that comes, in part, from reading passages literally—passages like Deuteronomy 11:13-19 …"If you will only heed his every commandment... then he will give the rain..." And if you disobey, "...then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain... then you will perish quickly..."

If... ...then. Religion reduced to a transaction. Essentially it is a self-interested transaction. If I do right by God, then God will take care of me and prevent drought and other bad things. But when bad things happen, then it must be somebody's fault. The nearest place to look for blame is probably the one who is suffering. Therefore victimize the victim.

"What good is believing in God?" she asked me, wanting to put down the anger that is a byproduct of her suffering. We talked.

I believe that life with God does go better, truly, than life without God. But not in the sense that we get a pass on suffering, tragedy and misfortune. Christians say that when we look at Christ, we see the face of God. The picture we see declares that God is with us in suffering, tragedy and misfortune. And it says that such things will not be the last word. God brings resurrection. But Jesus did not experience resurrection until he had died. It is that way for us sometimes as well.

When we choose to accept the relationship that God offers us, it can change our experience of life, including its suffering. And here is the offer -- God loves us and God is with us. God loves us unconditionally even before we have responded to God. God is with us so we can live with a new energy of presence and confidence, even in the times of suffering. The worst that can happen can be united with the cross and given meaning and hope, even though it may not disappear.

So in some sense, things do go better when we believe in and follow God. But "going better" doesn't mean that we won't experience drought and bad things. And when bad things happen, it doesn't mean someone has to be blamed, especially not the one who is suffering. If the cross can happen to Jesus, then tragedy and injustice can happen to us as well. Experiencing our lives through a relationship with Jesus can change its meaning.

That's what Paul continually talked about—if you are living "in Christ" you are "a new creation." That involves dying to an old way of living. The old way includes believing that we make a project out of our lives—the righteous earning righteousness, deserving blessing; the sinner earning condemnation and misfortune. Paul has died to that way of thinking.

Now he experiences everything "in Christ." God loves us and God is with us. Therefore, whatever happens is new. When good things happen, rejoice that God has given us more than we can deserve. When bad things happen, rejoice that God has let you share in Christ's sufferings. It is Christ's sufferings which are healing the world. That is reconciliation, says Paul.

--The Rev. Lowell Grisham

A word about taking the bible literally, it is impossible for two reasons. First, the English translations preachers claim to be the literal word of God, are not always true to the original language of the Bible, Hebrew. All translations are really interpretations, and there are over 400 biblical words known as hapax legomena, whose English translation we don't know. The English you read is a best guess. The second reason why biblical literalism is impossible is because no one takes the entire bible literally. Serpent handling Pentecostal Christians in Appalachia come closest to following the words of Jesus literally in Mark 16. Perhaps you are aware of people who advocate self-mutilation in obedience to Jesus’ words in Mark 9. I'm not. And if we were to execute children who insult their parents as is written in Deuteronomy 21, we’d all be dead.

--Rabbi Micah Greenstein
from the sermon "Religion Without Humor Is Blasphemy"




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